The Android Invasion
The Key to Time
The Shadow of Weng-Chiang
The Androids of Tara
The Key to Time Part Four
|Dates||Nov. 25, 1978 -
Dec. 16, 1978
With Tom Baker, Mary Tamm,
John Leeson as the voice of "K9".
Written by David Fisher. Script-edited by Anthony Read.
Directed by Michael Hayes. Produced by Graham Williams.
|Synopsis: Romana is mistaken for a captured princess, and the Doctor is threatened with death unless he helps a monarch accend to his throne.|
Double Delights! by Joe Hambidge 13/2/97
This much under-rated story stands head and shoulders above the rest of season 16. Written as a parody of Anthony Hope's novel The Prisoner of Zenda, this story really is a masterpiece. For once in Doctor Who's history, a story presents everything on a small scale. The universe isn't at threat and only one person dies -- Madame Lamia -- and that's only an accident. Instead we are shown the political intrigues of Tara and the attempts of Count Grendel to become King.
Mary Tamm is on top form here as she slips between real and android versions of Romana and the Princess Strella. Romana is also provided with some great moments of characterisation such as when she tries to work out how to 'start' a horse. Tom Baker is, as ever, on top form as the Doctor, and provides some great moments of comedy when paired with K9.
However, the real star of the piece is Peter Jeffrey as Count Grendel. Reminiscent of Roger Delgado's Master, he brings to life an already strong villain to become one of the best 'baddies' ever on the programme. To watch his and the Doctor's sword fight at the close of the story really is something special.
The Androids of Tara features some marvellous location work at Leeds Castle, England, which adds to the atmosphere. And a review of this tale cannot go by without mention of the fabulous costume designs, some of the best ever seen. Re-assess this story at the first opportunity you have, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how good it is. And if you're viewing it for the first time, you're in for a real treat.
Majestic by Tom May 23/2/98
"Would you mind not standing on my chest, my hat's on fire!"
There are so many quotable passages in this story, which is no surprise, as the whole tale is blissfully good. From the spot-on acting, the creation of the Taran society, the brilliant location work at Leeds Castle.... K9 is worthy here, and you can forgive the Taran beast: that's how magnificent The Androids of Tara really is.
Mary Tamm is impressive in her two roles, and I especially liked the bit where she says: "How does it go?" when Grendel gets on a horse. Speaking of Count Grendel of Gracht, Peter Jeffrey is super as the astute and almost likeable Count: "Oh do stop being so tediously heroic, Reynart" he exclaims late in the story. I've said it before that Grendel should've returned to Doctor Who (it would have to have been a sequel I think). His parting riposte at the climax is suggestive of this: "Next time, I shall not be so lenient!"
The swordmaster is gruff and reliable, which was necessary, though Prince Reynart is quite a weak character, although this may be due to comparison with Grendel. There are subplots, such as The Key To Time ("That old thing!"), of which Romana gets the segment almost straightaway. Also, the "peasant" and android-repairer Madamme Lamia is rather a charimg creation, desperate to marry Grendel, although fate is not on her side.
Tom Baker puts in perhaps his greatest performance as the Doctor, up until that time at least. He's thoroughly witty and marvellous here, matching Grendel quote for quote.
It's a very intricately plotted tale, influenced by Hope's book The Prisoner of Zenda, and is unlike any other adventure in Doctor Who's canon. I suggest that anyone who hasn't seen this, or dosen't enjoy it immensely, hasn't seen the best of Doctor Who. It's up there as a classic comparable to City of Death, despite its mixed reputation with some fans.
The Androids of Tara is a charmingly colourful adventure that I recommend as highly as possible. 10/10
It's absolutely brilliant so there by Mike Morris 7/7/99
The Androids of Tara is perfect in every way. I love it to pieces. If you don't own a copy, go and steal one. And don't believe anyone who tells you that it's, erm, silly, bland, has absolutely no sci-fi elements at all, no serious themes, etc. etc. etc. That's not to say that they aren't right, of course, just that they're missing the point.
This is pure escapism from beginning to end, a lovely tale of swordfights and feudalism and romance and stuff like that with the Doctor dropped neatly into the plot, and set on another planet so that you can have androids and laser-crossbows to boot. It's all about cheering on the Doctor, booing Count Grendel, and laughing at some of the best lines the show ever produced. It's Doctor Who on prozac.
Let's not forget that Doctor Who is a kids show, and these are kid's characters. You know right from the start Grendel's a bad guy (he's ugly, and has nasty hunchbacks as his servants) and you quickly find out he's got no redeeming features whatsoever. Against this you've got Prince Reynhart is perfect in every way. No serious characters, no shades of grey, no cynicism, just black-and-white children's morality. You know from the kickoff that Prince Reynhart's going to win, you just wonder how many good jokes and set-pieces there'll be on the way. Watching The Androids of Tara regresses me to childhood instantly. What more could you ask for from a story?
Forgive me if I'm senselessly raving, but it's hard to find anything to say about The Androids of Tara that hasn't been said before. Best bits; The Taran Beast (oh come on, it's good for a laugh), the Doctor fishing, Mary Tamm about to have her head cut off, the drugged wine, and that's only the first episode. Although Grendel's parting line as he leaps off the battlements is worthy of a special mention - 'Next time, I shall not be so lenient!!!'
It's just great. Brilliant. Superb. Go and watch it immediately.
A Review by Daniel Spelner 21/4/00
Chivalrous romance is integrated into Dr Who in David Fisher's resplendent swashbuckler. There are castles, dank dungeons, kidnaps, imprisoned princesses, intrigue, android doubles and sword fights! It seems an unlikely setting but Fisher achieves success through the novel usage of the Doctor and Romana. The casting is faultless with Neville Jason as the courtly Prince Reynart, Peter Jeffrey's scoundrel Count, the spurned Lamia played so well by Lois Baxter and even the customary guard captain is given some personality thanks to Paul Lavers. Well-read Tom Baker is in boisterous mood firing off witticisms, which adds further to the fun. Michael Hayes brings it brilliantly to life, directing with gaiety, confidence and vigour, thereby making not only the best story of the Key to Time season but also one of the most unique stories in the series. A spellbinding heroic fantasy.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 28/6/02
Where your opinion lies on The Androids of Tara methinks depends on how you take this one simple scene in episode 3. It's when the Doctor is trapped in the Pavillion of the Summer Wind by Grendel and is temped with the bogus offer of free passage. The Doctor sticks his head out the door, and Grendel's men shower the pavillion with electronic crossbow bolt fire. Our Hero ducks back in, pops his head out, yells "Liar" and dives back into the pavillion.
Me? I laughed my ass off.
I haven't watched this story in years. I'd forgotten how funny it really is. And also how wonderfully small the stakes are. And how brilliant the acting is. And the simmering plot.
Basically the whole bloody thing. It sings with style and elan. From the opening moment where the Doctor send Romana off to get the 4th segment of the Key while he gets some fishing to the swordfight at the conclusion, The Androids of Tara works brilliantly.
Tom Baker, in full comedy mode, flings the one liners around, tries to crack up the other members of the cast, and shifts perfectly into hero mode by the time of his clash with Grendel. Mary Tamm plays Romana with the perfect mix of naivety and superiority the script called for. Peter Jeffrey's Grendel nearly steals the show every time he appears. Grendel comes off as both Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone (Robin Hood) in each scene. The rest of the cast holds up their own as well
The thing that most intrigued me, was Doctor's attitude toward royalty. Especially in contrast to watching the Peladon stories, and how Pertwee played the Doctor as a sort of roving ambassador and Mr. Fix-it. Tom shows a wonderful insubordination to royalty in Tara, even when he helps Prince Reynart.
In the end, this is not serious DW, this is fun DW. Watch it and laugh your own ass off. It'll be good for you.
Duel and Duality by Tim Roll-Pickering 12/10/02
Even more so than previous stories in the Key to Time season, The Androids of Tara is a tale that has clearly had the search for a segment of the Key added onto the story, given the undue haste with which this element of the plot is quickly wrapped up. Equally the story's monster is utterly forgettable and is disposed of very early on in the story, leaving the rest of the four episodes for a tale of court politics and yet another double story.
Doubles are a science-fiction cliché, but this story gives no less than four separate roles to Mary Tamm, playing the real Romana and Strella as well as android doubles of both of them. This does seem somewhat excessive though fortunately it is always clear who is who in the story and there are comparatively few scenes requiring more than one Mary Tamm. Otherwise the android element of the story works reasonably well as a tool by the competitors for the Taran throne to achieve their goals despite interference.
The story's roots are supposedly clearly the novel The Prisoner of Zenda but as one who is unfamiliar with that work I am unable to comment upon this use of source material, other than that it doesn't obviously show to the uninitiated. David Fisher's tale is well written, offering a logical chain of events as Grendel seeks to seize the throne whilst the Doctor aids Prince Reynart against the Count. There's a degree of humour in the tale, especially in its send up of the quest for the Key to Time at the start of the story or in its send up of the over eager Farrah, but the story never lets the humour dominate it and thus the whole thing works well.
Of the cast all the actors playing androids often wind up making the role a little too obvious, but the 'real' characters fare better. As Count Grendel Peter Jeffrey easily steals many of the scenes that he is in, whilst Neville Jason manages to bring to Prince Reynart as sense of being truly displaced. The rest of the cast are less effective though, with Lois Baxter making little impact as Lamia.
The production of the story strongly resembles a contemporary period drama, with some very good location work whilst the studio sets all come across as effective. The only unsuccessful element is the realisation of the beast at the start of the tale and one wonders why a real animal could not be used for this redundant sequence, but otherwise The Androids of Tara is a story that generally holds together quite well. 7/10
A Review of the DVD by Andrew McCaffrey 21/11/02
Probably my least favorite adventure in the Key To Time series is The Androids of Tara And the main criticism that I have of it is that it commits one of the worst sins that a television program can - it bored me. Which is a real shame because in-between the long stretches of lackluster material, there are more than a few things to enjoy. But my overwhelming impression of this (and that impression is reaffirmed with every subsequent viewing) is that there is just far too much padding and fluff in this adventure for its own good.
First of all, the story seems to jar slightly from the usual way that the Tom Baker Doctor interacts with others. Rather than being at the center and driving the action forward, the Doctor takes a passive role for the majority of the tale. He eventually does become a mover in his own right near the end, but for the most part this is a story that he influences rather than drives. Androids of Tara is very much the story of the King, the Crown and the fight for the throne rather than having a structure more typical of the average Doctor Who adventure. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. It's interesting to see a more subdued Fourth Doctor, although occasionally I was wishing for him to take a more active stance. It just seemed odd that the Doctor would cave so easily under the threat of violence and that it was only this threat that kept him in the story. It's even more odd when one realizes that the Doctor would usually be predisposed to want to help out the Prince, Zadek and Farrah anyway. The fact that most of the plot points are borrowed from other sources is fairly obvious so perhaps this is an inadvertent holdover from an earlier draft. I'm not quite sure what the solution is, but there's something about those sequences that just don't quite seem to work.
As far as the characters go, the oh-so-bad Count is probably one of the most amusing villains in Doctor Who; he almost makes the story worth viewing just by himself. It's true that he becomes a caricature of himself by the end, but by that point he's an entertaining force in his own right. I love how by episode four he isn't even bothering to put up a pretense around his machinations any more, he's just busy being as evil as he can be - and he's immense fun.
As professional as the rest of the cast is, they simply don't have a terribly exciting script to work with here. The characters are well played but there isn't much to them. With robotic and dull android duplicates roaming through the story, it can sometimes be difficult to determine when exactly someone is portraying an emotionless machine, and when someone is portraying a bland and uninteresting character.
On the positive side, the picture has been cleaned up quite well, and special mention must go to the exterior shots that now look extremely crisp and clear. The sound is also remarkably improved, with many little whispers and mumbles now audible. Tom Baker, Mary Tamm, and director Michael Hayes feature on the commentary track, and this alone is a big reason for obtaining this DVD. Baker and Tamm are slightly more subdued than they were on the Ribos Operation disc, but still manage to come out with several hysterical comments (I particularly enjoyed Tom Baker's pride at his character's ability to consume vast quantities of drugged wine - "I'm the last one to drop!"). Hayes manages to answer Baker's frequent asking of "Who's that?" as well as offering insights into the behind-the-scenes production. The pop-up production notes are sadly much less interesting than those on the previous three discs. While there was some useful information concerning the development of the script, far too many of the slides simply tell us what day and time certain shots were filmed. Not necessarily bad, just dull compared to the other notes.
If you already liked Androids of Tara, then no doubt you'll enjoy the DVD release, which again maintains the very high standards that the Doctor Who discs have enjoyed. Personally, I could have done without picking up this one, and had it not been part of the Key To Time box set, I think I would have avoided it. Still, it's always nice to reevaluate Doctor Who stories that one hasn't seen recently, even if one's original opinion remains unchanged. And with the story physically looking and sounding better than it ever has before, this is probably the best opportunity you'll have to enjoy this particular one. I just hope you find it less boring than I did.
A Review by Will Berridge 22/4/03
The general consensus of fan opinion is that Androids of Tara is a fairytale, and should be appreciated as such. Fine. Incidentally, I've never read The Prisoner of Zenda, so if I appear to be missing the point at times, that's probably why.
Fairytales should be about banally villainous overlords who battle handsome princes who rescuing beautiful princesses. Only one of these elements really appears with any great success in Androids of Tara, for two main reasons. Firstly, instead of the derring-do being left to the handsome prince and his valiant swordsmen (Zadek, Farrah), a newly appeared jester (the Doctor) gets to do all this. This is an unusual twist for a fairy-tale, and leaves the other characters in the background for most of the story. All that is seen of Zadek and Farrah's swordmastery is a couple of amusing sequences where Farrah singes the Doctor's scarf and gets his hand stunned by K9, disabling one guard, and an all too brief fight scene at the castle gates at the climax, after the Doctor has done the hard part and let them in. Farrah especially comes across as 100% paper tiger as a result. Prince Reynart is so nondescript I just had to look up his name in The TV companion to get him in the review, and I could just imagine him metamorphosing into a solid block of wood as he delivered the line "perhaps you are right, Zadek". Grendel sums it up succinctly, telling him to "stop being so tediously heroic". Like Farrah, his problem is he never gets to do anything to back his "heroic" talk up. They could at least have let him valiantly rescue his princess at the end, but Romana does even that at the end, probably because he's not feeling terribly well. He's so crap.
The second problem is that most fairytales don't produce plots so convoluted as to think up of two reasons for producing doubles of people. No wonder Mary Tamm's confused, having to act Romana, a Princess, and a slightly dodgy android. Like Neville Jason (Prince wosserface), she came to the conclusion she would solve matters by acting all her roles with the conviction of a slightly dodgy android. I don't think she could have put any less effort into her attempts to tell the Prince "the Doctor will sort things out". We happen to know he will but it's still embarrassing to watch her. The other problem with the plotting is that the first two episodes rather tediously plod along with people preparing their androids and Count Grendel his other evil machinations, then all the androids, and Madame Lamia (Grendel's admirer and android-specialist) get destroyed, so that the events of the final episode have nothing to do with them at all. Which is curious for a story with the word "androids" in this title. Ultimately they become just as much a superficial element in the plot as the laser crossbows and electric rapiers. Episode 3 tries to make them threatening with Grendel's display of his Strella/Romana duplicate's powers, most of which he leaves to the imagination by stating its has "many other" methods of killing people. I'd love to know what these were. They certainly don't materialise when it "tries" to kill the Doctor at the Palace of the Summer winds. Instead we get to watch a hilariously bad piece of alleged "action" where the android fires at the Doctor once (and misses, of course), then is propelled rather frustratedly towards him by Madame Lamia, but still remains inactive whilst K9 repeatedly stuns it and it falls over in a rather pathetic fashion.
Just before I finish ranting, I have to mention the swordfight at the end is far to slow. And the coronation bit bored me - the music was terrible. Right, that's it. I can talk about the good stuff now. Specifically, the bits of Episodes 3 and 4 I haven't slagged off yet and the two performances I haven't- Grendel and the Doctor. Oh, and that hunchbacked fellow who really should have appeared more. Tom Baker is superb in this one, with the 4th Doctor displaying all his characteristic whims. His fussiness over his scarf (when Farrah singes it) is one. Playing the gullible fool to Grendel at the end of the 3rd Episode is another. Then there's the playful innocence with which he lies to Lamia about his motives for appearing early but then sharply accuses her. His arguing with K9 (especially "a hamster with a blunt penknife could cut it quicker!"), and those moments it turns out he really should have paid attention to the little tin dog, they're all great. (He probably wasn't really being so stupid walking out and expecting Grendel's guard not to attack him. He just knew they'd all miss.) The "Liar!" moment, as well as Grendel's lying, come to think of it, is hilarious. Only Tom Baker's Doctor would walk into the marriage ceremony in Episode 4, completely ignore the self-obsessed egomaniac who he knows has arranged it, and start quizzing the Archimandrite about which bit they've got to. He's just inspired. But then he's always inspired. He was probably inspired in Underworld, except it so crap we've only watched it once or twice and don't remember his great moment so well. Luckily for him, in this one he gets an opponent that isn't just utterly evil and insane, but can nearly match him for verbal duelling as well. I expect somewhere on this page someone has already commended the "Next time, I shall not be so lenient!" riposte, but it's just brilliant so I'm going to do it again anyway. (The Doctor always gets the last laugh, off course, with the "you forgot your helmet!" moment.)
So just watch Androids of Tara to laugh at these bits. And other bits as well, if you^Òre of a certain mentality.
Return to Zenda by Andrew Wixon 27/5/03
There's a kind of impudent shamelessness about The Androids of Tara that you'll either find charmingly irresistible or fantastically annoying (I should come clean and say that I'm in the former camp). It expresses itself in a number of ways - in the way the story, rather like the Doctor at the start, obviously loses all interest in the fabled Key to Time quest, and gets the necessary segment-hunting out of the way with almost indecent haste. It's there in the way the story barely offers a shred of rationalisation as to why the inhabitants of Tara have opted for such a techno-Ruritanian society. If one removed the androids - a tricky proposition, admittedly - one could make a historical out of it. But this is probably putting the cart before the horse as the story's most blatant, shameless aspect is in the way it's not so much a homage to as a rewrite of The Prisoner of Zenda.
(Weird but true: the BBC dramatised Prisoner of Zenda in the mid 1980s. I watched the TV version, thinking: this is just like Androids of Tara. I bet what happens next is - yup, I was right. Now there's going to be a sword-fight - yup, I was right again. Gosh, isn't there a law against this?)
As I say, I quite like Androids of Tara, because it's fun: Tom Baker and Peter Jeffrey taking it in turns to chew the scenery, sight gags and one liners, duels and dual roles (the claim that Mary Tamm actually plays four parts - Romana, Strella, and two androids - seems to me to be pushing it a bit). It's a story of its time, with season 16's interest in royalty and fairytale trappings, with the strong characterisation that the Williams era never seems to get credited for - even fairly minor characters like Lamia get more depth than you'd expect.
It's not perfect, obviously - some of the guards are embarrassingly indifferent, and the final sword fight should be better lit, surrounded by extras, and accompanied by a suitably stirring piece of music. But these are mere quibbles (forgiving of me, I know - if I ever review this story again - well, I shall not be so lenient next time), because serious criticism implies that you're taking The Androids of Tara seriously. And it's not meant to be. It's meant to be action for the kids, laughs for the parents, and a warm sense of smugness from all the students who spot the Anthony Hope references. Good fun guaranteed for all.
Dreamy... by Joe Ford 12/9/03
We Doctor Who fans are a right fickle bunch, we always want something new interesting and yet when it is delivered we moan and groan about how good "traditional" stories are. There are a selective bunch (yes you know who you are...) who object to Doctor Who pushing its boundaries too far, who dare to claim that the formula-less show has a formula! I think this is 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?
'Cause it's 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? Probably all of these and more.
You can see a great deal of imagination has gone into David Fisher's script, he is one of my favourite script writers in the show's entire run, his stories are always crammed with witty lines, memorable characters, carefully considered plots and a great deal of humour. His take on The Prisoner of Zenda is inspired and the atmosphere the story generates shows up the remaining stories of season sixteen. There is a number of people who watch the show as passers by, whenever its on or if they're a bit bored... you know like your mum and dad and they remember the good old days when Tom Baker was the Doctor with his trusty dog K.9., they remember the good humour and the adventures... and The Androids of Tara positively revels in that sort of atmosphere. Just watch a few minutes and you are drawn into its uncynical and magical atmosphere.
It is so nice to have a story that isn't about a horrible monster or an invasion or even in this season about the hunt for the Key to Time, it's a reasonably complicated tale of politics and double (haha) dealings. It uses Romana better than any other story to feature Mary Tamm and has the Doctor at the top of his game, swashbuckling, 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 insane but loveable Grendel. It even has time for a five minute swordfight and a spot of fishing!
The direction is wonderful, Mike Hayes taking his location and filming it for all it's worth. The story positively glows with colour, the woodland and fields make a superb location for all the running about and fighting and adds a nice touch of realism to a story that deals with the extraordinary. I love all the work around the pavillion with the Doctor trapped inside and the nightime filming at the story's conclusion is just gorgeous, Leeds castle lit up from below in all its glory. What's more the story is filmed with the same lightness of touch as the script so they compliment each other well and the sense of enjoyment from all involved is all up on screen.
Give Mary Tamm her due, she rocks in this story. The script allows Romana to be ballsy and helpless and for the first episode she does all the Doctor bits, wandering off, facing the monster, finding the key, seeking out the main baddie... of course she's soon twisting her ankle and laid out on an operating table about to have her neck cut off. But instead of leaving her pathetic and useless Fisher makes her character pivotal what with her double Princess Strella and the android copy of her roaming about, suddenly there are Romana copies everywhere! And yet Tamm makes each one distinguishable and still imbues her Romana with some pluck and resourcefulness. She manages to escape the castle and ride off to safety and save the Princess at the end. Tamm has often irritated me in her stories, she does seem to have a stuck up attitude towards the programme (I mean read her interviews!!!) but since Romana is written as a bit of a snob it seems to work okay. When she is clearly enjoying herself she works a treat and by all accounts she thoroughly enjoyed this story. Its certainly shows.
Mophead Doctor Tom is just a laugh riot in this one easily the best he was all year (and considering he was at his loony peak during this year that is saying something!). "I'm taking the day off!" he exclaims proudly! "If you don't stop burning my scarf you're going to have to kill me!" he protests! "It's funny how they always want you to go alone when you're walking into a trap!" he muses. "Liar!" he screams as Grendels man open fire on him after he promised they wouldn't! "Hello everyone sorry I'm late, I do so love a good wedding!" he says, interrupting Romana's forced wedding. "K.9.!" he screams as his little tin friend is trapped in boat spinning away on the river. The story is full of priceless little Tom Baker moments as you can see but my all time favourite is after he conspires with Grendel he walks over to Zadek and pronounces "The Counts just offered me the throne!"... brilliant!
Grendel is played with relish by Peter Jeffrey, his second scene stealing performance in the show. At times he takes the role so OTT he seems to be parodying those arch villains in the show... I love it when he looks at the camera and slaps his head and curses! He's always making dashing gestures... "Hold your fire!" he cries, swishing his hair heroically and he sweeps Romana off her feet and rides her on his horse (charger!) to the castle. His plots and schemes get more and more complicated and his final embarrassing defeat fencing with the Doctor is his downfall and yet he jumps into the river with one triumphant cry... (come on you all know it!)... "Next time I shall not be so lenient!" A superb baddie.
Yes some of the studios are naff (Lamia's laboratory looks decidedly low budget) and the Key to Time is conveniently forgotten to tell this swashbuckling yarn but money isn't everything and it's nice to have a break. The secondary characters work fine, Farrah and Zadek aren't half as bland as people would lead you to believe (the "Funny, some androids say that about people" joke on both of them works well) and the Archimandrite is played wonderfully by Cyril Shaps, a far cry from his embarrassing moans as Viner from Tomb of the Cybermen. Lamia is the best character though, icy cold and desperate for some love, she looks and acts extremely dangerous. An astonishingly straight performance from Lois Baxter but a chilling one.
The biggest thumbs up however must go to Doreen James for her wonderful and outrageous costumes! Romana's purple and green blouse! The Archimandrite's huge multi coloured hat! Grendel's suave scarlet tunic. They look as gorgeous as the story and add yet more colour to the show.
A triumph of light comedy, I wouldn't want every story to be like this but as a one off it feels like a breath of fresh air. A holiday adventure with lots of fun to offer.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 26/1/04
The Androids Of Tara is basically an old fashioned traditional romp, with a bit of a conspiracy thrown into the plot. The result is a highly enjoyable tale, with plenty of excellent location work thrown in for good measure. The story also belongs to Mary Tamm as she gets the majority to do, playing dual roles and managing to carry them off with ease. This is an interesting case of character development, as the Doctor deciding he can trust Romana to handle things by herself opts for a holiday. Tom Baker is great relishing the plot and handling his many quotable lines with panache. Similairly K-9 is put to good use as hunter, tracker, mobile weapon and scientific advisor. The guest cast are great Peter Jeffery stealing the show as Count Grendel;he has the right amount of charisma and callousness. Lois Baxter is also noteworthy as Lamia, a female villain with motivation. The only thing that lets the story down is the Taran Wood Beast; a creature better best forgotten. In short this is Doctor Who as escapist hokum but very enjoyable hokum at that.
A Review by Jack Hadley 31/3/04
The Androids of Tara does not start very well in my view with the first 10 mins being very slow and dull (and the Taran beast dose not exactly help!)but after a slow start it is an absolute classic. The main plot is an obvious copy of The Prisoner of Zenda but in my view much better. The main characters in this story are on top form, Tom Baker getting some great lines ('Would you mind not standing on my chest my hat's on fire!') and also some great set pieces (the sword fight at the end). Mary Tamm is also great (she plays 4 characters) and this is probably her best story. Also John Leeson has some great bits as K9 (especially at the end in the boat). But the character who really stands out in this story is Count Grendel played by the late Peter Jeffery who is so good that he deserves a sequel. Also very interesting and unusual about this story is that only one character dies (Madame Lamia) and that is an accident.
Overall this story is an underrated gem.
A Review by Ryan Thompson 21/6/04
Like Masque of Mandragora, Androids of Tara is a lavish costume drama. Unlike Masque of Mandragora, there is no alien menace in this story. The threat is a terrestrial one. Count Grendel attempts to seize the throne of Tara in a plot of deceptions, dopplegangers and action. David Fisher presents a story for the Doctor Who format which not only has an intelligent script but relies heavily on battle scenes. There's a certain refined medievalism here. They live like knights but they use androids. There are fights scenes but most of the important battles are won with wits.
There is nobody in the guest cast who is anything short of exceptional, of particular note is Peter Jeffery as the count. Tom is at his scheming best here, even clowning around in the final confrontation, a swordfight at the royal castle (you have to love those electrical bolts). The Taran beast seems like little more then a quick tack on, but it's a minor gaffe nonetheless. Zadek, Farrah, Lamia and the Guard Captain were all well acted and well concieved.
I agree with Andrew McCaffrey when he says that the count is one the more comical DW villans. I'd also rank him as one of the best. Your quintessential pompous despot, great fodder for a lavish costume adventure. This is one of those stories where a lot of the humor comes from a source other then Tom himself. Romana is given quite a lot to do, as is Mary Tamn (giving the perfect air of sensuality and upper class refinement to her double role as the Princess Strella). It could very easily be said that everyone gets a reasonable slice of the action here. Even the handsome (if unremarkable) Neville Jason gets a duel role as Prince Reynart and then Prince Reynart's android.
A highly watchable classic with loads to recommended and virtually nothing to discredit it; probably my favorite story of the Key to Time season. 9/10
A Review by Brian May 19/9/04
The high quality of adventures in the Key to Time saga continues with The Androids of Tara - a gentle, fun, runabout with great characters, a great Doctor and a good, but not excessive, measure of self-deprecating humour.
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.
It's a romantic, swashbuckling tale of villainous villains, princes and princesses, swordsmen, doppelgangers and mistaken identity. The obvious influence is, of course, The Prisoner of Zenda. But throughout its history Doctor Who has never pretended not to be unoriginal; at its best it pays respect to its historical and literary sources, which is exactly what happens here. It's a story that wins you over with its charm and simplicity. The fate of one planet is in the balance - the oft-quoted definition is "small stakes". Although if you were a Taran, the prospect of being ruled by Count Grendel may not be such a trifling matter! But, then again, Grendel is a Graham Williams-era villain - a lighter version of The Masque of Mandragora's Count Federico. Yes, he is a cad, a bounder, a would-be dictator who doesn't shy away from murder to achieve his goals, but he lacks the sadistic, tyrannical nature of his 15th century counterpart. Grendel would probably be just as much a despot, but this story never allows for that possibility to be examined.
This brighter mood is, of course, an example of the difference between the Hinchcliffe and the Williams eras of the show - and why some criticise the latter and defend the former. This may be valid in some cases, but this is an exception. Williams's charge to lighten the tone of Doctor Who succeeds with a tale like Androids.
Peter Jeffrey is wonderful as the scheming Count. He injects his character with all the nastiness his status as central villain accords, but he understands the less than serious atmosphere prevalent. He's almost a pantomime villain - a baddie to boo and hiss - but his performance is restrained enough to keep it from going over the top. It's almost a good thing to see him get away at the end - his parting "Next time, I shall not be so lenient!" is sublime. The Androids of Tara benefits from having no bad performances. Tom Baker and Mary Tamm are, as usual, on top form. Baker plays up the Doctor, but this suits the story. Aside from Jeffrey, the strongest of the guest cast are Simon Lack as Zadek and Lois Baxter as Lamia.
The latter is a fascinating character. The Stones of Blood showed that David Fisher is capable of writing strong female characters. Lamia is determined; she desires Grendel but realises the limitations of her position and that he is merely using her. She's bitter and sarcastic ("I leave politics to my betters") and gives as good as she gets
Grendel: "What should I do without you?"There's more great dialogue. From the Doctor, we get:
Lamia: "Find another peasant who understands androids, no doubt."
"Would you not mind standing on my chest, my hat's on fire?"His wry response to Lamia:
"If you don't stop burning my scarf, you're going to have to kill me!"
"It would have been fun to hear it!" (her reason for turning up to the Pavilion before the agreed time.)Of course, it would be a crime not to mention the Doctor's "hamster with a blunt pen-knife" insult to K9! Yes, there are enjoyable lines aplenty!
Fisher also plays with the whole running theme of the Key to Time. For the past three stories, there's been a build-up to what the segment is disguised as. But here, it's uncovered and transformed within the first ten minutes, thus allowing the adventure to go ahead, independent of the story arc.
Yes, David Fisher is a skilled writer! Not perfect, mind you. While he gives the Doctor some great lines, there's some inconsistency. At the beginning of The Stones of Blood, the Doctor is all gloom, stressing the importance of their mission, including a sombre speech on the "eternal chaos' that awaits the universe should they fail. At the start of this story, he's lounging about playing chess with K9, refers to the Key as "that old thing" and just wants to go fishing after landing on Tara. This last bit is, of course, a way to separate the two Time Lords for the sake of the plot, but it's more than a bit contrived.
There are just a few faults on a technical level. Michael Hayes's direction is, for the most part, pretty good (the swordfight at the end is excellent). However, in part one, Romana's journey through the Taran countryside is a bit too relaxed and meandering. It contains a great scene - when she looks up from the bottom of the tree to hear the sudden, unsettling cacophony of bird calls, but overall the whole sequence could have been a bit tighter. However, this is not the story's greatest sin - the Taran beast holds this dubious honour, but the less said about that the better!
However, the location photography is great - nice and sunny, befitting the story's atmosphere. Dudley Simpson delivers another great score; the medieval pageant-like theme that's first heard when Romana and Grendel approach castle Gracht is just divine! I really don't care about the Archimandrite's hat or Taran fashions - I'm too busy enjoying the romp!
The story also utilises K9 to his best. It's one of the few times the mechanical pooch's presence is both welcome and essential. The final scene is charming - but then, so is the whole adventure! There are some genuinely funny moments - the Doctor's mock buffoonery during the duel with Grendel, Romana attempting to "start" a horse. It's not deep, profound, nor open to analysis or deconstruction. But I, for one, am not complaining. 8/10
A Review by Finn Clark 6/10/06
The Androids of Tara is charming and summery, says The Discontinuity Guide. I can't disagree, but I must add that it's also complete and utter bollocks. You'd think that plagiarising a classic adventure novel would guarantee a decent story, but unfortunately it seems that David Fisher also thought so since it seems that he put almost no effort into this adaptation. The plot makes no sense. You could watch the episodes in almost any order, including part four. Tom Baker and his chums wander around having fun in the countryside and steering clear of anything that could be mistaken for a story.
In fairness I suspect that David Fisher might have been unaware of these shortcomings, since I think he's one of the worst writers to work on Doctor Who. The Leisure Hive demonstrates that he didn't have a clue about plotting, while despite being silly nonsense might The Creature From The Pit be superior to his submitted draft of City of Death? Of David Fisher's two stories in Season Seventeen, only one needed such brutal script-editing that they took his name off the credits. Given all this, I'm inclined to conclude that Douglas Adams's City of Death must be the finest example of a silk purse from a sow's ear in the history of the programme.
Returning to Tara, Count Grendel's schemes make no sense. Why does he keep Prince Reynart alive? Princess Strella is already second in line to the throne, so everything Grendel does in part four is pointless. Romana's marriage would have achieved nothing. Killing Reynart would have also had the further advantage of letting Grendel dump the corpse somewhere public, having his identity confirmed and thus proving that any attempted substitutes really are androids. In addition, why leave Zadek and Farrah alive when kidnapping Reynart between parts one and two? It's as if Grendel's just playing around. Nothing really means anything. Romana gets the most laughable "escape and recapture" I've ever seen in part three, to no purpose but that of supplying a lame cliffhanger. Episode one is comparatively substantial by virtue of having lots of setting-up to do, but everything from then on is practically open-air pantomime.
That's not just random libel, either. Strella being in love with Reynart comes so completely out of nowhere at the end that I can't believe it's not deliberately corny. The only possible reaction is to laugh along. It's similarly inevitable that Grendel is secretly sweet on Strella too, although I suspect that was just Peter Jeffrey embroidering his part a little. I'm not wild about everything he does, to be honest, with his performance in part two being a bit too camp. We get no sense of anger, frustration or passion, with unfortunate consequences in the scene where he refuses to kneel to "Prince Reynart" at the coronation. That moment's terrible. Admittedly nothing in the production is encouraging you to take it seriously, but Jeffrey still isn't even trying. His pantomime villain's hat doesn't help, though.
That's a magnificent nose, though. Peter Jeffrey also played the Pilot in The Macra Terror, the absence of which from the BBC archives is a tragedy if only for the resultant shortfall in nasal splendour.
Interestingly this story is a prime example of Season Sixteen's running theme: low-tech pulp cliches shoehorned into a high-tech setting. Ribos was a medieval world of magic and superstition. Cessair of Diplos was an alien criminal but also a Celtic goddess who fostered cultists and blood sacrifice. The Power of Kroll gave us spear-carrying savages and King Kong imagery. Even The Pirate Planet and The Armageddon Factor are suprisingly literal in their use of fairy tale concepts like pirates and princesses. The Androids of Tara however outdoes all of them, with princes, peasants and swordsmanship. It's practically Robin Hood. This is actually one of my favourite things about the story, with interesting SF worldbuilding underneath this apparent paradox. Technological expertise being strictly for the peasants is a clever way of combining Disney fairy tale castles with the necessary androids. We have surgeon-engineers but also astrologers. There's even an explanation of why Tara turned to androids in the first place: "As deadly as the plague." My pet theory is that the plague that depopulated Tara is the one that the Daleks used to weaken Earth and its colonies before invading in the 22nd century. The dates fit.
Admittedly if you remove your brain, there's plenty to enjoy here. The location filming is pretty, especially Leeds Castle. The swordsmanship is fun, especially since for once the actors are fencing instead of heaving broadswords around. There are some nice lines, e.g. "Some androids feel like that about humans." I laughed at Romana not knowing how to make a horse go. It's also nice to see Tom Baker rebelling against his mission from the White Guardian and just trying to spend the day fishing, which is something Season Sixteen really needed at some point. However best of all is part one's Taran Beast, which is a comedic masterpiece that practically deserves its own review. One could deliver whole essays on the subject without pausing for breath. If nothing else, it shows how seriously we're meant to take the story. However I don't want to waste your time unnecessarily, so just imagine six or seven thousand words of delighted invective on the subject and we'll leave it at that.
Watching this story is a pleasant experience, but its problems can be summed up in the character of Lamia. She doesn't belong in this script. She's actually interesting, with pain and unrequired passion... so naturally she ends up with the most throwaway death imaginable, as if David Fisher was slightly embarrassed at having created her. What's more, I can almost see his point. It would have been easy to write some genuine drama for Lamia, but in this production it might well have felt awkward and out of place. As with Grendel's "defeat" in part four, it's the kind of departure that would barely warrant even explaining away if the character returned in a hypothetical episode five.
I enjoyed The Androids of Tara, but it's "unplug your brain" entertainment and deliberately so. Anthony Read had a philosophy of Doctor Who not dissimilar to that of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks... don't be too dark and dramatic. It's just fluffy family entertainment. The scary thing is that in ratings terms this method seemed to work, no matter that Season Sixteen often gives the impression of an entire production team coasting on the genius of their star. Nothing that contains Tom Baker can be entirely a waste of time. The Androids of Tara may be a ridiculously stupid story, but its genius lies in convincing you that this doesn't matter.
Swashbuckle Politics by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 22/4/17
The Androids of Tara is essentially politicking masquerading as swashbuckling. This is no bad thing, as politicking has to be handled carefully and imaginatively or else it'll kill the story through sheer dullness. Look no further than The Sensorites or The Mutants for examples of this approach going horribly wrong at length. So it's to this story's credit that it manages to make it all seem so engaging and... well, fun! It's also the last truly great story of the Key to Time arc. Whilst undeniably entertaining and enjoyable, The Power of Kroll veers more into 'guilty pleasure' territory with its ridiculous Swampies, incredibly cheap-looking sets and horrendous realisation of Kroll. The Armageddon Factor is a let down, both as the finale of the arc and as a story in its own right, an interminable runaround with a seriously high corridor quotient. The Androids of Tara, however, is very much an overlooked gem. It has never been regarded as a classic and indeed seems to lie forgotten in the shadow of The Ribos Operation and The Pirate Planet, and I can't understand why...
That lovely scene at the beginning with the Doctor and K9 playing chess is almost a reflection on the story as whole; i.e., it's all a bit of fun, a pleasant diversion to kill some time. The key segment is located within ten minutes and then forgotten about as the Doctor and Romana become entangled in the political chicanery of Tara, all of which is carried off with a breezy and joyful nonchalance. The Doctor even goes fishing. Perhaps this is why The Androids of Tara is so often overlooked; it's essentially nothing more than an entertaining intermezzo between the three high-power classics that precede it and the admittedly less successful stories after it and adds little to the overall arc of the season. However, this is doing it something of an injustice, as it does not speak for the quality of the story in its own right. It has a vivacity and an infectious joie de vivre that propels it along in a manner a million miles from the relentless corridor ennui of The Armageddon Factor.
It's a sort of pseudo-historical adventure, albeit one with some healthy doses of science fiction elements incorporated into it. Historical and pseudo-historical stories often tend to be rather sumptuous to look at, and The Androids of Tara is no exception. On these occasions, the BBC costume department really seems to come into its own, no doubt a result of the BBC's expertise in costume drama, though I can't say that I'm particularly impressed by the fact that the Archimandrite seems to be wearing a pair of curtains. The castle exterior scenes really add a lot of character to the story, as does the lovely sunny location filming in the surrounding grounds.
Tom Baker and Mary Tamm once again demonstrate with aplomb that they are a Doctor/companion team to be reckoned with. They don't get a huge amount of screen time together (at least not whilst Mary Tamm is playing Romana), but they shine when they do, and they are both equally capable on their own. For the most part, Tom Baker seemed to really enjoy himself in this season without letting everything descend into farce as it did in Season 17. He is at the height of his powers here, breezing through the story with a winning combination of conviction tempered with excellent comic timing. Credit is due to Mary Tamm as well for constantly rising above the material she was given. She may be a Time Lord, but, when it came down to it, she essentially did what so many of the other companions did: ask the Doctor questions in order to act as a relay point for the audience. Despite this, she still managed to imbue her performance with character and charm and was never any less watchable than Lalla Ward's take on the role. Her purple outfit does rather remind me of something that a leprechaun might wear, but it doesn't matter; she remains one of the most stunningly beautiful women ever to grace the series and she carries it off with style. She very coolly backs away from the Wood Beast in a manner that suggests she isn't the least bit frightened. Count Grendel arrives shortly after this, to whom she says "I'm sorry if you're somebody frightfully important but I'm a stranger here." Mary Tamm makes that line fly like nobody else...
The two leads are ably backed up by a strong guest cast. The Androids of Tara could essentially be Peter Jeffrey's audition tape for the part of the Master. He's Machiavellian yet utterly charming, a silver-tongued rogue with a genuine nasty streak, and he manages to deliver pretty much every line with a superbly judged balance of sardonic wit and oily menace. It is also strangely satisfying that he doesn't die at the climax but lives to fight another day - he's evil and cunning, but we're rooting for him anyway. Lois Baxter turns in a downplayed yet haunted performance as the ultimately tragic Lamia. Her accidental death is actually quite sad, all the more so as Grendel doesn't care one iota, beyond the fact that he has lost his best technician. On the side of right and good we have Neville Jason, Paul Lavers and Simon Lack, all of whom are engaging to watch and establish a good rapport with one another and with Tom Baker.
If The Androids of Tara proves anything, it's what a versatile writer David Fisher is. This is a very different kettle of fish to The Stones of Blood, a personal favourite of mine. Whilst the previous story was, for the most part, a dark, gothic sci-fi horror with comedic elements incorporated to add contrasting light relief, The Androids of Tara is essentially a bit of fun, a light-bodied, summery jaunt around a world that is at once alien yet utterly familiar in its historical trappings. The only notable misstep is the inclusion of the Wood Beast, seemingly done only to meet the Doctor Who prerequisite of having monsters. But even this is largely forgettable, and it seems churlish to chide the story for such an inconsequential element that amounts to about thirty seconds of screen time.
Dudley Simpson is also worthy of mention. He incorporates harpsichord and organ into his sonic palette, wholly in keeping with the style of the story. His use of the organ was very effective in The Ribos Operation and is just as successful here. As with the rest of the story, his music has a much less sombre vibe than it did in The Stones of Blood.
If you are less familiar with The Androids of Tara than you are with the rest of the Key to Time season, then you need to acquaint yourself with this minor masterpiece without further delay. It isn't trying to be an epic or a classic and nor is it aiming for profundity, it just does what it does and does it extremely well indeed. Wholeheartedly recommended.