|When I Googled images for 'Androids Of Tara', this is the|
first thing that came up...Sigh...
"That's funny, you know. That's what some androids say about people."
1) I think it's indicative of the Graham Williams era that one of its greatest serials is one which pretty much slavishly follows The Prisoner of Zenda, only with science fiction trappings like androids interposed within it. Hell, when one of your major actors seems to have been cast solely because of his resemblance to Ronald Coleman is uncanny and The Doctor tells another character that their plan has been done before...well, they're not even bothering to hide it.
2) But one of the reasons this story works so well is the way writer David Fisher finds a way to make the android tech critical to the story. There are certain ways that the plot would not work in this iteration without the presence of androids. And because we accept the use of android tech, the other weird tech aspects--like the electronic crossbows and swords--make a lot more sense
3) A large portion of why this serial is so much fun lies in the performance of Peter Jeffreys as Count Grendel. Especially given the pastiche nature of this episode, there was a need for a larger than life villain, and Jeffreys takes the opportunity to breathe life into a charming cad like the Count. And more importantly, Grendel is smart. He's never made to look the fool by the Doctor--something that will become a problem as we get deeper into Williams' reign--and bases his strategies on logic and a love of cunning. He's so fun that when he's allowed to escape, you almost wish they found a way to bring the Count back.
4) I find it really refreshing that Fischer gets rid of the whole Key To Time aspect of the story within the first ten minutes so he can then dive into the silliness and craziness of the actual tale. Yes, there are moment when the Key fragment becomes the focus of the scene, but usually it's there only to tell us more about the character who's bringing it up, as in the moment where we learn just how intelligent Lois Baxter's Madame Lamia really is.
|"I am going to ask you to take your hand off my ass politely..."|
5) I think I've mentioned how much I enjoyed it whenever Tom Baker took up a sword and got all Erroll Flynn, right? Well, this is manna for me, as Baker gets to ride a horse, and engages in a climatic sword fight with Jeffreys that is really cool.
6) Since I mentioned her before, I rather liked the way Lois Baxter found a way to infuse Madame Lamia with more nuance than she really needed. One gets the sense that Lamia is clever, maybe even more clever than Grendel, but allows herself to be used due to a combination of Tara's caste system and her own feelings for the Count. It's a pity that she's written out about halfway through the tale, because some of her interactions with the Count and Romana are pretty cool.
7) This is arguably the last time we'll see the Mary Tamm version of Romana being, well, a useful and willful counterpoint to the Baker Doctor. She's the one who sticks to the mission of finding the Key fragment, after all. But there's this tendency to the 'wailing frail' archetype, as she gets kidnapped not once, but twice, and struggles to ride a horse that's a sign of things to come. Hell, when we finally meet her in her dual role as The Princess Strella, we're rather struck by how much more proactive she's in.
|"The pellet with the poison is in the vessel with|
the pestle--the Hell you say!"
8) God, that freaking pig-midget monster thing. Thankfully, unlike the Shrivenzale of the first Key To Time story,it's only used once and glimpsed very briefly...but it still is an embarassment that points out the chintziness of the show's production at this time.
9) I do wonder if the story wouldn't have been more effective if the serial at the very least moved away from the very Zenda-esque trappings we see here. Because the costuming and sets are all reminiscent of that Ronald Coleman classic, we're constantly reminded of the source material. It's made even more peculiar given the rather fetching outfit Romana produces as 'what all the fashionable Tarans are wearing this year,' which looks nothing like the very Edwardian fashions we see on display here.
10) Even though Williams is very much enamored of K-9--hell, the little monster originated under his reign--it's interesting how they're already finding way to write it out for key scenes. While we do get a lot of K-9 making things easy for Baker, the climax literally dumps him in a boat in the middle of the moat...and it's just an echo of things to come once John Nathan-Turner takes over.
Overall...one of the better stories in the Graham Williams era in spite of its slavishly following the playbook of a classic film.