The Androids of Tara ****

A summery romp in which the Doctor and Romana must stop Count Grendel from becoming King of Tara

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Doctor Who story guide
Patrick Mulkern
Patrick Mulkern
The Androids of Tara ****

Season 16 – Story 101

"Crown an android King of Tara? Never!" - Farrah

Storyline
Arriving on Tara, the Doctor enjoys a fishing break while Romana quickly sources the fourth segment of the Key to Time - a piece of statuary. But the two Time Lords are soon drawn into a web of intrigue surrounding the succession to the Taran throne. The Doctor is recruited to complete an android copy of Prince Reynart, who is threatened with assassination by Count Grendel of Gracht. Romana, meanwhile, falls into the clutches of the wicked count, who is delighted to see she's the identical double of Strella, the princess second in line to the throne…

First transmissions
Part 1 - Saturday 25 November 1978
Part 2 - Saturday 2 December 1978
Part 3 - Saturday 9 December 1978
Part 4 - Saturday 16 December 1978

Production
Location filming: July 1978 at Leeds Castle, Kent
Studio recording: August 1978 in TC6 and TC1

Cast
Doctor Who - Tom Baker
Romana - Mary Tamm
Voice of K•9 - John Leeson
Count Grendel - Peter Jeffrey
Prince Reynart - Neville Jason
Swordmaster Zadek - Simon Lack
Swordsman Farrah - Paul Lavers
Madame Lamia - Lois Baxter
Archimandrite - Cyril Shaps
Kurster - Martin Matthews
Till - Declan Mulholland

Crew
Writer - David Fisher
Incidental music - Dudley Simpson
Designer - Valerie Warrender
Script editor - Anthony Read
Producer - Graham Williams
Director - Michael Hayes

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
With splashes of sunlit location filming, ample greenery, vibrant costumes, a castle, hunting lodge, even a pavilion, The Androids of Tara achieves the feel of a summer pageant. And the Doctor gets into the spirit himself, for once forgoing adventure to fish and doze in the sun, before engaging with alien royalty for the third time this season. He adjusts to every twist and turn with bonhomie and looks the part in a russet velvet coat. It's a great vehicle for Tom Baker.

Such was writer David Fisher's success with The Stones of Blood, he was swiftly recommissioned (in the 1970s it was rare for someone to pen consecutive serials). His narrative is clear, the dialogue occasionally sparkling and there's a frisson of satisfaction for the minority of viewers who suss the pastiche of Anthony Hope's novel, The Prisoner of Zenda.

New director Michael Hayes takes to Doctor Who with alacrity. One or two of the horseback scenes are fudged, but Romana's woodland wander, the android coronation and the swordfight are all expertly handled. He even manages some unusual moves in the Tardis set at the start.

Hayes' casting is classy, too. As Reynart, Neville Jason has a touch of the mature matinee idol (John Gilbert, say, or Ronald Colman). Simon Lack and Paul Lavers convince as his swordsmen, wily Zadek and impetuous Farrah. The latter has the temerity to sever the Doctor's scarf with his electric rapier. (The Time Lord is mortified: "If you don't stop burning my scarf, you're going to have to kill me.") Lois Baxter is suitably sour as Lamia, "Count Grendel's woman" and a surgeon-engineer content to "leave politics to my betters".

Almost stealing the show from Tom Baker is Peter Jeffrey. With his heavy features and warty complexion, he had become a familiar TV face since playing the Pilot in The Macra Terror (1967). He's clearly having a ball as Grendel of Gracht - perhaps the most courteous and courtly Who villain ever. While imprisoning Romana and threatening to "disassemble her", he calls her "my dear" exhaustively. He tells Reynart, "And now, my friend, I must go to your coronation. It's a pity you will miss it." And later, "Oh, Doctor. I was glad you managed to escape safely."

Their final swordfight is excellently choreographed, albeit in a fittingly offhand Doctor Who manner. The Time Lord joins in half-heartedly, deflecting advances, mugging with bemusement, before really lunging into it and leading Grendel, "the best swordsman on Tara", up onto his castle battlements. You can't help but smile when the thwarted count declares, "Next time I shall not be so lenient", before diving into his moat, fleeing to fight another day.

Although there's little discernible difference between her performances as Princess Strella, the android version or Romana, this story is appreciably Mary Tamm's finest outing in Doctor Who. She looks fabulous in the purply, green-trimmed hat and tunic ("It's what everyone on Tara's wearing this year") - a striking, almost peculiar design that Tamm herself had a hand in.

Independent from the Doctor, Romana locates the next segment within the first eight minutes of part one. She stands up to Grendel, and remarkably manages to escape his castle, only momentarily flummoxed by a horse: "Go, charger. Start. Start! Go, you stupid creature. Go!" It's easy to overlook that it's Romana who gallops into the pavilion ambush and rescues the Doctor on horseback.

"Do you know, I'll be quite sorry to leave Tara," she says at the end. And yes it has been a jolly, colourful romp. A more than competent production. But after all this praise, I have to say I've never exactly loved The Androids of Tara. It strays too far into the "adventure serial" territory of Sunday teatime telly.

The concepts of androids and/or doppelgangers bore me in any drama. There's no real urgency or jeopardy and, truth be told, I don't give a monkey's who ends up on the Taran throne - be it Reynart, Grendel, George the android or the ludicrous beast that waggles at Romana in the woods.

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Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Marc's view cartoon

[Available on BBC DVD]

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