Doctor Who: The Stones of Blood
The Key to Time, Part III
(4 episodes, s16e09-e12, 1978)
It’s a time of milestones: The 100th adventure, the dawn of the franchise’s 15th anniversary, and the 100th (regular) Timestamp.
This adventure begins as the Doctor and Romana assemble the first two pieces of the Key to Time, with Romana one-upping the Doctor repeatedly. The Doctor determines that the next stop is Earth, where a druidic sect is pouring blood on the stones of a cromlech. As he pilots the TARDIS to their destination, they duo receive a warning to beware of the Black Guardian. This prompts the Doctor to finally explain the mission to Romana.
The TARDIS lands and the Time Lords set out, soon coming across the stone circle and an archaeologist named Amelia Rumford. The professor introduces the stone circle as the Nine Travellers, and explains the blood as it relates to deVries and his sect, worshippers of Cailleach. The Doctor heads out to meet deVries while Romana (and her impractical shoes) keeps an eye on Professor Rumford and her assistant, Vivien Fay.
Mr. deVries and his maid, Martha, are in the middle of an incantation when the Doctor arrives, and deVries entertains the Doctor as he stalls for time. During the tour, the Doctor notes that the portraits of the previous owners have been taken down. That may be important later. Meanwhile, the survey team wrap up their work and retire to their cottage for tea. Crows have been circling the site all afternoon, but as the team leaves, the birds depart. DeVries explains to the Doctor that the crows and ravens are the eyes of the Cailleach, and as a figure appears in a rather ridiculous bird costume to draw the Doctor’s attention, deVries knocks him out. Back at the stone circle, Romana hears the Doctor’s voice calling, and she investigates in her bare feet. She approaches a cliff and is startled by something unseen, toppling backward off the edge toward the ocean below.
The Doctor awakens on a sacrificial altar inside the Nine Travellers, but as the professor approaches on a bicycle, the druids scatter. Rumford had returned to offer Romana a flask of tea, and together (with the help of K9’s nose) they save Romana from her state as a literal cliffhanger. Romana claims that the Doctor pushed her over the edge, but after K9 verifies the Doctor’s identity, Romana determines that it must be the third Segment’s power at play. After a brief respite in the TARDIS, they return to the cromlech and continue tracking the Segment. Between the camera angles and the acting, it’s no longer a mystery that Vivien has something to do with the use of the Segment’s power.
As Romana accompanies the women to the cottage, the Doctor and K9 visit deVries. Just before they arrive, deVries and Martha are crushed by giant sentient stones. The stone returns to attack the Doctor and is repelled by K9, however the pup is critically damaged. At the cottage, Romana reviews the professor’s notes, noting that the owners of Boscombe Hall, the headquarters of the druids and the site of the Convent of the Little Sisters of Saint Gudula, have all been women. Romana and Rumford head to the Hall to investigate further where they find the Doctor working on K9. Romana takes K9 back to the TARDIS to rebuild him while the Doctor pursues the lead that the stone creature feeds on blood.
The next few minutes are a rapid series of back and forths. At the stone circle, a woman in the crow costume summons another stone creature with a bowl of blood. At the Hall, the Doctor puts his investigative skills to use and discovers a priest hole. Inside, he discovers the portraits of the Hall’s previous owners: They all share the likeness of Vivien Fay. At the TARDIS, Romana starts the process of restoring K9, but as she leaves she notes a raven and a crow watching her. Vivien intercepts her at the stone circle and operates a scepter, causing Romana to disappear.
The Doctor and Rumford are chased out of the Hall by one of the stone creatures. They lead it to Romana’s cliff and the Doctor plays matador, tricking the beast into a late night swim where it sinks to its death. The pair meet up with Vivien at the stone circle where she offers Romana’s safety if he leaves her alone. She then vanishes in the same manner as Romana, telling the Doctor to count the stones. He notes the missing stones and links their sentience to the Ogri, a race from Ogros in the Tau Ceti system.
The Doctor (and a fully recovered K9) determine that Romana and Vivien are hiding in hyperspace, so the Time Lord builds a device to jump into hyperspace. While he is away, Rumford and K9 defend the device against two attacking Ogri. The Doctor materializes on a spaceship, a prison vessel of some sort, and frees Romana. The ship is physically hovering just over the Nine Travellers, but cannot be seen because it is in an additional dimension to our own. The Time Lords search the ship and discover two sparkling globes called the Megara. They are justice machines who act as judge, jury, and executioner when the law is violated. The Doctor and Romana sneak away as the Megara deliberate.
As K9’s power packs expire, his force field fails, but the Ogri retreat to recharge. They quickly come across two unfortunate campers who are consumed tout de suite. Professor Rumford reactivates the machine on schedule, but the gateway summons a silver-colored Vivien instead of the Time Lords. She destroys the machine, then returns to the ship with the two Ogri to break the news to the Doctor and Romana. Vivien sics the Ogri on the Time Lords, but the Megara interrupt to dispense justice. Since they have deliberated in his absence, he petitions for an appeal and is granted a two hour reprieve to state his case. He calls Romana and Vivien to the witness stand, constructing his defense that they only released the Megara in concern for their welfare.
Romana continues to search the ship while Vivien is testifying – the Megara kill one of the Ogri after Vivien tries to summon them to her defense, and the Doctor petitions for her to be attached to the truth assessor, a Megara lie detector – and both she and the remaining Ogri are teleported back to the stone circle thanks to Rumford’s repair of the hyperspace device. They escape, and eventually discover a potential weakness in Vivien. They run from the Ogri, and Romana and the Ogri return to the ship.
As the Doctor continues his trial, he uncovers that Vivien is the Cessair of Diplos, a criminal wanted by the Megara for murder and misappropriation of the Great Seal of Diplos. The Megara are not convinced and pass sentence on the Doctor, however when they attempt to execute him, he pulls Vivien into the beam with him. The beam is short-circuited, and the Megara are convinced to scan Vivien to learn the truth. When all is said and done, the Ogri is returned home, Vivien is imprisoned in a stone at the cromlech for fifteen hundred years, and the Great Seal of Diplos – the third Segment to the Key of Time – is taken by the Time Lords. As the Megara turn their attention to the Doctor’s sentence, he uses the Seal to send them back to hyperspace.
With their epic quest halfway completed, the Doctor and Romana leave in the TARDIS and continue to their next stop.
This story was a fun one overall with some incredible chemistry between Tom Baker’s Doctor and Beatrix Lehmann’s Amelia Rumford. It also showcased a costuming choice for Vivien’s Cessair of Diplos role that would have been right at home on Star Trek. Her somewhat risqué (for this franchise so far, at any rate) low-cut silver-gray gown called back to William Ware Theiss and his famous theory of titillation.
This serial wasn’t perfect by any stretch: The “Time Lord on trial” angle of the story was a bit rough, and while it worked out in the end, it felt kind of wedged in between the more supernatural elements of the plot. The start of the second episode was also a bit jarring since it was the only one not to contain the standard “last week on Doctor Who” cliffhanger-refresher segment.
One final note is another Star Trek link: Tau Ceti appears to be a galactic crossroads in both franchises. In Doctor Who, it is home to Diplos, Ogros, and Zygor. On a larger scale, Star Trek references the star system on the order of ten times in over fifty years, including as the home of the Traveler and the Kobayashi Maru. These franchises aren’t unique in this regard, since Tau Ceti is a staple of modern science fiction.
It only makes sense, almost as a rite of passage, that this franchise would take advantage of the second closest main sequence star to our own.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.
7 thoughts on “Timestamp #100: The Stones of Blood”
I always felt that this one was kind of the weak link in the Key to Time season, so I’m glad that you liked it so much. Amelia is a really cool character, but I find the witches’ coven type stuff to be so overdone that I really wasn’t thrilled with it.
Because I’m overly pedantic, though, I do feel like I should point out that the Traveler in Star Trek is from Tau Alpha C, not Tau Ceti. It doesn’t change your point in the least, but I know it’s a common misconception.
Trek has a lot of consistency problems with canon. In the episode “Journey’s End”, the Traveler’s home system was revised to Tau Ceti.
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