The Doctor (Baker), Romana (Mary Tamm) and K9 end up on the planet Tara in their quest for the fourth part of the Key to Time, in this four-part story written by David Fisher and ran originally from 25 November to 16 December, 1978.
Now, when I saw this one originally, a long, long time ago, when I first discovered the Doctor on PBS, I had no idea that this was pretty much a beat for beat remake of the classic story of the Prisoner of Zenda. Knowing that now, made for a really enjoyable story, and it’s a wonder that the Doctor, at this point, wasn’t meta enough to make a comment on it, though there was one, that now, could possibly be, but it wasn’t quite as broad a wink as we would get now.
Arriving on Tara, the Doctor insists on taking a bit of a fishing break, while Romana goes off in search of the Key. She actually finds it fairly quickly, but falls, just as quickly, into the clutches of the villain of the piece, Count Grendel of Gracht (Peter Jeffrey), who has designs on the throne, and plans to get rid of Prince Reynart (Neville Jason).
In fact, while his plans are underway, the Doctor is picked up by the Prince and his men, and reveals the existence of an android copy of himself, and can the Doctor please fix it?
When Reynart is captured before his coronation, by having his wine drugged, the Doctor finishes the work on the android, and convinces the Prince’s people to use the android as a stand-in, because the only people who would know it wasn’t the real prince, now king, would be Grendel and his people, who can’t admit they know he’s an android, because then they would have to explain how they know, and the fact that they are in possession of the true prince would come out.
It also seems that Romana has a double on the planet, the Princess Strella, and Grendel plans to use one of them as his bride if he can claim the throne!
The story actually moves fairly rapidly over its four episodes, but that may in fact be because there is such a solid, action-packed story to build on. There are sword fights, this time with electronically charged rapiers, and the Doctor actually gets to prove his mettle with it by the climax of the tale.
This one ends up being a stand out story of the season for me, it’s wall-paced, conforms nicely to the original story, while making it a unique Doctor Who experience, and the Doctor himself seems to be having a great time, as this one is actually full of delightful quips and asides. Things I love in a Doctor Who tale.
So, with four parts of the Key to Time in hand, our heroes are now ready for their next adventure… as the confront The Power of Kroll!!!