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16 August 2014 @ 08:17 pm
The Randomizer: The Androids of Tara  
The Androids of Tara has always been my favourite story of the Key to Time season, even though I can objectively see the greater merits of The Stones of Blood, The Pirate Planet and The Ribos Operation. I strongly suspect this is because I have a weakness for swash-and-buckle.

For a start Mary Tamm gets to wear easily her best outfit.

I have always vaguely coveted this. It occurs to me that it might be worth getting into cosplay just so I could recreate it.

The story itself is a blatant rip-off of the Prisoner of Zenda. In the previous seasons Doctor Who had been in the habit of paying homage to various existing horror stories, but it generally used the stories as the inspiration for the monster the Doctor would face and left the rest of the story alone. Androids of Tara follows its inspiration much more closely, spinning a tale of doubles, rivalry for the throne, kidnaps, rescues and, ultimately the villain's escape by swimming away across a castle moat (some have noted that given Prince Reynart's general uselessness and Grendel's vicious competence, it seems fairly like that with the Doctor gone, Grendel will probably return and have the throne within the year!*). I like the insertion of android duplicates into the tale, multiplying the number of doubles from the original and giving a hint of a complex feudal-technological society (albeit one with peasant's who don't wash and are inclined to say "aarrr, my lord!"**) but you can't help feeling that the story's closeness to the original, not to mention the set and costume designers' determination to make everything look vaguely Ruritanian unless absolutely forced to introduced something technological, betrays a certain lack of inspiration. That said the story undeniably looks good. I've mentioned before how much more comfortable Doctor Who's design often seems to be when working with a historical setting and here there is little to complain about in the costumes or the sets, and Leeds Castle, where much of the exterior shooting took place, looks incredible.

Everyone seems to be having a lot of fun galloping around on horseback waving electro-swords. Tom Baker and Peter Jeffrey (as Count Grendel) are definitely enjoying themselves immensely. Mary Tamm also appears to be enjoying herself, but I have a feeling that the first Romana gave of an air of quiet amusement at the situations she found herself in more often than fans give her credit for.

* I also strongly suspect that the Archimandrite (who appears to be Tara's chief cleric) wanted Grendel on the throne. Every time the man is summoned by Grendel to perform some rite (or similar) he gives off this air of absent-minded befuddlement but he'd have to be very stupid not to recognise the blatant legal manipulation that's going on.
** I'm not sure the peasant in question ever did say "arrr, my lord" but I felt it was always on the tip of his tongue.

It's a romp, basically, with dashing swords and pretty costumes. In a season with a lot of stories with more to recommend them, I can't help but remain charmed by this one.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/124087.html.
reggietate: daleksreggietate on August 16th, 2014 10:35 pm (UTC)
I adore Androids of Tara, ripoff though it is. Partly because I loved Peter Jeffrey (I'll always be sorry he never got a second series of that drama he did years ago about an unhappy businessman saddled with his dead brother's title and stately home; he was so good in it and there was definitely scope for at least one more year).
parrot_knightparrot_knight on August 16th, 2014 11:50 pm (UTC)
I agree regarding the Jeffrey series, which IMDb reminds me was called Chelworth - cancelled before it even aired, I think.
reggietate: daleksreggietate on August 17th, 2014 06:20 pm (UTC)
Chelworth! That was it :-) I actually bought the novelisation, which I remember being pretty good, too. What a shame! I wonder why they did that when no one had even seen it.... Very dispiriting for poor Peter Jeffrey and the rest of the cast.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on August 17th, 2014 10:42 am (UTC)
Peter Jeffrey is great. I love it when a good actor is on Doctor Who and clearly both enjoys themselves and takes it seriously.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on August 16th, 2014 11:47 pm (UTC)
I definitely think you could carry off that outfit...

...and I've always loved The Androids of Tara too. Grendel deserved a rematch, though it's typical of the focus that makes him effective that he never knows exactly who or what the Doctor is nor where he and Romana have come from.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on August 17th, 2014 10:45 am (UTC)
I have a vague memory that a rematch was in the production team's mind, but I could be misremembering. It would have been good though, I think, Tara had the potential to be like Peladon - an non-Earth society that the Doctor was actually allowed to follow over time. You are right, he never knows who the Doctor and Romana are, but he adapts to their presence very quickly and learns both their weaknesses and not to underestimate them. His choice of who to blackmail into the final marriage and which lever to apply is very astute.
wellinghallwellinghall on August 17th, 2014 05:36 pm (UTC)
I definitely think you could carry off that outfit...

daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on August 17th, 2014 07:26 pm (UTC)
Season 16 is my all-time favourite and you are right that this is probably the best of the season, though I confess I enjoy all of them, even Kroll and The Armageddon Factor.

I prefer Tara to Zenda - the plot is better. IIRC (going back years, admittedly) Zenda gets rid of the villain three quarters of the way through only to replace him with another one. The multiple doubles in Tara are more interesting too.

I like your theory about the Archimandrite. I suspect the cod-Medieval setting allowed a lot of reuse of stock props and costumes, which is why the technological side is downplayed. As with The Ribos Operation, this means the story looks a lot better than its recession-hit Williams-era bedfellows.
louisedennislouisedennis on August 17th, 2014 07:35 pm (UTC)
I suspect stones is better over all, though we'll have to see when I rewatch. I was thinking as I wrote this though that season 16 is remarkably strong. Armageddon Factor is perfectly competent and Kroll isn't as actively bad (IIRC) as many paint it.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on August 17th, 2014 08:17 pm (UTC)
I like Stones but it's the last in a long line of Gothic horrors whereas Tara is trying something new, which will always get points from me.

One thing I will say about Stones: it's arguably the most female-dominated story in the canon: aside from the Doctor, there are only two male characters, compared with four female ones (counting Romana). Of the male characters, one dies some time before the halfway mark, the other has about half a dozen lines (and also dies). However, the robots do all have male voices.