Doctor Who #496: The Androids of Tara Part 3

"It's funny, they always want you to go alone when you're walking into a trap. Have you noticed that?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Dec.9 1978.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor shows up early to Grendel's trap, an android Romana tries to kill him, the real Romana escapes but is recaptured, and the android king is destroyed.

REVIEW: Romana's escape from Grendel's dungeons is worth it for the Time Lady telling a horse to "start", though her subsequent super-competence at riding it, or indeed the way she takes to escapology so easily, is rather suspect. It's a nice bit of action overall, but amounts to little. She doesn't get to the Doctor in time to prevent the trap from being sprung, and is recaptured by episode's end before she can influence the plot too much (I guess she tells Zadek where Reynart is, though that's hardly a surprise to anyone). Classic Part 3 padding. Mary Tamm's quadruple role isn't amounting to much. As Strella, she's in a cell doing arts and crafts. As the android Strella, she gets her head caved in violently. And as the android Romana, this apparently awesome weapon needs to be guided around like a sleepwalker so her belt buckle laser can be pointed in the right direction. As Romana herself, she tries to find cracks in the Lamia-Grendel relationship, but with Lamia's death, it's a ploy that will never bear fruit.

The Doctor fares much better, heading to the Pavilion hours before Lamia's rendezvous/trap and taking away many of the villains' advantages. In fact, it's a little dumb for Lamia to go through with the plan in full daylight when the Doctor can plainly see that zombie isn't the real Romana. It's a rare misstep for Grendel, who in everything else, seems over-prepared and always as a contingency plan. That's what I like about him. He isn't stupid nor blinded by megalomania (the weakness of so many genius-level Doctor Who villains), he isn't fooled by the android King. He just waits for the best moment to strike. He's the Doctor's equal in that kind of cleverness and the story consistently offers reversals for and from each of them. What contrasts them is their empathy. The Doctor breaks from the plan to attempt to rescue Romana, while Grendel orders his men to start firing at the Pavilion while Lamia is inside, a woman he sent in there with a kiss. He's outraged when she's shot - probably because he's lost his android-maker and not because he loved her - but it's really his fault. The Doctor and K9's escape through the back of the shed is exciting and the effects well-executed, despite Grendel's men being unable to hit the broad side of a barn with their electronic crossbows.

Grendel gets the last laugh by showing up to the rubbish android King's chalet (really, get him some new batteries, guys) under a flag of truce. Offering the throne to the Doctor is a mistake, of course, and I can't even see how he would have managed it if it'd been a real offer - the Doctor's no Taran nobleman - but in any case, he was just buying time while he got in position to spear King George and run off with Romana. Grendel's normal cleverness justifies apparent mistakes as part of a con game. The story starts with a natural Grendel/Reynart rivalry, but Reynart is clearly out of his depth (even his android copy is now smarter than he is). Grendel's rivalry shifts to the Doctor and that's where the story should climax.

- An exciting runaround, but Romana's escape-and-recapture is sadly a waste of time.


Wriphe said...

Siskoid, I was looking for your review of SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE (after I watched it for the first time in years on BBC America the other night), and I couldn't find it in an easy way without consulting Google to search your site. Am I missing a link somewhere? I know that it would be ridiculous to go back and re-label them all to make them easier to find, but could you create some label or system going forward that might make the Doctor Who reviews easier to track down? You're only on Doc 4, after all. Not even halfway! (I enjoy the reviews, and I wanted to refresh my memory. I mention this now because I realize that I'll be doing it again in the future.)

Siskoid said...

I could try, over the summer, to create some kind of page with a list, but there are already a couple of tools you can use.

First, the blog's search bar will get you to any post with the word Spearhead appearing. That's good for those episodes with uncommon keywords in the title.

But either way, you can also look at the list of posts in the right-hand sidebar. Click on any given year/month, and all the posts will scroll down. With a minimum amount of knowledge about the show's schedule, you can probably find the month when any given story was reviewed.

Wriphe said...

Thanks for the suggestions. For some reason, I never noticed the search box at the top of the blog. (I blame a conditioned aversion to toolbar plug-ins.)

Siskoid said...

Don't worry about it. I've been trying to make an easy search page for the Star Trek reviews for years, and I can't quite make tables work in blogger.


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