It's so tempting for me to go off on a ramble about the Tom Baker era. It's very long, and compared to the Doctors I'm used to there's a bloody lot of it. I have to keep this article contained, however, to the sixteenth season. Not difficult, of course, as Graham Williams' second and much more successful season as producer offers up a lot to talk about in the way that it basically innovated Doctor Who from the ground up. That's probably hyperbole, I'm sure - most of what I say is, so you should be used to that. What I mean by that is a bit more subtle - the idea that a Doctor Who story could effectively throw together humour and horror, the profound and the trivial, the political and the anarchistic. All of this season's stories manage to do that to some degree, and for six stories in a row I think that's fantastic.
|A typical Season 16 Tardis scene.|
Not that Romana I is perfect, mind you. She did come fourth on my "Five Favourite Companions" list, and that was only after seeing a single serial of hers. Mary Tamm was only in the role for a year, and it all boiled down to the common perception of Who companions as nothing more than Damsels In Distress. After Jo Grant in the early 70s, an attempt was made by several production teams to create female characters that avoided it - Sarah Jane was a strong feminist, Leela was a proud warrioress, and Romana was The Doctor's intellectual equal (or even superior at times.) The problem with all of them is that a few of the writers didn't really know how to write anything else to provide tension in the story, and so Romana especially ends up kidnapped and screaming on several occasions throughout the season, the most egregious being that cliffhanger in The Power of Kroll. This basically pissed off Mary Tamm to the point where she left the series, which is a damn shame as I loved her version of the character.
That is, thankfully, my only problem with the season in terms of characterisation. The season was also pretty awesome plot-wise too, with the Key To Time arc being rather wonderfully integrated into things from the outset. It provides a convenient motivation and drive in every story as the couple look for the segment, and yet manages to stay far enough away from things to present us with a brand new society every serial. The Stones of Blood apart, every single story provides us with an interesting alien society and all of the dilemmas that go with them, from Douglas Adams' incredibly literal Pirate Planet to Robert Holmes' squid-infested Delta III. Plus, the budget seems a bit better utilised than Season 15, as everything simply looks more dazzling - and I'm including the Swampies in that.
|The completed Key. And Tom Baker.|
The Key To Time arc is fantastic, simply fantastic. Like I think I said at the end of my Armegeddon Factor review (which I should remember because I only wrote it a few hours ago), this is the only Tom Baker season where I like every story without fail. That arrives due to a combination of a genius character dynamic between two very well-written characters, a central arc which gives each story independant motivation while still driving towards a satisfying endpoint, and basic good writing which allowed six independant tales to work their way out of a pre-existing narrative framework. The Key To Time isn't perfect - I'd never be so confident as to say that - but it is my favourite season in the big wide Tom Baker era.
Talking of that... I'll see you next Monday.