After 4 years of Tom Baker’s defining Doctor portrayal. Then producer Graeme Williams, was looking for a new angle to freshen up the show; for up-and-coming season 16.
An idea for a season-long hook was decided upon. A plot macguffin; (see Hitchcock) to push the show’s plot forward. Williams sought inspiration from the show’s back-catalogue, using an old Hartnell episode; The Keys Of Marinus.
The Keys Of Marinus was a 4-part episode from 1964, which concentrated on the retrieval of a set of keys. Each part had a different setting on planet Marinus and played as a mini-adventure – within a different setting.
The “Key-To-Time” season was envisaged to play out the same way; with the Doctor attempting to retrieve a segment of the powerful key in each episode, which would eventually be assembled in the season finale.
New characters were created to underpin the Key-To-Time season. With new companion Romanadvoratrelundar (or ‘Romana’ for short) and the White and Black Guardians. These were powerful god-like beings, which reflected the light and dark (good versus evil) balance of the universe.
The Key-To-Time story was split into 6 episodes. The first episode; The Ribos Operation. Involved the Doctor meeting Romana and the White Guardian and being tasked with searching out and reassembling the key segments, with the help of a procured tracking device – to “sniff out” each segment.
The key itself, was sometimes hidden as other objects, animals – or even people. In The Pirate Planet the Key To Time segment was disguised as a planetoid. In The Power of Kroll, a huge killer swamp squid and in The Armageddon Factor, the key was disguised as a humanoid Princess.
For the most part, Key-To-Time season worked well. The introduction of the Romana character, as a new foil to the Doctor was successful. Especially as Romana was herself – a Timelord and as much the Doctor’s intellectual equal.
The Black Guardian presented an unsubstantiated threat, haunting the Doctor’s quest to find the key segments. The Black Guardian did not actually appear till near the end of the final episode; The Armageddon Factor. Although his agents of evil did appear, throughout this episode.
Most effective (and good enough to have been standalone “classic” stories) were the high-concept The Pirate Planet (written by Hitchhiker’s Douglas Adams) and The Stones of Blood, which featured the most improbable and yet bizarrely effective monster – ever to feature in Who.
Occupying the middle ground, was The Power of Kroll an ultimately flawed but entertaining (for the wrong reasons) eco-tale, written by Robert Holmes.
The Armageddon Factor had some cold-war intrigue but at 6 parts, was too long and failed to adequately wrap up the Key-To-Time endgame – satisfactorily (bar a 10-minute segment at the end).
Key-To-Time can best be summed up as a (mostly) good highlight from Tom Baker’s mid-period as the Doctor. Featuring a season long overarching story, which was something Who had not previously tried before and did not repeat again – until 1986’s – Trial Of A Timelord.
Season Sixteen – 1978-79