Fembots, swashbuckling and a random Sasquatch. Plus everyone may be an android and we just never find out. What’s not to like about this serial?
Podcast: Play in new window | Embed
The Fourth Doctor and Romana (I) head to the planet Tara to collect the fourth segment of the Key To Time. No problemo, says Romana and casually picks it up while Doc lets a gadget do his fishing for him. Then a Sasquatch we’ll never see again suddenly lumbers towards her, fuelled by a thirst for hugs and blood. Fortunately, she’s rescued by Count Grendel. Unfortunately, he’s a power-hungry, Iago-inspired ass-hat.
Grendel mistakes her for an android lookalike of the princess he’s already keeping locked up in his dungeon, and steals Romana away, and the Key segment along with her. Meanwhile, The Doctor is apprehended by Prince Reinhart’s men, and embroiled in a plot involving android doppelgangers, at least two bids for the throne and a heck of a lot of swashbuckling.
Subscribe to us on iTunes now! We're dropping a new episode every week (pretty much), reviewing Classic Who, New Who and all kinds of bonus stuff from spin-offs and conventions to Doctor Who comic books.
For me, this is when this season started to slip a bit. The serial feels like a community production of Romeo and Juliet mashed up with Star Wars and featuring a pantomime villain, and overall it’s very reminiscent of children’s live action adventure serials of the time. There’s nothing horribly wrong about it, but there’s very little substance behind it. I’ve watched this many times because it’s part of the Key to Time season, and can very definitely report that it gains nothing on rewatching, unlike Ribos Operation or Stones of Blood. I’m not going to throw any spoilers in, but I would say it’s not the worst story of the season, but it’s by far the least memorable. 3.0, I guess.
Firstly, a quick thank you. I’m a manager of a supermarket trying to cope in a difficult time for customers and colleagues…and the back catalogue of Who Back When has made me laugh and cry and tear my hair out ? It’s a wonderful distraction and such a great listen. Many thanks.
On with The Androids of Tara…
Watching this story is like enjoying a glorious afternoon with friends blissed out on wine and basking in golden sunshine. I always finish it with a smile on my face. If you’re in Doctor Who for space battles or UNIT adventures then this might not be your glass of vino but if you’re willing to go on a fairytale adventure in outer space then this just about the zenith of what Graeme Williams tried to achieve with Doctor Who. It’s unique in of itself and deliberately small scale, highlighting atmosphere, gentle plot twists and memorable characters. It uses Romana better than any other story to feature Mary Tamm and features the Doctor at the top of his game; swashbuckler, king-maker and master of witty repartee. The episodes revel in the escape-capture-escape-capture routine, trying to make them more and more elaborate and entertaining and the plot is explained throughout most charismatically by the insanly lovable Grendel. It even has time for a five minute sword-fight and a spot of fishing. We Doctor Who fans are a right fickle bunch, we claim we always want something new interesting and yet when it is delivered we moan and groan about how what we are getting now isn’t as good as how things used to be. There are a selective bunch who object to Doctor Who pushing its boundaries too far, who like to claim that a show that features Marco Polo, The Daleks’ Masterplan, The Ice Warriors, The Mind Robber, Inferno, Carnival of Monsters, The Sontaran Experiment, The Invisible Enemy, The Pirate Planet, Black Orchid, Enlightenment, Revelation of the Daleks and Ghost Light has a formula. I think this is might be why The Androids of Tara has only received a mild reception in the past, recent years have shown some moderate praise in its direction but on the whole fandom seems to want to forget about it. Why? Because it dares to be different. There is no other Doctor Who story like this one and for me that is its ultimate strength, it encapsulates the show during a creative peak, trying out outrageous new ideas to see if they could fit into the shows scope. I wouldn’t really try and pin a genre on this story… is it a SF story, a romance, an action piece or a comedy? All of these and more and with more than a twist of The Prisoner of Zenda, it’s a touch literary too. It dares to be uncynical and magical and I really love it for that: 4.5
The Androids of Tara is the fourth chapter in The Key to Time-Wasting storyline, and it’s pretty good. I think it perfectly captures the feeling of a balmy summer’s evening on rewatch.
Tom Baker has never been funnier as the Doctor, flat out deciding to take a break from the quest and go fishing. Mary Tamm gets to play a double role – no wait, a QUADRUPLE role – in the form of Romana (looking like a gender-bent Willy Wonka), Princess Strella and their android doubles. There’s an unnecessarily long sword fight, K9 gets stuck on a canoe and hilarity ensures.
This story is also home to that rat monkey monster, clearly the best and most convincing Doctor Who villain ever conceived.
Two memorable quotes
1. DOCTOR: “Do you mind not standing on my chest? My hat’s on fire.”
2. FARRAH: “What are you doing?”
DOCTOR: “Calling my dog.”
FARRAH: “I don’t see any dog.”
DOCTOR: “Well, of course not. He hasn’t arrived yet”
What has made the season 16 story arc so satisfying to date is the variety of the stories. Androids is Doctor Who at its most light-hearted, as different as possible from the sci-fi/horror hybrid that was the previous tale, The Stones of Blood. Given that they share the same writer, David Fisher, it’s a testament to his skill as one who can conjure up two enjoyable yarns that contrast so much, but both remain true to the basic hallmarks of a Doctor Who adventure.
Summary: a very silly, very entertaining adventure, with a good sword fight to boot.
Rating: 4.3/5 Romana doppelgängers being clobbered, blown-up, making tapestries, tending to dying princes, being forced into marriage, or otherwise hanging out in jail cells.
The Androids of Tara is unusual in the Key to Time season, as it is the only story where the segment is located and picked up at the beginning, rather than towards the end. In fact after Romana is captured the segment becomes irrelevant, as the Doctor has to focus on rescuing her and the segment is collected almost as an afterthought.
The guest cast is particularly good. Cyril Shaps is brilliant in his last appearance in Doctor Who, and Peter Jeffrey excels as the slimy, scheming, and all-round baddie Count Grendal. I think Neville Jason also does a good job of both versions of the Prince – you can tell by his slightly stilted delivery when he is playing the android. The regulars are all on form as well, and Romana gets a much bigger part than in some other stories.
The only odd thing I noticed is that Count Grendel seems to have vastly more resources than Prince Reynart, including a castle and a whole army of guards. It’s not clear why there is such an imbalance of power, given that a Prince usually outranks a Count, and in this case is next in line for the throne.
Overall, this is my favourite story in the Key to Time season, and not just because it has four characters played by Mary Tamm (though that does help). 4.5/5
Androids of Tara is the high point in this Key to Time season. Peter Jeffries is fantastic as Grendel, Tom Baker and Mary Tamm are great and it’s lovely to see that behind Baker’s facade of foolishness, he can still be competent when he puts his mind to it.
While some might be quick to dismiss it as light and throw away, I’d argue that the story’s simplicity is part of its charm.
The less said about the Wood Beast the better though.
What the hell is this?! A story about a faux-medieval society with weird amounts of future technology but they insist on a feudal society, of course! An absolute joy of a story, really good world-building stuff (perhaps minus the Taran wood beast). Several unrelated points follow:
Twitter: “Ah, look, I doubt that’s really necessary, you see, I’d really love to help you out, but I’m frightfully busy, and, uh, where is this Twitter?”
All hail the swords and mechanisms of this politically infused little story, filmed on location at a vintage estate and renaissance fairground. Mary Tamm gets one roll to shine, and one roll to be under-utilized, and they are constantly switching these positions. Both never get the spotlight at the same time. Almost brilliant, but just missing the mark. Tom is wonderful again. The rest of the cast is at least rather good, but I guarantee when you look back on memorable classic Who villains, Grendel will pop up in your mind. He is the perfect simple foil for Baker’s complex doctor, in exactly the opposite way that the master is his multifarious equal. They even found a use for K9 other than a cute phaser that no one expects.
Criticisms: I’m not convinced that the amount of story is worthy of its length. It’s also somewhat predictable, even broadcasting what will happen next at times. The segment plays a neglectfully irrelevant role, which is both genius and disappointing. I could imagine rewriting this story so that it becomes the obsession of some of the characters as a sub-plot, or is used to power the android king in a pinch. The story also needs a better sub-plot then un-requited love from a secondary character.
Awesome fencing, love the mix of technology and medieval, but if the story had legs we wouldn’t leave feeling like we were stranded on a boat drifting around a lake. It gets a holy twinzies Batman, 2.9
Tremendous apologies coming your way — I’m afraid your mini arrived after we’d recorded and I didn’t spot it until just now. I even brought out the mixer to record some Future Me’s before dropping this episode, so my neglect is truly criminal! Very sorry.
I love your review, though, in particular the idea of using the Key segment to power androids. While I might disagree with the numerical rating a little, I wholeheartedly agree with the retro-rewrite!
No worries at all! I’ve been all out of sorts with this work at home thing and (obviously) missing my personal deadlines for things like, doctor who reviews ahead of time. The sad part is I’m still way ahead, I just keep forgetting to cut for time and actually send them.
As for the rating. I think we all watch an episode at a time when we probably shouldn’t have, and our ratings are influenced by our mood at the moment. I also think sometimes it’s hard to separate what our rating is vs what we expect other people expect our rating should be, if that makes any sense. It’s just a long way of saying I do indeed love this episode and will admit I rated it lower than I should have. Um….kind of like you and Jim did to some of my recent favorites!!! HA!
Anyway, Jim’s right about the sword fight. The doctor is totally a master and totally f’ing with Grendel, and totally drawing out the fight just to toy with and humiliate him. Kristaps on the other hand is mistaken (fight! fight!), I do think it gains something with multiple rewatches. A lot of the background is addressed but very subtly. It could have been brought to the forefront a little more, but they would have had to sacrifice how long the swordfight was, and nobody wants that! (personally, I rather liked it).
Lamia was awesome!