The Stones of Blood ★★★★★

The 100th story offers a Celtic goddess, blood-sucking Ogri, fabulous Beatrix Lehmann and a Sapphic undertone...

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Season 16 – Story 100

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“Until recently, the land the circle stands on has always been owned by a woman. Haven’t you noticed?” – Romana

Storyline
Romana has her first taste of the Doctor’s “favourite planet”, Earth, when the quest for the Key to Time brings them to the Nine Travellers, a stone circle on Boscombe Moor. They befriend Professor Rumford and Vivien Fay who are surveying the circle, but soon fall foul of a Druidic sect worshipping a Celtic goddess, the Cailleach. K•9 deduces that several stones are silicon-based globulin-deficients – blood-sucking Ogri who obey Miss Fay. She has been posing as the Cailleach, but is in fact Cessair of Diplos, a criminal who came to Earth 4,000 years ago. Aboard a hyperspace vessel near the circle, the Doctor unwittingly releases justice machines called the Megara, who proceed to put him on trial…

First transmissions
Part 1 – Saturday 28 October 1978
Part 2 – Saturday 4 November 1978
Part 3 – Saturday 11 November 1978
Part 4 – Saturday 18 November 1978

Production
Location recording: June 1978 at Rollright Stones and Little Rollright, Oxfordshire; Reed College, Little Compton, Warwickshire
Studio recording: July 1978 in TC3

Cast
Doctor Who – Tom Baker
Romana – Mary Tamm
Voice of K•9 – John Leeson
Professor Emilia Rumford – Beatrix Lehmann
Vivien Fay/Cessair of Diplos – Susan Engel
Leonard De Vries – Nicholas McArdle
Martha – Elaine Ives-Cameron
Campers – James Murray, Shirin Taylor
Megara voices – Gerald Cross, David McAlister

Crew
Writer – David Fisher
Incidental music – Dudley Simpson
Designer – John Stout
Script editor – Anthony Read
Producer – Graham Williams
Director – Darrol Blake

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
There’s fresh blood in the chalice as Doctor Who clocks up its 100th story: it’s a confident debut from writer David Fisher and an impressive one-off engagement for director Darrol Blake and designer John Stout. But while we appreciate what these new boys can do, The Stones of Blood is – refreshingly – a tale concerned primarily with women, as Graham Williams and Anthony Read make a concerted effort to bolster female roles in the series.

With this edict in mind, David Fisher draws inspiration from the fearsome aunts of his childhood (a pattern he’d repeat in 1979’s The Creature from the Pit) and takes us headlong into Daphne du Maurier territory: the Cornish coast, a plot traversing time, ominous birds and, of course, wicked ladies. The last two elements are closely intertwined. The Cailleach is embodied as a resplendent crow. Vivien Fay speaks with a coo, moves stealthily and “used to be a Brown Owl”. Even the short-lived Druid, Martha, has raven hair and an aquiline profile.

The most magnificent old bird is Professor Emilia Rumford, the craggy historian “conducting a topographical, geological, astronomical, archaeological survey” of the stones. Beatrix Lehmann’s performance is an indelible highlight and… breathtaking. There’s no other word for it. We hold our breath as she bumbles gamely through screeds of name- and date-laden dialogue.

Stones of Blood 2

Stones of Blood 1
[Tom Baker, Beatrix Lehmann and Mary Tamm. Photographed by Don Smith at BBC TV Centre in July 1978. Copyright Radio Times Archive]

Even Tom Baker is visibly in thrall to this veteran actress, who turned 75 during the production. Gloriously gung-ho, on spying the Ogri, Emilia cries, “In the cause of science I think it our duty to capture that creature!” She shares numerous delightful two-handers with the Doctor, Romana and K•9. What a wonderful companion Emilia might have become.

The story goes that Beatrix Lehmann accepted the part because, as a dog lover, she was fascinated to see how K•9 worked. She may not have been a household name but her theatrical and literary pedigree reached back to the 1920s. In 30s Berlin, she found a soulmate in Christopher Isherwood, who dedicated his classic novel Good-bye to Berlin to Lehmann. Some kudos. He later wrote that they were “much alike in temperament”; as with much of Isherwood’s prose, this comment seems ripe with hidden meaning.

I’d like to think the same could be said for The Stones of Blood. It doesn’t need an archaeologist to uncover a Sapphic substratum. Silver-haired, weather-beaten Emilia wears masculine attire, not a speck of make-up and no bra – this old lady lets her nipples show through her blouse. She rides a bicycle, carries a truncheon, and is the only person we’ll ever see Romana kiss. All could be subtle pointers as to Rumford’s sexuality. She also shares a cottage with fellow spinster, pink-suited Vivien Fay (note the double meaning).

When Miss Fay coos, “I’ve been so many things, Emilia, for so many years,” it’s suffused with suggestion. Vivien is but one identity Cessair has assumed over the millennia: reclusive Mrs Trefusis; husbandless Señora Camara; wicked Lady Morgana Montcalm who “murdered her husband on her wedding night”; the Mother Superior of the Little Sisters of Saint Gudula; and perennially the Cailleach, the Celtic goddess of war, death and magic…

Men played little part in the lives of these formidable females. The sexual ambiguity extends to the Megara, twinkling fairy lights that sound like Round the Horne’s Julian and Sandy cast as the Ugly Sisters. Even ultra-feminine Romana is butched up with a Burberry flat cap.

The Stones of Blood offers nothing gratuitous to mark its place as the 100th story. A cake-cutting scene was dropped, and the plot covers all-new territory. In an assured production, Darrol Blake opts to shoot location scenes on OB cameras not film, ensuring a seamless join with the studio action. It was years before I realised the nocturnal Nine Travellers sequences were recorded inside TV Centre.

Other sets (the cottage, De Vries’s mansion) look authentic and lived in. There’s an astoundingly evocative score from Dudley Simpson; even a memorable theme for the Doctor as he strides through the countryside.

Mercifully, the initial concept of the Ogri as lumbering figures was overruled at design stage, and the gliding, pulsating megaliths are the eeriest monsters for some time. The scene where they reduce two campers to skeletons provides a glorious frisson of horror. The switch to a glossy hyperspace ship provides contrast, and the Doctor’s trial by the Megara is well scripted and gives Tom Baker chance to shine.

There are few shortcomings: De Vries and Martha seem a tad overwrought, even for blood-spilling occultists. Some questions go unanswered. What was Cessair doing on Earth so long? Why pose as the Cailleach? Was she indeed an agent of the Black Guardian? How did Mr De Vries know the Doctor’s name and that he was coming to his house?

He warns, “Beware the raven or the crow, Doctor. They are her eyes” – but do these birds have a deeper significance? (Four years later, when the Guardian reappears, he’ll have a crow fixed to his head.) I rather like that we will never know but can ever ponder.

This 100th story doesn’t need to be big and blowsy; it’s an intriguing yarn with small stakes and vivid characters. It transports us with élan from an atmospheric English setting into a dazzling new dimension – just as An Unearthly Child had done nigh on 500 episodes and 15 years earlier. Above all, The Stones of Blood gives Beatrix Lehmann a role to crown her career. She died nine months after transmission, but as Professor Emilia Rumford gained immortality.

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Stones of Blood billings
[Available on BBC DVD]