This review is for the lovely Mary Tamm, the noblest Romana of them all.
This is one of my favourite seasons from the Tom Baker era of 'Doctor Who'. I love 'The Key To Time' season (Season 16). It was true bliss for me when I watched it for my birthday in 2009. This DVD box set comprises six stories with a linking theme for the quest of the Key to Time which I enjoyed.
This season stars Tom Baker as the Doctor and features Mary Tamm as Romana. I enjoyed the character relationships between the Doctor and Romana that was developed in this season. I also enjoyed the 'treasure hunt' quest atmosphere of this season, as it's very engaging to watch.
The six stories are as follows; 'The Ribos Operation'; 'The Pirate Planet'; 'The Stones of Blood'; 'The Androids of Tara'; 'The Power of Kroll' and 'The Armageddon Factor'. The six stories range from fantasy, comedy; horror and good action adventure and are exciting in their own right.
1. 'THE RIBOS OPERATION'
The first story is by Robert Holmes and is a four-part adventure on 1 disc. It starts with the Doctor summoned by the White Guardian (Cyril Luckham) who chooses to search for the Key to Time.
The Key to Time is a crystal cube, divided into six segments. When combined the key maintains the balance of time. The Doctor reluctantly agrees to do this mission and is joined by a new companion.
This story features Mary Tamm's first appearance as Romanadvoratrelundar. The Doctor finds her name too long. He calls her Romana instead. She doesn't like it. But it's either Romana or Fred.
I love Mary Tamm's performance as Romana. Mary delivers a cool, gracious and glamorous presence as the Time Lady companion. She's the Doctor's equal, but they clash and don't get on well at first.
The Doctor and Romana use a tracer to locate the six segments. They look for the first segment taking them to the planet Ribos. Ribos is an ice, snowy planet that is medieval-like in appearance.
This story is set on an alien planet, but the atmosphere feels like a historical adventure. This story tends to be slow, but it starts off 'The Key To Time' season nicely as the Doctor and Romana start.
Tom Baker delivers a stupendous performance as the Doctor. I like the Doctor's casual manner in this story. He finds it difficult to get on with Romana and I love the sparkly dialogue between them.
K-9, the Doctor's pet robotic dog is loveable as always (voiced by John Leeson). K-9 gets summoned by his `master' when called to help. I like the scenes between K-9 and Romana in the catacombs.
The guest cast includes Iain Cuthbertson as Garron and Nigel Plaskitt as Unstoffe. These two are a pair of conmen who try to sell jethrik to an unstable, glory-seeking, warlord.
This warlord is Paul Seed as Graff Vynda-K and he's joined by Robert Keegan as Sholakh. I feel that Paul Seed gives an over-the-top performance as Vynda-K and I can't take him seriously.
There's also Timothy Bateson (who I've seen in 'The Good Life' and 'Ever Decreasing Circles') as Binro. The scene between Binro and Unstoffe talking about other worlds is very touching.
There's also Anne Tirard as the Seeker and Prentis Hancock as the Shrieve Captain.
The first Key to Time segment turns out to be disguised as the gemstone jethrik that Garron and Unstoffe try to sell. The Doctor and Romana get it and have five segments left to go.
The DVD special features are as follows. There's 'A Matter of Time' documentary looking into the Graham Williams era of 'Doctor Who' and the making-of documentary called 'The Ribos File'. There are also continuity announcements for 'The Ribos Operation' and a Season 16 trailer.
There's a commentary with Tom Baker and Mary Tamm and an info text commentary option. There's also a photo gallery and a Radio Times Listings PDF of the story.
'The Ribos Operation' is a nice start to 'The Key To Time' season. It's not the most exciting story in the season, but it's a nice introduction for Romana as the new companion for the Doctor.
Take a side-step adventure with the Doctor, Romana and K-9 in 'Tomb of Valdemar'
2. 'THE PIRATE PLANET'
The second story is by Douglas Adams and is a four-part adventure on 1 disc. This is a wacky, bonkers and mind-boggling story from 'The Key to Time' season and is one of my favourites.
This is Douglas Adams' first contribution to 'Doctor Who' before he became script-editor of the series. Douglas is well-known as the author of 'The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy'
and the 'Dirk Gently'
novels. Here he delivers a story full of mad ideas and laugh-out-loud humour.
The Doctor; Romana and K9 head for the planet Calufrax to collect the second segment of the Key to Time. But when they end up on Zanak and come up against the menace of a loud Pirate Captain.
I always enjoy the stories by Douglas Adams. I love his humour and even though the science stuff's beyond me, he comes up with some fantastic ideas. My favourite story of his is 'City of Death'
I like the ideas in this story about a planet devouring other planets and mining for its minerals. The effects are impressive including the particle acceleration corridors; the air cars and holo-projection.
This story almost never got made as Graeme MacDonald, the Head of BBC Drama, said this 'won't do'. But director Pennant Roberts was determined to make this work and it was very brave of him.
I really like Tom Baker's Doctor and Mary Tamm's Romana. Romana control of the TARDIS and giving out jelly babies to people in the streets and the Doctor getting annoyed with her were hilarious.
Tom Baker clearly loves Douglas Adams' lines. I enjoyed watching Tom's Doctor in this one, as he's so bonkers and funny. That scene where he's angry with the Pirate Captain was mesmerising.
Mary Tamm does well as Romana too. I love it when she's not bothered by guards threatening her or being intimidated by the Pirate Captain. Romana gets to explain things as well as the Doctor.
K-9 (voiced by John Leeson) shines here. I like it when K-9 tries to tell the Doctor that Romana's been arrested but the Doctor won't listen to him. K-9's fight with the robot parrot a defining moment.
Bruce Purchase guest stars as the Pirate Captain. The Captain is very funny to watch as he shouts a lot; insults people and has his own robot parrot. But the Captain's shouting isn't all it appears.
The rest of the guest cast includes Andrew Robertson as Mr Fibuli; Rosalind Lloyd as the Nurse; David Warwick as Kimus; David Sibley as Pralix and Primi Townsend as Mula.
It turns out that the planet Calufrax happens to be the second segment of the Key to Time.
The DVD special features are as follows. There's the making-of documentary called 'Parrot Fashion' with cast and crew interviews and there are film inserts; deleted scenes & outtakes. There's a 'Weird Science' spoof with David Graham and Mat Irvine and continuity announcements.
There are commentaries. The first is with Bruce Purchase and director Pennant Roberts. The second is with Tom Baker; Mary Tamm and script editor Anthony Read. There is also an info-text commentary option; a photo gallery and a Radio Times Listings PDF of the story.
'The Pirate Planet' quickly became one of my favourite 'Doctor Who' stories from 'The Key To Time' season. It's funny; it's bonkers; it got Tom Baker and that Pirate Captain is so hilarious to watch.
3. 'THE STONES OF BLOOD'
The third story is by David Fisher and is a four-part adventure on 1 disc. This is another one of my favourites from 'The Key To Time' season and is about a stone circle with stones hungry for blood.
David Fisher also makes his first contribution to 'Doctor Who'. I like David's stories as he has a knack of writing really good gripping drama tales with elements of humour thrown in and interesting ideas.
The Doctor and Romana head for Earth in the late 20th century to look for the third segment of the Key to Time. They discover a stone circle in connection to blood sacrifices and a terrible goddess.
The story has a gothic horror feel to it as it would have fitted in the early Tom Baker years. I'm not familiar with Druids and blood sacrifices, but it's very disturbing in a familiar earthbound setting.
Tom Baker delivers a superb performance as the Doctor. He lets his curiosity get the better of him, which leads him about to be nearly sacrificed. I liked the Doctor's friendship with Amelia Rumford.
Mary Tamm's Romana is stunning as ever and gets to be resourceful. She fares well despite not having a good sense of shoes and gets sent to a spaceship in hyperspace where danger awaits.
K-9 was a joy to see in this story. I like it when the Doctor summons K-9 to track down Romana in trouble. I like it when Amelia calls K-9 a `dear' and he defends her to the last dog against the Ogri.
The guest cast includes Beatrix Lehmann as Professor Amelia Rumford. Amelia is an endearing and eccentric elderly lady. She becomes a willing alley when solving the mystery of the stone circle.
Susan Engel guest stars as the villainous Vivien Fay. She starts off as being friendly as she lives with Amelia Rumford. But it turns out she's responsible for the blood sacrifices and isn't who she appears.
The cast also includes Nicholas McArdle as Mr De Vries and Elaine Ives-Cameron as his wife Martha who are Druids. There's also James Murray and Shirin Taylor as Campers who get horribly killed.
The moving stones are the Ogri who come from an alien planet. I'm impressed with these stone monsters, and glad director Darrol Blake didn't have actors in cumbersome rock-suits to play them. The story features the Megara, alien justice machines, which I found pretty appalling in visual terms.
The third segment of the Key to Time happens to be necklace that Vivien Fay wears.
The DVD special features are as follows. There's the 'Getting Blood From The Stones' making-of documentary; the 'Hammer Horror' featurette and 'Stones Free' with Mary Tamm. There are also deleted scenes; continuities and 'Model World' with Mat Irvine.
There are two commentaries. The first one is with Mary Tamm and director Darrol Blake. The second one is with Tom Baker; Mary Tamm and Susan Engel. There's an info-text commentary option; a Blue Peter item and a Nationwide cast interview; a photo gallery and Radio Times Listing PDF of the story.
'The Stones of Blood' is a great 'Doctor Who' story by David Fisher. I'm not one for gothic horror, but I found this an enjoyable tale with the Doctor, Romana, K-9 and sausage sandwiches of all things.
Take some side-step adventures with the Doctor, Romana and K-9 in 'The Shadow of Weng-Chiang'
; 'Heart of Tardis'
and 'Ferril's Folly'
4. 'THE ANDROIDS OF TARA'
The fourth story is by David Fisher and is a four-part adventure on 1 disc. This is my third favourite story from 'The Key To Time' season, full of swashbuckling proportions; humour and adventure.
This story is based on the classic novel 'The Prisoner of Zenda' by Anthony Hope. Having not read the book or seen the film, I was instantly captivated in this swashbuckling adventure with androids.
The Doctor and Romana visit the planet Tara, where Romana finds the fourth segment of the Key to Time easily. But they get caught in the power struggle of Count Grendel intent to be king of Tara.
The fourth segment of the Key to Time happens to be a stone statue of an animal's head
This is a story about double trouble, as androids get used in a medieval-alien setting to duplicate another person. This story focuses on Mary Tamm's Romana who Grendel uses in his schemes.
The story is well-directed by Michael Hayes, making his first contribution to the series. The sunny atmosphere for Tara adds well to the action-packed plot and the beauty of this medieval world.
Mary Tamm delivers a wonderful performance as three characters. She plays Romana; Princess Strella and android copies of Romana and Strella. The android Romana is serious and quite creepy.
Tom Baker delivers a superb performance as the Doctor with his eccentric humour and bonkers manner. He gets involved with the power struggle of Tara, when knowing how to mend androids.
K-9 gets a huge amount to do in this story. As well as tracking Romana at Count Grendel's castle, K-9 helps the Doctor when detecting the android Romana and cutting a hole through a wall to escape.
The story's guest cast includes the great Peter Jeffrey as the villainous Count Grendel. Peter clearly relishes playing Grendel and is great delivering the balance of menace and humour in the character.
There's Neville Jason as the charming, heroic Prince Reynart. Neville also gets to play an android copy of the Prince to become king, whilst the real Prince is locked up in a dungeon with Romana.
There's Simon Lack as sword-master Zadek and Paul Lavers as swordsman Farrah. Paul as Farrah shamefully cuts up the Doctor's scarf with his electric-powered sword. Gasp, shock! Sacrilege!
There's also Lois Baxter as Lamia, Grendel's android-maker; Martin Matthews as Kurster, Grendel's captain of the guard; Declan Mulholland as Till and Cyril Shaps as the Archimandrite
There's a marvellous sword-fight between the Doctor and Count Grendell. I was thrilled to see Tom Baker's Doctor sword-fighting and you see where the Tenth Doctor got his sword-fighting from.
The DVD special features are as follows. There's a making-of documentary called 'The Humans of Tara'; the 'Now and Then: The Androids of Tara' featurette and the 'Double Trouble' featurette.
There's a photo gallery and a commentary with Tom Baker, Mary Tamm and director Michael Hayes. There's an info-text commentary option and a Radio Times PDF of the story.
'The Androids of Tara' is a fantastic story in 'The Key To Time' season. I enjoyed every minute of it with the Doctor, Romana and K-9 as the heroes and Peter Jeffrey as the fantastic Count Grendel.
5. 'THE POWER OF KROLL'
The fifth story is by Robert Holmes and is a four-part adventure on 1 disc. This is my least favourite story of 'The Key To Time' season, as it's rather uninspired and unimaginative as previous stories.
I'm not criticising Robert Holmes, as he's a brilliant 'Doctor Who' writer. But this is an average tale and didn't excite me as much. It fulfilled its purpose in searching for the fifth segment of the Key.
The Doctor and Romana visit the third moon of Delta Magna. It's full of muggy swamps where the primitive Swampies live; a gas refinery is built and a gigantic squid monster squid called Kroll rises.
This story has swamps everywhere and many themes of deity-worshiping and skulduggery.
Tom Baker delivers a pretty good performance as the Doctor here. I like how the Doctor is curious about a legend regarding Kroll and that he saves Romana from a man with a giant clam on his head.
Mary Tamm also gives a good performance as Romana, although she's rather undeveloped in this one. It was unfair that Romana had to be sacrificed for two rituals (the second one with the Doctor).
K-9 sadly doesn't appear in this tale, as it was impossible to film the robot dog in the swamps.
The guest cast features some actors I know from other TV shows and previous 'Doctor Who' stories.
There's Neil McCarthy as Thawn, controller of the gas refinery. Neil played Mr Bedford in an episode of 'Some Mothers Do 'Ave' Them'. Here he plays a man who wants to wipe out the Swampies.
There's also Phillip Madoc as Fenner, a refinery crewmember. Phillip played the U-Boat Captain in the 'Dad's Army' episode 'The Deadly Attachment'. Sadly, he isn't a villain in this story.
There's John Leeson as Dugeen, another refinery crewmember. John usually voices K-9 for 'Doctor Who'. It was to see him in the flesh as a human character in this story and use his own voice.
There's John Aibineri as Ranquin, leader of the Swampies. John appeared in 'The Moon Stallion' with Sarah Sutton as well as 'Doctor Who'. Ranquin is a great believer in Kroll and worships his power.
The cast also features Glyn Owen as Rohm-Dutt and Grahame Mallard as Harg.
The actual Kroll monster is gigantic and looks very impressive when we see it in full view. The actual tentacles grabbing people are a bit dodgy and laughing, especially when Ranquin gets captured.
It turns out the fifth segment is a holy relic swallowed by Kroll that makes him into a BIG monster.
The DVD special features are as follows. There's 'In Studio' footage and a 'Variations' news item. There are two interviews including 'There's Something About Mary' with Mary Tamm and 'Phillip Madoc - A Villain For All Seasons' with Phillip Madoc. There are also continuities announcements.
There's a commentary with Tom Baker and John Leeson and an info-text commentary option. There's also a photo gallery and a Radio Times Listings PDF of the story.
'The Power of Kroll' is a fairly average tale in 'The Key To Time' season. It's not my absolute favourite from the season, but it's not terrible. It provides the entertainment, but certainly not for Christmas.
6. 'THE ARMAGEDDON FACTOR'
The sixth story is by Bob Baker and Dave Martin and is a six-part adventure in a 2-disc set. This is the epic finale to 'The Key To Time' season and it gets more dangerous for the Doctor, Romana and K-9.
The quest is nearly over as the TARDIS takes the Doctor, Romana and K-9 in the middle of a terrible war between the twin planets Atrios and Zeos. They hope to find the sixth segment of the Key to Time. Instead they come up against the evil, calcified Shadow who is also after the Key to Time.
The war setting of this story adds to the dramatic climax of the season. Bob Baker and Dave Martin boldly depict the horrors of war and what's at that stake with the Key to Time. Where one side hopes to win against the other; there's a powerful computer about to self-destruct to end the war.
It is interesting how this story develops the Shadow is manipulating events in the war by having his world blocking in-between Atrios and Zeos. Also with Mentalis, the Zeon computer as the only entity on Zeos compared to Atrios that is populated by humans is both interesting and quite disturbing.
Director Michael Hayes does a grand job directing this final story of the season on such a low budget. The story has a pretty 'Star Wars' feel to it and despite the lack of money to create convincing sets, the story manages to hold up together especially with the tension and dark scenes.
Tom Baker delivers a superb performance as the Doctor. I like how the Doctor's curious about what's going on regarding the war between Atrios and Zeos, including the Marshal's odd behaviour. I like some of the Doctor's one-liners and he suspects that Princess Astra is connected to the Key to Time.
Mary Tamm is lovely as Romana in this adventure. Romana clearly has got on well with the Doctor by this point. There's less friction between them and Romana truly cares for the Doctor when he's in trouble. I like it when Romana and the Doctor manage to stop the universe with the Key to Time.
K-9 (voiced by John Leeson) gets a good outing in this adventure. I like it when K-9 has some funny moments including when finding his conversations with Mentalis stimulating. Also when K-9 is on his side and demands to be put upright by Drax. Poor K-9 when he was on his way to the furnace.
The story's guest cast includes John Woodvine (who I've seen in a BBC production of 'Persuasion') as the Marshal on Atrios. The Marshal is obsessed with war and is determined to wipe out the Zeons. But there's something odd about him as he talks to a mirror and is in contact with the Shadow.
There's Lalla Ward who makes her first appearance in 'Doctor Who' as Princess Astra. Lalla would go on to play the second Romana after Mary Tamm. Here she plays the Princess of Atrios, who gets kidnapped by the Shadow and his minions and is closely connected somehow to the Key to Time.
There's Davyd Harries as Shapp, the Marshall's second-in-command on Atrios. I found Shapp really funny in 'Episodes Three and Four'. He has a funny twitch in his eye and makes funny moves with his gun. I can't help laugh out loud when he does that unconvincing fall and scream when he gets shot.
There's Ian Saynor as Merak, the medical physician on Atrios. Merak is in love with Princess Astra and both try to end the war between Atrios and Zeos. Merak joins the Doctor and Romana when trying to find Astra on Zeos. Merak tries to be heroic when saving Astra from the bad guys.
There's William Squire who delivers a chilling performance as the mysterious, evil Shadow. It's not clear who the Shadow really is as to whether he's a man or an alien being. But he turns out to be an agent of the Black Guardian who's on the same quest as the Doctor and Romana for the Key to Time.
In this story, we meet a new Time Lord called Drax (Barry Jackson). Drax is an old Academy friend of the Doctor who calls him Theta Sigma interestingly. Drax is a dodgy dealer in maintenance and repair work when the Doctor meets him. He was employed by the Shadow but helps the Doctor instead.
It turns out that the sixth segment of the Key to Time happens to be Princess Astra herself. This came as a shock and a surprise and it upsets the Doctor and Romana when being used by the Guardian to commit murder as Astra is destroyed and becomes a component instead of a person.
The humour in the story doesn't overplay to a large degree in this story. There is an atmosphere of darkness especially in the Shadow's domain. But there are traces of humour within the story which I enjoyed and could taste, especially as Douglas Adams was coming in as the new script editor.
This story also has elements of the Trojan War in it. There's a moment when the Doctor and Drax shrink themselves to a small size and they get inside K-9 to get into the Shadow's domain.
Thankfully the Key to Time is completed and all the six segments are put together to form this beautiful crystal cube. To see that cube in completion is simply amazing and makes you want to do absolutely anything with it. But absolute power corrupts absolutely as the Doctor demonstrates.
At the end of the story, the Doctor and Romana come face to face with Valentine Dyall as the Black Guardian. The Black Guardian tries to pass himself off as the White Guardian to fool the Doctor. But the Doctor sees through the disguise and refuses to give the Key to Time to him.
This angers the Black Guardian who vows to hunt the Doctor and destroy him. But the Doctor breaks up the tracer and the Key to Time is scattered again across time and space. The Doctor also adds a new device to the TARDIS called the randomiser where they hope to avoid the Black Guardian.
This story features Mary Tamm's final appearance as Romana in the TV series. This is a shame as I enjoyed Mary Tamm's Romana and I wish there were more adventures between with her on TV. Thankfully Mary has done some Big Finish audios with Tom Baker before she recently passed away.
The DVD special features are as follows. On Disc 1, there are two audio commentaries. The first commentary is with Mary Tamm; John Woodvine and director Michael Hayes. The second commentary is with Tom Baker, Mary Tamm and John Leeson.
There is also an info-text commentary option to watch and enjoy. There are also two PDF documents including a Radio Times Listing of the story and a Doctor Who Annual.
On Disc 2, there is a making-of documentary called 'Defining Shadows' with cast and crew interviews. There is an alternative/deleted scene from the story; a 'Directing Who' interview with Michael Hayes; a 'Rouge Time Lords' featurette and a 'Pebble Mill at One' interview with Tom Baker.
There is a 'Radiophonic Feature' and 'The New Sound of Music' featurette. There's also a funny 'Merry Christmas, Doctor Who' sketch with the Doctor, Romana and K-9. There are continuities and a photo gallery of the story. There are also five 'Late Night Story' features with Tom Baker to enjoy.
'The Armageddon Factor' is a satisfying and enjoyable conclusion to 'The Key to Time' season. I enjoyed watching the Doctor, Romana and K-9 facing the forces of evil and completing their quest in the end. The story has a surprising twist at the end, which is something one shouldn't expect to see.
'The Key to Time' is my favourite season from the Tom Baker era of 'Doctor Who'. I loved watching this season in its lavish DVD box set for the first time. I loved the story between Tom Baker's Doctor and Mary Tamm's Romana and I cherish this season every time I watch with those two together.
On all six stories on DVD, there's a coming soon trailer for 'Planet of Evil'
with Tom Baker.
The next story for the Doctor and Romana is 'The Auntie Matter'