Friday, January 31, 2014

The Androids of Tara - "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?"

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Androids of Tara - Details

Season 16, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #101) | Previous - Next | Index

He saw Capablanca make that move ... 
Even if (like me, I have to admit) you've not read The Prisoner of Zenda and maybe watched only bits and pieces of any adaptation, the elements of this one will be abundantly familiar thanks to Zenda's influence on pop culture over the centuries. And, if the story is based on the original Ruritanian adventure, then the weaponry owes a debt Star Wars. They're zap sabers here though instead of light sabers, regular looking swords with a bit of a spark in 'em, and crossbow blasters instead of ray guns -- but still, the Jedi sniff of disdain is echoed when we're told the nobility use the swords and the blasters are for peasants.

During the RTD and Moffat years, I've wished time and again they would scale it back when it comes to the stakes of the adventures. It doesn't always have to be about saving reality itself. If we are engaged with the characters, the plot is tight enough, and it looks and sounds like a professional effort, we're all going to be fine with a bit of swordplay over whether the Good Prince or the Bad Count ascends to the throne of some backwater planet ruled by a bunch of toffs who rely on the wits and skill of their android-making underclass. And this looks (with a one notable exception, which we get out of the way early on) good and hits enough of the beats to leave me with only minor quibbles over the usual niggling dissatisfiers: retrograde gender politics and less than diverse (that is to say, all white) casting.

The notable exception.
Image via Thiel-a-Vision.
Not holding the hiring practices of the show against the actors, we find the supporting cast is a strength in this story. Grendel and Raynart/Android Raynart are well-played, holding their own with Baker and Tamm. Tom Baker is in top form here, delivering lines like, "Do you mind not standing on my chest? My hat's on fire. I don't think we've met before?" so assuredly you really can't imagine anything else being apropos. I'm not sure whether it's more fun to watch him play chess with K-9 or fence with Grendel, but whether he's fending off K-9's ripostes over the board or Grendel's with the sword, he's never anything but charismatic.

Again, you kind of have to remind yourself this is a Key to Time story, but better that than the needless exposition we sat through last time. On to "The Power of Kroll" ... well, it's been a while since I watched a Pertwee, maybe some Silurians first ...

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