Companions: Romana I
Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Norman Stewart
Editor's note: Never fear! We're almost done! After this Robert Holmes, there's only but one! Cassandra's got our second to last adventure starring the Key to Time and then I'll be back in two days to wrap up this two week saga with "The Armageddon Factor".
Background & Significance: Before Doctor Who's ambitious Sixteenth Season began, script editor Anthony Read worked hard to try and hammer down each of the six stories in place so everything would go smoothly. Unfortunately, writer illness and apparent lack of ideas made it so that the fourth and fifth serials in the Key to Time were unplanned. What resulted was the hire of writers David Fisher and Robert Holmes, both of whom had already written one story each this season: "The Stones of Blood" and "The Ribos Operation", respectively.
The result of David Fisher's rehire we saw with Monday's "The Androids of Tara", but what of Holmes?
Well, you're about to find out.
A couple things I want to point out: Robert Holmes is a good writer. He is. Really. Remember "The Deadly Assassin"? Yeah. That was him.
But what we see with the disappointment that is "The Power of Kroll" (because spoilers: this serial was so disappointing and hokey) I can blame on two things: studio intervention, and writer burn-out. This is Holmes' last serial before he wrote the acclaimed Peter Davison serial "Caves of Androzani", which is supposed to be AMAZING. And watching this, you can tell he needed a break. Also, the Head of Drama at the BBC at the time told Holmes to cut back on his humor. Why on earth would you do that, buddy? Way to fail.
But enough of all that. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
We open on some spaceship looking bridge type area. It's all very Star Trek, minus the sexy Starfleet uniforms.
We open on some spaceship looking bridge type area. It's all very Star Trek, minus the sexy Starfleet uniforms.
Dude leader Thawn has returned from a trip to [someplace]. Apparently it's crowded. I do not give a sh*t.
I'm sorry, but this opening is SO BORING. So boring. Dude Dugeen goes all squinty eyed at something he picked up on the monitor.
No. It's an echo track. Someone followed Thawn's ship to the surface. Oh noes.
Dude leader Thawn goes on about some rumor on Delta Magna (oh, I guess that's where he was vacationing) that some organization called the "Sons of Earth" are trying to provide weapons to "The Swampies".
Now, two things. One, I definitely thought he was going to say "the sons of bitches" instead of Sons of Earth. Two, The Swampies sounds like a sick band name. Too bad it's a racial slur.
"Whaaat?" you might say. "Cassandra, how come to you such a conclusion?" Well fear not, gentle reader, for I have already watched this serial and know more than you. Not to worry, all shall be revealed in good time.
They talk about boring things like their backing company and savages (presumably the Swampies). I guess they live in the swamps outside our cozy little bridge. There's name-dropping, and a gunrunner named Rohm-Dutt is apparently giving guns to the Swampies.
Okay. First of all, what are these names? I can't understand what they're saying while watching this. Thank goodness for Wikipedia. (I love how there's a Wikipedia entry about itself.)
Argh. Okay. Sorry. Back to the serial.
Dude leader Thawn decides it's time to go Rohm-Dutt hunting out in the swamps.
And then the TARDIS shows up! Hooray hooray!
Nommed by the mutant swamp grass.
There's some rustling in the grass and we hear Romana complaining about the swamp. The Doctor tells her to STFU and stop complaining so much. And then they write off K-9 not being in this episode in one line: because of all the water, K-9 has to stay in the TARDIS.
Damn you, Robert Holmes. Do you know how much I love K-9? This is terribly sadmaking.
The Doctor makes the observation that the swamps go on for miles. And then he starts doing this.
Oh apparently he's just checking the gravity. Whew.
The gravity level's off for a planet, and the Doctor surmises they're on a moon of some kind: Delta III.
The tracer's acting a bit wonky and is saying that a huge section of the horizon is where the segment of the Key must be. Well that's weird. I wonder what that means. Maybe the atmosphere's affecting it.
Romana goes off to some higher ground to try out the tracer again.
These guys show up again in transparent biohazard suits and talk about how Rohm-Dutt wears a wide-brim hat. Uh oh. You know who else wears a wide-brim hat and dresses like a vagabond?
Then this nifty little speed boat shows up. It makes an annoying sound, but it looks cool, so I'll forgive it.
The Doctor is busy breaking apart a piece of the giant swamp grass. The Little Speed Boat that Could looms ever closer.
Then with some flute music as the backing track, we spy some green folk paddling in a canoe. (Please to note that this is the second serial with green people out of three I've done total. It must be some sort of conspiracy.)
Romana's off on some hilltop with the tracer. Another green folk canoe shows up. I think they've seen her. But what does it all mean???
Imminent kidnapping, of course. Oh, and she drops the tracer. Sucktacular.
Can I just say, I'm sick of Romana getting kidnapped. Honestly? This is the only way you can think of to separate Romana and the Doctor? Come on now... You guys are smarter than that.
The dudes on the Little Speed Boat that Could are still scouring the swamps looking for Rohm-Dutt. The Doctor is awesome and managed to make a flute from the swamp grass. A regular old Pan, he is.
Uh-oh. Here comes the swamp boat.
Thinking he's Rohm-Dutt, they shoot at the Doctor, who goes down like a bitch. All is lost for our intrepid time traveling heroes. K-9 will have to fly off in the TARDIS all on his own.
Loljk, they just shot his hat. Well, that's lucky.
Dudes from the refinery (cuz that's what the spaceship bridge was, the interior of some sort of refinery) lead the Doctor off with them while Romana's off in a canoe with some nefarious Swampies. This can't be good.
At the Swampie camp, a rogueish-looking fellow starts chatting up Romana. No hat, but I think this must be Rohm-Dutt, gunrunner.
Rohm-Dutt says Romana'll stay tied-up to the rock til she rots unless she chooses to cooperate. Romana says something about psychofugal trauma that sounds identical to something she said in "The Ribos Operation". Robert Holmes, you disappoint me.
Rohm-Dutt questions Romana, and there's some jolly good back and forth until he totally invades her personal space and acts like a menacing creeper.
Back at the refinery, the Doctor is interrogated by dude leader Thawn, who is menacing and manly and yells a lot. Probably because he has to wear his silly uniform.
The Doctor tells us this refinery is a methane refinery. The dudes who work there start freaking out because it's supposed to be a classified project, the first of its kind. The Doctor scoffs at their tiny human brains and shows off his smarts. There's a lot of technobabble.
Now, I have a confession. I looooooooooooove technobabble. But apparently only when Matt Smith or David Tennant do it, because their mouths move at a mile a minute and it's all rather breathtaking. This is just kinda boring.
They concede that the Doctor is brilliant, and then drop the news that if Romana's been taken to the Swampies, there's no finding her again.
Back at Swampie Central, Rohm-Dutt is showing the natives their new guns.
Also, never once in this serial do you see a Swampie woman. What the hell? What kind of society is this, anyway? No wonder they're losing.
Rohm-Dutt tries to get the chief or another of the Swampies to sign off on the delivery, but they don't understand. It's kind of awkward.
Then they get to talking about blood sacrifices and how Romana is going to be one. Well, that sucks.
Back at the refinery, there's more technobabble and the Doctor meets Mensch the Swampie.
They talk about why the Swampies want to attack them so badly. It's your typical native v. colonist story, and smacks of Avatar. I mean, they're even on a moon. I wonder if James Cameron watches Doctor Who?
Also, I'm going to point this out right now: The Doctor has duck buttons on the lapels of his coat.
It's the most glorious thing I've ever seen.
Back at the Swampie camp, it's time for some jazzercise.
They invoke the name of Kroll (hey look at that, that's part of the title of the serial, isn't it. It must be important) and lead Romana off somewhere. Oh, it must be time for some blood sacrificing. (Second serial in the Key to Time with blood sacrifices. I am just saying.)
The priest/chief calls out to Kroll while the rest of the village do some background choreography. It's all freaking hilarious. I wonder how much these guys got paid for dancing around in loincloths and green body paint and shouting "Kroll!"
At the refinery, the Doctor finds a giant flashlight, finds out from Mensch the handy expository Swampie that the camp is making a blood sacrifice, and then makes his escape.
Oh, and Kroll is a giant squid. Hahahahahaha. This should be good.
Turns out Mensch is using the giant flashlight to relay messages to the Swampie village. Meanwhile, the Doctor paddles a canoe. So much for unnavigable swamps.
The Doctor sneaks up on the village just as Romana's getting sacrificed to the great and mighty Kroll. She screams uncomfortably. There's a closeup on this guy's face and the episode ends. It's all very awkward.
We'll start off with a youtube, so you may witness for yourself the jazzercizing and awkwardness of the cliffhanger, as well as the shenanigans that follow immediately after.
I pretty much died laughing and had to watch that twice.
The Doctor unties Romana while they wonder aloud about Kroll and the silly costume that Swampie was wearing. Romana chalks it up to something political. The Doctor tells her to shut up about politics. Apparently he's had enough of the subject after what happened on Tara.
The Swampie wakes up and tries to throw something at them but he misses and runs off.
At the refinery, dude Dugeen and I are sharing a brainwave.
Some disturbance of the lake floor has caught his attention on the monitors. He lets Thawn know about it. It's very worrisome. To emphasize this, there is a really long, really awkward shot of Dugeen just sitting at the monitors, looking worried.
Brilliance, that is.
Two of the Swampies approach Rohm-Dutt and tell him that the "Dryfoots" from the refinery are gonna attack them all at dawn. He tries to persuade them to hide out in the swamp, but they are a proud, obstinate people and prefer to fight with their shiny new guns. For some reason, this makes Rohm-Dutt distinctly uncomfortable. Hmm.....
Romana tells the Doctor she dropped the tracer all guilty like. The Doctor says he found it and she gets super super excited.
She wants to keep truckin and find the fifth segment so they can get out of there, but the Doctor points out that it'd be pretty stupid to try and cross the swamps at night. So they hang around and talk about the methane refinery instead.
The Doctor finds a pit with an underground tunnel. Romana says she hates underground tunnels. The Doctor agrees, and then jumps in.
At the refinery, dude leader Thawn and Dugeen stare intently at the monitors and the lake bed scans. They finally realize the Doctor's missing. Sharp chaps, these. There's some really weird posturing.
And they chat about what could be at the bottom of the lake that is so massive and disrupting the lake bed like it is. They chalk it up to sabotaaaaage. -guitar riff-
Time to go Doctor hunting.
Speaking of the Doctor, he's popped back up and brought a book. Apparently it's an illustrated history of the Swampies... complete with gold leaf on the edges of the pages. Hilaaaarious.
Kroll blah blah blah eating people every few hundred years blah. That's basically all you need to know. I also love how there's a book in a random pit and it's so well preserved, despite the super wet conditions of the swamp.
The priest is just now finding out that the blood sacrifice to Kroll wasn't made. Wow. That's some fail, man.
But that's okay because he looks like a badass with his gun in the reeds.
Look who came to join the party! The Little Speed Boat that Could!
One of the Swampies fires his weapon at them but it backfires and he falls back with an unconvincing scream of pain. It's pretty funny.
And then this happens.
Oh no, Mensch! You're getting eaten because you are disposable and have done nothing except blink a giant flashlight!
That's right, friends. Kroll is awake and apparently pretty hungry. And here's what he looks like.
Holy sh*t, that is some intense calamari right there. I like how he just levitates above the horizon.
The refinery crew get the frak out of there. The priest starts freaking out because his tentacle-y deity has returned from the depths, but first they've got to find Rohm-Dutt because that son of a bitch conned them and gave them faulty weapons. Whoops.
They yell a lot about the Swampies having guns and who's responsible. Dude leader Thawn has the urge to go on a homicidal spree and go get him some Swampies and sushi. The others have dubious face. Dude leader Thawn freaks out when they see the outline of Kroll on the monitors.
The Doctor and Romana are busy hypothesizing about Kroll when they are captured. Again.
Oh they got Rohm-Dutt too, that's cool. And then some Swampie says something about dying on the Stone of Blood.
Uhhh, what? Wrong serial, dude. Wrong serial.
The Doctor and Romana are tied up. Dude leader Thawn throws a manly temper tantrum about bombing the giant squid. Rohm-Dutt tries to weasel his way out of dying.
And then Kroll punches a hole into the refinery and eats this guy.
That's your cliffhanger? I don't even care about this guy! I don't even know his name! What the f*ck?
So Thawn likes to yell a lot. I think he's trying to compensate for something.
The Doctor, Romana, and Rohm-Dutt have all been sentenced to death by plants. That's some Sorcerer's Stone sh*t right there.
Then we get this gem of dialogue: "I tried to persuade [the high priest] that only Rohm-Dutt deserved to be punished by the seventh ritual and you others should die by the first. That's very easy, they just throw you down the pit and drop rocks on you."
Also, this is necessary.
Oh and apparently Kroll ate some relic hundreds of years ago that lets him see the future. What??
Since they're going to die anyway, it's confession time. Rohm-Dutt was paid off by Thawn to give the Swampies weapons, thus giving Thawn an excuse to attack them. My god this guy's got some bloodlust.
At the refinery, they further conspire to kill Kroll, who is apparently massive. [insert inadequate penis joke here]
I guess a storm's a-brewin'. Just look at the lightning.
Back in Swampville, our friends are getting stretched out by the drying plants.
People do a lot of talking and it's crazy boring.
And then the Doctor RANDOMLY OPENS HIS MOUTH AND SCREAMS LIKE A DOLPHIN ON HELIUM. Which causes the window above them to break and the rain to come inside.
I honestly have no f*cking idea.
So the plants get wet from the rain and they manage to escape. Meanwhile, I'm still trying to figure out what the hell the Doctor did and how he did it.
The storm's easing up and Kroll's on the move.
The Swampies discover their missing prisoners and the priest further proves to me that he is batsh*t crazy when it comes to Kroll.
Speaking of batsh*t crazy, Thawn is at it again.
And then we get some youtube action to round out the episode.
So after showing his tentacle-y face and eating a few people, Kroll disappears again. It's all very anticlimactic and such.
Oh wait, just kidding, he's attacking Swampville now.
Refinery crew take a gander at the proceedings on the monitors. Thawn is still adamant about killing the damn thing. And he's going to use a rocket to do it.
Dugeen protests; the rocket will wipe out Swampville too! But this is what Thawn wants, duh.
The Doctor and Romana have randomly broken into the refinery.
Dugeen continues to argue with Thawn but the man is set on some genocide happening this afternoon. He pulls a gun on Dugeen but when he makes a move Thawn karate chops him instead. And it is the most obviously fake karate chop I have ever seen. He doesn't even touch the guy.
The Doctor, having overheard the argument in the control room, resolves to go stop the rocket from going off somehow.
In Swampville, the priest is raving about how Kroll is punishing them for being bad little Swampies and letting their prisoners escape. But not this time, goddammit. So they head over to the refinery instead of running and hiding from that ridiculously huge chunk of calamari. (I really want some right now, by the way. Breaded and fried, with marinara sauce. Yummmmmmmm.)
The Doctor busts into the rocket silo and bids goodbye to Romana. You know, in case the rocket detonates and vaporizes the Doctor while he's still in there.
The Doctor races against the clock to disarm the rocket. Dugeen wakes up from the fake karate chop and causes trouble, so Thawn shoots him.
The Doctor manages to stop the rocket with three seconds to spare. And Kroll has sunk back into the mud again. Whew. That's a relief.
Other refinery dude whose name I have forgotten calls Thawn on his crazy. Dude leader Thawn yells and continues to act delusional before going down to the rocket silo to see if he can fix it. It's thrilling, really. Oh, but who's down in the rocket silo already?
The Swampies have made it to the refinery party. They all gather in the room where the first guy was eaten. The priest also continues to be delusional and fanatic.
Uh-oh, Kroll's back. He wants to party too, and he's pretty upset he didn't get an invite.
AND THEN THAWN GETS SPEARED RANDOMLY.
And after everyone has gathered in the control room, Kroll attacks the refinery.
Romana wanders off into some corridor and almost gets eaten by Kroll. The Doctor instructs the remaining refinery crew member to turn on some machinery that makes a lot of noise so Kroll backs off. Or something. I'm not entirely sure what happens, but some switches get flipped, a noise starts up, and Kroll starts to leave, so...
And then, the endgame. In glorious youtube.
I love how the Doctor literally goes from killing a giant squid to disarming a rocket. AGAIN.
There's hasty, awkward goodbyes, the Doctor and Romana wander around the swamp looking for the TARDIS, they talk about how the Doctor knew Kroll was the fifth segment (basically Kroll ate it centuries ago. You are what you eat, apparently), and off they go.
Final Thoughts?: You guys, I have a confession to make: I'm burning out on Tom Baker.
Granted, it's probably just this crazy with the Key to Time these past couple of weeks, but oh my lord. Now, don't get me wrong, I really enjoy Tom Baker, but I also really enjoy quality, and, with the exception of "The Androids of Tara" (which rocked my world so hard), Key to Time has been distinctly meh, in my opinion.
I was also really looking forward to covering a Robert Holmes serial, since he's a genius and all, but this failed to deliver on every level except making me laugh (but it was for all the wrong reasons, so I don't even know if that counts). Now I want to know what could have happened if the studio had butted out of the scripting and they had been able to portray Kroll on a better budget, what magical romp would have ensued. Oh well. Holmes' got better serials for me to look forward to.
I also missed K-9 a lot. But redeeming factor was duck buttons because oh my god that was so random.
Next Time!: 4th Doctor! Interplanetary war! Romana II cameo! And the Black Guardian makes an appearance! Matt wraps up the Key to Time on Friday with "The Armageddon Factor"!