|The Doctor oversees war on Atrios.|
My look at the Tom Baker era, as well as the Key To Time arc, ends in a suitably climactic way. This was the final six-part story, and it was given the dual role of presenting a set of conflicts in its own right and in ending the Key To Time arc after twenty or so weeks. This would, for the sake of my purposes, be the perfect time to have a colossal fuck-up. But, I am forever to be denied, and thus I can say that Season 16 is the first (and thus the only) season of Tom Baker's era where I love every story.
I will say that this story does lead us down the garden path quite a bit. It begins its life like the other five segments, setting out the warring twin planets of Atrios and Zeos and the arsey general who manipulates the situation in order to get rid of his troublesome pacifist royalty, the Princess Astra (Hi Lalla Ward!). The action shifts from the politics of interplanetary nuclear war to the real threat - the Shadow, an admittedly bland villain who acts as the hand of the Black Guardian, and goes out of his way to retrieve the first five pieces. He reveals rather late in the game that the sixth piece is Princess Astra herself. Trapped in his grasp, the two Time Lords rely on fellow renegade Time Lord Drax in order to escape, thereafter facing down a disguised Black Guardian and scattering the pieces throughout time again to prevent any being from holding as much power as it contains.
Scriptwise, there are very few beats of this story that don't feel necessary. It really is one of the most tightly written six-parters I've ever seen, the introduced worlds of Atrios and Zeos forming the vital backdrop for each of The Doctor and The Shadow's power plays. I adore the misdirection in the way the early serial is structured and that one or two episodes on Atrios allows the six parter more flaviour instead of just being a showdown between The Doctor, The Black Guardian and their respective allies. Further, the unfolding mystery surrounding the planet and its state of warfare actually served as a character profile of the Black Guardian, a semi-detailed model of his eventual plans.
|The Doctor ponders over the complete Key To Time.|
The final story of the Key To Time season and, indeed, of my Tom Baker runthrough, is an extraordinary one which, despite its humble trappings, manages to finish the season in fine form. It may appear strange on its own as the conclusion to five other stories and I don't think it quite works without them, but even so there's a level of skill in the way the script is written that makes it immensely rewatchable, from the oh-shit realisation of The Shadow's grand-plan to the laughs at the expense of the charming cockney Time Lord Drax. This was to be Anthony Read's last story as script-editor, to be replaced by Douglas Adams in the unfortunate Season 17, as well as the final story for the late Mary Tamm as the brilliant, brilliant Romana I. It seems fitting that I must now wave a fond farewell to Four's era. It's really been a blast.
NEXT WEEK: I write an essay-like thing about all seven years of Four's Era.