Romana wearing the fantastic peach outfit with K9 in The Stones of Blood.
The Stones of Blood is the third story in season sixteen of Doctor Who. It features the fourth Doctor alongside Romana and K9. It was written by David Fisher and is part of the season long Key to Time arc. This story was also the 100th televised story.
The first two episodes of the story are set on present day earth and revolve around stone circles and Druid rituals. At the end of episode two we get a drastic shift to space, with Vivan Fey being revealed as the Cailleach/Cessair.
To get it out of the way – I had a whole lot of squee about Mary Tamm’s initial outfit in this story -a Scottish tam, a peach jumpsuit, and hugely impractical shoes which she abandons. I love the realism of her acknowledging how horrible her shoes are and deciding to forego walking in them.
Beatrix Leahman is also does an fantastic job in portraying the eccentric Professor Amelia Rutherford. When Rutherford discusses her work and gets so excited about sharing her research notes with Romana, I was immediately reminded of so many actual Professors I know. This was a fantastic portrayal of a mature woman with experience, intellect, and charm.
We also get a female companion in this episode in the form of Vivien Fay/Cessair of Diplos/Cailleach. The Variety! podcast has a recent episode that is all about Cessair and her role as villain in this story. I highly recommend folks take a listen for a deeper dive into this female villain portrayal.
The bits that were not so well done:
- A giant – clearly fake – hunk of rock going around attacking people. The less focus on the Ogri as a failed prop the better.
- The transition between the historical feel of the first two episodes and the space drama narrative of the last two episodes was a bit jarring initially.
Overall, I loved all of the female characters in this story and how much authority the females had over moving the story forward. This was also a really great story of K9, with a lot of witty lines and seeing K9 actually maneuvering on grass.
Romana and the Doctor.
The Ribos Operation is the first story in season sixteen of Doctor Who. It features the fourth Doctor alongside Romana and K9. It was written by Robert Holmes and is the first story in the season long Key to Time arc. This story is also where we are introduced to Mary Tamm as Romana for the first time.
I love Romana’s sass, intellect, and tendency to challenge the Doctor on all fronts. She is quite capable of questioning the Doctor and putting him in his place when his actions don’t make sense. I also love that she keeps quoting the Tardis manual at the Doctor and telling him how he is flying it wrong – for new Who fans, this bickering reminded me a lot of when River Song flies the Tardis. As a bonus Romana’s fashion sense is so on point – see “The Stones of Blood” story is you need additionally examples of Romana’s fantastic wardrobe choices.
The plot of this story revolves around a scam gone wrong, with the Tardis crew getting caught in the middle of the scam in their attempts to locate the key to time segment. The plot itself is almost secondary to the setup of the Key to Time mission itself, we are introduced to the Guardian and given a vague reason as to why it is imperative that the Doctor locate all the segments of the key, else the universe implode. The setup isn’t fantastic, but it does a well enough job in providing a framework for all of the stories within season sixteen.
Overall, this was a middle of the road story for me. I liked bits of it but I wasn’t enthralled by the plot.
The Pirate Planet
The Pirate Planet is the second story in season sixteen of Doctor Who. It features the fourth Doctor alongside Romana and K9(!). It was written by Douglas Adams and is the second story in the Key to Time arc.
This was the last serial of the classic Doctor Who era to be novelized, but I actually read the novelization prior to watching the story. This is partially because I’ve been trying to read all the novelizations which are based on Douglas Adam’s scripts, mainly because I simply love his writing and love trying to pick out bits that are purely Adams in the novelizations. The Pirate Planet was Adam’s first contribution to Doctor Who and the novelization contains an interesting discussion of the early draft versions of this story and dives into the archives which hold Adam’s work.
For the Adam’s fans watching this story, at one point the Doctor says “Don’t Panic” which made the Hitckkicker’s Guide fan in me squee. Additionally, the Doctor’s line “Standing around all day looking tough must be very wearing on the nerves” — was later used in a The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio serial, by For Perfect toward a Vogon.
Personally, I’m glad I read the novelization of this story first. The half-robot pirate captain and his killer robot parrot looked way cooler in my head then they did in the 1978s costuming. The portrayal of the captain was one of my least favourite parts of the televised story. The novelization contained much more nuance and presented the captain as more than just a bumbling/raging lunatic.
Overall, the story has a great mix of comedy with a sci-fi story line. It is overflowing with ideas and at times seems like there are too many ideas to be contained within a four episode story arc. However, I loved seeing Romana and K9 in action during this story, they are both some of my favourite classic Who companions. Plus K9 gets an amazing fight scene with the robot parrot, which is simply awesome in my books.
Given that this was the second story in the Key to Time arch, my plan is to go back and watch The Ribos Operation next.
Tardis Crew in the Key of Marinus
The Keys of Marinus was the fifth story in season one of Doctor Who. It features the first Doctor alongside Susan, Barbara, and Ian. Written by Terry Nation this six episode story is one of the first ‘moving serials’ in Doctor Who, with each episode taking place in a different setting.
The Keys of Marinus is a bit of a whirlwind quest, with each episode seeing the Tardis crew – and the planet-side friends they have accumulated along the way – solving puzzles to retrieve the five keys of Marinus. These quests are set against a range of backgrounds: Acid seas, Eyestalk-brains with mind control powers, a jungle that attacks, a cold snowy mountain with a cruel trapper, and a world with an guilt driven justice system. It’s a quick flurry of setting changes, ideas, and adventure. There are also some uncomfortable moments in this story including an attempted rape and domestic abuse.
The splitting of the Tardis crew into different narratives is very much in Terry Nation’s style and each individual story remains on the underdeveloped side. It is also clear that the budget required to hold each episode in a different setting wasn’t there – the stock footage in the snowy mountain stood out the most as a clear example of where money was trying to be saved. Similarly, the ice caves really did look like they were made of plastic wrap.
The villains at the root of this story, which force the Tardis crew on the key adventure at the start, are the Voords. The Voords are essentially actors in wet-suits with rubber masks and hand prosthetics. They are a bit lack luster and the ridiculous costuming made me laugh, but they are effective enough to move the story forward.
Despite some of the criticisms of the Keys of Marinus, I actually really loved this story. It was my kind of adventure, character building, world exploring story. I think this is the first Hartnell story that upon finishing I thought I might actually watch again. I don’t know if that says more about this episode about my feelings for the Hartnell era as a whole.
Barbara, Ian, the Doctor and Susan, observing the broken clock inside the TARDIS.
Planet of Giants was the third story in season one of Doctor Who. It features the first Doctor alongside Susan, Barbara, and Ian. It is a short story with only two episodes and it occurs entirely inside the Tardis. This story was made with minimal budget to fill out season one with two more episodes. This story is another one written by David Whitaker. I loved the fact that this story begins the development of the Tardis as a thoughtful, sentient being that can communicate with its crew.
The first episode in this story has a very horror movie feel to it. Distrust builds among the Tardis team, Susan attacks people with scissors, and things keep mysteriously happening without explanation. As the episode progresses the crew grows increasingly paranoid and beings to turn on reach other. The Doctor begins to blame Susan and Ian for everything that is going wrong – Susan does a fantastic job of standing up for herself and angrily highlights how foolish that idea is, and how she and Ian have repeatedly shown their commitment to the Doctor.
Episode 2 – The Brink of Disaster
The accusing continues and Barbara continues to convince the Doctor that he is wrong. I really enjoyed that it was Barbara who finally realized that the Tardis is trying to communicate them, and that many of the odd things going on are actually clues to show what the real problem is. The camera work and light/dark contrast around the Doctor’s monologue explaining the problem was really striking, however the actual ‘fixing’ of the problem – a broken spring – felt fairly anti-climatic to me.
The Doctor delivers a satisfactory apology to Ian, but is apology to Barbara is pretty horrible. It’s a best a ‘well, actually’ style explanation and I’m glad Barbara walked away from the Doctor. His second apology wasn’t much better – the Doctor conludes that without his accusing Barbara she would never have been motivated enough to solve the problem. My reaction to this was pretty much “UGH.” His apology was followed by a condescending remark about needing to take good care of her. I know this aired in 1964, but some of the male/female power dynamics in this episode have not aged well.
Overall, this is a solid two part story that has a surprising amount of depth and is well done in-spite of the budget limitations.
Susan, Ian, and a matchbox in Planet of Giants.
Planet of Giants was the first story in season two of Doctor Who. It features the first Doctor alongside Susan, Barbara, and Ian. It is a shorter story with only three episodes and it’s basic premise revolves around the Tardis and the Tardis crew being miniaturized and working to regain the normal size.
I’ve been watching a lot of Troughton era Doctor Who recently and what struck me most about this story was how different the Tardis team feels under the first Doctor. The story is also dived into team perspectives with the Tardis crew being separated into groups of two for the bulk of the story.
This story hinges on the Tardis malfunctioning during materialization. Following the malfunction the Tardis team begin to explore outside and come to see giant ants, giant worms, and signage. Both the Doctor and Susan realize independently from each other, that they have all been shrunk to the size of an inch. Ian expresses his usual disbelief with this conclusion.
We learn more about the ‘bigs’ in this episode. There’s a subplot all about the development of a new insecticide which kills every type of insect imaginable. I found this subplot a bit on the dry side, though I did enjoy the hint of environmental activism that is woven into the story.
This episode starts with the Doctor and Susan being trapped in a drain pipe and thinking quickly to avoid drowning. I think my favourite part of this episode is watching the actors transverse ridiculously oversize props. Climbing down a huge sink chain, crossing a large notepad, and using an oversize match is pretty amusing to watch.
Overall this was an okay story, but not something I will rush to rewatch.