Thursday, 3 April 2014

Story 100 - The Stones of Blood

In which the Doctor and Romana head for Earth in search of the third segment of the Key to Time. The locator brings the TARDIS to the tranquil Cornish countryside - Boscombe Moor, not far from the Nine Travellers stone circle. The wand seems to point to the circle, but the signal is slightly confused. The Doctor and Romana meet the renowned archaeologist Professor Amelia Rumford and her friend Vivien Fay, who are surveying the neolithic monument. The Professor informs them that the circle gets its name from a curious legend - that some of the stones have apparently moved position over the centuries. Whilst Romana goes back to the ship to don more practical apparel, the Doctor decides to pay a visit to Hugo De Vries - the local squire. At his home, he learns that the squire is a follower of Druidic practices. In particular, his group worship the ancient Celtic goddess Cailleach. De Vries drugs the Doctor and he wakes to find himself back at the stone circle, about to be sacrificed. Romana meanwhile has been lured away by what she believes to be the Doctor. Professor Rumford returns to the circle and her approach scares off De Vries and his followers. She frees the Doctor and he calls upon K9 to track Romana. She has been pushed off a cliff by the Doctor-apparition. She is rescued, and the Doctor suggests that someone has found a way to make use of the third Key segment - enabling them to alter perception and trick Romana.

They go to De Vries' home and find him dead. His body is horribly crushed and yet there is little blood. The Doctor had earlier noticed some portraits were missing from the hall. These are found in the cellars. All show women who have been quite powerful in the neighbourhood over the centuries, owning the land on which the stone circle lies. All bear a remarkable resemblance to Vivien Fay... They are attacked by Ogri - silicon-based lifeforms resembling monoliths, from the planet Ogros. These have been hidden within the circle for millennia - the source of the local legend. They feed on blood. K9 is badly damaged. The Doctor topples one of the Ogri into the sea.
The Doctor realises that Fay is an alien who has been living here since the circle was erected, probably to mark the location of her spaceship which is stranded in Hyperspace above the monument - hidden in another dimension of Space. Fay has been disguising herself as the Cailleach. She captures Romana and transports her to the spacecraft. K9 is repaired and the Doctor builds a device that will enable him to follow his companion. K9 must protect the Professor, who is shown how to bring him back again.

The spaceship proves to be a prison vessel. Romana is released, but the Doctor inadvertently frees a pair of Megara from one of the cells. These are bio-mechanical justice machines. They had been due to try the criminal Cessair of Diplos for a multitude of crimes - including theft of the Great Seal of Diplos. The Doctor realises that Fay is Cessair. She escaped to Earth when the craft became stranded here. Breaking the seal on their cell turns out to be a crime which the Megara must prosecute - and the Doctor finds himself on trial for his life. Megara are blindly logical and act as judge, jury and executioner. The Doctor calls Cessair as a witness in the hope that the machine creatures will recognise her as their prisoner. He fails, but when the Megara try to kill him, he pulls her into harm's way. She is knocked out. The Megara check that she is okay and in doing so discover her true identity. All travel down to the stone circle. The Ogri will be returned to their own planet. Cessair is sentenced to be transformed into a megalith. The Doctor snatches her pendant first - having realised it is the disguised third segment. Before the Megara can take action against him, he uses it to despatch them back to their own world. Back in the TARDIS, the Key is now semi-complete.

This four part adventure was written by David Fisher, and was broadcast between 28th October and 18th November, 1978. It is the 100th Doctor Who story, and the programme's 15th anniversary fell a few days after the fourth episode screened.
These significant landmarks were to be celebrated in a small opening scene where the Doctor was celebrating his own birthday. Producer Graham Williams vetoed the scene as too self-indulgent and a rather dull recap scene was devised in a plain black room - to remind viewers of the season story arc so far.
Neolithic monuments - especially circles - have fascinated writers for centuries. Many authors before and since have looked to supernatural or science fiction angles to them. For instance, the final Quatermass story had them being used by an ancient unseen alien intelligence as collection points to feed off humanity. E F Benson tells a tale of a cottage built at the heart of a huge circle which is visited by the ghosts of long dead Druids, out for further bloody sacrifices. Vivien's surname - Fay - hints at Arthurian legend. The latter part of the story, which jars somewhat with what has gone before, takes its influences from courtroom drama.

A very small cast - three of the four main guest artists being women. Cessair is played by Susan Engel. She is polite and friendly, though a little cold, as Vivien Fay. Once transformed into Cessair, her evil is restrained and not too over the top (compare with Lady Adrasta in the following season). The highlight of the story is Beatrix Lehmann as the feisty and formidable Professor Rumford, who makes for a great double act with K9. She is a joy to watch. There's not enough of her in the latter section of the story. Elaine Ives-Cameron is De Vries' fellow Druid, Martha. He is played by Nicholas McArdle. The latter pair don't make it past Part Two.
Episode endings are:

  1. Romana is lured towards the cliff by what she thinks is the Doctor. She is pushed over the edge...
  2. Vivien Fay, in Cailleach costume, pushes Romana into the centre of the circle. She operates a strange electronic lance device, and Romana vanishes...
  3. Fay - now transformed into Cessair - appears on the spaceship with two Ogri. She tells the Doctor and Romana that they are trapped here in hyperspace forever...
  4. The Doctor tries to fit the three Key segments together but doesn't quite have the knack - so Romana does it for him.

Overall, a very enjoyable story. I prefer the stuff on Earth with the stone circle - and Amelia Rumford. One of my very favourite guest characters. Just what is her relationship with / to Vivien Fay...? There is much speculation in certain quarters.
It loses its way a bit with the move to the spaceship and the legal nonsense. The Megara make for a very cheap monster, being nothing but CSO'd flashing lights.
Things you might like to know:

  • We see a dead Wirrn in the spaceship, and Romana is locked up with a Kraal android. One that looks as if it is wearing lipstick. Other creatures, including a Sea Devil, were also to have appeared.
  • The location filming took place at the Rollright Stones near Long Compton, on the Oxfordshire / Warwickshire border. The complex actually comprises three different monuments - the King's Men, the King Stone, and the Whispering Knights. It is the King's Men which features prominently in this story - supplemented by a few light-weight BBC prop stones.
  • People coming to watch the filming were bemused to see Tom Baker and K9 doing the crossword together. John Leeson was based in an OB van some distance away, but his voice was piped to the location. Tom would sit by the K9 prop and to anyone watching it looked as though it was really talking to him.
  • Season 16 is one of only a handful of seasons where Earth is visited only once.
  • This is the only story of the Key to Time arc where there does appear to be an agent of the Black Guardian at work, before we get to the concluding story. The Graff Vynda-K, The Captain, Grendel and Thawn all appear to have no inkling of the bigger picture. Cessair seems to be able to harness the third segment's powers.
  • The sequence where a couple of campers (played by James Murray and Shirin Taylor) are killed by the Ogri was a late addition - partly for timing purposes but also to make the threat of the Ogri more explicit.
  • The house used as location for De Vries' house was actually a college. Students stole the TARDIS prop for a joke.
  • The recent audio-book of the novelisation - by David Fisher - makes use of a totally revised version, rather than that published in 1980 in paperback.
  • Gerald Cross, who voiced one of the Megara, also provided (uncredited) the voice for the White Guardian in Part One.
  • Apparently Honor Blackman was approached about playing Fay / Cessair - but turned it down as Beatrix Lehmann had all the best lines.
  • Lehmann knew that John Leeson was a keen photographer (he took photos of actors for the Spotlight directory as a side-line) and gifted him a rare vintage camera.
  • The Druids were wiped out by the Romans in the First Century AD (or CE as some have it these days). Their last stronghold was in the island of Anglesey in North Wales. Those bearded muppets who turn up at Stonehenge every June 21st represent nothing more than some 17th Century neo-pagan revival. That or a range of mental health issues. New Age nonsense I calls it. Claim to be in tune with the natural forces of the Earth. Ever seen the amount of rubbish they leave behind after their gatherings? (God, you hit 50 and suddenly you're an old reactionary...).

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