Ooh, it’s the hundredth story! And therefore the hundredth entry on this blog. I might commission a special cake and then never use it.
And this one really felt like two stories in one. We start off back on contemporary Earth for the first time in ages, and back on OB video tape instead of film, both of which are a pleasant change. The countryside setting, eccentric posh people and wildly varying pace (you can’t beat a sausage sandwich break), all contributed to a Pertwee-esque air, which was reassuringly nostalgic.
Then all of a sudden The Doctor packs his bags and heads into hyperspace. The complete change of setting immediately struck me as a smart move – I was very much enjoying the serial, but another two episodes of dimly-lit gothic cult business might have tipped the balance from nostalgic to repetitive. There were tonnes of possibilities as to what a trip into an impossible alternate reality could entail, and the two disembodied justice computers arguing with each other about The Doctor’s fate is an even more Douglas Adamsy idea than anything that happened last time.
But I wasn’t expecting the possibilities to end with them, and for the entire fourth episode to be a comedic courtroom routine. I mean, it was fine, but it was a bit anti-climactic- the stakes were way higher back on Earth in our own dimension, especially after the particularly grim scene that introduces those two campers for no other reason than to kill them horrifically. It was also weird that Romana was sent on a wild goose chase to find evidence, but by the time she’d got back The Doctor had sorted it all anyway. The show seems to be struggling to portray suitably epic and satisfying denouements at the moment.
But on the plus side, both halves of the story heavily featured an absolutely fantastic guest star in Beatrix Lehmann as Professor Rumford. Such an energetic and endearing performance, with writing that plays against audience expectations to provide a joyously unpredictable character. As well as being funny throughout, she was moving and powerful in Part Three when she learned the truth about Miss Fay and the stones, and her world basically fell apart around her. It was clear from the start that one of those two was going to end up being the baddie, and I’m glad that lovely old Emilia was the one to remain a goodie.
It was also a strong story for K-9 – again, as well as being the usual light relief, he was also seen to be either weakened or in actual mortal peril several times, and you really care about him. I do like Romana a lot, but at the moment I sort of see him as the “main” companion, especially when this serial opened with a reminder that she’s just the hired help at this stage. The scenes where K-9 and The Doctor go off to explore showed him in the same light as any humanoid companion, and they make just as good a double-act as most.
So the final part may have been a particularly odd one, but on the strength of the other three, I found myself coincidentally reaching the same rating as I did for the first two stories of the season. At the half way point, The Key To Time is nothing if not consistent.