"Was that smooth enough for you, Doctor?"

Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK no DVD available US Buy Doctor Who DVD at

Buy this Dr Who video: US Buy Doctor Who video at

Download Doctor Who episodes at

Well, it's not big, but it is clever.

The Androids of Tara isn't one of those weightily themed adventures that leave you pondering the meaning of life. Nor is it crammed with slam-bang jaw on the floor SF concepts. It's just a nice little small-scale swashbuckler that happens to be sparklingly written, brilliantly cast and superbly acted.

After the Stones of Blood yawnarama, we weren't at all sure about another script by David Fisher. But Androids Of Tara is unrecognisable as being by the same writer. Sure, it must have helped basing the thing so squarely on The Prisoner of Zenda, but if he's capable of such gems as "Would you mind not standing on my chest, my hat's on fire", why did he turn in such a rubbish job before?

Still, that's another review altogether. Here, the dialogue is a total delight, and the cast does it full justice. Peter Jeffrey is particularly slimetastic as the oilily evil Count Grendel, delivering a revoltingly creepy performance that made our skin crawl even from behind the sofa. And his drop-dead delivery, in great lines such as "Just because I once showed her a certain... courtesy" is BAFTA stuff.

The rest of the supporting cast is excellent too, with Fisher managing to inject real pathos into the character of Lamia. The android expert inexplicably stuck on the appalling Grendel is a very real character: we feel sympathy for her when she tells Romana she'd rather be used by Grendel than ignored, and despite her willingness to serve the dark side of the Force we can't help regretting her death. Now that's nice writing.

It's a great adventure for the leading cast too, with Mary Tamm in particular getting a welcome chance to show off in the triple role of Romana, Strella and the android. Although she has some annoying damsel in distress bits, in general she's as usual intelligent and quick-thinking in the face of danger and a great foil for the Doctor. And she looks terrific in that top hat.

The Doctor himself is superlative, with Tom delivering some beautifully controlled comedy: the Fourth Doctor can be irritating when he pushes the comic elements too far, but here even the wildest comedy bits ("What! Prince Reynart?!! I've never heard of him") stay this side of the line. And the whole fishing thing is fun too - even saviours of the universe need the odd weekend off. It's even, miracle of miracles, an OK story for K9. Particularly when he gets stuck in the boat. Tee hee.

There's other nice stuff too. The costumes are fabulous, with an agreeable quotient of prodigiously silly hats. The Leeds Castle location is used to great effect. We like the way the Key bit looks like it's all going to be over in the first five minutes. And the period-ish harpsichordy music is for once an ornament rather than an irritation.

Naturally, it's not faultless. The effort to convert the story into something Who-ish leads to some very dodgy SF bits being shoehorned in, for a start. They have crossbows and swords, see, and they're just like ordinary crossbows and swords, only they're electronic (or something). Ooh, very futuristic, we don't think, particularly when they abandon that idea for the Doctor/Grendel swordfight.

Then there are the androids - great concept, but it's a bit bloody coincidental having a human double of Romana as well as an android copy. As for the Beast, what can we say but argh. And the famous swordfight: this is apparently commonly considered to be a great moment, for reasons that mystify us. Firstly, it seems totally unlikely to us that the sneaky Grendel would take this avenue to get rid of the Doctor when he could just get his men to off him. No muss, no fuss. And the whole thing seems a bit flat and dull, done as it is in dead silence while everyone else, far from being gripped by the drama of the occasion, either looks on politely with a faint air of boredom or simply buggers off. And the Doctor's skill and heroism, which are presumably supposed to be emerging here, are gigglesomely undermined by the trouble he has with his scarf. The pitch black corridor they're fighting in at the end doesn't help much either: it all starts looking like an Eastern European arthouse movie. And not in a good way. Still, at least the Doctor doesn't eat any sandwiches.

In the end, though, these are only little quibbles compared to the great success of the story as a whole. Sure, it's a garnet rather than a diamond. But it's a very pretty, very sparkly garnet. And there's a lot to be said for that.

MORAL: Don't cross swords with a Time Lord.



Why does Romana refer to herself as Romana when she's said she doesn't like it?


The Curse of the Companion Ankle strikes again. Sigh.


There's a bit of heavy-handed moralising here about humans' attitudes to androids - once we didn't object to, but we didn't need whumping on the head with an anvil again.


When the Doctor goes into the pavilion and closes the door behind him, a hand reaches out to shut the door and the shadow of the hand's owner is visible on the ground. It's not quite as egregious as the Hand of Sutekh, but it's close.


We're surprised that the pavilion's strong enough to withstand the fire of Grendel's men, given how the walls shake when the Doctor shuts the door.


Why do Grendel's men stand outside shooting at the pavilion instead of going in? They don't even know about K9!


The Doctor manages another superb exit as he nips inside the pavilion and slams the door. And the "Liar!" follow-up is the icing on the cake.


How come the Doctor can't tell Romana's an android in the pavilion? It seems pretty obvious considering she just stares at him impassively.


How remarkably convenient - and unlikely - that the gate control is in the same room the swordfight's in. Do they run inside every time someone arrives at the gate?


"I'm so sorry to take your f-- new friend away so soon..."

Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK no DVD available US Buy Doctor Who DVD at

Buy this Dr Who video: US Buy Doctor Who video at

Download Doctor Who episodes at