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A mixed bag of stories but a great boxed set
on 14 October 2009
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.