MagazineBook reviews

Just in | Library of book reviews 


Doctor Who: The Key To Time Boxset

01/01/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Doctor Who: The Key To Time Boxset in the USA - or Buy Doctor Who: The Key To Time Boxset in the UK

author pic

region 2 DVD: pub: BBC 2754. 7 DVDs 625 minutes 26 * 25 minute episodes with extras. Price: GBP 22.00 (UK) if you know where to look).

The Ribos Operation (The Key To Time part 1)
(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC 2135(A). 1 DVD 98 minutes 4 * 25 minute episodes with extras)

cast: Tom Baker, Mary Tamm, Iain Cutherbertson, Nigel Plaskitt, Paul Seed, Robert Keegan Timothy Bateson and John Leeson

check out website:

The start of the season series ‘The Key To Time’, reveals the Doctor is preparing for a holiday. Considering that he doesn’t actually have a real job and can go where he chooses, the mind must boggle on how he can do that. Presumably, he must know some holiday planets or ones that are at least unlikely to be invaded or have any other heinous fate.

Subtly blackmailed by the White Guardian to seek out the segments of the Key to Time, the Doctor (actor Tom Baker) is supplied with a new companion, Romanadvoratrelundar (actress Mary Tamm) – Fred for short although eventually accepts being called Romana.

On the primitive planet Ribos, they think the first segment is disguised as a piece of Jethrik in the royal treasure house and becomes involved in a con game played by Garron (actor Iain Cutherbertson) and Unstoffe (actor Nigel Plaskitt) to steal from an off-planet deposed despot in hiding, the Graff Vynda-K (actor Paul Seed). The people of Ribos aren’t even up to the space age yet and any visitors are considered from being from up north.

The excellent Iain Cutherbertson is a scene stealer and was undoubtedly the prototype for other con-men in the future. K-9 was used more as a deux ex machine – literally – to get the Doctor out of tough spots rather than like the old days and the Time Lord had to find other ways. There is still an odd puzzled as Graff Vynda-K relates to his chief henchman how it took a year to search a maze on another planet without explaining how they were fed.

The opening story has a number of disclosures. The Doctor was hardly that big a success at the Academy with a marginal 51% pass compared to Romana’s triple first pass. We also discover that the Doctor is about 756 years old and she’s 140 and looks like on her first regeneration. Despite being a good academic, Romana is not so hot on field practice and so the Doctor steals a march on her and unlike other companions, their relationship is mostly acrimonious.

The audio commentary with Tom Baker and Mary Tamm reveals the former only read his lines in the script so he responded accordingly to the other actors. Considering how it was later revealed that he would spread lines out to other cast members, it was probably a necessity to ensure he wasn’t forever memorising lines. Neither of them recognised it was themselves in the background in the crown chamber. Actors don’t get old, they just add grey to their hair to look older is something Baker remarks.

Of the significant extras is a look at producer Graham Williams’ three year tenure and all the problems he had from attacks by Mary Whitehouse to BBC strikes and reduced budgets which caused some shaky sets and fifty-seven week years. One of the early innovations was using early blue screen instead of full sets. There was also a few more minutes of the ‘Shada’ story that I hadn’t seen before as well.

‘The Ribos File’ where the cast discuss the story today is interesting and showing how they look today. Nigel Plaskitt’s description of taking Tom Baker to out-patients after being accidentally being bitten by Paul Seed’s dog is very visual. Paul Seed also went on to become a director, ‘The House Of Cards’ being one of them and should people to pay attention to the credits more.

‘The Key To Time’ was a definite change of direction for ‘Doctor Who’ in having a linking story and another of his own people as his companion. He would be no longer having a companion from Earth for some seasons to come.

Seeing the story again after all these years, it still holds up. The monster in the catacombs looked a little iffy but it’s larger than the one in the treasure chamber proving seeing less is often more. Some aspects of the story were somewhat Shakespearian and larger-than-life, so it’s no wonder the cast rose to the challenge. Thirty-three years on and it still plays well. But then, so does Shakespeare.

The Pirate Planet (The Key To Time part 2) by Douglas Adams

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC 2135(B). 1 DVD 100 minutes 4 * 25 minute episodes with extras)

cast: Tom Baker, Mary Tamm, Bruce Purchase, Andrew Robertson, Rosalind Lloyd, David Sibley and John Leeson

check out website:

The Time Lords arrival on the planet Calufrax where the second key to time is collides with something which turns out to be Zanak and the discovery that under the orders of its Captain (actor Bruce Purchase) encapsulates and destroys planets. Unfortunately, it is also damaged with its latest trip and near collision with the TARDIS. The Doctor (actor Tom Baker) and Romana (actress Mary Tamm), accompanied by K-9, have a lot to solve. More so when the Doctor discovers that the Captain is the puppet of someone far more sinister and his allies, the Mentiads, find themselves outclassed.

In many respects, this Douglas Adams script, written after ‘Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy’, shows recognisable things like unusual names and things at a galactic scale. Although I’m not entirely sure if the gravity fields needed to do what Adams proposed here, it was grounded in keeping things on the ground, so to speak, by the revolution that kept the main population away from events. Quite what the Queen’s final plan was is never revealed.
Information learnt from this story includes the Doctor has had this TARDIS for 523 years which means he was 233 years old when he first fled from Gallifrey. Apart from jelly babies, he also carries liquorice and all-sorts in his coat.

Unusually, there are two audio commentaries with this story and contrary the box cover, they are in reverse order. The first commentary is with director Pennant Roberts and actor Bruce Purchase (the Captain), who has a much softer voice to the role he played. Not sure if it was how long ago it was filmed or just remembering the rehearsals but Purchase did wonder if John Leeson was actually inside the K-9 body. Not sure if I agree with them that ‘Doctor Who’ is science fantasy, mostly because the criteria for Science Fiction is to stay consistent to a set of rules. If it didn’t then all stories dealing with faster-than-light space travel and time travel would be fantasy. Both agree that the DVD version has been served better than the video version.

The second audio commentary is dominated by actors Tom Baker and Mary Tamm with stand-in producer Anthony Reed as producer Graham Williams had broken his leg abroad and hadn’t been able to come back. Their banter was less about what was on the screen but with voices such as theirs, just fun to listen to. I think Mary Tamm realises she isn’t as smart as Romana and doesn’t really get the plot and Tom Baker is just fascinated by the performance. Tamm does declare that Baker originated the term ‘bafflegab’ as the predecessor for ‘technobabble’.

The extras consist largely of a half hour feature called ‘Parrott Fashion’, which looks mostly at Douglas Adams’ story development and although he had great ideas and style, still had a lot to learn about story structure. The abbotron robot bird is also covered in some detail although no one makes a comparison to the design of the Doppo, a robot bird that was in a ‘Garth’ newspaper story in the 60s.

The ‘Film Inserts’ were mostly focused on the Mentiads walking around on the Wales hillside with only two minutes of out-takes of fluffed lines.

‘Weird Science’ examines the use of laser guns, psychics, shrinking rays and inertia with Matt Irvine and David Graham. If you think that name is familiar, think ‘Thunderbirds’ as he was also the voice of Parker, Brains, Gordon Tracy and a multitude of other characters over the years.

Added to this is seven minutes worth of photos, including one of Bruce Purchase without the cyborg side of his costume.

Although I’m not a particularly great lover of Douglas Adams’ work, ‘The Pirate Planet’ holds up reasonably well although I would have loved to have seen some more insight as to what Anthony Reed did to knock the plot into shape to make it work on the screen.

The Stones Of Blood (The Key To Time part 3) by David Fisher

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC 2135(C). 1 DVD 95 minutes 4 * 25 minute episodes with extras)

cast: Tom Baker, Mary Tamm, Susan Engle, Beatrix Lehmann and John Leeson

check out website:

The hundredth story and third part of ‘The Key To Time’ was business as usual with no celebration as the TARDIS arrives back on Earth and the Doctor (actor Tom Baker) and Romana (actress Mary Tamm) seek the third key amongst some ancient stone ruins. They both encounter scientist Professor Emelia Rumford (actress Beatrix Lehmann) and her companion Vivian Fay (actress Susan Engle) taking measurements at the stones and the Doctor leave the inappropriately shoed Romana as he visits the local hall and their small Druid coven. What this conceals is aliens on Earth, the Ogri, mostly controlled stone beings that are nourished by blood and the extended living being, the Cailleach. The Doctor is almost sacrificed to them and shows particular vulnerability, considering he ends up being knocked out twice.

Romana has little luck neither and is nearly thrown over a cliff-top. Considering the Time Lords are supposed to b semi-telepathic, it does make me wonder why no one ever considered that in these tales. It would still have taken as long for one to rescue the other.

Unlike humans, the Doctor recognises the enemy and can do something about it and discovers the Callileach’s spaceship in local hyperspace but accidentally releases the justice machines, the Megara, who deem the Doctor to be executed for not having permission to do so. The Doctor appeals his sentence and points to their original real target, the Callileach as their intended court case.

This is a neatly tight story and even watching it today, seeing lit stone monoliths running around looks menacing without thinking what they are still holds up. Hope you Anderson fans spot the control panel from ‘UFO’ turning up again. According to the first audio commentary, director Darrol Blake points out that the light in the ocean was stock footage from Elstree so it’s also possible that it was also from ‘UFO’ originally. The computer monitor on-board the prison-ship looks like its design was based off the Commodore PET computer available at the time. For those too young to know what I’m talking about, this was one of the early computers which was a law unto itself making it even impossible to exchange data with other computers. Let’s not even go into how programming didn’t allow ‘RENUM’ to change program lines.

I’m puzzling as to why the Callileach allowed herself to be painted three times and why no one until the Doctor spotted they were the same person. This is also the second story in a row where a lead female character wasn’t quite what she appeared. Does anyone else wonder where the Callileach’s wand vanished to where she appeared on-board the prison ship the final time?

Again, we have two audio commentaries. The first is with actress Mary Tamm and director Darrol Blake. From them we learn of plans for a filmed scene with a birthday cake being declined by producer Graham Williams as the Doctor had never been shown eating and was an over-indulgence. Mary Tamm relates that actress Sue Engle is a great joke-teller. Also that Tom Baker was reluctant to be filmed chasing her character off cliff-top because he was fed up with being possessed (although I have to confess, I can’t remember when the last time happened) although agree with Tamm’s assessment that it would have shown the Doctor in a bad light. Tamm also reminds us of her original Yorkshire accent occasionally. Blake started off as a set designer and room mate of Ridley Scott. I wonder what happened to him?

The second audio commentary has more people. Mary Tamm returns (although whether this is the first or second time isn’t revealed) with actors Tom Baker and Susan Engle and from episode two on, writer David Fisher. They all have an affection for Beatrix Lehmann, who used to drive a Lamborghini or an Alfa Romero according to Tamm, who probably couldn’t tell are cars from her elbow. Engle points out that when you get white hair, it often means you look older than you really are and can get more work. Baker also brings out an interesting observation that the dead are never truly dead when their material is shown forever on television. Fisher explains that he got a statue based on the bird design Callileach’s costume for penning the best episode of the year. Other subjects jovially discussed include theatre flashing and that Stephen Hawking is a Who fan.

There are an amazing number of extras. The longest is twenty-eight minutes of reminisces with the most outstanding being Tom Baker doing the Times crossword with K-9 with people unaware that John Leeson was in an out of sight BBC van.

The connection to Hammer films to ‘Doctor Who’ is explored is explored as this story is seen as the end of playing with similar themes although Robert Holmes was considered the main influence in moving in that direction but making it with a Science Fiction theme. Mary Tamm takes us on tour with the real stone circle that they used in the story in Warwickshire.

There are also eight minutes of stills, an interview on Nationwide with Tom Baker and Mary Tamm in costume with the beautiful Carole Anne Ford. Of particular interest is ‘Blue Peter’ showing clips from across the ‘Doctor Who’ shows, including a scene I didn’t recognise from the Hartnell era but a more significant one of his regeneration into Patrick Troughton at the end of ‘The Tenth Planet’. We also see model maker Matt Irvine doing his thing creating the prison-ship.

The Androids Of Tara (The Key To Time part 4) by David Fisher

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC 2135(C). 1 DVD 97 minutes 4 * 25 minute episodes with extras)

cast: Tom Baker, Mary Tamm, Peter Jeffrey, Neville Jason, Cyril Shaps and John Leeson

check out website:

In many respects, ‘The Androids Of Tara’ goes to fantasy for its roots having a prince replaced by a fake, an android rather than an identical twin he never knew he had, and doubles it with a Time Lady, Romana, being forced to stand in for a princess. Things aren’t helped that the prince android is barely working and the Doctor has to continually tinker to keep it going.

The template for this story is ‘The Prisoner Of Zenda’, only with three substitutions, two of which are androids, and on both sides of the throne. The villain of the piece, Count Grendal (actor Peter Jeffrey), is treacherous throughout but meets his match with the Doctor, who recognises royal protocol a lot easier than Romana.

From the audio commentary with direction Michael Hayes and actors Tom Baker and Mary Tamm, the latter says this is her favourite story of the season. Considering she played four different people, all looking like her, this shouldn’t be too surprising. Hayes does some atrocious puns and relates that gauds nearly turned into a monster instead of a typing error.

The extras are quite extensive. ‘Humans On Tara’ has the actors reminisces and actor Paul Lavers explains how he helped director Michael Hayes with the shot of the Prince android being speared. ‘Now And Then’ looks at Leeds Castle in Maidstone, Kent and where and what they filmed around the grounds and how it looks today. Well, as this came out in 2007, four years ago now. ‘Double Trouble’ is a ten minute spree over the various duplicates of the Doctor and his companions over the regenerations. There is also some rare footage of Patrick Troughton as Salamander in ‘The Enemy Of The World’.

Don’t underestimate the size of this review to low enjoyability. It’s all in the performance based off a relatively basic plot and that’s hard to covey in words without entering the spoiler zone.

The Power Of Kroll (The Key To Time part 5) by Robert Holmes

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC 2135(E). 1 DVD 90 minutes 4 * 25 minute episodes with extras)

cast: Tom Baker, Mary Tamm, Neil McCarthy, Philip Madoc, Glyn Owen, John Abineri and John Leeson

check out website:

The Doctor and Romana arrived on the third moon off Delta Magna, finding its swamp gas being gathered by colonisers and whose leader, Thawn (actor Neil McCarthy), is determined to wipe out the Swampies, the green inhabitants deposed off their own planet. What they hadn’t counted on was the Swampies god, Kroll, a gigantic squid-like creature has awoken and is hungry. It isn’t helped that the Time Lords aren’t trusted by either side and Rohm-Dutt (actor Glyn Owen), a gunrunner who supplied dangerous obsolete weapons, role is equally questionable.

This is one of those odd stories where the Doctor doesn’t really get on with the indigenous species who really does need some help. It also leaves him, Romana and Rohm-Dutt in a tight situation. Kroll also likes his greens. Sorry, poor Swampie joke. The Swampie priest Ranquin (actor John Abineri) justifies all of Kroll’s actions with typical religious mania, even when it kills his own people. The Doctor also declares he’s nearly 760 years old.

With this story and it being a bit impractical for K-9 to swim, this story gives an opportunity for actor John Leeson to have a physical appearance as Dugeen, one of the coloniser technicians who knows what he’s doing compared to the rest of the team.

The audio commentary is with actors Tom Baker and John Leeson who note that the swamp was filmed in Suffolk. They were both puzzled on how the Doctor lost his thigh-length wellington boots, failing to note that he actually rolled them down. They didn’t realise this until episode three. Baker also reveals that actor Martin Jarvis had been the original choice for Dugeen but when he declined, Leeson got the role. Lest we forget, designer Tony Harding was responsible for the creation of K-9 and Kroll.

One odd thing about this story is no one seems to recognise similarities of the Swampies when they sacrificed Romana to the tribesmen in a similar scene in the original ‘King Kong’ film.

Two to the extras show behind the scenes filming in the studio and on location which shows what’s involved with levels of patience from production and cast. Two features focus on Mary Tamm and Philip Madoc’s careers on ‘Who’. Mary Tamm’s white dresses were made by Cilla Black’s dress-maker at the time and was never asked to re-appear for the regeneration scene. Philip Madoc was in the first film with Peter Cushing as well as four appearances in different roles in the TV series, ‘The Krotons’, ‘The War Games’, ‘The Brain Of Morbius’ and ‘The Power of Kroll’, where it was assumed he would be playing Thawn and ultimately his least favourite role. Of them all, I think my favourite has to be him in ‘The War Games’ as the War Lord. There is also five minutes worth of stills, oddly most of them are in black and white.

An odd side note here. Many years ago, I met Tom Baker in his Who garb at a small convention in London and ended up wearing his hat prop for a greater part of the afternoon. Watching this story, there are the odd poses where we do look something alike although in reality, he’s a couple inches taller than me, different hair colour, nose and teeth but when he doesn’t poach his eyes I kept wondering what was I doing in the scene.

The Armageddon Factor (The Key To Time part 6) by Bob Baker and Dave Martin

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC 2135(F). 2 DVDs 144 minutes 6 * 25 minute episodes with extras)

cast: Tom Baker, Mary Tamm, Lalla Ward, John Woodvine, William Squire, Barry Jackson, Davyd Harries, Ian Saynor, Valentine Dyall and John Leeson

check out website:

Their next destination is the planet Atron, twinned with Zeos, and the Time Lords find themselves in the middle of an atomic war with the former losing. Although the Princess Astra (actress Lalla Ward) would prefer peace, the military Marshal (actor John Woodvine) is being manipulated and changes his mind and forget things whenever he is programmed by something behind a dark mirror. Has he appears to have absolute authority, his military command do whatever he wishes.

In many respects, the way the Marshal’s control is very similar to how people were controlled in ‘The War Games’ which does make you wonder why such activity hasn’t been used in later regenerations because it is a beautiful ploy that would give you an inkling of the problem and the type of people doing it.

Back in the 1980s, the term ‘mutually assured destruction’ hadn’t been thought of so the Armageddon factor was used instead. Bet they never had a doctor who could initiate a time loop to keep it from happening.

The problems between the two planets would have kept any other ‘Doctor Who’ story occupied for a full story. Instead, it becomes only a minor part of the problem when the Shadow (actor William Squire, although you would never know from the voice he used as Hunter in ‘Callan’), advocate of the Black Guardian (actor Valentine Dyall), is after the five segments of time and is quite happy to torture the two Time Lords to get it.

We also get an introduction to Drax (actor Barry Jackson), another Time Lord or just a lower grade Gallifreyan depending on how you look at but from the same class as the Doctor, whom he initially refers to by the name Theta Sigma, although whether that’s his true name has always been contested. Drax also points out that Theta Sigma got his doctorate some 450 years ago. From ‘The Pirate Planet’, the Doctor said he had the TARDIS 523 years ago which implies he had his time capsule while at the Academy.

Keep an eye on the back light box panels in the Zeos control room because they look suspiciously like more equipment from ‘UFO’s Moonbase.

This is a great finale to the end of this season with two audio commentaries, plenty to digest. The first is with actors Mary Tamm and John Woodvine with director Michael Hayes. The running gag of the gaurds continues, Tamm reveals Lalla Ward called her own character Dis-Astra and the Doctor’s companion, Traitoria-Romana and Woodvine shows he can flip to a Geordie accent. I suspect the reason why he was never asked to switch accents was because his normal voice was so authoritative. Michael Hayes also directed ‘A For Andromeda’ back in 1961. Hayes also points out the frustration of SF TV stories where there is so much dependence on others to do the bits the director can’t do. Tamm also reveals that she had jokingly suggested that Lalla Ward take over from her as Romana and producer Graham Williams took it on-board but not to do a true regeneration scene.

The second audio commentary is with actors Tom Baker, Mary Tamm and John Leeson is more banter than anything on a variety of subjects from Shakespeare to cough sweets. One thing I do ponder on with these twin audio commentaries featuring the same actors on both is which was recorded first. I suspect it was this one because Tamm was less familiar with knowing actor William Squire’s appearance in this story. Tamm also finds cybermen scary. It’s rather interesting with episode five that they all stopped talking to watch Barry Jackson’s opening performance as Drax. I’ve noticed this with other actors sans directors do this but considering how these three chatted about this and that, this felt more like they were observing how Jackson did his accent. With episode six, the discussion of acting as a means of escapism as being something not only for people to watch but also for the cast was also enlightening.

This second DVD is full of extras. From remembrances of the cast of this story to alternative scenes. There is also an examination of all the rogue Time Lords although no indication of where Romana fits into all of that. The footage showing how the Radiophonic Workshop creates the sounds for this story is especially interesting because they show a scene before and after the background noises are made. A sharp reminder how the cast work to the noises of the crew opening and shutting doors and silent ray guns. There’s also the couple minutes from one of the BBC in-house Christmas specials with Tom Baker and Mary Tamm celebrating with K-9 as mentioned in the second audio commentary. Added to all of this are five ‘Late Night Stories’ narrated by Tom Baker, a sorta scary ‘Jackanory’ if you like. Watching these, I couldn’t help wonder if Baker restrained himself from giving a Doctor-like grin.

Oddly, this is the first and only time that there has ever been a linked story in ‘Doctor Who’ until modern times. Saying that, the Tennant Who one kept its links hidden until then the last episode. Even in Matt Smith’s Who tenure, River Song’s story is less of a chain link compared to ‘The Key To Time’ so really making this one a one-off, still making it unique.
Although I’ve included all the individual covers here, it is really cheaper to buy as a boxset and you wouldn’t really want to watch the stories out of sequence anyway. Make sure you have a decent six weeks to run all the stories through and don’t forget several of the stories have double audio commentaries. Enjoy and relish.

GF Willmetts

Magazine > Book reviews

Just in | Library of book reviews

Add daily news updates to your own web site or blog - just cut and paste the code below...


This book has 51 votes in the sci-fi charts

The all-new SFcrowsnest is now running at This is now the archive for pre-2012 content. Nothing new is being posted here.

Magazine Articles

- Features

- Movie/TV Reviews

- Book Reviews

- News

- E-mail magazine

- Encyclopedia

- Other formats: Kindle, Nook, Sony Ebook, iPhone & iPod


- Top books

- Top movies/tv series


- SciFi @ FaceBook

- Steampunk @ FaceBook

- Us @ Google+


- Search site

Reader Tools

- RSS news feed

- Facebook page for SFcrowsnest

- Twitter page for SFcrowsnest

- Google toolbar for SFcrowsnest

Webmaster Tools

- Add our content feeds to your site