Doctor Who: The Key to Time - Special Collector's Edition
US DVD: 3 Mar 2009
Oh the relief! After participating in the collective suffering caused by the angst ridden, mystically obsessed, drink ‘til you puke silliness that was the end of Battlestar Galactica some good old Tom Baker Doctor Who is a perfect tonic. We’re supposed to be descended from human/cylon hybrids?! You may be but not this reviewer.
I’m 100 percent Golgafrinchan (if you have to Google it, you’re probably reading the wrong review) and damn proud of it. The SciFi channel is giving us a future that’s as bleak, militarized and full of pole dancing as the present day and I for one am heartily sick of it. Let’s set our phasers on mellow.
In The Key to Time The Doctor (Tom Baker) is given a mission by one of the grand poobahs of the space-time continuum, The White Guardian. He has to find and reassemble the six pieces of the Key to Time so that the universe doesn’t descend into eternal chaos. Having been giving their marching orders, The Doctor, his assistant Romana (Mary Tamm) and mechanical dog, K-9 (voice of John Leeson) set off to save the universe with cheerful aplomb for seven DVD’s worth of episodes, none of which contain a single existential crisis.
The search for the first key is chronicled in The Ribos Operation. A pair of interstellar con men Garron (Iain Cuthbertson) and Unstoffe (Nigel Plaskitt) is posing as planetary realtors. They’re hoping to scam the bloodthirsty Graff Vina-K (Paul Seed) into purchasing Ribos, a planet with medieval technology and an elliptical orbit that causes 38 year summers and winters. It’s not an attractive property but Garron and Unstoffe have baited the Graff by using a lump of jethrik, an extremely valuable mineral.
Of course the lump of jethrik is a piece of the key to time as The Doctor and Romana eventually discover. Unfortunately it’s being kept with other Ribonian treasures in their equivalent of the Tower of London. The treasures are guarded by the Shrieves, led by their Captain (Prentis Hancock) and by a large green cave lizard with a nasty temper.
A nastier temper is soon displayed after the Graff and his hatchet man, Sholakh (Robert Keegan) discover the attempted ruse. They gather their forces and the bodies start piling up. Eventually everyone winds up in the catacombs beneath the city after Unstoffe is led there by Binro (Timothy Bateson). Binro is a Ribonian heretic who’s being persecuted ala Galileo. The natives of Ribos don’t know that other worlds exist so interstellar travelers just tell them,” We’re from the north”. Strangely it always seems to work.
A slugfest ensues between the Graff and his forces, The Doctor, Romana and K-9, the con men and the Shrieves. Things get so exciting that the cave lizards join in. After the dust settles, The Doctor has the first piece of the key to time.
The second piece is a bit harder to come by since it’s on The Pirate Planet. The Pirate Captain (Bruce Purchase) is a very nasty customer who has taken plundering to a new level. He even comes equipped with a robotic parrot that zaps recalcitrant crewmen and is assisted by the Smee like Mr. Fibuli (Andrew Robertson). The helpless populace is caught between the Captain and the eerie Mentiads, a band of powerful psychics.
It’s all a bit much to sort out, even for The Doctor. Everyone ignores him, tries to put him under arrest or zaps him with psychic force. Through the application of keen wit and a lot of jelly babies, The Doctor and Romana eventually figure out what’s going on and wind up in a battle of wits with Queen Xanxia (Rosalind Lloyd). She’s an ancient tyrant who destroys whole planets in her quest for immortality and her next target is Earth.
While K-9 dukes it out with the robotic parrot, The Doctor and Romana sabotage the Captain’s engines, save Earth and defeat Xanxia. The Mentiads and the citizenry make nice and the second piece of the key to time is found. While the script is far from the best thing written by Douglas Adams, it’s still a pretty good tale.
A far better story is The Stones of Blood. The Doctor and his companions track the third piece of the key to time to 20th century Earth. Their tracking device leads them to a Neolithic stone circle in Cornwall known as “The Nine Travelers” (more aptly named than you would think) but they can’t get a fix. While investigating the stones they befriend Professor Amelia Rumford (Beatrix Lehmann) and Vivien Fey (Susan Engel).
Seeking more information, the Doctor goes to visit De Vries (Nicholas McArdle) who is apparently the head of a local druidic cult. After some chitchat, De Vries knocks The Doctor unconscious and tries to sacrifice him to an ancient Celtic goddess. Fortunately, Rumford rescues him just in time. Then The Doctor rescues Romana who is tricked into almost falling off a cliff. Just when everyone heaves collective sighs of relief, the standing stones come alive, squishing the druids, a few campers and badly damaging K-9.
As if this all wasn’t bad enough, Vivian Fey is the person commanding the stones. It turns out that she’s really Cessair of Diplos, an extremely naughty alien who has been stuck on Earth for four millennia. Over the years she’s been a Celtic goddess, a baroness, an abbess of the local convent and a local landowner. (A girl’s got to keep busy I guess) Cessair can’t escape because she’s tied to her prison ship that’s stuck in hyperspace just a few dimensions away from the stone circle.
After Romana is zapped into hyperspace by Cessair, The Doctor and Rumford fit the pieces of the story together while dodging bloodthirsty boulders. They make a hyperspace generator and off goes The Doctor. He reaches the prison ship and finds Romana but releases two Megara in the process. The Megara were creatures devised to administer justice by an interstellar confederation in the distant past. Since the Megara have all of the logic, compassion and sense of justice that’s found in human resources personnel, they immediately decide to execute the Doctor after a fair trial.
By dint of some fancy footwork, both verbal and actual, The Doctor manages to get the Megara to scan Cessair. The Doctor is let off the hook and Cessair is turned to stone just after the Doctor purloins her necklace, which is, of course, the third piece of the key to time.
The character of Professor Rumford, a doughty little old lady, in the The Stones of Blood is a great example of the wonderful message that runs through all of the incarnations of Doctor Who. The message is that anyone (even you) can save the day. You don’t need to be a genius. You certainly don’t need to be a constantly swearing, hard drinking, unhappily oversexed, leather clad killing machine who’s armed to the teeth and mourning his lost inner child. Just a little pluck will do nicely, thank you very much.
In fact being a lethal badass with inner conflicts and an attitude could put one at a distinct disadvantage, especially when dealing with a giant mutated squid that’s a quarter mile across. That’s what the Doctor and Romana face in The Power of Kroll. Tracking another piece of the key to time, they arrive on Delta 3, the swampy moon of Delta Magna.
All is not well on the swamp moon. The primitive Swampies’ habitat is being threatened by a giant methane processor. The crew of the processor fear the Swampies and the Swampies fear the crew or “dryfoots”. The hard charging head of the methane processor, Thawn (Neil McCarthy), is arranging an underhanded arms deal with Rohm-Dutt (Glyn Owen). Rohm will pretend to be selling the Swampies weapons procured by the environmentalists on Delta Magna. The Swampies will then attack the processor (with faulty weapons), which will give Thawn an excuse to wipe out the Swampies and the means to discredit the environmentalist group back home.
As soon as the Tardis lands on Delta 3, The Doctor and Romana unwisely split up. Soon The Doctor is captured by the technicians and Romana is captured by the Swampies. The Doctor escapes from the methane processor just in time to save Romana from being sacrificed to Kroll. Well, actually it’s just a Swampy in a squid costume. Just as the Swampies are about to ambush the technicians, the real Kroll shows up and starts munching on Swampies whose weapons blow up when they are fired.
Now in a seriously bad mood, the Swampies condemn The Doctor, Romana and Rohm-Dutt to a rather nasty death. They not only escape but find out that Kroll is nothing more than a squid that swallowed a piece of the key to time. Everyone; technicians, The Doctor and Romana, the Swampies and Kroll converge on the methane processor. After the dust settles, the technicians agree to abandon the processor; the Swampies stop worshiping Kroll and the Doctor has another piece of the key to time.
Each DVD is chock full of bonus features. There are so many interviews and behind the scenes stories that an energetic viewer can emerge with a complete and thorough knowledge of all things Whovian. It’s an exhaustive amount of information, which can exhaust any but the most determined of viewers. But it’s all nicely done and well organized. As for myself, I prefer to stick with the stories. If you are ever distressed by the current dark trends in science fiction this set will be a soothing palliative. Take it from me; the future isn’t what it used to be.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.
"PopMatters (est. 1999) is a respected source for smart long-form reading on a wide range of topics in culture. PopMatters serves as…READ the article