Doctor Who #495: The Androids of Tara Part 2

"That thing? That's my dog." "But it's a machine." "Well, so is your Prince."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Dec.2 1978.

IN THIS ONE... Grendel's plot explained, the Prince kidnapped, and the Doctor puts an android on the throne.

REVIEW: How awesome is Count Grendel? Before the Doctor showed up, he was clearly on top of the situation. He's captured Reynart AND Strella, the two people in line for succession, hoping to force the latter to marry him and make his claim a better one (then make her disappear) after becoming some kind of interim king when the Prince doesn't show up at the coronation. He's got guards posted near the entrance to the secret tunnels, which tells me he knows the Prince might have tried to get in through there (only mildly guarded because he's got Reynart in his dungeon), and has the Archimandrite eating out of the palm of his hand and ready to offer him the crown directly if the Prince doesn't show. AND he's got his men guarding the room if he needs to take the crown violently, AND more dressed as peasants to stage a spontaneous demonstration in his favor. The whole bit where he gauges the number of times he should humbly refuse the crown shows the kind of master politician he really is. Now he's also got Romana, the Princess' double, as a back-up should Strella keep refusing him, as well as an android version of her which could do the same, though here acts as a potential assassin (yet another back-up). You can't fool me, program makers, I recognize android acting when I see it. No wonder he tries the throne out for size. It's practically his already. Grendel is even ruthless and political in his personal relationships. Madam Lamia is a former lover, eventually discarded but still loyal, something he cruelly describes as giving her "attention" once. Never a word in the wrong place with this one.

Tara continues to benefit from nice locations and design choices, like the wonderful coronation room, with its massive alien clock and colorful lighting, lavish costumes (this is a story about hats, isn't it? Hats with nips), and Renaissance-inspired music (I haven't said, but on the whole, the Key to Time season has had strong, even memorable, musical themes). Through the political story, a portrait of the world starts to come together, and I'm impressed that the reason there are secret tunnels - for noblemen to escape walking through a plague-ridden city - is also the reason why Tarans started relying on androids (too many dead to keep the economy running). That's efficient world-building.

Romana shows some empathy for the captured Prince and loathing for Grendel, but otherwise, she's relegated to waiting for K9 to besiege the castle. As for the Doctor, he plays his role in Tara's affairs as a comedy to take the sting out of helping Reynart's men under duress. He's got "George" the android in tow, a dull-faced, gauche automaton who delays the heroes by hitting its head on a low cave ceiling, or sluts his speech to the court, adding some exciting and amusing complications to the narrative. They also keep the Key to Time in the story by showing Lamia try to drill it with a dremel tool.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - There's a lot of pleasure to be had from Grendel's Machiavellian plans, but I think our heroes might have had bigger roles to play.



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