Sue: The Androids of Tara. I used to think that Tara Palmer-Tomkinson was an android if that’s any help. Oh, David Fisher’s name definitely rings a bell.
Me: It should. He wrote the last one.
The story begins with the Doctor and K9 playing chess in the TARDIS.
Sue: I love the banter between these two. I could watch them do this all day. I also like the way the Doctor drapes his scarf over K9. It’s very affectionate.
Romana lands the TARDIS perfectly.
Sue: If you want it done properly, let the woman do it.
They have arrived on the planet Tara; they use the TARDIS scanner to have a good look around.
Sue: I don’t remember seeing the Doctor moving his camera around like that before. I bet Romana installed that feature.
Romana decides to change into something more appropriate.
Romana: Well, how do you like it? According to our records, it’s what everyone on Tara’s wearing this year.
Sue: It’s ghastly. I think I preferred the Tahitian dress she was looking at earlier.
Me: I wouldn’t have complained.
Sue: She suits the hat, though. She’s turning into the Doctor.
The Doctor would rather go fishing than search for the Key to Time, so Romana sets out on very her own adventure. As she moves through a forest, we can hear strange birdsong; it sends one of our cats, Tegan, mental.
Sue: That bird doesn’t sound right to me.
Me: Well, we are on an alien planet, remember?
Sue: Yes, but it sounds artificial. Is everything on this planet an android? Is that it? We’ve seen this before, haven’t we?
A wild animal is stalking Romana.
Sue: It’s hiding behind some rhubarb. It sounds like a wolf.
The tracer leads Romana to an ancient stone statue and she immediately transforms part of it into the fourth segment of the Key to Time.
Sue: Excellent. Job’s a good ‘un. Straight back to the TARDIS, love. The End. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
Right on cue, the Taran Wood Beast turns up to spoil the mood.
Sue: Oh my goodness. What is that? I have no words for that.
Romana is saved by a knight in shining armour.
Sue: Is it the Master? Don’t look at me like that. Look at his beard! Well, if he isn’t the Master he’s definitely famous.
Me: It’s Peter Jeffrey. He’s an excellent actor. You probably recognise his voice –
Sue: No, it’s his nose that I recognise. You don’t forget a nose like that. He’s very smooth for a man with such an enormous nose.
Me: You liked him in The Macra Terror as well.
Sue: The Macra what?
The man in question is Count Grendel. He offers to fix Romana’s swollen ankle, even if she is in a rush to get away.
Grendel: An hour, no more. What’s an hour out of your life?
Me: That’s what I say to you every time we do this.
Sue: Yeah, but this guy is a lot more charming. You do have a very large nose, though.
Me: Thanks for that.
Meanwhile, the Doctor is snoozing on a river bank when he is attacked by a man with an electric rapier.
Sue: That was a bit dangerous. He could have burnt his lip. Well, what’s left of it.
Sue doesn’t recognise Paul Lavers at first.
Sue: He looks like a young Robert Redford.
Paul will be pleased.
Sue: So is this planet like Westworld? Is it a theme park for robots in medieval costume?
Grendel takes Romana to Castle Gracht on horseback.
Sue: That establishing shot of the castle is very impressive. It’s a subtle but effective special effect. How can they do something as good as that and still have crappy monsters running around the place? Those monsters are going to ruin this story, aren’t they? I can suspend my disbelief as much as the next person but that thing was pushing its luck.
I put her out of her misery and I tell her that we won’t be seeing any Taran Wood Beasts ever again. I even promise her that I’ll never buy a toy version, if one should ever be released.
Sue: Not even if it’s part of a set and it’s the only way you can get your hands on Romana? It’s just the sort of thing they’d do, you know.
Did I mention that I took Sue to Forbidden Planet while we were in London?
Sue: So why bother having a monster at all if it’s only going to be in it for a couple of minutes?
Me: It’s Doctor Who. You have to have a monster.
Sue: It never used to be like that. Who says that Doctor Who always have to have a monster? Where is that written down? Why can’t the villain be some bloke?
Grendel places Romana on a high-tech bed in his castle.
Sue: He’s very dashing, isn’t he? I wouldn’t mind being rescued by him.
But Grendel is too good to be true, as Romana discovers when she is restrained to the bed with retractable straps.
Sue: Oh, come on! She could slide out of that! He could trap a really fat woman with that, but that’s about it.
Grendel instructs Madame Lamia, his surgeon-engineer, to cut Romana’s head off.
Sue: They must be having a laugh. With an electric bread knife? Seriously? They were all the rage in the 1970s, mind. They were always on the conveyor belt at the end of The Generation Game.
The Doctor is escorted to a hunting lodge, and when he tries to leave, Paul Lavers slices away part of his scarf. Sue actually gasped in horror at this point, but luckily Prince Reynart intervenes before any more damage can be done.
Sue: I like Errol Flynn over there. The acting is very good in this one. That’s why Tom is bringing his A-game this week. I like it. Why can’t David Fisher write the rest of the season?
Back at the castle, Grendel and Lamia finally realise that Romana isn’t an android after all.
Grendel: You can keep your head, my dear. I may have a better use for it.
Sue: Yeah, I bet, you dirty perv.
Romana is drugged.
Sue: And I bet that’s rohypnol.
Back at the lodge, Reynart employs the Doctor to fix his android double. He wants to use the double as a diversion when he ascends to the throne. The Doctor immediately recognises the plot.
The Doctor: Well, it has been done before.
Sue: Have I missed something important?
Me: The plot is loosely based on a very famous story. It will probably come to you later.
The Doctor and Reynart drink a toast to their cunning plan. Paul Lavers pours the wine.
Sue: I know where I recognise him from now. (as Paul) This magnificent set of four golden goblets, available at a special QVC price of just £99.99, which you can pay in three easy installments. Just look at the stem on that. Lovely.
Me: I’m impressed. Do you remember his name?
Sue: Paul somebody or other. He was one of their first presenters, wasn’t he? Didn’t it pan out for him as an actor, then? What a shame. He was a bit of a looker in his youth.
The wine has been drugged and the episode concludes with everyone slipping into unconsciousness.
The Doctor makes it as far as the door but he collapses at the feet of Count Grendel.
Sue: I bet that’s not the first time Tom Baker has fallen down after a glass of wine. There was definitely some method acting going on there. Good cliffhanger, though. I like this one so far.
During the episode reprise, Sue awards scores to the actors for their falling over skills.
Sue: The guy with the beard was the best one. He’s an old pro. Paul shouldn’t worry, though. There isn’t much call for falling asleep on QVC, even when you’re demonstrating a really comfortable bed.
I try to steer her back on track.
Me: I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned the carpentry yet. What about that staircase over there?
Sue: Nah, it’s a bit naff. I do like the costumes in this one, though. Even Romana’s purple outfit is starting to grow on me. The production design is very good, but just because something is made from wood, it doesn’t mean that I instantly fall in love it. I do have some standards, believe it or not.
The Doctor summons K9 with his dog whistle.
Sue: I ****ing love K9. I hate it when he’s left in the TARDIS. You should never leave your dog locked up in your vehicle. Especially on a sunny day like this. Everybody knows that.
The drugs wear off and Romana wakes up.
Romana: How long have I been unconscious?
Sue: (As Grendel) Long enough, dear. Long enough.
Grendel takes Romana on a guided tour of his dungeons, where he is holding Prince Reynart and Princess Strella captive. Strella is the spitting-double of Romana.
Grendel: Aren’t I a lucky man to have two such beautiful women as my bride?
Sue: You dirty bastard.
The Doctor fixes Prince Reynart’s android double so it can attend the coronation at the allotted hour.
Sue: I like his gold lame suit. Very Elvis.
But something is bugging Sue:
Sue: How come they have all this technology and yet they act like they are in the middle ages? How can you have electronic weapons and lifelike androids but still ride around on horses? I don’t get it. Why hasn’t this society invented Facebook yet?
A curious Lamia attempts to drill into the Key to Time, with no success.
Sue: Get Paul from QVC to do it. She’s making a right pig’s ear of Diamonique Hour.
Sue is very taken with the locations featured in this story.
Sue: Which castle is this?
Sue: Yes, you can tell. It has that Yorkshire look to it.
Me: Really? I didn’t know you were an expert on castles.
Sue: You can just tell.
Me: Shall we get in the car and visit it then, since it’s just down the road?
Sue: If you like.
Me: It’s in Kent!
Sue: Is it really? that’s a bit daft, isn’t it? Call it Kent Castle, your morons!
When we resume, the hour of the coronation is rapidly approaching.
Sue: Lots of extras milling around. I like it. There are some nice details in this, like the clock with the extra hours. A lot of thought has gone into this. It’s a nice blend of sci-fi and history. It doesn’t make any sense, but it looks great.
The Prince is nowhere to be seen and it looks as if Grendel will be crowned in his absence. But when Grendel enters the throne room, he is astonished to find Prince Reynart already seated there.
Grendel is not amused.
Sue: I know which story this is like, now.
Me: Good. It took you long enough.
Sue: It’s Weekend at Bernie’s.
I hardly ever laugh out loud when Sue delivers one of her barbs, but here I am, still giggling several hours later.
The Doctor stops the android Reynart from slumping over mid-coronation, and when the Doctor switches on his speech circuits, Sue is as tense as I’ve ever seen her.
The android gets through his speech and Sue breathes a huge sigh of relief, when, suddenly, another character played by Mary Tamm enters the throne room. The Doctor immediately decides to smash her head in with a sceptre.
Sue: What a strange cliffhanger. If she turns out to be the real Princess, the Doctor is going to look very stupid (and a bit bloody). But we know that isn’t going to happen – this story is full of androids – you’d have to be an idiot not to work it out.
Sue: I don’t know why the Count doesn’t suggest that the Prince sitting on the throne is an android. He’s got the real one locked up in a cell, so what else could it be? And it’s acting very suspiciously, too. What is he waiting for?
Grendel returns to his castle to plot and scheme. At one point, he introduces Romana to her android double.
Grendel: If only she were real, I’d marry her.
Sue: This guy is unbelievable. Just how life-like are these things supposed to be? Are they like the Cylons in Battlestar? Can they… you know?
Grendel leads Romana’s double away.
Grendel: Come, my dear.
Sue: He’s going to take her for a quick test drive.
Lamia lets it slip to Romana that she has a sadomasochistic crush on Grendel.
Sue: So much for women’s rights on this planet. I can’t believe that anyone would enjoy being abused by a power mad sex pest.
Me: I wouldn’t bother with ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ if I were you.
Romana escapes from the castle and steals a horse, all without being seen.
Sue: Security at this castle is even worse than the Olympics.
The Doctor encounters Romana’s android double, which has been designed to kill him when he speaks (instead of on sight).
Sue: It’s not suspicious at all, is it? Not even a smile or a wave from his best friend. She should appear as natural as possible for this threat to really work. They aren’t putting their hearts and souls into this.
The android fails to assassinate the Doctor, thanks to a shoddy design flaw, and Lamia runs outside, where she is accidentally gunned down by Grendel’s men.
Sue: The idiots! I hope the Count cared about her after all.
Sue: It’s turned into Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I’d take my chances and make a run for it: this lot can’t shoot straight to save their lives. They only shoot the things they’re not supposed to. They probably can’t see a thing with those helmets on.
The Doctor pokes his head outside the pavilion tent and it’s almost shot off.
Sue: How is it that the gunfire sounds louder inside the pavilion than it does outside? How is that possible?
K9 uses his laser to cut a hole in the rear of the pavilion.
Sue: Take your time, K9. There’s no rush. The weapons they are using don’t seem to have any effect on cloth. They might deafen you after a while, though.
The real Romana comes to the rescue on her horse, but no one can figure out a way to include K9 in their great escape.
Sue: I can’t believe they left K9 behind.
K9 stands his ground and successfully neutralises Grendel’s men.
Sue: So they didn’t need to run anyway after all. They should just let K9 off his leash. He doesn’t muck about.
After this kerfuffle, Grendel arrives at Reynart’s lodge under a white flag.
Sue: Shoot him in the head! What are you waiting for?
Me: This planet is steeped in tradition and ceremony.
Sue: Sod that. Shoot him in the head.
Grendel offers the kingdom of Tara to the Doctor, and Sue loves how he is egged on by the Time Lord before he is dropped straight in it. Grendel responds by throwing a spear into Reynart’s android’s chest.
Sue: That was pretty good. That would have shocked the kids.
In the ensuing confusion, Grendel’s men kidnap Romana.
Sue: That was a very weak cliffhanger. But another solid episode. I’m really enjoying this.
Sue’s silence speaks volumes once again, and it’s only when the Doctor plans to enter the castle via a rowing boat and a complicated tunnel system that she has anything to add:
Sue: There’s one thing I don’t understand. Now that they can fly the TARDIS properly and they can land it on a sixpence, why doesn’t the Doctor use it in situations like this? He could just materialise inside the castle without all this carry on.
Grendel has moved to Plan B, which involves two weddings and two funerals.
Sue: He’s such a great villain. He’s so blatant. He’d have been a brilliant Master. There’s no getting away from it.
The Doctor arrives at the castle as night falls.
Sue: This looks great. Like a proper drama. Or a feature film.
The Doctor and K9 arrive at a hatchway beneath the castle. The Doctor instructs K9 to cut a hole in the wood with his laser.
The Doctor: Do hurry up. A hamster with a blunt penknife would do it quicker.
Sue: I love it. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t like K9. What’s not to love?
Me: Some people think he’s a bit childish.
Sue: What do they think they’re watching? I, Claudius?
The Doctor interrupts the wedding between Reynart and Romana and Grendel challenges him to a sword fight.
Sue: The Doctor doesn’t know what he’s doing. That’s very funny. The lack of music and the hand-held direction is great.
The Doctor lulls the Count into a false sense of security before he strikes back with some ferocious swordplay.
Sue: This is great, but I think I preferred it was he was taking the piss.
Sue is annoyed when the Doctor allows Grendel to retrieve his fallen sword (she has no concept of honour), and when the King’s men storm the gates, she’s even less forgiving.
Sue: There are only six of them. Why didn’t they just get a bigger boat and follow the Doctor in that way?
The Doctor corners Grendel on the battlements and the Count bluffs it out.
Grendel: Next time I won’t be so lenient.
Sue: Glen Allen’s trailer finally makes sense! Very funny, Glen.
The Count dives into the moat below.
Sue: So he won’t surrender but he’ll happily run away like a coward? Nice dive, though. I’m pleased that he got away so he can fight another day. He should definitely come back.
Me: Maybe he could team up with the Daleks?
Sue: Yeah, that could be interesting.
The Doctor rushes to rescue Romana and Princess Strella from the advances of Grendel’s right hand man, little realising that they took care of him ages ago.
Sue: That is very funny. And the Doctor not knowing which one of them is the real Romana is a lovely touch, too.
The crisis averted, Princess and Reynart fall into each other’s arms.
Sue: A full-on kiss on the lips. The kid’s wouldn’t have liked that.
The story concludes with the Doctor falling about laughing when he realises that K9 has been left in his little boat.
Sue: That look of joy on the Doctor’s face sums this story up nicely. It was very amusing and a lot of fun.
Sue: I really enjoyed that. It looked gorgeous and the direction was very good, too. I don’t think there was a bad performance and the script was witty and engaging. I can’t really fault it. Okay, the monster at the beginning was completely pointless, and the society didn’t really make a lot of sense, but I can overlook that.