Chapter 56. Doctor Who and the Androids of Tara (1980)

Synopsis: The Doctor has gone fishing, leaving Romana to hunt down the next segment of the Key to Time. She completes her hunt with surprising ease, but just as quickly she becomes a prisoner of the scheming Count Grendel. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s holiday is interrupted by guards who serve Prince Reynart, a sickly monarch-in-waiting, whose reign is about to be cut short by Grendel. The Prince has an android duplicate of himself, which he hopes to use as a decoy long enough to ascend the throne. The android, however, doesn’t work. Separately, the Doctor and Romana work from opposite sides to fix the state of Tara. 

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Doctor Goes Fishing
  • 2. Count Grendel
  • 3. The Double
  • 4. The Princess
  • 5. The Prisoner of Gracht
  • 6. The Android King
  • 7. Invitation to an Ambush
  • 8. The Android Killer
  • 9. Flag of Truce
  • 10. Count Grendel plans a Wedding
  • 11. Attack by Night
  • 12. Victory

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts by David Fisher for his second story from 1978.

Notes: The statue that transforms into the Key to Time segment depicts ‘a vaguely dragon-like heraldic beast, thrusting time-blunted claws towards the blue summer sky’. The very-much-alive creature that attacks Romana is a very generous evolution of the short, comedic beast seen on telly:

The monster was a good eight feet tall – and it walked upright like a man. It had coarse black fur, slavering jaws filled with yellow, pointed teeth and a stubby horn projecting from the centre of its forehead. A mixture of bear, ape and boar, with the nastiest features of all three. 

Count Grendel is said to possess a ‘darkly handsome face’ which is ‘marred only slightly by a fiercely jutting beak of a nose’ – an unflattering description of actor Peter Jeffrey. At the end, the Doctor rescues the adrift K9 – and Romana jokes that he ‘managed to catch a fish on Tara after all’ – before the time travellers depart in the TARDIS.

Cover: A scene painted by Andrew Skilleter shows the Doctor inspecting a segment of the Key to Time, watched by Romana (in her Ribos costume), appearing on a cover for the first time. In the background, K9 makes his first appearance on a book cover too, looking up at the Prince on his throne. The back cover announces ‘THE ANDROIDS OF TARA is a novel in the Key To Time Sequence. Read THE RIBOS OPERATION and THE STONES OF BLOOD available now.’ (said books didn’t carry this linking text).

Final Analysis: Around the time that this book was published, Shredded Wheat had an advertisement campaign that boasted that the product had ‘nothing added, nothing taken away’. Aside from the exaggerated details of the beast in the woods, this is all we get here. I still think it’s not fair to dismiss Dicks’ writing simply as just adding ‘he said / she said’ to the script, as he paints a vivid picture of the castles and woodlands of Tara, but this is a great example of Dicks at his most perfunctory. Everything that we might like about this came from David Fisher.

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