Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Much like Sarah Jane, this Scottish brunette is not just a
pretty face...
"You want me to volunteer, is that it? And if I don't?"
"You mean nothing'll happen to me?"

"Nothing. Ever."

1) And here we are at 'The Key To Time,' the 16th Season. And, as with most of the serials for this season, this is a story where moments of brilliance float in the middle of great seas of dullness. We're at the point where Williams seems to treat the show solely as a kid's show, coupled with his constant dancing about in an effort to keep Tom Baker engaged in the show--an action that will lead to one of the worst seasons of the classic series. Luckily, this is not that season.

2) The biggest new development is the introduction of the companion Romana, played by the stunning Scottish actress Mary Tamm. And even though Tamm proved to as an actress, she does manage to give Baker someone to work off of in a new way. Romana, because she is a Time Lady, is able to be confrontational with this Doctor about his shortcomings and lack of education, creating an interesting 'practical knowledge vs. learned knowledge' tension that isn't played off of enough.

3) The actual set-up for this season, written by Anthony Read and Graham Williams, features the Baker Doctor literally humbled in the presence of Cyril Lucking's White Guardian. It's really very well done, both as a change of pace and as a piece of exposition. We get to see Baker trying to exert himself in resisting the Guardian's wishes, but the very subtle threat (see the quote above) seems to put him back in line. Lucking plays the character well, and the scene is expertly done.
As Tom Baker's tenure went longer and longer, he began to
forget turning off the lights in the refrigerator...

4) ...and then we're plunged into the story itself and it's...well, it's not very good. There's a definite sense that writer Robert Holmes really wanted to write a pilot for a show about a pair of intergalactic con-men and forced it into a Who serial. That whiff of back-door pilot never leaves the series even when it's focusing on The Doctor and Romana.

5) That being said, the con-men are responsible for one truly brilliant moment. When Nigel Plaskett's Unstoff reveals to Timothy Bateson's shunned and broken Binro that yes, his theories about the stars are absolutely true is what this show should be about--a great little nugget of wonder in the middle of this sad, plodding little serial.

6) I know there may be people who love Paul Seed's rather, ummm, vigorous performance as the Graff Vinda K, but I'm not one of them. He's so over-the-top, and seems to be proclaiming every line as if he just ate a particularly bitter lime. Plus--he does that weird Holmes trick (we'll see it again in The Caves of The Androzoni) of addressing the camera directly for one of the cliffhangers!

7) Even though they really don't do much with the setting, I do appreciate how the visual designers chose to give the setting a very Russian feel. It's the sort of thing we don't see often in science fictional settings, and it does give the serial a somewhat unique feel.

8) This may be the first serial where The Doctor--who, not three seasons ago, actively refused to kill The Daleks, the greatest source of evil in the galaxy--actively kills someone. I'm not sure if the reason I find this so distasteful is that it's the beginning of a long slippery slope that will end with Peter Davison waving a gun about and Sylvester McCoy, ummm, blowing up Skaro. It's a sign of some very, very bad things to come.

9) ....and then there's the Shrivenzale. This is an example of a creature that maybe--maybe--if it was kept in the shadows might've been effective, but every time we see it straight on looks ridiculous. I particularly like the one shot at the top of episode two where we see the Shrivenzale scrabbling to gain purchase against the stone floor to eat some Romana butt....and we see the rubber claws literally bending back in on itself. Thankfully we see only a little bit of these dopey monsters, but since they're the only real monstrous thing in this story their crapitude sticks out.
"Hello, we're the backdoor pilot people...can you spare a serial
to let us tell the audience our premise?

10) I think when you come down to it, the thing that bugs me the most about this story is how dismissive Holmes is of large chunks of the story he's created. He's obvious way more interested in Garron and Unstoffe than in anything else that's going on that the parts that don't directly involve those two (like, let's say, stuff involving The Seeker and her psychic abilities) are written in a grey, plodding way. Maybe this is because of Williams' interference and forcing the Key To Time framework on it, but it's very, very minor Holmes....and in this case, minor Holmes is not good Holmes.

Overall...there are some good moments in this story, particularly involving the set up for The Key To Time. But ultimately, this is a weird and bland tale that reads like a backdoor pilot that justifiably wasn't picked up.

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