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24 September 2014

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The Androids of Tara

Production Code: 5D

First Transmitted

1 - 25/11/1978 18:20

2 - 02/12/1978 18:20

3 - 09/12/1978 18:20

4 - 16/12/1978 18:20


The tracer brings the TARDIS to the planet Tara. Romana finds the fourth segment disguised as part of a statue but is then taken prisoner by Count Grendel of Gracht.

Grendel is plotting to seize the Taran throne from the rightful heir, Prince Reynart, and has mistaken Romana for an android duplicate of the Prince's betrothed, Princess Strella, to whom she bears a remarkable resemblance. The Doctor is meanwhile captured by Prince Reynart's men Zadek and Farrah and taken to his hunting lodge, where he is forced to repair an android double of the Prince to act as a decoy for potential assassins.

Grendel then kidnaps the Prince, and the Doctor has to modify the android so that it can be crowned in his place. Grendel commissions an android duplicate of Romana equipped with a lethal ray and contrives for the Doctor to meet her. K9, recognising this as a trap, saves his master.

Romana has meanwhile escaped from Castle Gracht, and she rescues the Doctor from Grendel's men. Grendel destroys the Reynart android and recaptures Romana.

The Doctor gains access to the Castle by rowing across the moat and, having first found and pocketed the fourth segment, manages to thwart Grendel's plans to seize power. The Prince's men then attack the Castle in force.

Romana saves Strella from being killed and the Doctor engages Grendel in a swordfight. Grendel, realising that he has been defeated, dives into the moat and escapes to fight another day.

Episode Endings

The Doctor, Reynart, Zadek and Farrah drink a toast to the King, but the wine has been drugged and they all start to fall unconscious. The Doctor manages to make his way to the door before collapsing. The door opens to reveal Grendel standing outside.

The presiding Archimandrite invests the android Reynart as the new King of Tara. The assembled courtiers rise and the android begins a speech of accession, slurring its words a little. Suddenly Princess Strella arrives, kneels before the android and offers her loyalty to the King. With a shout of 'No!', the Doctor crosses to Strella and strikes at her head with the King's staff. The courtiers gasp in horror.

Grendel throws a spear into the android Prince and escapes from Reynart's hunting lodge on horseback, recapturing Romana on the way.

K9 has been left stranded in a boat in the middle of the Castle moat, calling out plaintively to the Doctor. The Doctor looks down on him from the battlements and laughs.


The Prisoner of Zenda.

Star Wars (hi-tech swords and crossbows).

Julius Caesar and Richard III (Grendel's ambition).

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "Would you mind not standing on my chest, my hat's on fire?"

The Doctor : "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 : [To K9, cutting a door] "A hamster with a blunt penknife could do it quicker!"

Grendel : [His parting riposte as he leaps from the castle battlements] "Next time, I shall not be so lenient!"

Double Entendre

Grendel : "You can keep your head, my dear."

Grendel : "Well, Doctor, are you coming out?"


K9 is programmed with all world chess championships since 1866. The TARDIS has a junk cupboard in the console room that contains a gas mask and conjuror's flowers. Romana doesn't know what a horse is (and looks for the starter). The TARDIS has an alphabetical wardrobe, including the latest Taran fashions (although the frock that Romana choses is different from everything else on the planet!).

[Tara is obviously an ex-colony of Earth, since, even though they've given their zodiac 16 houses, a lot of the signs are the same.] Tara is also the name of the capital where coronations are held. The natives are used to the concept of other inhabited worlds, and have horses and dogs. They developed androids to replace the nine tenths of the population who were wiped out in a plague 200 years previously.

A monarchy exists, justified by the Archimandrite. Numerous small powers support the throne feudally. Peasants are looked down on, but are the only android creators. Hunting, particularly of native mammalian beasts, is a sport. Swords are electrified, and crossbows fire energy bolts. Some horses may be androids

This segment of the Key To Time is disguised as a stone dragon, part of a Gracht family statue. It insinuates itself into local legend (cf. The Power of Kroll). The fortunes of Grendel's family are tied up with the statue.


Location: Tara, [2370s?: Romana says that the TARDIS has travelled 400 years in time].


Untelevised Adventures: The Doctor saw Capablanca play Alekhine at chess in 1927 [in Buenos Aires]. He also met Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler.


Mary Tamm plays both Romana and Strella, as well as android doubles of each.

For this story only, the opening title credits are in the order: title, part, writer (rather than the standard: title, writer, part).

There is some excellent location footage shot at Leeds Castle in Kent - although the glass-painted additions to the Castle, intended to give it a more fairytale quality, never look anything other than false.


The Taran Beast.

Romana's restraints look pretty easy to escape from.

Reynart's throne is Tim's chair from The Goodies.

And why does he have such a tiny number of troops at his disposal?

In episode three when the Doctor enters the Pavillion of the Summer Winds and shuts the door, it slowly swings open again. A hand then appears from behind the set wall and pulls the door closed.

Fashion Victim

The Archimandrite's hat has to be seen to be believed.

There's a British general at the coronation, and Lamia's boots are very 70s.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Tom Baker

Romana - Mary Tamm

Voice of K9 - John Leeson

Archimandrite - Cyril Shaps

Count Grendel - Peter Jeffrey

Farrah - Paul Lavers

Kurster - Martin Matthews

Lamia - Lois Baxter

Prince Reynart - Neville Jason

Till - Declan Mulholland

Zadek - Simon Lack


Director - Michael Hayes

Assistant Floor Manager - Rosemary Webb

Costumes - Doreen James

Designer - Valerie Warrender

Fight Arranger - Terry Walsh

Film Cameraman - John Walker

Film Editor - David Yates

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Jill Hagger

Producer - Graham Williams

Production Assistant - Teresa-Mary Winders

Production Unit Manager - John Nathan-Turner

Script Editor - Anthony Read

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Brian Clemett

Studio Sound - Richard Chubb

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Len Hutton

Writer - David Fisher

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

The Bottom Line: 'K9, you old sea dog!' Wonderful, Doctor Who as heroic romance, with plenty of swashbuckling, wit and colour. The final duel, particularly, is blissful, Baker, at the height of his powers, suggesting that the Doctor's foolishness is a modest cover for his real abilities. One of the great things about this story is the small stakes: who will be king of one planet. Only one person (Lamia) is killed, and that's an accident, allowing Count Grendel, a superb villain, to get a suitably sequel-hunting exit. Summery and charming.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Following hot on the heels of The Stones of Blood comes a second story from David Fisher. The Androids of Tara is very obviously inspired by a specific literary source, namely Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda (in fact, its early working title was The Androids of Zenda), and its heavy reliance on that one particular romantic novel of 1894 may perhaps account for the fact that is rather less engaging than the other stories of the season, coming over more as a gentle run-around than as anything particularly significant.

Owen Tudor, writing in TARDIS Volume 4 Number 1, dated February 1979, was less than enamoured: 'The script was too unspeakably plagiaristic for the work of the production team to shine through. From the peak of science-fiction-cum-fantasy in The Stones of Blood, David Fisher plumbed the depths of hack romantic swashbuckling in The Androids of Tara... Would it have made any difference [if] the crossbows had fired real bolts, if the swords had cut flesh rather than searing it? The androids, made so much of in the title, were little more than a way to create doubles. A certain Anthony Hope achieved the same effect with chance human doubles. The use of androids was perhaps the only difference between The Androids of Tara and The Prisoner of Zenda.'

The basic idea that the planet Tara has a culture where the 'peasants' know about science and androids while the nobles spend their time developing electric swords and hunting wood beasts is a good one, but sadly gets lost somewhere along the way. What we are left with is a bit of swashbuckling, mostly involving a contingent of guards who cannot aim true to save their lives, and a lot of mucking about in woods and underground waterways (although this does allow the Doctor one of the best lines, involving hamsters and penknives).

The quality of a story's cliffhangers often gives a good indication of how dramatic it is, and The Androids of Tara's are all totally lacking in tension. It doesn't help matters, either, that virtually all the characters are bland and forgettable. The real Prince Reynart and Princess Strella are barely distinguishable from their emotionless android duplicates, so lacklustre are the performances by Neville Jason and Mary Tamm in these roles, and the proceedings are only marginally enlivened by the occasional appearances of Grendel's hunchbacked servant Till - a nice cameo from Declan Mulholland.

The one saving grace in this area of the production is Peter Jeffrey as Count Grendel, as Mike Ashcroft pointed out in Oracle Volume 2 Number 6, dated March 1979: 'While The Androids of Tara did have a lot going for it, it seemed to have a ridiculously one-dimensional plot and relied much too heavily on the one forceful character to emerge - Count Grendel of Gracht, played in all his splendour by that notorious TV bad guy, Peter Jeffrey. Grendel was the pivot... - if he failed to come across, then the story would fail. Luckily, he dredged some respect from the bottom of the barrel and we didn't quite have a disaster on our hands.'

Some fan commentators, it must be acknowledged, have taken a much more positive view of the story, a few even going so far as to try to characterise it as a sort of camp classic. Tim Munro, writing in Star Begotten Volume 5 Number 2, dated spring/summer 1992, argued that it worked despite its limitations: 'Nobody is ever going to claim that The Androids of Tara has hidden depths. It isn't multilayered or meaningful, and it isn't full of socio-political commentary. It has no message... and couldn't support a ream of in-depth textual analyses as the series' classics do. But it is well-crafted television, and above all terrifyingly enjoyable entertainment. Being so different [from] the show's norm, it comes as an invigorating breath of fresh air... All the SF trappings - the androids, the static-charged swords, etc - are purely superficial, there to reassure regular viewers that they are still watching the same [series]. This is Doctor Who as fairytale, with all the genre's trademarks - handsome princes, beautiful princesses, black-hearted Counts, and malevolent hunchbacks...'

The Androids of Tara scarcely deserves such fulsome praise. It is not exactly a bad story, just a bland one.

< The Stones of BloodFourth DoctorThe Power of Kroll >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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