After 4 years, of Tom Baker’s defining Fourth 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 ‘macguffin’ (see Hitchcock) to push the show’s plot – forward. Williams reviewed the show’s back-catalogue, using an old Hartnell episode; The Keys Of Marinus, for inspiration.
The Keys Of Marinus, was a 4-part serial – from 1964. Which concentrated on the retrieval, of a set of keys. Each episode had a different setting – on planet Marinus and played – as a mini-adventure; each episode.
The “Key-To-Time” seasonp, was envisaged to play out the same way. With the Doctor attempting to retrieve a segment, of the powerful ‘time-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 serials. The first serial was The Ribos Operation. Involving, the Doctor meeting Romana, 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 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 to the Doctor, always 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 the Black Guardian’s – agents of evil did appear, throughout this episode – to challenge the Doctor’s progress.
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 all the wrong reasons) eco-tale – written by Robert Holmes.
The Armageddon Factor had some cold-war intrigue – but at 6 episodes, was far too long and failed to adequately wrap up the Key-To-Time endgame; satisfactorily (bar a tacked on 10-minute segment – at the end).
Key-To-Time story, 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. It was criminaly let-down by a poor pay-off at the end of The Armageddon Factor; where only the last 10 minutes of the serial wrap up the Key To Time story – despite 6 full episodes.
Season Sixteen – 1978-79