While the Prisoner of Zenda references are well documented (not that I’d know Zenda from Zelda), Doctor Who’s 15th anniversary episode also owes a predictable debt to Star Wars. It’s got Mary Tamm cosplaying Princess Leia again (although, tantalising the dads, she dangles the possibility of wearing Tahitian costume), futuristic swords, a furry Chewbacca creature, the original Jabba the Hutt, and an advanced, android-building civilisation clothed like an operatic version of the 19th Century.
The Doctor isn’t playing though. This is a comic take on all those times in the past where he’s railed against being used as a puppet of the Time Lords. This time, he bunks off the quest for the Key of Time to go fishing, perhaps sulking because Romana and K9 keep getting the better of him. Fortunately, Romana’s competent enough to both land the TARDIS (it’s quite strange in context seeing the Doctor lying about the floor while someone else pilots his Ship) and track down the fourth segment in record time (neatly, it’s disguised as the sigil of House Gracht. Its disappearance heralds misfortune). She’s not so competent that she doesn’t fall for the oldest trick in the companion’s book: a twisted ankle.
This brings her into contact with the slimy Count Grendel (a brilliantly sleazy performance by Peter Jeffrey, purring over his catch one moment, threatening to have his lover flogged – ‘don’t imagine that I won’t’ – the next). Romana is clearly the double of someone important, but so far that element of the plot remains tantalising. David Fisher again seeds the first episode quite effectively: it unfolds at a fairly sedate pace, but always with the impression it’s going somewhere. The location filming adds to the sense of a tale for a lazy summer afternoon.
Next episode: The Androids of Tara – Part Two