Doctor Who: The Key to Time Collection – By Mike Wilson

Is there anyone out there that has no idea who Dr. Who is? I’m assuming the answer is no. After all, if you’re reading Rogue Cinema, you’re probably a fan of cult movies and TV shows. But just in case there’s someone out there scratching their head I’ll explain. Heck, you knew I was going to anyway, didn’t you?

Dr. Who is probably the longest running science fiction Television show made. Created by the BBC it hit the airwaves in the UK on December 23rd, 1963 and was on the air all the way into the mid-80’s. I’m not exactly sure when it was cancelled, since like most of us on this side of the big pond, I didn’t know what the heck Dr. Who was until 1980 when I saw it on the local PBS station.

Dr. Who is a show about an alien Time traveler from the planet Gallifrey, known only as The Doctor. The Doctor disobeys his people’s directive of non-interference and steals a defective space-time-travel machine called a TARDIS (Which is an acronym for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) so he can see the universe. Unfortunately the TARDIS the Doctor appropriated has a broken “chameleon circuit” and is permanently camouflaged as a British Police Box and with not too reliable steering. The doctor seems to end up in places other than where he intended. Fortunately for us, he turns up on Earth a LOT , and just in time to save the planet from all kinds of monsters and invasions from outer space.

A
s far as the TV series is concerned eight different men have played the Doctor (including the telemovie starring Paul McGann). Being a Time lord the Doctor’s body regenerates when it reaches old age, or he’s critically wounded, which helps explain why so many different people were able to play the part without upsetting the fans. When a new actor took over the role, they usually had their own quirks and mannerisms which kept the show interesting. But the one doctor most US fans are familiar with is Tom Baker, who had the role from 1974 to 1980. Baker’s Doctor is probably the favorite of most fans of the show. He was clever, resourceful, and a bit of a goof, wearing a worn overcoat with an 11 foot scarf wrapped around his neck. He often defeated his foes by allowing them to think he was a buffoon. It would be difficult to explain the entire history of the Doctor Who series in this format, but if you’ve never seen the show at all, the Key to Time episodes might be a good starting off point. The episodes that make up this story occurred in the middle of Tom Baker’s tenure, and introduce some new characters to the show’s lexicon.

Disk One: The Ribos Operation

Doctor: ‘Look, I’m sure there must be plenty of other Time Lords who’d be delighted…’
The Guardian: ‘I have chosen you, Doctor.’
Doctor: ‘I was afraid you might say that. Ah! You want me to volunteer, is that it? And if I don’t?’
The Guardian: ‘Nothing.’
Doctor: ‘You mean nothing’ll happen to me?’
The Guardian: ‘Nothing. Ever.’

The Doctor is summoned, quite reluctantly, into the employ of the embodiment of order and balance in the universe, the White Guardian. The Guardian asks the Doctor to retrieve the six segments of the Key to Time. The Key can grant the owner complete power of time and the Guardian needs it to restore the balance of the universe. It has been split up into these six pieces, which are disguised and scattered throughout time and space to keep its power safe. The Guardian’s opposite, the black guardian, the embodiment of Chaos and Evil, also wants the Key, but for nefarious reasons. To aid the Doctor the White Guardian gives him a tracer capable of locating the segments and an assistant, Romanavoratreludar (Romana for short), a female Time Lord. (Or is it Time Lady?) Romana is under the impression that the High Council of time Lords have sent her to aid the Doctor, but really it was the White Guardian impersonating the President of the Council. (The doctor tells her the truth eventually in the storyline). The first segment is found on the Planet Ribos. Unfortunately for the Doctor, Romana and their robot dog, K9, They have to contend with two swindlers and a vicious interstellar warlord called the Graff Vynda Kay before they can get the segment.

Disk 2: The Pirate Planet

Captain: ‘I’m gratified that you appreciate it.’
Doctor: ‘Appreciate it… appreciate it! You commit mass destruction and murder on a scale that’s almost inconceivable and you ask me to appreciate it! Just because you happen to have made a brilliantly-conceived toy out of the mummified remains of planets.’
Captain: ‘Devilstorms, Doctor… It is not a toy!’

Doctor: ‘Then what’s it for? Huh? What are you doing? What could possibly be worth all this?’

On the outside, many things in this story are a bit silly. A Pirate captain with a robot parrot? It’s crazy enough to snap you out of the fantasy world of Dr. Who and make you realize you’re watching something goofy. Still, the science fiction elements of the story are far more interesting then the ones you’ll see on, well, Star Trek. The Doctor and his friends land on Calufrax in their search for the 2 nd segment of the Key to Time. The populace is led by a cyborg maniac called the Captain, and the planet Calufrax has been converted into a huge space warping device. The Captain warps it from point to point in the universe, swallowing other planets and compacting their mass into basketball sized spheres. The Doctor is appalled at this wanton destruction and even more appalled to learn of its purpose. The fantastic energy needed to do these feats is being channeled into “Time Dams”….which keep the former queen of Calufrax, Xanxia, alive since she is only a heartbeat away from death. The not-quite-dead Queen is the real power behind Calufrax and she’s willing to destroy the fabric of time and space in order to stay alive. This would have been an A+ episode if they didn’t throw the pirate motif into it. Still, it’s entertaining. Dr. Who is at its most interesting when ridiculously sophisticated pseudo science is used in the story.

Disk 3: The Stones of Blood

Professor Rumford: ‘Are you from outer space?’
Doctor: ‘No. I’m more from what you’d call inner time.’

The TARDIS materializes in present day England (ok, late 1970’s England ) in the vicinity of the 9 travelers, a Druidic Stone Circle being researched by the aged Prof. Emilia Rumford and her assistant Vivien Fay. The search for the next segment of the Key To Time is confounded when the Doctor encounters modern day Druids that want to sacrifice him to the stones and things get even more complicated….Vivien Fay is really a 4 thousand year old alien criminal and the stones are really silicon based life forms that absorb the blood of their victims. And if that’s not enough trouble for the Time Lord, he becomes trapped in Fay’s spaceship, which is in Hyperspace (occupying the same space of the stone circle) and sentenced to death by the Megara, Justice Machines, whose original purpose was to try Miss Fay (real name Cessair of Planet Diplos). I’ve always liked the first half of this story better than the second half. Since the second part takes place mostly on the ship in Hyperspace its kind of a jolt after the Earthbound mystery building first half.

Disk 4: The Androids of Tara

Doctor: ‘I shall have to go alone of course. It’s funny. They always want you to go alone when you’re walking into a trap. Have you noticed that?’

Soon after arriving on the Planet Tara, Romana finds the next segment of the Key to Time. However, it’s never that easy. Tara is a world of sophisticated robotics technology and medieval lifestyles. Romana finds herself imprisoned by the Count Grendel of Gracht and the doctor must rescue her and thwart Grendel’s plans to usurp the throne of Prince Reynart with an android double. It would have been a better episode without the android stuff, methinks. It’s hard to buy a society that lives in feudal manor having the manufacturing ability to create lifelike androids. If the story had explained that dichotomy in better detail I would have been pleased. Still, there is a lot of swashbuckling in the story to keep it interesting, and Tom Baker displays what fans like about his doctor most. He plays the bumbling fool well enough that when it comes down to the fight to the finish, Grendel is way too confident that he can defeat the Doctor. As usual, the Doctor’s act is a façade and he proves that he can be a dangerous foe when provoked.

Disk 5: The Power of Kroll

Ranquin: ‘Kroll is all wise, all seeing…’
Doctor: ‘All baloney!’

The Third moon of the planet Delta Magna is mostly swamp. In a sad reminder of real history, the indigenous tribal people there (called “Swampies” derisively) are being pushed aside so the civilization of Delta Magna can build methane plants there. But the Swampies have faith that their God, Kroll, will arise and destroy the refinery and their enemies. They might be right, since Kroll is a Godzilla-sized squid! This complicates things for the Doctor and Romana. The refinery crew has conspired to set the swampies up as aggressors with the help of a gun runner called Rhom-Dutt so they’ll have an excuse to wipe them out. And Kroll doesn’t care who gets destroyed, he’s a squid….he just wants to eat! The Doctor realizes that Kroll must have swallowed the fifth segment of the Key to Time and that’s how he became so huge. But can the Doctor retrieve the segment before everyone winds up dead? Well, Doctor Who has never had great special effects, and the superimposed giant Squid on the screen when Kroll appears, is heck, laughable. I can’t put my finger on the reason but I’ve always found this story to be lacking in something, even though I kind of liked it. One thing is sure; the characters weren’t the high point . They all seem to be mere cardboard cutouts without much personality. Sadly, that makes Kroll himself the most interesting.

Disk 5: The Armageddon Factor

Doctor: ‘We have the power to do anything we like. Absolute power over every particle in the universe. Everything that has ever existed and ever will exist. As from this moment – are you listening to me Romana?’
Romana: ‘Yes of course I’m listening…’
Doctor: ‘Because if you’re not listening, I can make you listen. Because I can do anything. As from this moment there’s no such thing as free will in the entire universe. There’s only my will because I possess the Key to Time.’
Romana: ‘Doctor, are you all right?’
Doctor: ‘Well of course I’m all right… but supposing I wasn’t all right?’

The finale to the Key to Time adventures was longer than the other episodes, and not as satisfying really. The planet Atrios is at war with its neighbor, Zeos. What the Marshall of Atrios doesn’t know is that Zeos is an abandoned planet and the entire war effort from it is controlled by a computer called Mentalis. The Marshall is being manipulated by a being called the Shadow, an agent of the Black Guardian. In a long drawn out convoluted plan, the Shadow plans on getting his hands on the sixth segment of the Key, which is in the form of Princess Astra of Atrios. The Doctor of course saves the day. The shining moment in this episode comes when the doctor finally gets the Key assembled. As you can read in the quote he acts insane for a moment to demonstrate to Romana how dangerous the Key to time is if left in the hands of any one being. But that’s about the only thing I liked about this episode.

Its hard to rate the box set in any meaningful way. If you’re not a fan of Doctor Who it’s an expensive risk to see if you’d like it. You have to get used to the really cheap special effects and cardboard sets. They do have a kind of charm that I missed in the series final episodes (with Sylvester McCoy as the doctor in them) when the budget seemed to increase. If you are a fan, especially of the Tom Baker era, it’s almost a must have. There are so few of his episodes released on DVD as of yet, you’ll probably have to get the box set if jonesing for some Baker.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Cast and crew interviews, an anniversary video log and little tidbits of Who info are on every disk in the set.

WHO’S GONNA WANT IT?: Die hard fans of the show will want it. Anyone else may want to try and rent a few episodes if possible to see if it’s their cup of tea. And no, that wasn’t a brit joke.

CAN I BUY IT?: Most video store chains carry it, which makes it expensive….if you really want to buy it I suggest doing it online. It’ll be cheaper than Suncoast.