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Warner Home Video presents
Doctor Who: The Key To Time—The Complete Adventure (1979)

Doctor: I'll call you Romana.
Romana: I don't like Romana.
Doctor: Look, it's either Romana or Fred.
Romana: All right then...call me Fred.

- Tom Baker, Mary Tamm

Review By: Dan Lopez  
Published: December 23, 2002

Stars: Tom Baker, Mary Tamm, John Leeson, Peter Jeffery
Other Stars: Bruce Purchase, John Woodvine
Director: Pennant Roberts, Darrol Blake, Michael Hayes

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (extremely mild violence)
Run Time: 10h:30m:00s
Release Date: October 01, 2002
UPC: 794051169228
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Throughout the running-span of Doctor Who, the legendary British sci-fi series, there were occasions when the writers decided to make long-term storylines that lasted well beyond the usual four or five episode story. In fact, during Tom Baker's time as the endearing Doctor, there were three major multi-part stories: The Ark In Space Trilogy, The E-Space Trilogy, and one of the longest and most memorable, The Key To Time, which took place in the 1978-79 season when Baker had already made the role of The Doctor clearly his own. While some may disagree with me, I personally think that the Tom Baker years were some of the best, when the acting, writing, and overall show design were at their peak. The creative juices were really flowing, and the Key To Time story arc is classic in every way a Doctor Who storyline can be. The premise of Key To Time is that the Doctor is summoned by the White Guardian (one of the great, all-knowing powers behind the flow of time itself) to perform a special duty. The Doctor, being a Timelord himself, is asked to retrieve the 6 parts of the mysterious Key To Time from around the galaxy. It is never revealed exactly why a Guardian would place such an important task in the hands of a totally exiled and disowned Timelord, but indeed he does.

The Doctor would prefer to do something else, but he grudgingly takes on the assignment with his robotic dog, K-9 (obtained a few storylines back in The Invisible Enemy) at his side. He is given an official assistant from Gallifrey (the home planet of all Time Lords) named Romanadvoratrelundar (which the Doctor quickly shortens to just 'Romana'). She tends to think of herself as a superior Timelord in every way, but their clashing egos are eventually subdued and they begin to respect one another. Using a special tracking device fitted into the Doctor's spacecraft, the TARDIS, they head off to find the pieces of the key, assemble them, and prevent a supposed great time disturbance that's on the way in the future. Our journey begins with:

The Ribos Operation
Written by Robert Holmes

The Doctor: Look, I'm sure there must be plenty of other Time Lords who'd be delighted...
The White Guardian: I have chosen YOU, Doctor.
The Doctor: I was afraid you might say that. Ah! You want me to volunteer, is that it? And if I don't?
The White Guardian: Nothing.
The Doctor: You mean nothing'll happen to me?
The White Guardian: Nothing....ever.

After being contacted by the White Guardian, the Doctor and Romana find themselves traveling to the planet Ribos, the supposed location of the first segment of the Key To Time. When they arrive, they find a rather primitive planet on which the people have no knowledge of space travel, time travel, or anything else above medieval technology. So, the Doctor is curious why some of the locals seem to not be from the planet. After a bit of prodding, he discovers that an interstellar con-man is in the process of trying to "sell" the entire planet to another galactic empire, without the permission of Ribos' inhabitants. This battle over interplanetary mining rights could get very ugly and, of course, this puts a delay in the Doctor's quick plans to snatch the Key segment he so desperately needs. As a start to the whole Key To Time saga, this story moves a little slow at first, but gets more interesting as it goes. There's some good performances and clever humor at work here; the rapport between Tom Baker and Mary Tamm is quite good and stands out amongst all of the Doctor's companions over the years (although she would later be replaced with a different actress). While this story marks the first appearance of a Time Guardian, it is done with typically clever, Dr. Who flippancy by making him appear as an elderly man lounging in a wicker chair with a cool drink.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Daleks.

The Pirate Planet
Written by Douglas Adams

Guard: This is a forbidden object.
Romana: Why?
Guard: That is a forbidden question. You are a stranger?
Romana: Well, yes.
Guard: Strangers are forbidden.

The Doctor sets course for the next segment, but when the TARDIS is about to arrive at the planet with the piece, he encounters a radical time distortion and winds up almost damaging the TARDIS beyond repair. While investigating what has happened, the Doctor and Romana find a very strange planet where the people are kept relatively ignorant whilst waiting for periods of great prosperity in their society. This is not where they were supposed to land, but yet, the coordinates are right. The planet is controlled by a tyrannical pirate lord with a deadly, robotic parrot on his shoulder. The secrets hidden within this planet aren't given up easily, and in order to get the Key segment he needs, the Doctor has to acquaint himself with the people as well as this pirate lord. Complicating things is the presence of a group of telepathic warriors known as the Mentiads. Written by Douglas Adams (of Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy fame), this story obviously has certain undercurrents of sly humor, often in a self-satirical manner, not to mention the Doctor's clever use of Jelly Babies! It's a very good, well written episode that is rather memorable thanks to its bizarre characters and extremely deep plotline; easily one of the best in the Dr. Who lineage. It's worth noting that, at this time, Douglas Adams was nowhere near as famed as he eventually came to be, but in time, Adams would be one of the head story consultants for the show. Some credit Adams' involvement with the series as being partly responsible for Tom Baker's more humorous and loose portrayal of the Doctor, which became very pronounced by the time he left the show, but I would argue that started long before this storyline.

Rating: 4 our of 5 Daleks.

The Stones of Blood
Written by David Fisher

The Doctor: K-9?
K-9: Yes, Master?
The Doctor: Why don't you bark or something?
K-9: I am not programmed to bark, Master.

The Doctor is thrilled to learn that the third segment of the Key is on Earth, his favorite planet. The TARDIS lands near a mystical stone circle, somewhere in England. The circle is known locally as "The Nine Travelers," and the Doctor is lectured at length about its origins by a woman who has researched the circle for years. Unfortunately, he suspects something very odd is going on in the area, especially with the presence of a pseudo-Druidic cult that worships an ancient Celtic goddess of evil by performing sacrifices in the circle. It's not long before he, Romana, and K-9 are involved in a very dark adventure involving some very strange beings. This is one of my all-time favorite episodes, primarily because of the effective mood and creative way the story takes a radical change over the last 2 episodes. This is one of the best of the series, and features some really good supporting characters. It's also the 100th story in the series; something of an important anniversary. Every now and then, the series wanders into territory best classified as "Gothic horror," and The Stones of Blood qualifies as this to an extent, but cleverly introduces deep sci-fi once you get more into it. Also, keep on the look out for a funny little visual reference to the Ark In Space trilogy, from Tom Baker's first season as the Doctor.

The Androids of Tara
Written by David Fisher

"I shall have to go alone of course. It's funny, they always want you to go alone when you're walking into a trap. Have you noticed that?" - The Doctor

Tara is the planetary location the Doctor is next headed to, but he wants nothing to do with locating the next segment. He's tired of the whole adventure and wants some rest. So, Romana decides to play Taran and venture off by herself while the Doctor gets in some valuable fishing time. Along the way, she's mistaken for an android by one of the local Counts. Despite the seemingly medieval appearance of the planet, the noble class actually has access to some radical technology, and this evil Count Grendel suspects Romana to be a fake version of the kingdom's princess. Meanwhile, the Doctor is forced into repairing an android replica of the prince. It seems both of them have become deeply involved in a complex political struggle for the planet, and it's made finding the segment greatly difficult. Although I think this episode could have moved a little faster, it's certainly very well produced and features some great supporting performances, especially Peter Jeffrey as Count Grendel. It also has some great scenery and location usage, which is always one of the highlights of the series.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Daleks.

The Power of Kroll

Ranquin: Kroll is all wise, all-seeing...
The Doctor: ...all baloney!!

Another great favorite of mine, this episode sees the Doctor and Romana heading to a rather messy, swamp-covered planet for the next segment of the Key. Unfortunately, this environment means K-9 must stay in the TARDIS; there's no way he could get around in a marsh! While searching for the segment, the pair encounter some rather mean Earthlings from the Delta Magna colony (one of mankind's future Earth-like worlds) who have set up a special protein processing plant. At the same time, a group of superstitious natives, known as "Swampies" are plotting to destroy the Earthlings so they can retake their planet from what they perceive as a future invasion of more Earthlings. They make a deal with a gun-runner for weaponry, only to discover they've been double crossed. This puts both Romana and the Doctor in a very difficult position, especially when everyone thinks they have something to do with the arms dealing. The natives call forth Kroll, their god, to help save the day, but the Doctor suspects Kroll is a non-existent concept...or is he? Look for K-9's voice actor, John Leeson, to actually appear in physical form playing the role of Dugeen, the processing plant technician.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Daleks.

The Armageddon Factor

Written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin

The Doctor: Tell me Marshal, if you had this ultimate deterrent, what would you do?
Marshal: Use it of course...

Romana and the Doctor track the final Key segment to the twin planets of Atrios and Zeos. When they arrive, however, they discover that Atrios has been nearly obliterated by nuclear war, and no sign at all of the planet Zeos. Atrios is now under the command of the insanely devoted and warmongering Marshal, who insists on pursuing a destructive war with the forces of Zeos. As a result, the planet is in a dark time and the Doctor is worried that the constant escalation of the fighting will make finding the last segment virtually impossible. There is another force in play here, one that no one completely understands, but the Doctor suspects an agent of the Black Guardian is behind the entire nuclear war. Meanwhile, the Marshal is attempting behind-the-scenes moves to rid the planet of the Princess Astra, a woman of the people who has begun speaking out against war with the Zeons.

The story takes a few departures from previous Key Of Time components in a few ways, chiefly the dark and extremely grim tone, the lack of any outdoor locations or scenic usage, and being a full 45-minutes longer than any previous story in the Key saga. This final entry in the saga is an interesting and exciting change of pace from previous episodes. The unusual switches between light-hearted humor and serious, grim drama provide a very bizarre contrast. Perhaps the oddest and most unusual section of this story is when the Doctor runs across a fellow Time Lord, Drax, whose Cockney accent and silly nature are "duly noted," as K-9 would say. While I think the story sags a bit in the middle, the superbly paced final two episodes and the fun conclusion to The Key to Time are worth the trip.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Daleks.

The Key To Time is a wonderful example of just how strong and vibrant the Dr. Who series was, and even newcomers to the show can easily slip into the concept here and enjoy the storytelling. In fact, I often recommend The Key To Time episodes as a good starting point for people who have never seen the show. Doctor Who finished off the 1970s with quite an impressive bang, and only more greatness was to come.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The BBC archives of Doctor Who are often hit and miss, with some episodes existing in horrible condition, some in excellent condition, and others completely gone from the catalog. Thankfully, The Key to Time looks great all the way through. The transfer itself is well engineered so as not to add in pixelization or artifacts to the older video image, and the colors get a bit of a boost on DVD as well. The main source problems are a bit of grain in the film sequences (usually outdoor scenes) and some slight scanlines in the video image later on in The Armageddon Factor.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: While the discs have a 2-channel version of the show's original mono, it's still amazingly clear and crisp for a show of this age. The smallest details from whispered dialogue to the subtle incidental score are rendered with much care and precision. There's also a noticeable lack of hum or hiss in the quieter parts, which is again impressive for the age and type of masters.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 88 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Trivia Track with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
6 Feature/Episode commentaries by (Story 1) actors Tom Baker and Mary Tamm, (Story 2) actor Bruce Purchase and director Pennant Roberts, (Story 3) actor Mary Tamm, director Darrol Blake, (Story 4) actors Tom Baker, Mary Tamm, and director Michael Hayes, (Story 5) actors Tom Baker and
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
6 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Informational subtitle track
  2. Who's Who? Character guide
  3. Photo Galleries
Extras Review: The included supplements in this box set are quite impressive. They are all basically the same; each disc contains a subtitle trivia track and a commentary, and what a bunch of great commentaries they are. Actors Tom Baker and Mary Tamm (the Doctor and Romana, respectively) appear on 2 discs together, reuniting after almost 24 years to share some memories and laughs about their work on the show. Other voices, like producers, directors, and other actors, appear in the mix on various discs as well, but the charm of having the Doctor and a companion brought back together in this manner is quite exciting. The commentaries are never super-busy or filled with detail, but rather are much like watching the episode with these people at your side. They only occasionally talk, but when they do, they usually observe something funny or interesting about their work. Of course, they poke fun at some of the special effects and such, but they all agree on how well the show has withstood the test of time. An interesting treat is the appearance of voice actor John Leeson (the trusty voice of K-9) on The Power of Kroll track, commenting on the only episode he ever physically appeared in. Previous volumes in the series have had commentaries, but I believe this set features some of the best to date.

There is also an informational subtitle track that can be access to function as a sort of alternate commentary to the episode. The track features trivia and behind-the-scenes knowledge that helps flesh out your understanding of the episode. Filming dates for each scene are provides, as well as other details such as whose idea a certain scene was or what parts of dialogue were written by which actor, etc. There's a lot of interesting information here, as well as some humorous insights into mistakes and potential disasters that occurred in each storyline. Each disc also contains a "Who's Who" feature, which provides a short biography and filmography for each of the central actors in the episode. Photo galleries mix stills with on-set pictures and making-of snaps.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

One of those great moments in television history, The Key to Time saga is one of the highlights of Doctor Who's reign of the British airwaves. It is fun, adventurous, thinking sci-fi with a great sense of humor. This box set allows these stories to be enjoyed in a seamless, wonderful manner with great commentaries and supplemental information. Whether you're a die-hard Doctor Who fan or you just found out about the show 5 minutes ago, it's a great addition in the library of any lover of creative, imaginative storytelling.


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