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on 19 October 2007
It was rather salutary watching these stories after ploughing through Time-Flight & Arc of Infinity recently. The Key To Time stories have a rather tatty, dashed-off quality, in terms of both writing & production, but what struck me in comparison with the confused, bickersome Davidson/Nyssa/Tegan team-up was how witty, charming & stylish they are. Tom Baker & Mary Tamm (& K-9) play off each other in a continually entertaining way & the writing manages to be adult, sharp & funny while being accessible to children (the reverse of the Arc of Infinity, which had childish dialogue & was incomprehensible in its premisses).

The Ribos Operation was the story I had least fond memories of, being studio-bound & faux-medieval & essentially slight, but the restoration team have really given it a pleasing visual tone: it came across as stylised & quite richly textured & coloured rather than something cheaply shot on video. There's a sense of fun to the whole thing, though there's definitely a sense that everyone - particularly the excellent Ian Cuthbertson - has only the barest grasp on his or her lines, & is stumbling through getting them right for one take.

The Pirate Planet is the most intelligent story, & the most science-fictional. The restoration team went back (I think) to the original negatives for all the exterior footage, shot on film, with the curious result that the drab, muddy & nondescript bits of moorland suddenly look rich & lively, instead of letting the whole thing down. Douglas Adams' script is, dare I say, wildly uneven: the early scenes of the Doctor & Romana trying to meet the natives are slightly desperate comedy, with the inhabitants of Zanak (who think the stars are simply lights in the sky) responding to Romana's conversational gambits with an implausibly urbane sophistication - & the really intelligent conceptual twists & turns are mostly compressed into the last episode, when explanations get slightly rushed. But the performances are fun, & it is full of wit, and is highly entertaining. Romana gets my favourite line, when the Mentiads' mental powers are blocked: 'So much for the paranormal,' she says, snatching up a ray-gun to despatch a guard. Extras include an extended scene explaining the relationship between the Mentiads' telepathic awareness & the space-jumping,& establishing that the slightly drab circular light that features in their cave-set is an image seared into all their minds each time the life-force dies. During the credits of a reminsicence extra someone has rendered a cgi polyphase avitron that works rather well, & it would have been fun to see the cso replaced with cgi, & the parrot given some sort of ray weapon rather than rather embarassingly attempt to on K-9.

Androids of Tara is a lively, good-looking Ruritanian fantasy, that scores points for having so much location footage (in good weather, for once). Again the video footage as well as the film footage has been attractively restored so it looks colourful & not cheap. If the story has a weakness it's that the sci-fi element - the androids - aren't convincingly incorporated into the quasi-historical setting, & it's at that sort of point that the dashed-off nature of the writing is laid bare. It comes with a rather charming documentary that revisits the locations & shows us how they look today, sometimes managing to match shots very closely indeed.

Stones of Blood is great fun, again winning points for really charming casting. The location work is shot on video, but looks surprisingly good, & not unlike film, & creates a more coherent look to the story. In the extras is an extended scene including the wonderful exchange (in the face of an Ogri attack), 'We could be in Plymouth in an hour!' 'Plymouth!?' This scene was simply incorporated into the episode in the region 1 version. Okay, the Megara aren't very impressive - but rewatching it I felt that at least the flashing, floating lights weren't clunky badly-done robots with light-bulbs on top of them or people in silver bodystockings. Interesting interviews with stars, director, writer, and designer. Mary Tamm narrates a brief documentary about the Rolright Stones, where the story was set, quite badly, I think, but is otherwise charming. And she is very interesting on her character, career & why she chose to leave the show.

I'm quite fond of The Power Of Kroll, which has some very witty moments, particularly between Rhon Dutt, the Doctor & Romana, as well as some plain bad ones - for instance a holy book that seems to be sitting in a puddle of water at the bottom of a well for no good reason. If only anyone had loved this story enough to redo the model shots! They don't look quite as bad as one might expect, & Kroll in & of itself is quite a well-made monster, & there's some attempt at a commentary on colonialism & racism. The swampy locations look rather good, I think.

And on to another unpopular yarn, The Armageddon Factor. It is rather sparse & drab, & has some conceptual confusions around the Shadow's planet (actually seems to be a space station) that prevents the Doctor & Romana seeing Zeos from space because it's between Zeos & Atrios - which wouldn't obscure their view. And since the Shadow's trying to contrive a war between Zeos and Atrios, why would he stick his planet directly in between them? And so on. However, I find it a very well-paced story that clips along fast, injects new ideas as it goes along, & builds to a lively (albeit slightly confused) conclusion, & has an enjoyable bleakness.

The chemistry between Mary Tamm & Tom Baker makes the entire season a pleasure to watch & in the main offsets the constricted production values. Alas, some dramatic moments fall flat because they don't have the resources to do them properly, and the whole notion of an epic quest is barely even burlesqued, never mind made the most of, but I found the Key to Time good fun, & a progression of the Graham Williams aesthetic that found its apotheosis in City of Death the following year. Each story comes with at least one commentary (the region 1 one), & most have a further one - for which they've more often managed to procure Tom Baker. I began listening to the Armageddon Factor & it was mostly old thesps rambling on, but if you do the ironing to it it's pleasant enough, & the odd interesting snippet emerges. Each story also has a reminiscence featurette, & again these are mildly interesting & always endearing.
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VINE VOICEon 7 June 2007
The Key To Time season was the idea of Graham Williams, the producer of Doctor Who to do something that had never been attempted before on the series, that was to essentialy have an entire season length story of 26 episodes but divided into six seperate, but loosely linked narratives.

The William Hartnell era of the show regularly had stories link into one another but prior knowledge of the previous story was not necessary, with The Key To Time season however, it is necessary to a certain extent.

The format for the season is a variation on the 'Quest scenario' for an enormously powerful object that has been split into six segments and scattered throughout time and space, each of the six stories is the Doctor's attempt to locate one of the segments and reconstruct the Key.

The Doctor is sent on his quest by the White Guardian one of the two controlling higher beings of the cosmos, the White Guardian is the Guardian of light in time and is essentialy there to maintain the balance between good and evil, he has an opposite number the Black Guardian who is of course the embodiment of all that is evil and dark. The balance between light and darkness or good and evil is slipping out of phase into the favour of darkness and the White Guardian needs the key to restore the balance, the two Guardians are forbidden to directly involve themselves in universal affairs and must recruit agents whom they can manipulate and carry out their will, thus the White Guardian has recruited the Doctor and the Black Guardian, who also requires the Key, has agents placed in position to prevent the Doctor from carrying out his mission and seize the Key themselves.

The Key To Time boxset was released in America on Region 1 some years ago with limited extras and although I was tempted to buy it I resisted, because I had a feeling that it would'nt be too long before there was a Region 2 release. The special features for this release are awesome, they are without a doubt the most comprehensive package ever put together by the Doctor Who Restoration Team and are clearly designed to tempt the people who bought the region 1 release to double dip and buy this version of the set.

As stated above this season comprises six stories and I will just give a few details about them without revealing the plots, I don't like reading reviews about things that give the game away and I'm sure that most of the readers don't either.

'THE RIBOS OPERATION' is the story that introduced, not only the quest but a new model of K9 and Mary Tamm as the Time Lady, Romana. Now Mary Tamm has lived in the shadow of Lalla Ward who portrayed the second Romana for some years but is in actual fact just as good as if not better than her successor. She plays the part with a superior know-it-all attitude which irritates the Doctor greatly and there is real friction between them which is refreshing.
This story was written by Robert Holmes, who was without a doubt the greatest writer ever to work on the show, the script simply drips with humour and sophistication and features a trade mark Robert Holmes double act and is the best story of the season.
SPECIAL FEATURES: include a commentary and two documentaries detailing the influence of the producer of the time, Graham Williams, and the making of this story. Continuities and trailers are also presented.

THE PIRATE PLANET is noticeable for being written by the late genius Douglas Adams just prior to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and you can instantly see just what a giant of a writer he would soon become, another top story with a great plot and characters, but no Arthur Dent sadly.
SPECIAL FEATURES: include two commentaries and a documentary about this story's production, film inserts, deleted scenes and outakes. These are complimented by continuities and a spoof science programme called Weird Science which looks at the science of the Key to Time.

THE STONES OF BLOOD was the 100th Doctor Who story to be transmitted and is a tale of two halves, one good one bad, the first two episodes are like something out of a Hammer horror, with moving, blood drinking stones, human sacrifices, death cults and a sinister old house, great stuff. However that last two episodes sees the action shift to a space ship and the thick cloying atmosphere of the first half of the story has given way to something a lot more light hearted and is a massive letdown, had the story carried on in the content of the first two parts we would be looking at one of the all time greats as it is now it can only rank as average.
SPECIAL FEATURES: include two commentaries and two documentaries detailing the making of... and the influence of Hammer Horror upon Doctor Who. There is a Mary Tamm visit to the location to discuss stone circles with the local expert and a Blue Peter celebration of the show's fifteenth anniversary. The usual deleted scenes and continuities are rounded off with a very bad tempered interview with Tom Baker on Nationwide.

THE ANDROIDS OF TARA is a spoof of the Prisoner of Zenda and features mustache twirlling villains, sword fights, maidens being abducted and rescued and of course as the title suggests a power struggle featuring androids as doppelgangers, very light hearted but brilliant fun, it is also Mary Tamm's best performance as Romana.
SPECIAL FEATURES: include a single commentary and the usual making of documentary followed by a feature on the use of doubles in Doctor Who. A look at the location is highlighted in Now and Then which compares location areas 30 years apart.

THE POWER OF KROLL is perhaps the weakest story of the season dealing as it does with a massive swamp creature and a race of green skinned savages that worship it, the storyline is actually OK but the realisation of the monster is what spoils the story, the CSO used is simply dreadful, I never compare effects and such like from the past with todays standards for the simple fact that I judge a programme by the standards of when it was made, but boy do I wish that this effect could be remade, the indications are that that is indeed what has happened, I hope so because this one effect is so embarrassing it drags an otherwise good story down with it. A shame.
SPECIAL FEATURES: include a commentary and timecoded b/w in studio footage, there is an item by the local news show of the time, Variations, and a retrospective look back at her time on Doctor Who by Mary Tamm. Philip Madoc, one of the guest stars, also looks back over his Doctor Who career.

THE ARMAGEDDON FACTOR is the finale of the whole series and is on the whole quite good, it does attempt to portray the effects of a nuclear war but the BBC budget does let the side down a little bit. It is more well know for featuring the Black Guardian in person for the first time, who would later return, along with the White Guardian during Peter Davison's era of the show. And this was the final story for Mary Tamm as Romana but the character would return in the next season played by Lalla Ward, who played Princess Astra in this story. The idea was that Romana chose to imprint her next body upon the pattern of the Princess whom she liked.
SPECIAL FEATURES: include two commentaries three documentaries detailing the making of..., rogue Time Lords and sound effects. There are two Pebble Mill at One features, a discussion of directing Doctor Who by Michael Hayes and the usual continuities and extended scene, the whole thing is rounded of by an extract from the BBC christmas tapes and Tom Baker reading five stories from the 1970's show Late Night Story.

The Key To Time season was roughly the start of the second half of Tom Baker's reign as the Doctor and he just went from strength to strength and was and still is unbeatable. The six adventures that comprise this are a mixed bag in terms of quality and reaction from the fans, some like it some don't, I always have liked it and as a one off experiment it works because there is a hugh veriety of different stories and ideas that keep it fresh. It's interesting to note that when John Nathan-Turner tried the same thing with 'The Trial of a Time Lord' it was perceived as a failure by many fans through being too well linked. The Key To Time is linked only by the thinest of plot devices and really the only two episodes that have a direct bearing on each other are the first and last.

The Key To Time boxset, if only for the special features alone, is highly recommended.
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The Key to Time is a genuine rarity in DVD circles: a limited edition release that genuinely was limited and quickly sold out (although 2Entertain are apparently planning to release the six stories as separate DVDs some time in the future). The UK edition is certainly a huge improvement over the original US NTSC release that was available for several years before this edition made it's brief appearance. Where that only boasted commentaries (with Tom Baker tactfully skipping the story with his ex-wife in it), stills and trivia tracks, the UK set adds additional commentaries, documentaries, deleted scenes, studio recording footage and anything else they could find in the archives or collectors' attics to produce a pleasingly comprehensive set.

The only complete season of the classic show released to date (the show's 16th, dating from 1978), it's not one of the best despite having a unifying theme for the first time - the Doctor has to find and reunite six parts of the Key to Time of the title that have been scattered across the universe. Unfortunately it's very much a mixed bag - the stories are often stagebound and the ideas better than the execution, with the feeling that we've been here before (one story, Androids of Tara, is another variation on The Prisoner of Zenda, while another, The Stones of Blood, owes more than a little to Nigel Kneale). The tone tends to veer a bit too, with The Pirate Planet veering off into broad comedy at times - perhaps not so surprising when it was pseudonymously written by Douglas Adams. Only the six-part finale, The Armageddon Factor, has some unexpected plot twists, including the oft-overlooked revelation of the Doctor's real name - Theeta Sigma (no wonder he prefers being called The Doctor) - when he meets a TARDIS repairman. Throughout the season's run there's too much reliance on K9 to get him out of trouble - like James Bond's gadgets, it just takes away from the hero's self-reliance and covers for lazy writing - though it is interesting to see Mary Tamm's acting improve over the course of the season.
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VINE VOICEon 15 October 2007
I was not really looking forward to the materialisation of this boxset, thinking that I was already too familiar with these 6 serials from 1978. Isn't it lovely to be wrong sometimes? This is one of the best old-school DR WHO DVD releases this year and not just because the extras are so great(more on them later). From the moment the Doctor is hired by Cyril Luckham's godlike White Guardian to search time and space for the all-powerful Key to Time, this sequence of 6 stories is never less than fun, if occasionally silly.

Seeing THE RIBOS OPERATION again after several years was probably the biggest surprise for me as I'd previously dismissed it as a bore. Yes, it's a little stagey, containing polystyrene snow and rubbery monsters but it's also a sweet little character study. There's an effective balance here of mildly amusing comedy, along with characters chasing each other around in corridors or catacombs looking like they actually mean it. Tom Baker appears to be enjoying himself, and his delight in the schemes of rogueish intergalactic con-man Garron, played by the excellent Iain Cuthbertson, mirrors my own. Written by popular WHO veteran, Robert Holmes, the show is really about long term working partnerships (or "Holmesian double acts", if you must).

THE PIRATE PLANET is a love it or hate it affair. I'm inclined to defend it as I've always liked Douglas Adams' humour and inventiveness. It also features the best monster of the season (sort of) in the form of Bruce Purchase's Pirate Captain, who's a blustering, bellowing, eye-rolling nutter with an interesting motivation. The fight between his robot parrot and K-9 is a highlight of the season and again Tom Baker looks like he's having fun but not at the expense of his performance - witness the blistering "then what's it for?!" scene between him and Purchase in episode 3. Yes I suppose some of the supporting cast are a little dull, but when everything else is so bonkers yet engaging you can mostly forgive it.

Thanks to this boxset, the third story, STONES OF BLOOD, is again, one for which I've rediscovered my appreciation. The villainous Cessair of Diplos apparently doesn't have much motivation for what she's up to, but there is also the intriguing suggestion that she might be an agent of the Black Guardian (she seems to know that the Doctor is after the Key anyway). Even if the hyperspace scenes don't always work, the initial set-up of pagan cults,ancient stone circles and blood-drinking monsters is a welcome return to the kind of horror tale that the show seemed to be largely in favour of ditching at the time.

Story number 4, ANDROIDS OF TARA is the best of the set. It's a sci-fi rip-off of Anthony Hope's PRISONER OF ZENDA which is by turns elegant, witty, charming and pacey. Tom Baker gives one of the best performances of his "middle" period, probably only equalled or surpassed by his turn in CITY OF DEATH a year later. He's helped by a strong supporting cast and of course, an outstanding one-off villain in the form of Peter Jeffrey's charming but ruthless Count Grendel. It's quite right that this scheming devil of a man should escape at the end but it's also criminal that there was never a rematch.

THE POWER OF KROLL on the other hand is the weakest story here. It is however, fairly watchable if you're in the mood. There is a certain hilarious magnificence about men painted green running around Norfolk Marshes (doubling as an alien world) worshipping a quarter-mile wide man-eating squid! It feels like Robert Holmes is on auto-pilot here, not really bothering to create characters for whom one really cares, and this is reflected in the under-powered performances of the cast. But I guess anyone painted green or menaced by rubbery tentacles will have a job creating verisimilitude. POWER OF KROLL may be a bit rubbish, but at least it might make you smile indulgently.

Final segment of the quest, THE ARMAGEDDON FACTOR is so-so. The money has now all but disappeared and writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin don't quite know how to keep matters tense enough to sustain 6 episodes. On the other hand, the last episode isn't bad and there are some good ideas at work. It's great for example, that K-9 is used in a more interesting way than is the norm as he is the only one who can communicate with Mentalis; and the jury-rigging of the nearly-completed Key to Time is a minor stroke of genius.

Overall then the season is the strongest for which producer Graham Williams was responsible, even though admittedly, most of the monsters on offer(especially the Shrivenzales, Ogri and the appalling Taran Wood Beast) are well below par. The Doctor's relationship with the uppity, cerebral but inexperienced Romana appears to inject a new vitality into the Doctor/companion relationship as does the fact that the Doctor is for the duration a man on a mission rather than a feckless wanderer.

My enjoyment was turbo-charged by the sheer wealth and quality of extras in the package. The jewel in the crown is the hour long documentary A MATTER OF TIME charting the history of the 3 Graham Williams seasons. This is one of the best of its kind which takes a refreshingly positive and celebratory approach. It reminded me of how literate and intelligent many of these serials are. There is also a fascinating amount of behind-the-scenes gossip nicely complimenting the more objective analysis. My favourite anecdote is Lalla Ward's rueful remembrance of the disastrous experience making 1979's NIGHTMARE OF EDEN, and Tom Baker's uncontrollable annoyance at director Alan Bromly.

As for the other extras, there are some nice "Making of" documentaries and a few shorter, more general theme-based features looking at for example, horror in DR WHO, or doppelgangers or renegade Time Lords. The Mary Tamm and Philip Madoc interviews are agreeable and if all this isn't enough, some of the discs have multiple commentary options (special mention has to go to the Tom Baker/John Leeson commentary on the KROLL disc as they don't seem to be able to stay on the topic of the story for more than 30 seconds at a time!). Some of them are highly informative and it's nice, for example, to have Bruce Purchase and director Pennant Roberts on the PIRATE PLANET commentary. A pity that writer and script editor Douglas Adams has passed away as one imagines that he would have been a wonderful contributor here.
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Gorgeous limited edition set containing the famous 'Key to Time' season fom 1978 in its entirety.
Oft-maligned by 'fans', the season saw The Doctor and new companion, Timelady Romana, sent by the enigmatic White Guardian on a quest to collect the six segments of the Key to Time. It is never really explained why they need to do this, nor why the Guardian's polar opposite, The Black Guardian, also wants the segments. Nonetheless, this is an excuse for a set of great adventures, which although varying in quality, are all lighthearted and emminently watchable.

The Fourth Doctor is given a female Time Lady companion - Romana played by the gorgeous Mary Tamm - by The White Guardian, one of two opposing entities who seemingly control time and space, and the pair are sent to recover the six segments of the key that are scattered across the universe, and which when brought together form the most powerful single object in the universe.
The search for the first segment leads the time travellers to the planet Ribos, where a galactic despot and his army of mercenaries are being duped by the roguish Garron and his dippy sidekick Unstoffe. Mary Tamm and Tom Baker immediately make a great team, and along with robot dog K9 they recover the segment after several perilous experiences and plenty of fun.
Although I personally favour The Stones of Blood and The Androids of Tara, I love this too; the double-act of Garron and Unstoff plus memorable character Binro the Heretic, a persecuted believer who is memorably shown the light by The Doctor, are great creations from Robert Holmes, possibly the best Doctor Who writer ever. The dialogue is crisp, the characterisations full, and despite the season's flawed central conceit it is simply a cracking good adventure.

As one of the few Doctor Who stories never to be novelised by Target it took me a while before I knew 'The Pirate Planet', unlike the other stories that I'd read and re-read until I knew every facet of them. This is a Douglas Adams penned tour de force, and cracking adventure to boot.
The Doctor and Romana discover that someone has been stealing planets and encounter the insane Captain and his deadly robotic parrot - The Polyphase Avatron. They soon realise that the Captain, for all his bluff, is merely a puppet, and along with K9 they uncover the real threat.
Darkly funny with great performances (although Bruce Purchase's Captain is somewhat hammy) this is simply great fun.

Often derided by fans and critics alike, The Power of Kroll is a thinly-disguised allegory for corporate greed. The reason it is not a fan favourite is mainly I suspect due to the poor effects: The titular creature is poorly realised through dodgy blue-screen and the Swampies - abused natives of the planet - are clearly wearing woolen wigs and have green powder paint on their bodies. Of course, we all know that classic Doctor Who is often great despite its weaknesses; however despite an intriguing sub-plot involving gun-runners and enthusiastic performances from the leads, this remains a poorly produced and mediocre serial. One bonus is John 'voice of K9' Leeson in his only front of camera role, but even he can't compensate for a shoddy ending and 'that' rubber tentacle.

Far from being 'rubbish', the infamous 'Key to Time' series was a mixed bag and threw up several memorable (in a good way!) stories. I love 'The Stones of Blood' because it's so moody and atmospheric; Baker and Tamm play their roles splendidly whilst the sequence where the campers have their life forces sucked from their bodies is one of the nastiest and most effective (despite obvious budgetary deficiencies) in Doctor Who history. K9 also gets a bit more to do in this one and the location work makes a refreshing change from some of the story's studio-bound contemporaries. The mix of Gothic elements, paganism, and sci-fi works really well, and the icing on the cake is Beatrix Lehmann's turn as the ditzy professor Rumford; there is added pathos because the actress died before the story was even transmitted.

'The Androids of Tara' is a Prisoner of Zenda-esque story of an isolated kingdom (Tara) where the ruthlessly ambitious Count Grendel plots to overthrow the nice but dim Prince Reynart by replacing him with an android version. A twist on the old doppelganger theme this is a hugely enjoyable period romp with Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor and his companion Romana doing their utmost to thwart the Count's Machiavellian schemes and having great fun in the process. Baker is at his buoyant and madly staring best while Mary Tamm never played the part of aloof Time-lady as well as she does here. With horseback chases, doppelgangers, kidnappings, swordfights aplenty and K9 on top form, this is an absolute treat. Never mind the naysayers who point to the risible 'Taran Wood Beast' and the somewhat dodgy special effects; this is classic 70s Who and damned fine to boot.

'The Armageddon Factor' is still a great story and the climax to a wonderfully eclectic season. Tom Baker and Mary Tamm (Romana) have really started to gel as a team, and there are wonderful turns from John Woodvine as the meglomaniacal Marshall and Davyd Harries as his unintentionally comedic adjutant, Shapp. Some fans have criticised this story for being overlong and it is one of the last of the six-part stories made for TV. However, I thought there was plenty going on and the presence of a lively K9 in one of his better performances was a definite bonus.
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on 2 October 2009
The Doctor is recruited by The White Guardian played charmingly in a sombre opening scene by an elegant Cyril Luckham, to locate 6 segments of the Key to Time. interestingly the WG suggests an altenative name for them should they be brought back in a more PC era (the Guardians of Light & Time, and darkness). Aside from the scenes dealing with the segment location all stories are pretty self-contained.
The Ribos operation is good solid Bob Holmes stuff, even if not his best script. There's a crooked double act, a military buffoon, great dialogue and a poignant heretic thrown in.
Douglas Adams' The Pirate Planet is a bit of a triumph of ideas over story. Clever fun even if it doesn't hang together brilliantly in places.
The Stones of Blood is easily the best story, a good traditional Who mix of SF and the occult. A great story, good characters-especially the wonderful Vivian Fay, and unusual monster and even a Hitchcock from an Ark in Space Wirrn!
The same writer David Fisher offers a Prisoner of Zenda pastiche in The Androids of Tara. A slightly pantomime feel especaiily with Peter Jeffrey's OTT Count Grendel but silly fun-a romp!
It's downhill for The Power of Kroll which is a dull King Kong pastiche by Robert Holmes. It relies too mcuh on a CSO'd rubber octopus and has too little of Holmes' usual flair for dialogue and characters. sadly Sir Robert bowed out of writing Who for many years after this 1. Watch for K9/John Leeson in the flesh for once.
It's back up to quality with The Armageddon factor marking the end of the season and the end of Bob Baker and Dave Martin's writing partnership. A dark tale largely sustaining it's 6 part length it has 2 planets in an interminable war and introduces Romana to be Lalla Ward as Princess Astra and also features a Del Boy timelord Drax and a dark agent of the Black Guardian, The Shadow. The Black Guardian finally appears and is played as irredeemably bad by the wonderful Valentine Dyall.
Uncle Tom and Mary Tamm make a good double act and it's just a shame they only did 1 year. Romana starts off as The Doctor's intellectual equal but by Kroll is getting a bit diluted.
Mary herself shares her thoughts in an interview among the extras in particular regretting the lack of regeneration scene. She also visist Stones of Blood's Rollright stones.
There's a making of documentary for every story except Kroll (reperesnted instead with a feature from a contemporary magazine show). They're all good taking in topics like wanting a birthday cake scene to mark the 15th Who anniversary, who controls the jelly babies? how to embarrass a noted director who was in Ribos and much more while recalling the making of the shows.
"A Matter of Time" covers the whole Graham Williams (producer) era and it's excellent. Many interviewees are used including archive footage of the late man himself.
There's "Weird Science" an unfunny comedy sketch plus a vintage pice on the making of Stones of Blood's spaceship. There's also what I call "The Talons of Bough" where grannies' favourite Frank invites Who guests onto Nationwide and unwisely bates Uncle Tom. Terrific fun as Tom claims Bough's TV image is fictional-you might almost think he'd travelled to the future to see the tabloid expose's that would later blight him!

There was a US region 1 set released earlier and the commentaries from that are included here with a Tommentary added if there wasn't 1 before-giving 2 commentaries on some stories. The Tommentaries are the best as usual, especially where he's paird with Mary Tamm who in 1 recorded before the return of Who suggests if the show was done now there'd be no problem having the Dr romantically involved with assistants. Tom reveals he saw 7 keys to Doomsday before becoming the Dr and asks after Lalla Ward.

A few great Tomisms;

"never put a coffin onstage in Tunbridge Wells, the audience start to shift nervously"
"then 3 workmen came out of the Tardis doing up their trousers and not 1 said come along Romana"

A great package for a good set of stories but more for particular fans of Uncle Tom and be sure you can get a good price. 2entertain said they would releas a non-limited edition at some point in the future.
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on 23 July 2009
Season 16, aka The Key To Time season, is one of the most enjoyable, wacky, imaginative and ambitious seasons in Dr Who's history. The overall linking theme of the Doctor searching for the 6 segments of the key doesn't really hinder the stories, and actually often feels rather incidental to the proceedings (especially in the fourth story, The Androids of Tara). Tom Baker dominates this season like none previously, given free reign to improvise, act totally bonkers and, yes, sometimes go way over the top, but he's so magnificent in the role that this is a blessing rather than a hindrance. There's nothing worse than a restrained Tom Baker (see season 18), and his enthusiastic, child-like performance is a joy to watch. New companion Romana is also a big asset, played by the gorgeous Mary Tamm. She has a great chemistry with Baker and the witty interplay between the two is a major attraction of this season. The production values of this season are pretty shaky, but considering what some of the scripts required (flying parrots, giant squids, blood-drinking megaliths, space-hopping planets, not to mention the realisation of some strange alien worlds) that it's actually quite remarkable what they production team managed to create.
As for the stories themselves, "The Ribos Operation" is wonderful, with some excellent performances, great characterisation, an entertaining story and convincing set-design. "The Pirate Planet" by Douglas Adams is, as you might expect, a pretty wacky story with a very complex plot, unpronouncable scientific gobbledygook (magnifactoid eccentricolometer, indeed!)larger than life performances and humorous dialogue. It's hugely entertaining, totally mad and my favourite story of the season. "The Stones of Blood" goes for a touch of the hammer horrors with blood-drinking stones, celtic druids and sacrifices until it switches half way through to a court-room drama in hyperspace! The first half is intriguing and atmospheric, the second rather camp and funny, but it's a great story all round. "The Androids of Tara" is a sort of homage to The Prisoner of Zenda, and feels a bit inconsequential but is a stylish production with excellent location filming, a wonderfully witty villain and contains a great sword fight at the end. Tom Baker looks like he's really enjoying himself in this one! "The Power of Kroll" is probably the weakest story, with a less than engaging storyline and some iffy performances, but there's something undeniably appealing about a story that features actors painted green jumping up and down in a marsh and chanting to a 50 foot squid! Finally, "The Armageddon Factor" ties up the Key to Time theme with the first appearance of the evil Black Guardian and also features a great villain called The Shadow who looks and acts lilke the epitome of evil, even down to his evil laughing, black cloak and skull-like mask. You don't get more evil looking than this guy! The story meanders a little bit, and the budget appears to have run out as the sets are mostly grey walls but there are some appealing performances in it, and an unusual (if not terribly satisfying) climax.
Overall, Season 16 of Dr Who is a brilliantly entertaining piece of television and a definate must buy for any Dr Who fan, or even casual viewer. It's a shame this box set is now so ridiculously expensive and idiotic that it was only released as a limited edition. Please, let's have a re-release that people can actually afford!
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on 24 July 2008
Creating a story arc as long as this in the 1970's was something which was fairly radical, and Williams should be applauded for being so brave in attempting this with the limited budget he had. Williams is often lambasted by fans, but this is often to scrape over the good times. Most of the terrible episodes were to come in the next series, and what makes this ambitious concept shine is the consistent good quality of the scripts, and the fact that Tom Baker is so obviously enjoying himself, but not to the detriment of his performance as would happen in the next series.

The only reason The Ribos Operation seems to be heavily criticised for me, is that it was written by Robert Holmes, who usually seemed to give so much more. This, for him, is a low key script, but what he manages to do convincingly is create the feeling that you really are in another world subject to another culture. Paul Seed, Ian Cuthbertson and Prentis Hancock all turn in fine performances and their characters are given real depth. Mary Tamm really introduces herself as Romana well.

The Pirate Planet is a very camp space opera, and sometimes features what were Douglas Adams preoccupations in Hitchhiker's Guide. Some of the incedental character's are a little flat, but then standing next to Baker and a scenery eating Bruce Purchase as the Captain most people would. The effects are a little clunky, but given the scope of the story, a lot of budgets would struggle to cope. What makes this story shine is shiningly intelligent and witty dialogue, which is worth sticking with the plot for through the four episodes.

The Stones Of Blood is a hark back to what came before in places, with the gothic horror element mixed in with the sci-fi. David Fisher's first script for the show is a cracker; genuinely chilling in places with some wonderfully moody direction and feeling in the performances.

Fisher follows this with the cracking Androids of Tara, a loose 'homage' to The Prisoner of Zenda, wonderfully shot in a shining summer, again with cracking costumes and concepts relating to the alien culture. This is Baker's second finest comic turn next to City of Death, and opposite a magnificent Peter Jefferies as count Grendel this is a tret to watch.

The Power of Kroll is, simply, terrible. Holmes was writing on autopilot for this. He didn't like the concept of the Key To Time, and having been asked, unwillingly, to set it up, he found himself having to write another. The marshes look good as the alien setting, but everything else just creaks, from the script to the costumes to the set. Not even the presence of John Abiberni or Phillip Madoc can save this. Truly terrible!

The Armageddon Factor suffers from being just too long. The ideas are ambitious from the pen of Baker and Martin, but they just don't quite stretch to fit the format. What makes it worth watching is the interesting use of K-9 as the leading clue, you are actually not quite whose side he is on. There is a wonderful villanous performance from John Woodvine as the mad Marshall, and this is Lalla Ward's impressive debut to the show.

Throw in a box load of extras and you have a great watch on your hands for a couple of hours.
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on 25 September 2007
This came out yesterday and I have trawled through the lot in a day and a half; ok, a bit sad, but I think it was worth it and this box set has both good and bad things in it. Firstly, the extras are as always excellent. Beeb have done consistantly really well, even on some of the total duffers they feel compelled to release. Mostly these episodes are good (with the exception of The Armageddon Factor which is a real yawnathon in a corridor) and the Key to Time link idea works (unlike the disaster of Trail of a Time Lord 8 years later) nicely. Tom Baker seems to project total arrogance throughout the stories; it is widely acknowledged, even by himself that he was getting hard work to work with by 1978, fully believeing he and he alone was the programme, and all his ideas were valid. This seems to add to the stories here (unlike in the following 2 seasons), and the locking of horns between him and Mary Tamm (a wonderful head girl-y Romana to Lalla Ward's softer version) is entertaining and creates a nice dynamic. The value for money aspect is good and unlike some box sets, this is made of thick durable cardboard and plastic and will still be with you in years to come. Ok, the stories aren't up to other classic Doctor Who tales, and the sets are (acknowledged in one of the extras) wobbly due to the Beeb's lack of funds in the late 70s, but there is much to be enjoyed and re-enjoyed. Well done Beeb. More please!
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on 12 February 2008
In the latest issue of DWM it is reported that it will be re issued - but not in a ltd edition numbered set.
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