So I said the next episode was one of my favorites, right? Top five at least — I love Stones of Blood. The last quarter gets a tiny bit dodgy, but the rest makes up for it.
With two segments of the Key safely stowed in the TARDIS — in what my father said is an old cake safe and why should I disbelieve him? It certainly doesn’t look very much like a safe safe, whatever it is — Romana and the Doctor move on towards their third destination, which the Doctor promises Romana will be a treat: “Earth!”
They land on a wide, grassy moor and find deep depressions in the grass: farming equipment, Romana says, testing the soil with her wildly impractical spike heel. Really — check this outfit, folks.
|Perhaps she should have asked K9 what to wear…|
I couldn’t find a shot that would show her feet but, trust me, the heels are atrocious. Fortunately, she gets to change into something better about halfway through — a kind of claret-colored blouse and skirt with nice solid boots. Must have been a great relief!
Anyway, they stroll off across the very pleasant field, following the signal of the tracer (have I mentioned the tracer before? it locates the given segment of the Key and transforms it back to its original form), and find a stone circle with two women doing an archaeological survey. It turns out there’s a local nouveau Druid circle making sacrifice at the circle on a regular basis; when the Doctor goes to talk to the head of the circle, Mr. DeFrees, who lives at the nearby Big House, he discovers the focus of the sacrifices: the Cailleach, a Celtic goddess of “..war, death, and magic — Beware the raven and the crow, Doctor; they are her eyes.” Before getting whacked on the back of the head after getting a glimpse of the goddess, the Doctor gets some local history based around missing paintings, paintings theoretically removed to be cleaned, but really…. dundundunnnnnn Clearly something is up with the paintings. When they are later discovered in the basement of the house, they are portraits of the same woman over a period of nearly a thousand years. And she looks very familiar…
|The Cailleach. And her cardboard
The first three-quarters of the episode are a pretty tight murder mystery with aliens — there’s the stone circle; the archaeologists surveying it; the Druids sacrificing in it; and the latest reincarnation of a bloody-minded Celtic goddess. The last quarter, though, explains the goddess away as an alien criminal stranded on earth and, for some reason, introduces her transport: an interdimensional hyperspace ship that has been stranded for centuries above the circle. It all gets a bit confusing: Romana gets trapped; the Doctor gets arrested; there’s a lot of citric acid. In the end, the segment turns out to have been disguised as a rather tacky necklace that one of the characters, the alien-passing-as-human Vivian Fay, has been wearing.
So what’s the draw with this episode if the ending is so soggy? Well, to go back to the original stone circle and the folks surveying it: the two women are Professor Amelia Rumford and Vivian Fay — and Professor Rumford is who I want to be when I grow up: she is kick-ass all up and down the map and she is an absolutely fantastic “companion for the duration of an episode.”
She even out-Doctor’s the Doctor at one point: the two of them have gone to “find out what happened” at the Big House and have discovered one of the episode’s aliens, an Ogri, killing the inhabitants of the house. The Doctor and Amelia pursue the thing — not a wildly smart idea since it’s a giant mobile stone with a taste for blood — and, when they’ve escaped from the house, the Doctor turns to dive through a gate into the open fields and Amelia stops: “Doctor! It is our duty to capture that creature! We can track it to its lair!”
|Romana, Amelia, and the transdimensional gizmo.
It probably goes ‘ping!’ when there’s stuff.
And when the time comes to run the Gizmo of the Episode in order to send the Doctor and Romana across dimensional barriers to a hyperspace ship (I told you the last quarter of the episode got a bit sketch), Amelia steps up.
Plus the great bit of dialogue between her and the Doctor when she asks if he’s from outer space; he says, “No, I’m more from what you’d call inner time.” She blinks, but takes it solidly on the chin and stays where she is.
Oh, and didn’t I mention?
She’s a tiny little old lady.
With a blackjack.
Plus, the first three-quarters of the show are really solid: the Ogri are a frightening nasty. They have no particular brain or motivation other than the obvious: eat and survive. They’re awakened and used by the Cailleach — Vivian Fay in a lot of silver makeup and not enough dress — to intimidate and/or kill anyone she finds inconvenient. There’s a genuinely creepy scene about midway through where one of the Ogri stations itself by the tent of a couple of campers. The man wakes up and comes out, calls back to the woman to get her to come out and look at the stone, a new addition to the landscape since they went to bed. And we wait for the inevitable moment when one of them touches the stone — and it’s all over bar the screaming. Quite unpleasant — and the Doctor nowhere around.
And the end — with the Doctor put on trial for his life by the Megara, justice machines meant to be trying Vivian Fay but trapped by her on the hyperspace vessel — is kind of fun, although the whole “trial” gag gets a bit old. There’s plenty of time for Tom Baker to stalk around and look silly in a horsehair peruke, though, so that’s a good time being had by all. And there’s plenty of time for Romana and Amelia, back on earth, to sort out a great Gizmo of the Week (see picture above) and spend some time running from the Ogri.
On the whole, Stones of Blood is one of the more successful episodes in the Key season. The basic story is reasonably solid; some of the performances either flat-out inspired (see Amelia) or scenery-chewing goodness (see Mr. DeFrees, latest head Druid).