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.