Forty-three years ago, on October 28th, 1978, the first episode of the 100th story of Doctor Who was broadcast in the UK.
The Stones of Blood, as the story was named, was a part of the season-long quest for the separate pieces of the Key to Time. The Doctor (played, in his fourth television incarnation, by Tom Baker) and his companions, Romana (Mary Tamm) and K-9 (voiced by John Leeson) traveled across time and space, searching for the pieces. The catch was that each piece was disguised as something that didn’t look like it would be a part of a key. So, the Doctor would have to fight space pirates, space androids, and even space prisoners before managing to figure out what each piece was disguised as.
The Stones of Blood was a four-part story. The first two parts find the Doctor and his companions on Earth, investigating a set of standing stones in Cornwall and fighting a group of modern-day druids. The second half of the story moves the action to a prison ship, where the Doctor pursues an intergalactic thief who has stolen one of the stones. In fact, the thief has stolen the most important of the stones because it’s actually a piece of the Key of Time.
The Stones of Blood is middle-of-the-road Doctor Who. It starts out strong. My favorite episodes of the original Doctor Who are almost always the ones that bring the Doctor back to the UK. The earthbound episodes usually have more humor and they don’t suffer from the handicap of having to create an alien world out of cardboard and papier-mâché. The use of the standing stones especially gives this episode an even more British feel than usual. Once the action moves to the prison ship, things get much less interesting. Tom Baker is an acquired taste for some but he’s always been one of my favorite Doctors and whenever I see any of the Key of Time episodes, I always think it’s unfortunate that Baker and Mary Tamm apparently didn’t enjoy working together. She’s been overshadowed by Lalla Ward’s interpretation of the character but Mary Tamm’s Romana was intriguing as well. It was always interesting to see the Doctor have to work with someone who took the rules of time and space seriously.
It may be hard to believe now but, when Doctor Who began in 1963, it’s doubtful anyone expected that it would be still going strong in 1978. Certainly, no one would have expected it to still be as popular as it is in 2021. Much like the Doctor, Doctor Who has proven to be indestructible.
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