In 1978, the 16th season of Doctor Who tried something
entirely new for the show. All six stories were to be part
of one larger story, the Doctor's quest for the all-powerful
Key to Time. A novel idea then, if familiar now, it showcases
Who at its best - and sometimes worst...
only available as a Region 1 boxed set released in the US
in 2002, this is the long-awaited UK edition of the entire
Key To Time season from 1978.
all of the worthwhile special features from the original US
version have survived intact on this new re-mastered release,
along with a frankly staggering amount of brand new material
which makes this collection a strong contender for the most
exhaustive, feature-packed Doctor Who DVD release ever.
search for the six segments of the Key To Time spanned the
whole run of 26 episodes from Doctor Whos sixteenth
season, and this idea of a linking theme was a bold new concept
for the show.
all honesty though, the story-arc can be fairly described
as loose. With the exception of the first and
last stories, the ongoing quest is rarely at the heart of
the drama, and just about all of the six adventures can be
enjoyed in their own right. Indeed, a casual viewer at the
time could have been forgiven for not even realising that
a linking plot was running throughout the season.
clear that fun was high on the agenda in 1978.
The dark horror thrills of the Hinchcliffe years were now
just a distant memory, as Graham Williams carved out a more
light-hearted approach which continued to attract a huge audience,
although fan opinion was becoming divided.
now, the tense, brooding Fourth Doctor of old had fully developed
into a larger-than-life extension of Tom Baker himself, as
the Doctor happily blunders his way through joyous adventure,
with his trademark grin dominating every scene. It can be
mesmerising to watch, even if the portrayal occasionally crosses
dangerous territory into The Tom Baker Comedy Show. Its
certainly a far cry from the gloomy traveller of a couple
of years earlier who had solemnly announced that he walked
Doctor is given a new companion to assist him on his special
mission, in the form of Mary Tamm as Time Lady Romana, a rare
example of an intellectual equal for the Doctor, a concept
which is generally considered not to work very well in the
show (on the grounds that they dont ask But whats
happening, Doctor? quite enough).
an interesting new breed of assistant, and Tamm plays the
role with a cool, icy elegance, although she often comes across
as slightly detached, and there sometimes seems to be a lack
of chemistry between the two leads. It has to be said that
the relationship would only really crackle into life the following
year, when Mary Tamm would regenerate into Lalla Ward, and
a dream partnership would be born.
mention must go to K9, the third member of this years
TARDIS crew, who gets plenty of action throughout The Key
To Time, and rarely gets left behind in the TARDIS. Its
a bit of a shame that his voice has lost the terrific modulation
effect of his earlier episodes and occasionally sounds a bit
thin and reedy, but even so, The Key To Time could
well be K9s finest hour.
story begins with The Ribos Operation, and its
an unusual season-opener to say the least. After a brief introduction
with The White Guardian, who informs the Doctor of his vital
mission to locate the six segments of The Key To Time, we
are then thrown into a very small-scale affair on the planet
Ribos, revolving around dodgy deals, thefts and deception.
Robert Holmes is famous for his wonderfully crafted characters,
and here we are treated to another great double-act in the
shape of Garron and Unstoffe, the galactic con-man and his
apprentice, out on their last scam to sell the
some sparkling comic dialogue, the whole story is imbued with
typical Holmes wit, and the end result almost resembles an
old-style caper movie with the viewer wondering
who exactly will finish up with the plundered loot.
actually a cracking story in its own right, but with
little in the way of thrills and scares, its a strangely
low-key opening to this supposedly epic quest.
search for the second segment takes the TARDIS crew to The
Pirate Planet, a typically oddball story from the pen
of Douglas Adams.
premise of the story is so utterly ludicrous that you wonder
how on Earth it ever got commissioned in the first place (a
half-cybernetic Pirate Captain and his robot parrot preside
over a hollow space-hopping planet that materialises around
other planets and feeds off them) and you do wonder if Adams
was just completely taking the p*ss when he wrote this.
yet, much of it is hugely enjoyable. Bruce Purchase as the
Captain does border on the annoying, as he barks and yells
his way through every single one of his lines, but there is
something strangely compelling about his performance, and
the lethal robot parrot is a nice touch.
you might expect from Douglas Adams, The Pirate Planet
is steeped in wildly imaginative SF ideas, and the gradually
unfolding revelations are well paced and often cleverly executed,
with some lovely comic moments between the Doctor, Romana
a shame then, that the story is prone to losing itself in
incoherent technobabble. The whole thing is close to being
brilliant, but disappears up its own backside just a
few too many times.
up is the 100th Doctor Who story to be produced, The Stones
of Blood, and the search for the third segment takes the
TARDIS to Earth for the only time this season.
the story seems to hark back to the Hinchcliffe era, as the
Doctor begins to unravel dark mysteries surrounding a circle
of standing stones on the moors which dont seem to stand
still for very long. The opening two episodes tick all the
boxes that made classic Hinchcliffe stories so memorable -
a strange old mansion, a sinister cult, ritual sacrificing,
druids, ravens, all wrapped up in a deliciously gothic coating.
Its promising stuff, and possibly the last time ever
that the show would reference the Hammer Horror genre quite
through the story, the action suddenly veers off course into
hyperspace and the whole thing goes totally bonkers. The initial
atmospheric set-up evaporates into a bizarre courtroom farce
in space, as Tom Baker dons a comedy Barristers wig and spends
an entire episode defending himself against a couple of flashing
lights with silly voices. How much you enjoy it probably depends
on how much youve had to drink before viewing, but you
do find yourself wondering where exactly the plot went.
Androids of Tara
is thankfully much more coherent, a pseudo-medieval adventure
with electric swords, laser-firing crossbows, android duplicates
and a rivalry for the throne.
basically The Prisoner of Zenda in space, and doesnt
stand up well to too much scrutiny, but its very elegantly
done. Its actually a fine example of when the Graham
Williams era struck exactly the right balance between gripping
adventure and light-hearted fun, without descending into madcap
twists and turns with the android duplicates do begin to stretch
credibility to breaking point after a while, but it remains
a hugely enjoyable swashbuckling tale, and its lovely
to see K9 get a starring slice of the action.
penultimate story is the real clunker of the season. The
Power Of Kroll was hyped at the time as featuring the
biggest monster ever to feature in Doctor Who.
resulting giant blobby squid was met with hoots of derision,
and is known notorious in fandom as one of the shows
biggest design disasters.
all honesty, I dont think it was all that bad, and I
have even been known to comment in hushed whisper that in
some shots it actually looks quite effective (Nurse! Fetch
me my pills!)
me, the problem with The Power of Kroll is that its
dull beyond belief, which is the most cardinal sin that Doctor
Who could ever commit. A surprisingly lifeless plot from
Robert Holmes brings together a bunch of bored colonists with
a bunch of primitive green natives, none of whom are doing
anything particularly interesting, and you actually find yourself
cheering when the giant squid rises from the sea to attack
the cast with its rubber tentacles.
swiftly onwards then to The Armageddon Factor, the
grand climax to the quest for the Key To Time. This six-part
story has garnered something of a bad reputation amongst fandom
which I find baffling, as I find it to be a terrific yarn,
and my personal favourite of the whole season.
Woodvine delivers a thrilling performance as The Marshal,
a man desperate to gain the upper hand in a nuclear war where
nothing is quite as it seems. The opening episodes have a
claustrophobic, almost brutal quality, quite unlike anything
else in the Williams era, before eventually blossoming out
into a full-scale interplanetary epic, which feels like a
welcome throwback to the thumping good space adventures of
Shadow, a genuinely chilling adversary on a rival quest for
The Key To Time, is played to perfection by William Squire
and adds an eerie menace to this delicious slice of retro
possibly a little overlong, and the climax to The Key To Time
quest is controversial to say the least, but I still regard
The Armageddon Factor as a thoroughly rewarding gem in
the Key To Time crown.
the special features then, and the sheer amount crammed into
this package is positively jaw-dropping.
original audio commentaries from the Region 1 version are
retained here, along with a host of brand new ones, so fans
can now happily get rid of their old US editions on eBay without
fear of losing anything.
great to hear Tom Baker participate on each and every one
of the stories, and also unusual to see that Mary Tamm now
sometimes appears on two different commentaries for the same
are a treasure trove of newly commissioned documentaries and
featurettes to accompany each adventure, with the notable
exception of The Power Of Kroll - possibly because
half the cast and crew are now dead, and the other half dont
have a good word to say about it.
mind though, to make up for this, there are very nearly eight
hours worth of other stuff, ranging from a 60-minute overview
of the entire Graham Williams era, to a short documentary
on ancient stone circles presented by none other than Mary
the dazzling wealth of features, brand new interviews are
mixed with uncovered archive material, including footage of
a Graham Williams interview from a 1985 convention, and an
old audio recording of a conversation with Douglas Adams.
sheer scale of all that is on offer here is breathtaking.
Some of the highlights include a Kevin Davies documentary
on The Pirate Planet, a look back at the influence
of the Hammer films on Who, a welcome profile and interview
with the brilliant character actor Philip Madoc, a new spoof
70s science show which examines the science of The
Key To Time, lengthy excerpts from Blue Peter,
Pebble Mill at One, and a completely priceless clip
from Nationwide in which a bemused Tom Baker battles
with inane questions from Frank Bough.
even five complete editions of the obscure Late Night Stories
series from 1978 (a sort of Jackanory for adults) in
which Tom Baker reads short stories from the likes of Nigel
Kneale and Ray Bradbury, including one which was never actually
could go on and on but I think that Sci-Fi Online would have
to apply for more bandwidth. Suffice to say, that this is
not just a definitive package, its one of the most exhaustive
and feature-packed DVD collections I have ever come across,
made all the more remarkable by the incredible levels of dedication
and care that has gone into producing each and every one of
stories themselves are a mixed bag ranging from the terrible
to the brilliant, but this has still got to be an essential
purchase for any Doctor Who fan.