THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Key to Time
The Shadow of Weng-Chiang
BBC
The Stones of Blood
The Key to Time Part Three

Episodes 4 Attempt to solve the riddle of hyperspace.
Story No# 100
Production Code 5C
Season 16
Dates Oct. 28, 1978 -
Nov. 18, 1978

With Tom Baker, Mary Tamm,
and John Leeson as the voice of "K9".
Written by David Fisher. Script-edited by Anthony Read.
Directed by Darrol Blake. Produced by Graham Williams.

Synopsis: The Doctor and Romana encounter mystic forces in a stone circle. But is the culprit an ancient Celtic goddess or a fugitive stranded in hyperspace?


Reviews

"Sometimes it's quite exciting..." by Nick Waghorn 11/7/98

"Then, run as if something very nasty was coming after you, because something very nasty will be coming after you."

The above line is one of the reasons why I like The Stones of Blood so much, because Tom Baker gets a chance to have some real fun with the character here. From his beguiling charm when visiting Mr. De Vries and chatting about druids to his spirited attempts at defence during his trial, Tom really does dazzle, showing off his complete range. Just watch his hilarious reaction to Professor Rumford's ramblings about Doctor Borlase when they first meet -- classic.

The other regulars perform satisfactorily, with Romana still in character (the business with the shoes and the jigsaw-like key) and K9 also having his moments. Best are the tennis scene and K9 quibbling with the Doctor over whether he wanted to become a bloodhound.

The supporting characters do well, with no bad performances among them (though admittedly the cast is small). Professor Rumford is sublimely dotty -- similar to Amelia Ducat from The Seeds of Doom. Her indication that they should "track it [an Ogri] to it's lair," and the Doctor's subsequent reaction, is great. Susan Engel gives an impressive performance throughout and manages to exude great presence in all of her scenes.

As for the non-human characters, the Megara have a "Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy" air about them, with their weary pedantic voices -- which are very expressive. Then again, with the visual side of the Megara, the voices have to be expressive -- they look very cheap.

The Ogri are great monsters, and I would hazard them as being one of the scariest alien races in Doctor Who (though maybe I'm easily frightened). Visually they're quite basic, but the ominous heartbeat sound is very unsettling and the thought of actually coming up against one and being defenceless (K9 had a laser and even thengets crippled) is a nasty one. One of the most memorably horrific scenes is De Vries praying for mercy at an altar when we hear an ominous heartbeat sound. "Too late," screams De Vries as we see an Ogri slide past the window, moving towards the door. A second later it is smashed in, and all we hear are the screams....

The plot is actually good, concentrating solely on trying to get the third segment of the Key rather than adding a secondary plot of someone trying to destroy Earth as well (as in The Pirate Planet). There is the odd hole (after wrecking the Doctor's machine, does Cessair return to hyperspace merely to gloat?) but they're glossed over by the general sense of fun. Unfortunately the pace slows down aboard the spaceship.

The visual effects are a mixed bag, usually rather woeful, especially the Megara, but there is the occasional good effect -- Cessair's wand isn't bad. Essentially though, this story is more character and story driven than it effects driven.

And isn't that what good Doctor Who is all about? 8/10


It's a Game of Two Halves... by Mike Morris 30/3/99

I've always found that Doctor Who stories that are just plain rubbish are often more likeable than those that don't really fulfill their potential... maybe that's why I dislike The Stones of Blood even more than The Power of Kroll. There's so much that's good about it, but it doesn't come together at the end of the day. It's not just a pity, it's a travesty, because this could have been an all-time great.

You're almost better off watching the first two episodes and stopping the tape there. The ideas are imaginative, and some moments are genuinely unsettling -- the influence of Hitchcock's The Birds is obvious, and the ravens are a nice touch. The Ogri are a good idea, and are even quite convincing -- I was dreading seeing them move, thinking it would be awful, but it's not too bad at all. The scene with the hikers is great, too.

The shift from the horror story to the hyperspace-based narrative was a good idea. It's a shame that hyperspace is portrayed so conventionally -- compare it with the white void of Warrior's Gate and you'll get an idea of what could have been achieved. Still, it's a nice touch.

So what's so bad about the last two episodes? Well, it's mainly the way that so many plot points are glossed over. Why does Cessair hang around on Earth for so long? What, ultimately, are the ravens for, and how does De Vries control them? Why do the Ogri do what Cessair tells them? Presumably Vivienne Fay wants the stone circle left alone, so why is she helping Amelia Rumford survey it? What on earth is that thing in Romana's cell? Why does Cessair return to the prison ship? What's her plan?

There are some good jokes -- Cessair's sentences 'running consecutively' is a nice touch -- but the negatives outweigh the positives. The Megara don't have the sense of menace that they need, and the courtroom scenes are simply boring. It's a pity De Vries was killed off so early, too.

The problems could really have been sorted out without too much bother. All that was needed to make The Stones of Blood superb was two day's worth of script editing. As it is, it's possibly my least favourite story of the season, and a criminal waste of the talent involved.


Full of fun and surprises by Mark Irvin 18/8/01

After reading Nick Waghorn's review concerning this The Stones of Blood, I would firstly like to second all of his comments regarding this adventure. Whilst nearly all of Tom Baker's tenure as the Doctor is of the upmost quality, this one in particular seems to stick in my mind. It seems to have achieved a nice balance between comedy, seriousness, unpredictability and fun - all of which I consider to be part of the perfect recipe for a Doctor Who.

The earlier parts of The Stones of Blood are set on Earth, mostly involving the Doctor and his friends evading the Ogri or blood sacrificing druids. However, later on the story is moved into hyperspace - the Doctor facing a court case against justice machines called the Megara. It has been said that the court scenes in hyperspace are slow and too different to the earlier parts on Earth. However I would have to disagree to this, as I think that this difference is one of it's best qualities. The Megara (although pretty ordinary looking) are rather interesting and unusual characters indeed. Baker's interaction with them in trying to avoid/delay his execution is especially memorable. I couldn't help but laughing at the part when the Doctor puts on a judge's wig. He 'just happens' to have one floating around in those rather extensive pockets of his.

Tom Baker is probably at his best here, delivering various one liners and amusing comments. Professor Rumford teams up well with both the Doctor and Romana whilst being involved in much of the humour herself. I enjoyed the part where she says that she understands about hyperspace after the Doctor tells her. The Doctor then replies "Well, when you have got some spare time perhaps you could explain it to me!"

I would also like to pay attention to the Ogri themselves, perhaps one of the most original and underrated Monsters ever to appear on the show. They were well realised onscreen and are very frightening indeed (something very unusual for Doctor Who). The scene where the two campers are consumed for their blood is a classic. The girl touching the seemingly lifeless rock, then screaming as the Ogri comes to life with a loud, eerie, pulsating beat.

On the downside the plot appears to have a few flaws. I mean, what exactly is the Cessair after? What is she actually doing in Hyperspace? Why is the ship there?. And the hyperspace set aboard the spaceship is very bland even for Doctor Who standards. However, I have never really cared too much about minor details. I have always rated a story on it's characters and general enjoyability - and that's the main reason I watch the show.


Lost in Hyperspace by Andrew Wixon 14/3/02

Of all the flaws that can afflict a DW story, surely the most depressing is Great First Episode syndrome: you know, when a story comes on strong, atmospheric and intrieging, only to collapse in an unconvincing mess of flapping plot strands and contrived solutions. Stones of Blood isn't a particularly bad offender, in that it remains throughout an entertaining enough story, but the second half of the tale isn't anything like as interesting as the first half promises.

The Stones of Blood is great as long as it's actually about the stones in question and the Celtic cult surrounding them. The Ogri are an off-the-wall monster, to say the least, but they terrified me as a five year old and at least they're original. Similarly the scenes with de Vries and the other druids have a certain cod-creepiness, as do the ones with the ravens on the stones and the TARDIS. The scene where Miss Fay turns out to be the woman in all the paintings is a nice touch too.

But in episode three it all goes citrus-fruit-shaped as we're off into hyperspace for another comedy space opera run-around. Now I quite like this sort of thing in its place but the beginning of the story promised so much more than a final episode consisting mainly of Tom hamming it up next to some floaty special effects blobs. Ah well. It goes without saying that by far the most effective part of this half of the story is the sequence where K9 drives off the Ogri, who then 'recharge' themselves - it's a scene which adds virtually nothing to the plot, being purely there for effect. But what an effect it is, and it betrays how limp the rest of the story is.

Still, the story makes a virtue of its tiny cast and Beatrix Lehman is engagingly lunatic as Professor Rumford. Actually, her performance almost makes up for the collapse of the story. Susan Engels is obviously the villain from very near the start (was Cessair of Diplos really a Brown Owl? Are the scouts and brownies infested with immortal alien supercriminals? Hey, someone get BBC Books on the phone, there's a story idea here). And, well, that's about it cast-wise. Perhaps the change of location for the second half of the story was necessary to hide the fact that there are only about five guest characters, most of whom have tiny parts (so to speak) or only appear via voice-over. Still, a bit of a wasted opportunity in many ways.


'Everyone back to my place for sausage sandwiches' by Rob Matthews 23/7/02

Reviews of this story thus far have been pretty lukewarm, mostly centering on the abrupt change of tone with the hyperspace segment. I myself have referred to it - in reviewing season 16 - as going awry about halfway through, and it's generally talked about in terms of wasted opportunity.

Time for a rebuttal; if I may quote Iris Wildthyme, 'Bollocks!' This story is great.

I refer to Ms Wildthyme with good reason - Stones of Blood reminds me very much of a Paul Magrs Who story - the humour, the batty old lady, the domestic scenes, and perhaps most importantly, the laughing in the face of portentiousness.

To take those in the order I've listed them-

a) Humour; well, it was central to the Williams era, wasn't it? And to most of the best Doctor Who, come to that. What better way to defuse a right bastard's pompous self-image of himself than to laugh in his face? Recently Paradise Towers and Delta and the Bannermen have been receiving good reviews based on the idea that their, respectively, humour and warmth excuse their deficencies in plotting. I'd agree with that if the humour was actually funny (apart from Tabby and Tilda), or the warmth genuine, as opposed to Delta's sickly synthetic nostalgia confection reminiscent of a Sunday evening series on ITV (if you're not from the UK, let me explain that Sunday evening shows on ITV are awful parochial shit). Whew... sidetrack. Well, not entirely. What I'm trying to say is that Stones is a story where the sense, the genuine sense of fun and friendship (even though, like all the Doctor's friendships, shortlived) more than makes up for a few loose ends in the plot.

b) By batty old lady I refer to the splendid Professor Rumford, and I'm not being denigrating to old ladies here - I mean batty as a compliment. Great intelligence and eccentricity are complementary characteristics, and make for an appealing character. The Doctor himself could be described a batty old scientist, and the prof's a character roughly analogous to him - couldn't you just see her playing the Doctor? She has something in common with all the incarnations up to that point (the elderly but fun-loving Hartnell, the ruffled ramshackle Troughton, Pertwee the scientic adviser, and the wacky Baker).

Broadening this out, Stones is a uniquely feminine Doctor Who story. It's been said elsewhere that it has a lot in common with female-gothic literature, which I'm not really familiar with (except Jane Eyre, which has a surprisingly wicked revenge fantasy lurking under its chocolate box exterior). For me, it's just good to see a Doctor Who story where actresses take the lead, where we have a Rumford and Fay instead of a Garron and Unstoffe, a Cessair of Diplos instead of a Magnus Greel. In a rather finicky sense this appeals to me as a sort of balancing-out, but I really think that if there had been a stronger female presence in the show overall, there'd have been a lot more female fans. This is one of very few stories I can think of where the most important supporting characters (ie - not the regulars) are mainly women. Offhand, I can only cite The Happiness Patrol and Kinda as other examples. Rumford, Fay and, er Dvoratrelundar are wonderful. On the lit-lite front, there's a bit of subtext in Cessair's fate - a 'wild woman' imprisoned in by a (literally!) faceless patriarchy (the Megara) - perhaps it would have been better, in fact, to reveal her a framed innocent accidentally venerated as a Goddess when she fell to Earth. On the other hand, perhaps not. We'd have missed out on some wonderfully smug malevolence - you can tell she's the villain from the moment she calls Romana "My dear".

c) The domestic scenes. It's equally unusual to have a Doctor Who story where a lot of the scenes take place in a nice, cosy living room. In an interview on the BBC website Magrs mentioned his liking the part of this story where they all go back to the professor's house to eat sausage sandwiches. I thought that was interesting, because I'd noticed before that Magrs' first three Doctor Who books each featured mouthwatering scenes of people eating bacon, and each time it's used to evoke a sense of being 'at home'. That's what the scene does in Stones of Blood too. It's all made believable because we're hearing about it in the living room. And how nice it must have been for the kids watching the show on its first broadcast to see the Doctor mocking up interdimensional contraptions in a house like their own.

d) The change of tone. The story's biggest crime appears to be that it pretends to be a Hinchcliffe story then reveals itself as a Williams one. A dark, sinister first episode gives way to silly chuckles and a parody of bureaucracy in part 4. Personally, I think that's part of what makes it great. This goes back to what I said about laughing in the bad guy's face. It's part of Doctor Who's anti-authoritarianism - tearing through all the superstitious guff and revealing the man behind the curtain. Episode one gives us Cessair's image of herself. A dark, ancient almost elemental evil. Episode 4 laughs at her with a silly barrister's wig on its head, shows her as a vain, squirming criminal. It's fantastic. And like I say, these stories don't exist in a vacuum, there were bloody billions of gothic Who stories during the Hinchcliffe years that maintained a dark and portentuous tone throughout. Stones isn't one of those stories because at this point, in all honesty, the last thing we need is another baroque lit pastiche. It's a welcome and witty change, the Williams era hitting its peak and being confident enough to stick two fingers up at the past.

So, this is by no means a wasted opportunity. In fact, I'd have considered it a wasted opportunity if Stones had been the dark yarn previous reviewers have wished for. This story is like a serious conversation that turns into a bloody good laugh. You've forgotten what you were talking about in the first place, but you don't care any more - you're too busy realising how fun life can be. And you're remembering why you still love this silly kids show.

Love it. And I haven't even mentioned that Mary Tamm is at her most stunning in that red dress.

...

Mary Tamm is at her most stunning in that red dress, you know.


A Review by Terrence Keenan 10/9/02

I've always liked The Stones of Blood, but it took me a long time to figure out why I did. It may sound strange, but there are times when you know you like something, but it's not anything you can explain to friends, family, or fellow fanboys.

It's because it's a send up of various formulas -- Sci-Fi, Doctor Who, Horror -- yet is willing to play by the rules of these genres when needed.

Case number one: How many DW episodes have you seen female companions running through woods, climbing cliffs and traversing ledges while wearing their high heels? The Stones of Blood subvert this with the whole shoe bit that happens in part one, with the Doctor advising against the high heels Romana decides to wear. At the midpoint, we can see Romana on a rock, massaging her feet and realizing what a bad idea the heels were, and abandoning the shoes entirely by the end of the episode. The whole thing is a DW idea rethought, subverted and changed for both realism and laughs.

Case number two: The sacrifice scene. We have your nutballs in hoods and robes, mentions of blood-demanding Goddesses, the obligatory bit where one of the group thinks the leader is going too far, and a last minute rescue before the sacrifice is completed. The subversion is in the details: It's the Doctor tied to the rock, and he's rescued by Professor Rumford, a dotty old lady.

There are other reasons I really like this story:

Beatrix Leahmann is a wonderful scene-stealer throughout. Her interaction with K9, Romana, and especially, the Doctor are fabulous. "In the name of science, we should track that creature to its lair and capture it."

The trial bit in episode four is very silly (VERY SILLY), but Tom plays it with the right balance.

Mary Tamm and Tom Baker are clearly having some fun with the script. Both get great lines and play it relatively straight. Also, plus points for Mary Tamm hanging on the cliff herself.

The OB footage around the circle is gorgeous, some of the best ever in the show.

The scene where the Ogri kill the camping couple is particularly chilling, especially since the audience has advanced knowledge.

To balance out this review a bit:

Susan Engel never quite finds a right balance for her character, either vastly underplaying or overplaying the part -- though her underplaying in the early episodes works better.

The Megara -- decent idea, woeful execution.

Hyperspace -- the joke about it being a theoretical absurdity still makes me laugh, but the scenes here pale to the bits around the circle.

I like The Stones of Blood. I make no apologies for it. It has some problems, but the good parts, as well as its subversive qualities make it a personal favorite.


Competent but uninspiring by Tim Roll-Pickering 9/10/02

It's difficult to escape the sense that this story is the budget saver for the season, being set on contemporary Earth with an extremely limited cast and straightforward sets. However The Stones of Blood still manages to tell an original story and provide for many surprises along the way.

By far the story's best creation is Professor Emilia Rumford, who gets some wonderful scenes with the Doctor, Romana and K9 and makes the viewer wish that she had been made a regular companion. She is clearly the inspiration for Evelyn Smyth in the Big Finish audio adventures many years later and is wonderfully brought to life by Beatrix Lehmann. Rumford provides a strong counterbalance for the story, bringing a touch of sanity into an otherwise confused environment. Less effective is Susan Engel as Vivian Fey, who fails to convince as either an archaeologist's assistant or an alien criminal posing as a god. Even worse are the De Vries who add virtually nothing to the story other than some padding in the early episodes.

Plotwise The Stones of Blood is difficult to follow in the early episodes but once the main focus of attention shifts to the Megara spaceship it soon becomes a lot clearer. The early part of the story is dominated by the stones and the general mystery and does not generate that much excitement. The later episodes generate some very good humour by satirising the legal system as the Doctor stands trial for a trivial 'offence' that has brought more benefit than harm. Given the limitations of contemporary video effects, the flashing lights representing the justice machines are portrayed extremely effectively and it is difficult to see how this effect could be improved upon at all by the subsequent two decades of development in the video effects department. The story comes to an extremely simple ending, with the search for the third segment being treated almost as an afterthought, but this is not a tale to see off a threat to the end of humanity.

Productionwise it's clear how limited the budget is, with the night scenes at the stone circle being recorded in studio even though the daytime scenes have been filmed on location. The Earth interiors are pretty standard, whilst the Megara spaceship is dull. The direction by Darrol Blake is competent though, but David Fisher's script simply does not offer much scope for an epic adventure. This is a rare example of Doctor Who playing 'safe' and whilst it produces a competent tale, there's little to get excited about other than the scenes with the justice machines. 6/10


A Review of the DVD by Andrew McCaffrey 29/10/02

The Stones Of Blood was never one of my favorite stories, but thanks to its recent release on DVD I've had time to rewatch it and reevaluate it. It's still not one of the best stories, but it's average enough, though a few bits of sloppy plotting do prevent it from being a more satisfying adventure. It's a good bit of fun, but nothing more serious than that.

The first thing that many reviews and commentators mention is how wonderful Beatrix Lehmann is as Professor Rumford. Well, I'm not going to break with convention here. She is indeed absolutely fantastic. She has an excellent rapport with Tom Baker, and she plays well off of Mary Tamm's slightly aloof but naive Romana. In fact, by the time we get to episode four, she even has great chemistry with the K9 prop. A wonderful actress, a great performance, and I couldn't help but wish that the Doctor had ditched Romana and finished the quest for the Key To Time with the slightly batty, but quick-witted elderly professor. It would have made The Armageddon Factor much more interesting anyway.

The story marches forward at a relatively fast pace. Perhaps a little too quickly, as there are several plot elements that are dropped, never to be addressed again. We begin the adventure with a story about modern-day druids practicing blood sacrifices to their weird god, but by the time we reach the ending, this has been completely discarded in favor of Tom Baker fooling around in a barrister's wig. All of the effective atmosphere, gloom and mystery are lost as soon as the action switches to the over-lit spacecraft, and it's only Tom Baker's tomfoolery with two glittery alien-props that give the conclusion any redemption.

By the end, there are a few too many questions that were never properly addressed. Why was the Cessair of Diplos going around impersonating Celtic gods? What were her followers doing? Why did she have followers? How did her followers know of the Doctor's impending presence and why would they care? Why was an alien with a fully functioning hyperspace craft and the powers of the Key To Time segment just sitting around on Earth for four thousand years? Each of these unanswered questions (and the many others that the story provides) could be explained away given a sufficiently wily and creative mind, but the story simply doesn't address them, and I found that to be mildly annoying. Unexplained motivations never sit well with me, and I just couldn't figure out what on Earth the Cessair of Diplos was doing. Doctor Who doesn't always have the most thoughtful or realistic villains, but they usually at least have a plan of some sort, even if it is just an insane desire the rule the universe. But here the villain is causing havoc for no good reason that I could see. She was bad merely because the script required her to be bad.

Still, there is a lot to like about The Stones Of Blood. The opening episode is sufficiently gloomy. Despite their obvious limitations, the eponymous Stones actually manage to be genuinely creepy as they stalk their way noisily through the English countryside. There's a lot of fun to be had watching the Doctor uncover the mystery, even if it doesn't make much sense. Viewers won't soon forget the Doctor's assurances that electronic dogs like K9 are all the rage in Trenton, New Jersey. Those little sparkles of humor shine like the electronic effects of the alien Megara. Mystery and suspense hold up the first half of the story, and their absence in the second half are just barely replaced with the bizarre humor of the Graham Williams era.

As the only serial of Doctor Who that Darrol Blake directed, there are a few aspects of the production that stand out as being slightly different from the norm (if one could indeed conceive of Doctor Who as having a norm). Unusually for this time period, the entire production is shot entirely on video, including the exteriors. The advantage of this is that there isn't a sharp contrast between the studio and location scenes. The disadvantage of this, of course, is that everything was shot on cheap BBC video.

From the creative side of the direction there were several small things that I enjoyed. There's a particularly noteworthy sequence that occurs early on in the adventure concerning the Doctor's initial encounter with the Cailleach. The sequence is quite underplayed. Tom Baker is merely walking across a room in an almost casual manner. The shots leading up to this moment have been fairly run-of-the-mill close-ups of people talking intermixed with views around the room. But suddenly the camera switches to a shot of the Cailleach herself in all her feathered glory. There's no dramatic music, no build-up, and it works as a very surprising scene because the viewer simply isn't expecting to see this. If you've let yourself be drawn into the scene as it was unfolding, it's quite a shock to see something completely unexpected like that. It surprises me every time. Little touches like this really help the overall adventure.

The commentary track, consisting of Mary Tamm and director Darrol Blake is well worth listening to. The pair discuss the location, the casting, and a host of interesting topics. It's intriguing to hear the story from the director's point of view, and I really like listening to his approach to directing Doctor Who. The production notes are again quite good and highlight a lot of the changes that went into the script between David Fisher's pen and its life in front of the camera.

When you throw this disc into the player, just try not to think about it too much. Watch it for the great interactions between Professor Rumford and everyone else. Watch it for the eeriness of the Stones as they chase their victims. Watch it for the funny dialogue that's usually coming from the mouth of Tom Baker. Just don't watch it expecting it to be a tightly plotted adventure, or you'll be disappointed. Turn your critical mindset off and enjoy.


The 100th Story -- Cause for Celebration or Not? by Michael Hickerson 28/6/03

In a lot of ways the Stones of Blood is a crossroads.

It's a crossroads for the Key to Time season because it's the third story in the saga -- one that must continue to find new ways to spin the same story, namely that the main source of drama is the Doctor and Romana's quest to find the hidden segment of the Key to Time. It's also a crossroads for the Tom Baker years as a whole, sitting firmly at a crossroads between the Gothic Horror of the Hinchliffe era and the campy silliness of the Williams era. And finally, it's a crossroads for the series as a whole, celebrating 100 stories of Doctor Who.

That's a lot of pressure for one Who story to be under. The question is, going into the story -- does is withstand all the pressure?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. It certainly gives it a good run, but in the end the story is ultimately a disappointing one -- an intriguing set-up let down by a padded final episode in which very little of the story seems to make any real sense.

Stones of Blood came about from Graham Williams encouraging Who writer David Fischer to come up with some stronger female roles on the series. And certainly, Fisher does just that here. Of the four main characters in the story (five in you count K-9), three are female and all of them are rather strong. You've even got a rarity in Who -- a female bad guy who hams it up and cackles with delight at trapping the Doctor. Vivian Fey could give the Master a run for his money in terms of the sitting around and cackling with manical glee department.

The female characters certainly do get a lot to do for the first three or so episodes, but it's about mid way through part three that the strong characterization begins to slowly disolve. Amelia Rusmford, who had been so full of vim and vinegar -- to the point that she wants to capture an Ogri for scientific study -- is suddenly reduced to mass of simpering wimpiness. Indeed, pretty much from the point at which she explains Einsteins' theory of relativity to the viewers at home, Amelia becomes little more than an older version of the female companion -- fretting about things and worrying about the Doctor and if he's alright. She also cowers behind K-9 a good deal in the final episode and a half, which is quite a strong contrast from the woman who, again, in the start of episode three was ready to take out the Ogri herself for the sake of scientific study.

Vivian Fey -- or Cessair of Diplos, as the final episode reveals her to be -- is well enough done, though it's fairly obvious on the first pass through the story that this is the villian of the piece. Fey acts too off and too other worldly to be anything but a strange visitor from another planet and her denouncement later in the story is simply just confirming what most of us probably figured out by the end of episode one. Also, for a being who is bent on whatever the heck it is she's bent upon doing (the story never makes this overly clear) she sure takes her sweet time about it. Four thousand years on Earth and all she's done is created a cult to follow her and had the Ogri run about sucking people dry of globulin. Not exactly a far-reaching plan there, simply because she' s got a segment of the Key to Time (which she seems to have some vague concept of what it is and what it can do) and a ship in hyperspace. If there were some dialogue indicated that somehow the Megara had trapped the ship there that might go a long way toward answering some pretty relevant questions that the script raises but never bothers to address. (Also, in the final analysis, you've got to wonder if Vivian is some kind of pawn of the Black Guardian since the White Guardian warns the Doctor and Romana to beware in the story's early moments).

As for the story itself, as I said before it's a crossroads. The first two and a half episode are dark, gothic and atmospheric. You've got stones that run about, feeding on unsuspecting humans, a strange cult and mysterious warnings to beware of the Black Guardian. Surpringly enough, the Ogri are rather simple but effective monsters, skulking about the country side and killing any extras they come across. The scene where they kill the two campers (thus applying the rules of horror movies as seen in the Scream trilogy), is quite chilling for Doctor Who. Also, the Ogri are rather effective monsters, though not the brightest. When attacking the circle and trying to stop the Doctor's device to enter and exit hyperspace, the politely line up so that K-9 can keep them both at bay.

But then, the Doctor builds a hyperspace transporter to go rescue Romana and the whole thing derails quickly. It's all of what is wrong with season 17 in one episode -- a penchant for going campily over the top and not really bothering to explain any of it. Let's watch Tom Baker be clever rather than actually have a decent story to tell. The sudden shift in tone is glaring and it really causes the story to go down quite a few pegs in my estimation. Namely because there are some huge plotholes that are left wide open for the sake of seeing Tom Baker don a barrister wig and argue with flashing lights. Thanks, but no thanks.

Then comes the end, where instead of verifying that Vivian's necklace is the third segment using the tracer, the Doctor grabs it. Now, I know he's the Doctor and he's figured out probably what it is -- but this is the villain of the story. I think I'd double check just to be sure -- what with the fate of the universe riding on whether or not I find all the segments. Having it turned to stone wouldn't necessarily be a good thing and I don't think the White Guardain would be overly pleased by that.

One other thing that always bugs me about Stones of Blood is how forced the cliffhangers are. They don't flow naturally out of the plot, instead it seems as though the production crew went -- well, it's been 22 plus minutes, we'd best have something suspenseful as a cliffhanger. I realize now that from watching the DVD that in episode two this is due to scenes being shifted due to an overrun, but it doesn't explain the other two cliffhangers particularily well.

Finally, as an anniversary story, this one is pretty much a low key one. It's been a 100 adventures but the story never addresses it, which is fine by me. There are stories that the cast planned to and had even worked up some scenes -- but thankfully Graham Williams nixed the idea as two self-referential for the series' own good. (Now, if only he'd canned all of season 17 as too self-reverential, his era wouldn't be as much of a loss as it is).

In the end, Stones of Blood comes across as decent but not really great Who. It's an anniversary story without much fanfare. It's a story that starts strong but crashes quickly -- sort of like that poor Ogri over the cliff, who is probably wandering the bottom of the ocean, looking for his way home.

I smell an EDA in the making....


Comedy classic! by Joe Ford 29/8/03

Lots and lots of people just don't get this story, they wonder why it begins as a gothic horror and transfers to a comedy in the last two episodes... listen up folks... this story is a COMEDY! It's all comedy from begining, absolutely impossible to take seriously but wildly enjoyable anyway. It is possibly the wittiest script in the entire series run, it has at least as many quotably classic lines as the revered City of Death. It is performed with the perfect amount of cheekiness, with some real standout moments for the Doctor and Romana.

I find this story such a pleasure to watch, the first episode does have some atmospheric moments, especially spilling the blood on the stones as they pulse to life and the creepy costume for the Calliach but it's the comedy that continues to impress here. Tom Baker and Mary Tamm have worked out good chemistry between themselves and the dialogue supports their performances, the early TARDIS scenes are delightful. It's all knowing glances and little sides to the audience... "Not yet..." the Doctor moans to the camera as Romana gets changed. Her non reaction to Earth is great.

And then it's time for some exploring (after Tom brilliantly chucks his brolly away and a laugh out loud funny moment). The countryside looks rugged and beautiful, an ideal location for Doctor Who. They soon meet up with the star of the show, the unbeatable Beatrix Leahman as the dottiest of scientist's Amelia Rumpford. She has so many standout scenes and I'm sorry but I must mention them all. Like Garron in Ribos she lights up the screen whenever she appears. Tom Baker expression of worry as she tries to remember all the dates in her opening speech is marvellous and her reaction to Romana's shoes equally wonderful. I love her no-nonsense attitude, Amelia wants to be the first into action all the time... delving through the notes, searching the moors, rushing off to the manor. Her sense of adventure and fun reminds me of the Doctor at his peak.

There is a unexpectedly intimate scene in episode three where Amelia asks the Doctor if he comes from outer space. And their chemistry as she rushes into danger, determined to capture the Ogri and track it to its lair is priceless. Tom and Beatrix play up these scenes for every laugh their worth and some of the dialogue is sharp as a knife. "Doctor I know you're under considerable strain but do try and keep a grip on yourself!" she screams as he tries to lure the Ogri over a cliff face with bull fighting skills!

Tom Baker has of course become totally immersed in the role at this point, confident in his status as the hero of the hour and almost director-proof. His delivery is perfect... a scene where a victim is tied to a stone about to be stabbed to death would be frightening if it wasn't for lines like " I hope that's a clean knife" and "Does your Calleach ride a bicycle". There is a scene where the Doctor is about to jump into hyperspace and is explaining to Amelia what to do whilst he's gone which is line for line hysterical and much, much funnier than anything in the wonderful City of Death. Go watch it again and see how to make amamzing comedy. Especially "SWITCH OFF!" after all the build up.

Stop whinging about Susan Engels deliriously OTT Vivien Fey, in a story that is pitched at high camp this is the only way to go. I defy any actor/ress to stare into a camera and say "Ogriiii..." menacingly and try and make it sound plausible. Mad laughter, bitchiness and overdone make up... the perfect Who villainess.

Mary Tamm is variable but when she does shine she's great. Somehow she makes chatting with a mobile scrap heap plausible and her scenes with K.9. rock. There are only a few moments of tedium such as her overdone reaction to the Doctor saving her in episode two and her somewhat pathetic pose in the prison cell but overall she breezes through the story with the same upturned nose attitude that made Ribos such a joy. Her star turn was to come in the next story.

I love the Ogri, they look no more daft than the Daleks and the scene where they suck the life from the campers is really horrific, the tell don't show horror working a beaut.

In a story dripping with campness characters like De Vries and his missus, who take melodrama to new extremes, fit in perfectly. What about that scene in episode two where he tries to make her run away. She suggests plymouth. He looks right at the camera and exclaims "Plymouth!" ...it's so funny just to write it down but watching it has me in stitches.

And so it turns out Vivien Fey is Cessair of Diplos, a war criminal on route to trial. Suddenly it's light entertainment to the finish with the Doctor trying to protest his eminent execution by the adorably cute Megara justice machine. Basically episode four is just filler, the celtic plot running out of steam but with all the terrific egos flying around the set (the voices of the Megara are wonderfully arrogant) there is never a dull moment. It's just a shame Amelia is sidelined for this last episode, she really would have made a formidable witness at the Doctor's 'trial'.

The story has a remarkably polished look for the era, helped no doubt by the expensive looking film camerwork. Some of the visual are stunning as well such as the model stone circle and the really glitzy Megara flashing lights. Darrol Blake seems comfortable with action scenes and quieter, dialogue driven work and the pace and scale of the story is quite impressive.

Four episodes of top comedy, I would reccomend this to anybody who is fed up with all the tedious moralising of the Pertwee era or the more glitzy but brainless JNT stuff. It should go some way to restoring your faith in the show.

Am the only person who thinks Amelia should have jumped in the TARDIS at the end? Think of the mayhem!


A Review by Paul Rees 22/9/03

The Stones of Blood is one of those stories about which fandom can't quite make up its' collective mind. It's certainly enjoyable and intriguing, but still we wonder: does it all hang together?

The first two episodes (those set exclusively on Earth) are probably the most effective: the Ogri are surprisingly well portrayed, due largely to some nifty directing, and the night filming adds a sense of menace. It has to be said, however, that the village around which the action centres appears to be a very odd place indeed - aside from the De Vrieses and their fellow Cailleach worshippers, it seems only to be home to an eccentric couple, one of whom happens to be an eminent archaeologist (do no 'normal' people populate English villages?). Whilst we're on the subject, I'm not entirely sure what to make of Beatrice Leahman's performance as Professor Rumford. Her vocal delivery is quite distinctive, and very halting - I almost end up on the edge of my seat, wondering if she'll manage to get to the end of her sentence.

I do like dramas which centre upon village life because of the sense of claustrophobia which is consequently generated. Unfortunately, in this case any such sense dissipates once we reach episode three and become acquainted with the vast expanse of Hyperspace. Nevertheless, the idea of Hyperspace being a hidden dimension, although not original, is a pretty neat way to bring out a twist in the tale - what was a Hammerseque horror story now mutates into a tale of intergalactic criminality and intrigue. The major downside to this is that some plot elements disappear completely from view, and are left unexplained - the significance of the ravens being an obvious example (they might be the "eyes and ears" of the Cailleach, but she doesn't seem to actually use them very much).

The central premise - that Vivien Fay is a fugitive from justice - means that for once a villain actually has a good reason for donning a disguise (compare this to the Master's rather gratuitous use of disguises in, for example, Time-Flight). The idea of the Magara being Justice Machines is also interesting, although visually they are hardly impressive (on his Years videotape, Tom Baker refers to the Magara as having been done "on the cheap" - and it shows). Machines which blindly follow programmed logic without taking into account the unique circumstances presented before them is an old theme in Who - and here we see another representation of beaurocracy becoming its own master, and failing to respond as circumstances demand. It's a bog standard theme, but is presented in an inventive manner.

Stones of Blood is certainly above average for a Who story. It's fast-paced, atmospheric and humorous - and only occasionally going over the top. Particularly noteworthy is the surprisingly gory scene depicting the demise of the campers - very effective and very, very nasty. 7.5/10


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 21/1/04

As the 100th Doctor Who story, The Stones Of Blood sums up much which has made the series as enjoyable as it is. The opening two episodes establish a sense of mystery and suspense, as the Ogri (basically vampires in the form of relentless stone killers) and the supporting cast are introduced. Susan Engel starts out promisingly as Vivian Fay, but once revealed as Cessair Of Diplos, her performance starts to veer over the top, even so it is still highly entertaining. Even more enjoyable is Beatrix Lehman as the stereotyped yet eccentric (perhaps even more so than the Doctor) Amelia Rumford, she is a joy to behold and it is a shame she never had a return appearance.

Once the story enters hyperspace, some of the tension is lost, mostly thanks to the lack of realisation of the Megara. Tom Baker obviously has realised they are little more than sparks of light, and subsequent silliness ensues, complete with him producing a barristers wig when on trial. The other regulars get their fare share of the action too, K-9 works well with Amelia and Romana`s lack of experience shows (in a nice character touch) as she is pushed off a cliff. Add to this good location work and the death of the campers (both of which increase the atmosphere) and what you`re left with is a strong piece of Doctor Who.


"Your honours, may a mere humanoid offer a suggestion?"...."If she must...." by Steve Cassidy 19/6/04

There is one scene, for me, that sums up the sheer enjoyability of The Stones of Blood. An adventure I consider the highlight of Season 16.

It takes place in Vivian Fay's cottage. The Doctor is gamely trying to put together a machine to get him into hyperspace and there the eccentric Amelia Rumford stands at his foot aimiably chatting to him. The two debate the nature of hyperspace and I have never seen such co-ordinated unselfish acting between the pair (and K-9) as in this scene. They both handle props, dialogue and keep totally in character throughout - "But Doctor, I still don't understand about hyperspace?", Doctor: "Who does?", K-9 "I do!", Doctor "Shut up, K-9". And of course the look of worry crossing Amelias face as she asks him "Doctor, can I ask you a question?". The audience catches its breath as it wonders what this daft old coot is going to ask him and the tentative "Are you from outer space?" question comes as some relief. Bless her.

And that is the beauty of David Fisher's script. It is so layered and interesting that you cannot help be caught up in it. Strange to think that this is the same man who gave us the awfully cumbersome Creature from the Pit in the next season. But for this one the dialogue is one of the highlights along with some wonderful new creations such as the Ogri, Cessair of Diplos and the Megara. Many have decried that the adventure for coming to a dead end in the third and fourth episodes when the action moves to hyperspace and the unnecessary intervention of the Megara. I disagree and think that this was an excellent and totally unexpected way of turning the story on its head. We could have had another Image of the Fendahl and, as much as I love that adventure, it would be a bit predictable for the Doctor and Romana to take on yet another human-sacrificing coven.

When we move to hyperspace (ye gods, that SFX spaceship was awful) the film opens up and the story takes on another level. Vivian Fay becomes even more interesting as we discover that this was her prison ship and that she is an escaped intergalactic criminal. The Megara have something of Alice in Wonderland about them. A kind of English absurdity which mix pompositiy and deadliness in equal measure. The SFX for these aren't bad and Baker does well acting against nothing - and they are certainly an improvement over the Vardans from The Invasion of Time which they somewhat resemble. There are far worse SFX in this adventure then the Megara - Romana hanging from the cliff with unrealistic CSO crashing waves for one. For me, the trial scenes certainly don't drag and I do believe the Doctor is in peril from these theatrical alien inventions. But most of all its the humour which holds it all together. This is the right blend of humour for the Graham Williams era, something he was to forget in season 17. I mean, how can you not laugh when Tom Baker is tied to a stone waiting to be sacrificed and asks the head druid "Has that knife been properly sterilised?" Genius.

The story seems to come in for a lot of flack. Why is Cessair of Diplos hiding in 1978 Dorset? Well, several reviewers have wondered why this alien woman has been hiding in Bosdown village for five thousand years. I'm afraid it isn't about taking over the universe. It's simply about keeping a low profile. I rather like Cessair of Diplos, her previous incarnations are entertaining, particularly the one about the husband not surviving the voyage from Brazil. And Susan Engels is fine in the role and it is played with just the right amount of butch. She isn't really menacing and her ordering the Ogri about is rather pantomine dame but it is such a welcome change to have a female villain. More please, writers!

I'm not going to waste time telling you all how good Beatrix Lehrman is as Amelia Rumford - you all know that. I'm just going to say her rumblings against fellow rival archeaologists are wonderfully enjoyable and one of the highlights of the adventure. And of course, there are the Ogri - just as integral to the plot as anything else. David Fisher creates a memorable back-story of the planet Ogros with its amino acid swamps and crystalline lifeforms. With just a few sentences he creates an ecosystem that is utterly believeable and rather scary. They are menacing, and the shot of them first passing the window is wonderfully eerie. If I had to name the best scene in the entire Key to Time season then I would have to say the death of the campers. It is as good as anything by Hammer Horror.

And Tom Baker? Well, as usual he is hard to fault. I've never seen an actor which does mental revelation so well as he - usually with a pained cry and a slap to the face. He does it three times in this adventure - "Of course! I do have a dog!" - and numerous times during the trial. And as usual its the soliloquies at the trial which Baker excels at. And also, for once, he messes up - he opens the wrong door and releases the Megara. The look on his face as he and Romana try to backtrack is priceless. Also the 'female gothic' nature of this adventure often means he is overwhelmed by the fairer sex. The Fourth Doctor had a way of dealing with this - total oblivity, a trick he uses again and again. Also a word need to be said about K-9 in this story. He usually gets dismissed as a gimmick or 'something for the kids' but here he is exceptionally effective. It's probably his best story since The Invisible Enemy. His battles against the Ogri are very entertaining. He also gets some of my favourite lines of the adventure "K-9, you know you've always wanted to be a bloodhound?", "negative master." "Yes you do, yes - you DO!"

Most people think that Ribos or Androids of Tara are the best Romana I stories. I disagree, I think it is a straight choice between Ribos where the character parameters are set and this one where she begins to flex her cerebral muscles. As we all know the Lalla Ward Romana went on in her last season to be the female equivalent of the Doctor. I believe the start of that incarnation began here. While the Doctor is blustering for his life she is calmly and methodically gathering evidence on Vivian Fay. Her 'lemon juice' expose is very clever and her interaction with Amelia Rumford is a delight to behold. Romana I comes alive in the company of women, one suspects she was brought up with sisters and mixed with only women at her Gallifreyean academy. Part of her learning curve in the TARDIS is that the company of men - one in particular - can be just as rewarding. Mary Tamm rises to this performance and gets some good lines and moments. It is probably my favourite Romana I adventure - and that is saying something as she is one of my most highly regarded companions.

But for me what sets it apart from the rest of Season 16 is its gothic premise. It is so totaly different from what we have already seen brefore, especially the bizarre Pirate Planet. It takes both the audience and characters by surprise. Soon we will be concentrating on interplanetary adventures and this adventure is a refreshing change relying, mostly, on celtic mythos and earthbound settings. The entire thing has an aura of pagan earthmother worship. It taps into that ancient English psyche of rural legend and lore. The ancient menhirs, the omnipresent crows and ravens, the owner of the manor house being caught up in it all. And that wonderful atmosphere of fear. Cessair of Diplos has kept a tight grip on her little patch over the millennia enforced by the Ogri - who have to be the best monsters of Season 16. Mind you, against the shrivenzale and Kroll, that's not much competition.

I love Stones of Blood. It gives me everything I want from Who. I love the change from the pagan English setting to a metallic ship in hyperspace - it totally turns everything on its head. And the trial scenes are so Hitchhikers I just cannot help smile with pleasure. Season 16 gave us some memorable characters and entertaining stories. Oh yes, I nearly forgot - the actual Key to Time. Well, did you really really want this bludgeoned at you throughout the entire episode. It is neatly tagged on to the end as the source of Vivian Fay's power in a completely natural way. Like everything else in Stones of Blood - it's done with finesse and good humour.

The Key to Time season is my favourite season as it mixes characterisation, story and humour and The Stones of Blood is a good example of this. Slip it into the video, settle back and enjoy. I've just realised that I've done three nice reviews in a trot. The kitchen knives will be getting blunt at this rate they need something for me to slice into... pass me a Sylvester McCoy adventure or one featuring Tegan Jovanka. That will do the trick...


A Review by Brian May 31/7/04

The Stones of Blood has the distinction of being the first Doctor Who story I ever saw, back in 1980. It made a strong impression then, and today I still enjoy sitting down in front of it.

The first two episodes are a sublime homage to Gothic horror. The cliches of the genre are brought to life in the most splendid way, with rolling moors, a cult of druids, blood sacrifices to a Celtic goddess, crows and ravens, mansions and secret passageways. The soft focus touches on the camera are superb, while the studio-based, mock-night filming is very effective. What with the accompanying background howls and echoes, it’ll keep you from walking through large, open spaces in the dark for quite some time.

The third story in the Key to Time saga feels entirely different from the previous adventure, The Pirate Planet. The bizarre, quirky and humour-driven Douglas Adams story gives way to this sombre, moody tale. The contrast is evident from the opening shot, with the TARDIS spinning in the time vortex, dissolving into the recovered segments of the key while accompanied by an incredibly eerie wind-chime like noise, which recurs throughout the story whenever the key is referred to. The Doctor gets deadly serious when he explains to Romana about the Guardians, and the eternal chaos that awaits the universe (the black background of the limbo room certainly helps the mood, too).

The Cailleach has always scared me; that bird mask is out and out creepy. The Doctor encountering her in part one, and the scene of her in the stone circle at night are moments I always anticipate with goose bumps (or at least a living room light!) Other memorable moments include the phantom Doctor approaching Romana on the cliff edge - it's a brilliant idea not to show the image; the viewer can't see anything, while being aware that Romana can. De Vries's pleas for mercy, culminating in the large stone lumbering past the windows - and the subsequent attack on the Doctor and K9 - are similarly noteworthy.

One of the chief criticisms directed at this story is the shift in mood in the third episode. The second half lacks the foreboding atmosphere of the first; the transition to a science fiction base means that the Hammeresque tone has to be left behind. The third episode however, still has its fair share of scares and thrills - there's the Ogri chasing the Doctor and Professor Rumford out of the mansion (although the matador scene is silly and should have been left out); the Ogri attacking the two campers - which is unforgettably chilling and stayed in my mind for a long, long time. Even on board the hyperspace vessel, there's a feel of uneasiness prevalent, for a time at least. There's a sense of mystery as the Doctor and Romana explore. The model shots of the ship hovering in the void are excellent, the special sounds creating a sci-fi eeriness (an equal and opposite counter to the Gothic eeriness of the preceding episodes). It's not until the introduction of the Megara and the trial in episode four that the atmosphere fizzes out.

The final episode is well made, but definitely pales in comparison to the first three. It's just not as engaging as the story you've been watching for the previous hour and a bit. In terms of plotting, it wraps things up, but overall the climax is disappointing. Tom Baker handles the trial scenes well, never getting hammy or flippant (as he's been accused of); but the trial itself is simply unexciting; the constant developments and attempts by the Doctor to stall his execution aren't interesting in the least, whilst the scene in which he and Vivien Fay are both struck by the energy bolt is woefully done (the only weak point in the direction). The concurrent scenes on Earth have also lost the atmosphere of the previous episodes. But, it begs the question, could the delightful Gothic horror of the first half have been sustained so successfully over the whole story? It's been done before (Image of the Fendahl). But, in this case I don't really believe it could have been successfully carried off here, due to the very way the adventure is plotted. The Megara don't come across as well as they might have - but it could have been much worse.

However, the plotting raises some questions. Some reviewers above, along with books such as The Discontinuity Guide, have asked: "What's her plan?" The story skims over what Cessair is actually doing on Earth. The hyperspace vessel has not run aground; it's fuelled up - the Doctor makes that clear. She can leave anytime she wants. So why does she stay? Well, perhaps she likes it on Earth? She's got her power base - as the Cailleach she has her followers and controls the Ogri - she's a big fish in a small pond. Compared to Diplos, Earth could be out of the way, so she's lying low, while having her lust for power - and ego - stroked. (She seems unable to destroy the Megara - if that were possible she certainly would have done so - instead she keeps them locked up in their chamber.) According to Martha, she's never demanded human sacrifices before now, and the Doctor's coming has been foretold (another aspect of the plot forgotten after episode one). Did the power of the third segment give her foreknowledge of the Doctor's arrival, enabling her to recognise an alien power that could release the Megara and give her away, hence the need to dispose of him?

There's also the implication that she's an agent of the Black Guardian. It's been suggested - both elsewhere in the Key to Time saga and in the season 20 trilogy - that the Guardians cannot directly interfere (hence the Black Guardian's use of the Shadow and Turlough). So, if Cessair has had the third segment for 4000 plus years - and the Black Guardian cannot just snatch it from her - then she's being used as a pawn, her discovery and demise all engineered to deliver the segment into the Doctor's possession. In this case, she'd hardly be a willing servant to let this happen. Unless, of course, he promised her something - maybe he said he would destroy the Megara so she'd never be discovered? - or the chance to be an even greater goddess? - and then simply double crossed her?

This is all conjecture, of course, but it's certainly feasible. It's all in hindsight, and little of this would have been in David Fisher's mind. Nevertheless, he's written an enjoyable story with a good injection of humour and strong female characters. Beatrix Lehmann is delightful as the dotty Amelia Rumford, and she certainly would have been a wonderful companion. Susan Engel's performance as Vivien Fay is good, although it's obvious she's the villain of the piece from her first few scenes. Tom Baker and Mary Tamm are a joy to watch (and I agree with Rob Matthews about that red dress!); their partnership has certainly cemented itself, while K9 gets more to do than usual. Darrol Blake is an excellent director, with an imaginative choice of shots and angles, especially in the OB footage (like the aforementioned use of soft focus). Why oh why didn't he direct more Doctor Who? The music is appropriately haunting; the special sounds are excellent; the design is very good, with the shortcomings of the Ogri kept to a minimum while, as mentioned already, the hyperspace vessel is first rate.

The Stones of Blood is a fascinating, well-made tale. Its atmosphere, especially in the first half, is wonderful. The final episode is not so successful, but it's by no means a complete disaster. The plot's deficiencies actually work in its favour, with its ambiguous nature and loose ends opening up more opportunities for debate and discussion. Indeed, there's already been plenty written on it. The "female gothic" references Rob alludes to come from Ann Summerfield's excellent essay from the In-Vision that covers this story. It's one of "those" Doctor Who stories - one to think about. 8.5/10


A Review by Finn Clark 27/8/06

I'm not a David Fisher fan, but with his first Doctor Who story he seemed to be trying a bit harder than usual. It would all be downhill from here, but The Stones of Blood is like a six-parter crammed into a four-parter. It does that "bait and switch" thing of having a different setting and/or villains for two of the episodes, except that here it's "two and two" instead of "two and four". The story's first half is like a camp parody of the Hinchcliffe horror formula, set on present-day Earth with satanists making blood sacrifices in stone circles to the Cailleach. However after they're gone the second half throws up the Megara, a spaceship stuck in hyperspace, Vivien Fay in silly make-up and her Ogri.

That first half is rather odd. Theoretically it's yet another Hammer horror pastiche, this time ripping off the likes of Dennis Wheatley's The Devil Rides Out, but in fact it's nothing of the sort. On the contrary, it's deliberate kitsch. Admittedly I can't stand Dennis Wheatley in either the original novels or the Hammer adaptations, but The Stones of Blood isn't taking its satanists seriously. They're a bunch of dupes so unthreatening that they can be scared off by the Charge of the OAP Brigade, i.e. Professor Rumford on a bicycle. In particular their leader De Vries is a camp old tart. He's not scary at all. You could almost read this as deliberately subverting the formula... could you cast anyone who's a greater contrast with Christopher Lee? The script even explicitly portrays him as a dilettante, with the Doctor savaging his claims to druidic authenticity in episode one. "The odd mention in Julius Caesar, Tacitus, no great detail. I always thought that Druidism was founded by John Aubrey in the 17th century as a joke. He had a great sense of humour, John Aubrey."

It has all the Hammer trappings. We have crows, cultists, human sacrifices, etc. but they're less sinister than their equivalents from K9 and Company! Incidentally it's a weird coincidence that satanists were involved in both of K9's only two televised stories set on present-day Earth until Russell T. Davies came along with School Reunion. Who the hell decided that an SF robot dog belonged in horror-themed stories of the occult? "Your favourite planet," says Romana about Earth, but in fact this is one of very few Earth-based stories from the late Tom Baker era. There are two in Season Fifteen and approximately one a year thereafter, depending on how you count Shada, The Leisure Hive and Logopolis, and those we do get tend to sideline K9.

There's plenty to like here, though. Beatrix Lehmann is wonderful as Professor Amelia Rumford. I wasn't always convinced that she knew what her lines meant or even what the next one was, but the result is an astonishing performance that would have been impossible for a younger actor. She makes Tom Baker look naturalistic. Mind you, for some reason Tom Baker seems to have decided to take this story seriously. Presumably he felt satanism and blood sacrifice didn't warrant his usual flippancy, but even his scenes with the Megara are less OTT than I'd expected. The courtroom stuff and even the wig are played relatively straight.

It's also interesting that the Doctor and Romana have already settled down into a harmonious relationship. They were funnier when they were still bickering, but I approve of the fact that they got to know each other so quickly. They're intelligent people. They've adventured together, saved each other's lives and learned to trust each other. It makes sense. This isn't BBC Books, where Anji doesn't trust the 8th Doctor even after two years' worth of monthly releases.

I like the design. The Ogri are a great monster, especially the concept. I also prefer their realisation to the rock-skinned humanoids that we were originally going to get. They have screen presence, making them the one and only effective monster in Season Sixteen. I also like the Megara's appearance, which is more interesting than the metal footballs I'd expected.

Nevertheless it's noticeable that the best things about this story tend to be embellishments to the script rather than anything created by David Fisher. The first cliffhanger is great, with the spookiness of Tom being audible but invisible. It's all in Romana's mind. We're left wondering what she's seeing. However in the script we were also going to see a Doctor until Tom Baker objected on the grounds that they'd done that too often in other stories. In contrast part three's cliffhanger is so rubbish that they don't even reprise it in part four. "Will the Doctor be trapped in hyperspace for ever?" Uh, I'd guess not since he's aboard a fully functioning spaceship and in the presence of Vivien "interdimensional bus service" Fay. However in fairness I liked the horror movie scene where the Ogri eat two campers. That was nasty.

I normally like Dudley Simpson, but even I winced at the music when the Megara emerge. The Megara themselves have rules that are arbitrary to the point of stinking of script convenience, although I did laugh at "the sentences to run consecutively". There's some grey and washed-out location filming that looks bloody awful, although maybe that's just the R1 DVD. I'm also not wild about Susan Engel as Vivien Fay, who's playing it too arch and heavy-handedly villainous for my tastes. She's tall and has good presence, but that's it. But hey, it's the Graham Williams era.

The Stones of Blood is a bit of an oddity, but still one of the better stories of the season. The Ribos Operation is fantastic, but after that we're into "flawed but fun" territory at best. There's plenty of rubbish, some horrible production mis-steps and more than a little that's downright risible. The Stones of Blood is imaginative, lively and even atmospheric, even if its ideas about hyperspace are hard to square with the rest of Doctor Who. Tom Baker and Beatrix Lehmann are terrific, while even the Ogri are surprisingly effective. It's fun. I prefer the Hinchcliffe-Holmes version that exists only in my imagination, but the actual version isn't without interest.


"The raven and the crow..." by Hugh Sturgess 21/7/13

I don't know what the consensus on this story is. It think there's as much criticism as praise. Perhaps the reason is that it is really misleading us. Its first two episodes looks like a throwback to the days of the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era, with a campy pastiche of Hammer horror, but it pursues a completely different kind of approach than that era; its latter two episodes look like standard Graham Williams space-satire, but once again this canny little four-parter has us fooled. It is curiously reluctant to match our expectations. It's not a product of either intellectual inheritance.

I have to say, however, that I love this story, pretty well unreservedly. I loved it when I first saw it way back in the mists of ancient times, and I love it today, though not entirely for the same reasons. As a young 'un, I liked it because I've always liked spooky, atmospheric Doctor Who stories. The dark, fog-filled streets and cloisters of Victorian London or Gallifrey, the swampy, tendrilled jungle of Zeta Minor, the picturesque but lifeless fields and quiet roads of Devesham - there's something about those places that I love. I suppose it's the Hartnell factor: exploring a mysterious environment on your own. The Stones of Blood is different, the protagonists are thrust into the story immediately, but it still has that spookiness. The grey, washed-out location footage is, objectively, ghastly and unprofessional, but it makes the Nine Travellers look suitably bleak and windswept. The apparition of the Doctor is all the more effective for being only a faint voice; a visible illusion would have lacked the same eeriness.

The Cailleach costume is great, and the Ogri are almost iconic. Yes, on reflection, they are slightly ludicrous, when one asks oneself what we would see if the camera was pointed at the ground while they were moving (do they sort of ooze along the ground, or do they have cilia-like legs?), and at times they are simply clumsy, especially in the scene in which the Doctor tricks one off a cliff. Apparently, we were originally going to have rock-skinned humanoids, which would have been unambiguously worse. Overall, I think they look as good as we could expect. Their spooky glowing and pulse when de Vries and the Cailleach pour blood on them justify the concept, and the famous scene in which two Ogri devour the campers is something we don't normally see in Doctor Who: it's semi-gratuitous, but it makes the Ogri more plausible by showing us the consequences of the story's events (the campers wouldn't have died had K9 not exhausted the Ogri; I lament the absence of an NA in which one of the campers, hideously mutilated and twisted, seeks out K9 for his/her vengeance). They also represent the last gasp of the Hinchcliffe era's grisliness. The tangled, pulped bodies of de Vries and Martha lying amid the wreckage of the Ogri attack are rather more graphic than this era of the show normally is, and the Cailleach's stealing of the bodies to juice them like fruit for more blood is something Robert Holmes would appreciate.

Tom Baker has escaped from the bored autopilot of Season Fifteen to turn in a performance that will remind you why he remains the best Doctor. Presumably replacing Louise Jameson (with whom he had a famously prickly relationship) with Mary Tamm re-energised him, but I'd also give a lot of the credit to acting alongside Beatrix Lehman's Professor Rumford. They're as insane as each other! Lehman delivers a wonderful performance, twisting any line into something weird and unexpected, forcing Baker to raise his game and make his lines even weirder. She's acting as an inspiration machine for Baker, unleashing that kind of genius that characterises his best performances. Baker so enjoyed working with her that he wanted an elderly companion to replace Romana. The idea of the Doctor travelling with Rumford (another Amelia!) is mind-boggling, though they would probably have destroyed the series in a few episodes. (Would have been worth it, though.) His explanation to Rumford of what K9 is - "They're all the rage in Trenton, New Jersey" - or the look on his face in Episode One as she rambles through her academic infighting are laugh-out-loud funny, and his mockery of de Vries's Druidic pretensions is a example of how to be flippant without draining a situation of its drama. He shows equal poise dealing with the plot-stuff too, hinting at actual thought processes in Episode Two ("Of COURSE! The missing PAINTINGS!!") and displaying genuine interest in the proceedings. Even the lawyer's wig in Episode Four is played relatively straight. Tom Baker is probably the most naturally talented actor (or perhaps performer) to play the Doctor, with an innate flair for the alien, the unusual and the arresting. He was also the laziest, and so frequently that talent didn't show. Here, it does.

Also, as Romana's first Earthbound story, what's interesting is that the Earth is introduced as though it was an alien planet. There are the predictable comments about primitive humans and confusion over the meaning of tennis, but then the middle-class, respectable Vivian Fey dismisses a bloodstain as "probably just another sacrifice". For a moment, there is a wonderfully alienating feeling (what Bertolt Brecht would call "estrangement", I think) as the world we know suddenly becomes as unfamiliar to us as to Romana.

Rewatching it today with a jaundiced eye, I have a couple of observations. Firstly, I still love it for its atmosphere and horror. Secondly, and more significantly, the rest of it grabbed my attention more. One element that particularly grabbed me was that the backstory is woven into real history in a way I neither remembered nor expected. Doctor Who history (outside of historicals, and not entirely even then) is mainly fake history, with fictional lords and countesses and explorers. When it does focus on real people, it is the Great Man Theory of History, in which aliens try to possess Queen Victoria or impregnate Genghis Khan or some other celebrity-oriented caper. The Stones of Blood is different in that the backstory of Cesair of Diplos on Earth avoids encounters with the rich and powerful, but not with real history itself. David Fisher has situated his story in the real world. Cesair of Diplos's nunnery has a foundation date and was dissolved by Henry VIII; as Lady Montcalm, she was painted by Alan Ramsey. The fake history of the Nine Travellers (as well as Mrs. Trefusis, Lady Montcalm, Senora Camara...) is unusually detailed, especially in comparison to backstories like that of the Wolf in Tooth and Claw (Wolf falls to Earth, monks worship it, do nothing for hundreds of years, attack Queen Victoria).

A second interesting thing is that I found myself enjoying the final two episodes. Most of the Doctor Who stories that switch gears towards the end and abandon the original setting for another (usually duller sci-fi) one, I dislike, on the grounds that the second setting is never as interesting as the first. That was my original and abiding reaction to The Stones of Blood too, but now I find myself actually quite enjoying the Magara and the trial. Though, to be honest, I was perhaps more enjoying the imaginary version playing in my head, which actually examined whether the punishment assigned to the Doctor is fair under any system of law. Textual literalism vs. interpretation, the legitimacy of a law that is 4,000 years old... I think that would have been fun and even quite meaty. Nevertheless, it escapes the problems of most second-half scene-switches and is much more effective than I remembered. It actually feels like a climax rather than a lame shake-up. Baker is again on top form, particularly with "Some lawyer you turned out to be".

I actually think this story works better in the Williams era rather than Hinchcliffe, since it isn't the kind of "gothic" horror that that era is famous for. It's not a perfect story, I'm sure, but I'm stumped to think of something that really stuck in my craw. The acting is solid, Baker and Lehman are inspired, the plot is strong and the ideas interesting. It doesn't have anything that really makes me cringe, or wish had been cut, which is unusual for this era of the show. In short, delightful.