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Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara (The Key to Time Part Four)

"Would you mind not standing on my chest? My hat's on fire."

Doctor Who has never been shy about, and let’s be perfectly blunt here, pillaging the classics for inspiration. The show has already given us takes on the likes of Frankenstein, Jason and the Argonauts and many more. But it is rare that the show has taken a source and adapted it practically word for word.

'The Androids of Tara' is a blatant and unapologetic photocopy of Anthony Hope’s classic swashbuckler The Prisoner of Zenda. The script follows the plot of the book to the letter. The only major changes are relocating the action to another planet, throwing in some androids and merging Prince Michael and Rupert of Hentzau into one character.

It also happens to be one of the most fun stories of the entire Key to Time season. After the misstep that was ‘The Stones of Blood’, David Fisher quickly redeemed himself with this marvelous story. 'Androids' is simply an absolute treat, a charming swashbuckler that finds Tom Baker at the top of his game, perfectly matched against Peter Jeffery’s charmingly despicable Count Grendel, this story’s Rupert of Hentzau substitute.

With so much goodness, it is very disappointing that Mary Tamm’s talents are completely wasted in this one. As in 'The Stones of Blood' Fisher doesn't seem to have a clue what to do with Romana. What's the point of giving the Doctor a companion who is just as smart as he is (probably even smarter) if all you're going to do is lumber her with the thankless role of damsel in distress? Even giving her the extra role of Princess Strella adds nothing as Strella barely appears, does nothing but weave, and is so similar in personality to Romana that you wouldn't think that Tamm is even playing a different character.

Name-Drop Alert

The Doctor saw José Raúl Capablanca play Alexander Alekhine at chess in 1927. He also met Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler.

Notes and Quotes

--For this story only, the opening title credits are in the order: title, part, writer. Usually it's title, writer, part.

--Grendel's castle is actually Leeds Castle in Kent.

--At first glance it looked like the Romana android shot lasers out of its crotch area. On closer examination it is actually the waist.

--Even by this show's standards, the Taran Wood Beast is embarrassingly bad:

Romana: "Count, far be it from me to query this woman's competency as a doctor, but where I come from, you don't cut off a patient's head if you wish to cure their ankle!"

Count Grendel: "Well, why so miserable? This should be the happiest day of your life. It will also be your last, so you'd better enjoy it."

Zadek: "This is Prince Reynart's hunting estate."
The Doctor: "What? Prince Reynart!"
Zadek: "Yes."
The Doctor: "I've never heard of him. Decent sort of chap, is he?"

The Doctor: "I shall have to go alone of course. It's funny. They always want you to go alone when you're walking into a trap. Have you noticed that?"

Three out of four Grachtian statues.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

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