The BBC science fiction series Doctor Who is a powerhouse legend in television. It initially ran almost continuously from 1963 - 1989. That's 26 years! After a lengthy hiatus (filled by a plethora of novels and Big Finish full-cast audio productions), the series recently returned to production with great success. David Tennant is a splendid Doctor. It can be seen on the Sci-Fi Channel here in the States, and, of course, on DVD.
My first experience with Doctor Who came in the 1980s, when WVIZ, channel 25, a PBS station in Cleveland, aired the show each Saturday night. I grew up with the Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Doctors, and the program remains close to me as it was an important component to my childhood imagination.
For the uninitiated, Doctor Who follows the exploits of an alien Time Lord named the Doctor as he travels through time and space in a cavernous vehicle called the TARDIS. Typically, he goes on adventures with companions - often from Earth. His ability to regenerate when facing death allows for a new actor to assume the role, perhaps in part explaining why the series has been able to last for 45 years. Thus, each new actor becomes a numbered Doctor. David Tennant is the tenth actor to assume the role, for example, so he is the Tenth Doctor.
The Androids of Tara is the fourth storyline of The Key to Time: a season-long epic in the middle of Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor)'s tenure in the role. With his curly hair and lengthy scarf, Baker played the Doctor for seven years and became one of the most popular actors to appear in the role. The basic premise of The Key to Time sees the Doctor called into duty by the White Guardian to assemble the Key to Time, a cube object whose purpose is to maintain the equilibrium of all time and space. This cube has been split into six pieces and hidden across the universe, and the White Guardian needs the Key in order to keep the universe aright. Assisting the Doctor in his quest for these pieces are Romana, an intelligent Time Lord, and his robotic dog, K-9.
The Key to Time series had been released several years ago on DVD. For some reason, despite the number of classic Doctor Who stories still awaiting a DVD treatment, BBC Video has seen fit to double dip on this season with new "special editions."
In any case, after the outrageous goings-on of the previous two installments of the Key to Time epic, The Androids of Tara comes across rather tame and casual. It's not a bad story per se, but its whimsical nature makes this episode feel more like an excursion than an advancement of the season's storyline.
The Fourth Doctor and Romana arrive on the planet Tara to retrieve the fourth segment of the Key to Time. The Doctor is feeling restless and, after playing a game of chess with K-9, he goes fishing - leaving Romana to track down the segment on her own. She finds the segment rather quickly, but as she finds it a third of the way into the first episode, clearly all will not be as smooth sailing as it initially appears.
And it isn't.
Romana is dragged into the devious scheme of Count Grendel to steal away the kingdom from its rightful heir when he encounters her in the forest. Tara is a planet much like medieval Earth, except they've developed technology to create life-like androids, which seem primarily employed to create duplicates of important people. Romana just happens to look like Princess Strella, the intended betrothed of the intended king, who also has a dead ringer android as well. Grendel hatches a plan to utilize all three in his scheme, kidnaps Romana, and then must match wits with the Doctor himself.
Tom Baker, as usual, is in top form here. A sword match with Grendel in the fourth episode has some nice physical comedy, and Baker's performance is reminiscent of Harpo Marx. Mary Tamm is clearly comfortable in her role as Romana - and the script by David Fisher contrives to keep her separated from Baker for much of the proceedings, which nicely develops her character. The lighthearted and storybook-ish plot, however, doesn't allow for much suspense, and the entire production feels like a competent albeit standard runaround. Recommended - but this is one of the weaker storylines in the Key to Time season.
By the way, Big Finish Productions recently finished an audio story arc sequel to this season - titled Key 2 Time starring the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison.
The four episodes of Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara are presented in a full frame 4:3 aspect ratio that reflects their original television broadcast. The image looks as good as I've ever seen it with solid colors and okay detail - don't expect stellar blu-ray visual quality here, however, given the show's late-1970s video production roots.
Each episode of Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara arrives with an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track. Dialogue is always clear, and though the track is obviously limited by the television program's production values, the sound is fine throughout.
Subtitles are available in English for the hard of hearing.
DVD releases of episodes from the classic Doctor Who series have traditionally been generous with extras, and this special edition of Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara is no exception - although the previous three serials had slightly more extras.
To begin with, actors Tom Baker and Mary Tamm, and director Michael Hayes provide a lively and informative commentary track. In addition, there is an optional text information track for each episode.
The Humans of Tara (21:12), Now & Then - The Androids of Tara (10:19), and Double Trouble (11:04) are three featurettes that are apparently new, with the first and the last available in anamorphic widescreen. The first of these extras is the typical in-depth documentary on the making of this Doctor Who serial. The second featurette covers the location where the serial was shot, while Double Trouble looks at the trope of doubles in Doctor Who. Also, a Photo Gallery (7:46) offers a slideshow of stills accompanied by sound effects and music from the program.
Finally, a trailer for the fourth season of the new Doctor Who series precedes the main menu. Also, a PDF file is included of the Radio Times billings.
With its plentiful extras, this newly-released special edition of Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara comes recommended. However, fans of the series will likely want to get the concurrently released special edition of Doctor Who: The Key To Time (which I highly recommend) that collects all 6 stories in one multi-disc collection, rather than getting them piecemeal like this.