Wednesday, 31 August 2016
The Androids of Tara written by David Fisher and directed by Michael Hayes
This story in a nutshell: Romance, swashbuckling, dopplegangers and a castle siege...Doctor Who as a seductive sunny fantasy!
Aristocratic Adventurer: I've always been of the school that Mary Tamm is a decent enough actress but wasn't at all challenged by Doctor Who. At times she steps up and commands but often she walks through her stories as though an unpleasant smell is following her. But I have to give Mary Tamm her due, she rocks in this story. The script allows Romana to be ballsy and helpless and for the first episode and not for the first time she takes on the Doctor's role, wandering off, facing the monster, finding the key, seeking out the bad guy... of course she's soon twisting her ankle and laid out on an operating table about to have her neck cut off. You can stray too far from the traditional companion role in Doctor Who but I appreciate the effort, for 20 minutes. Instead of leaving her in a pathetic and useless position, Fisher makes her character pivotal to the story. You might need to rub your eyes by the end of the story, having to identify Romana, Princess Strella and the android copy of Romana. We've seen the doppleganger trope play out countless times in Doctor Who but this is the wittiest example by miles and Tamm makes each one distinguishable and still imbues her Romana with some pluck and resourcefulness. I love the moment where she escapes the castle on the horse she simply doesn't know how to ride. It's the sort of charming moment that Lalla Ward enjoyed a handful of in each story but Tamm was shortchanged of. The first Romana is something of an aristocrat and whilst Tamm in real life couldn't have been further from that it is still a characteristic she plays extremely well, so Strella is a convincing character in her own right. When Tamm is clearly enjoying herself she delivers terrfic goods and by all accounts she thoroughly enjoyed this story. She's as drunk on the atmosphere of the piece as much as the rest of us.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'Next time I will not be so lenient!'
The Bad: It is one of those seventies stories where there is so much location work that the cut back to video in the studios is very jarring. The outside filming looks so expensive that the studio work cannot help but look cheaper by comparison.
Result: Watching this story is like enjoying a glorious afternoon with friends blissed out on wine and basking in golden sunshine. I always finish it with a smile on my face. If you're in Doctor Who for space battles or UNIT adventures then this might not be your glass of vino but if you're willing to go on a fairytale adventure in outer space then this just about the zenith of what Graeme Williams tried to achieve with Doctor Who. It's unique in of itself and deliberately small scale, highlighting atmosphere, gentle plot twists and memorable characters. It uses Romana better than any other story to feature Mary Tamm and features the Doctor at the top of his game; swashbuckler, king-maker and master of witty repartee. The episodes revel in the escape-capture-escape-capture routine, trying to make them more and more elaborate and entertaining and the plot is explained throughout most charismatically by the insanly lovable Grendel. It even has time for a five minute sword-fight and a spot of fishing. We Doctor Who fans are a right fickle bunch, we claim we always want something new interesting and yet when it is delivered we moan and groan about how what we are getting now isn't as good as how things used to be. There are a selective bunch who object to Doctor Who pushing its boundaries too far, who like to claim that a show that features Marco Polo, The Daleks' Masterplan, The Ice Warriors, The Mind Robber, Inferno, Carnival of Monsters, The Sontaran Experiment, The Invisible Enemy, The Pirate Planet, Black Orchid, Enlightenment, Revelation of the Daleks and Ghost Light a formula. I think this is might be why The Androids of Tara has only received a mild reception in the past, recent years have shown some moderate praise in its direction but on the whole fandom seems to want to forget about it. Why? Because it dares to be different. There is no other Doctor Who story like this one and for me that is its ultimate strength, it encapsulates the show during a creative peak, trying out outrageous new ideas to see if they could fit into the shows scope. I wouldn't really try and pin a genre on this story... is it a SF story, a romance, an action piece or a comedy? All of these and more and with more than a twist of The Prisoner of Zenda, it's a touch literary too. It dares to be uncynical and magical and I really love it for that: 9/10