The strength so far of this season, apart from some great casting, has been the variation in stories. We go from a moody slightly comical piece with excellent characterisations to a sort of fantasy world where everything is over the top, to a dark horror story which turns into a science fiction mishmash, and then ‘The Androids of Tara’ – a delightful swashbuckling tale of knights filled with sword fights and robots, based on a story called ‘The Prisoner of Zelda’.
|Mary Tamm meets Peter Jefferies.|
For me this one takes the cake as the best of the season so far. And if this rate of improvement keeps up the finale of the season is going to be awesome. This is one of my all-time favourites I’d have to say. If you take away the frankly awful creature that attacks Romana in the first episode, then it’s almost perfect!
|The Android Prince about to be crowned King.|
The locations were perfect, as was the weather. It was filmed in the Summer, a good Summer, in England which is not the sort of weather one associates with England. Often they would find themselves shooting in the middle of winter, especially back in the Jon Pertwee days. The cast must have been relieved to be shooting outside in this sort of weather.
The plot, David Fisher’s second story in a row by the way, takes the outline from a story called ‘The Prisoner of Zelda’, which I have never read. This was Anthony Read’s suggestion to the writer I believe. Read did well to find David Fisher who had never written for Doctor Who before, and did even better to get two top-notch stories out of him. The fact that this one was not a wholly original idea doesn’t matter, it was completely Doctor Who-ised and is four wonderful episodes of TV. The nature of the story, a medieval design set on a far off planet where robotics is popular, means that this is the sort of story which stands the test of time and doesn’t come across as particularly dated.
It’s primarily shot on film too which gives it a better look than ‘The Stones of Blood’. Apart from the sparkling script, what makes this story one of the best is the cast. It’s a top notch guest cast led by Peter Jeffrey, returning to Doctor Who for his second story (his first was’ The Macra Terror’ more than ten years earlier) who plays the Count with wonderfully villainous relish. Prince Reinhart is played by Neville Jason, again perfect casting for the romantic lead of the piece. The supporting cast is also uniformly excellent, with a special appearance by Cyril Shapps in his fourth and final Doctor Who story, and it’s an extra-special one – he doesn’t get killed in this one!
|So it yourself android building!|
The story also features Mary Tamm doubling, or in fact tripling up as Romana, the Pirncess Strella and an android double of the Princess. In fact there’s also an android double of Romana so technically she plays four characters. From the interview on the DVD this was probably her favourite story, and she clearly enjoys it. In fact, the entire cast are clearly having a ball from go to woe. It is however, played straight, but with enjoyment. As I have said before, when the actors are enjoying themselves, we tend as an audience to also enjoy ourselves.
This is right up there with the best of the best. Season 16 has transformed Doctor Who into a fun and clever programme once more after the very poor season 15.