Sunday 12 September 2010

Androids of Tara

Searching for the Key to Time, the First Romana stumbles into an adaptation of the Prisoner of Zenda and the Fourth Doctor gets to do some swashbuckling.

The Graham Williams era is really fun to watch. I would not hesitate to say I am a fan of this period in the history of Doctor Who. Unfortunately, its big failing of not taking the show seriously had consequences. This is very clearly seen in Season 16, where a story arc is introduced, but is never thought out carefully or executed in a manner that reflects the seriousness of the theme. One almost wonders why they bothered with the idea. This is most clearly seen in Androids of Tara. The Doctor and Romana arrive; she is anxious to find the fourth segment, but the Doctor can't be bothered and goes fishing. Romana then finds the fourth segment in a matter of minutes and the story moves on to other territory. Writer David Fisher does not seem to have seen the story arc as any more than a joke. Happily, this leaves us with a delightful lighthearted story that is immensely enjoyable.

Androids of Tara captures the look and feel of an historical story, but is set on another planet and features androids (unsurprisingly). The plot is heavily inspired by the novel Prisoner of Zenda and the superb costumes reflect that influence.

This story, above all others, shows that Doctor Who does not have to always be about cosmic horrors, threats to the human race or things that threaten the fabric of time and space. Sometimes it can just give us light-hearted stories with swashbuckling and mustache-twirling villains.

Tara is a fairy tale world of castles, princes and scheming villains. This approach to setting refutes any charge that the characters are lacking in depth. Villains are wicked and the handsome princes are good.

The first Romana fits in perfectly to this story, with her air of aristocracy and glamour. While Lalla Ward was patrician enough, I don't think she would have fitted into this story so well. I expect that the second Romana would not only have located the fourth segment on her own, but would also have single-handely dealt with Count Grendel! However, the sucess of Romana in finding the segment herself is an important marker in her character development and we begin to see a more independent Romana emerge.

Tom Baker gives us his usual brilliant performance. His adoption of the role of a 'peasent' is characteristic.

Prince Reynart is a good character who is actually quite fun to watch. He is unbelievably nice and is also a little on the dim side too. However, the show's best performance comes from Peter Jeffrey as the villainous Count Grendel. he really is fantastic. Sadly, despite his survival and escape at the end of the story, he never makes a return in the show.

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