Doctor Who has never been as swashbuckling as it gets here. Tom Baker looks the part, long coat swirling as he locks swords with Count Grendel, crashing the midnight wedding of the King and Romana in an eleventh-hour rescue. This looks as good as anything since Graham Williams took over: the night filming is a lot more effective than The Stones of Blood’s day-for night, the use of Leeds Castle for Castle Gracht helps sell the setting, and – perhaps aside from the intimate throne room – nothing in studio is beyond the bounds of the BBC budget.
This conclusion is entirely satisfying. Romana gets to meet Strella for more than a Salamander-style split second. Grendel escapes to presumably cause more Taran mischief (I’m slightly surprised they didn’t have a Wood Beast waiting to get him on the edge of the lake). The King and the Princess are reunited, to live happily ever after (or until Grendel makes his next power play). Even the Archimandrite gets to keep his hat.
After struggling with unworkable scripts last year, Anthony Read is also building an impressive collection of writers in the same way Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes had been able to. Holmes has replaced Dicks as the ex-script editor, able to turn in something reliably solid every time; Douglas Adams is the new Chris Boucher, full of ideas, and David Fisher, like Robert Banks Stewart, is a seasoned pro with a wealth of experience and a slightly quirky take on the show. The dialogue here is fabulous: Grendel is ‘That well known champion of widows and orphans’ with the best exit line in the show: ‘Next time I shall not be so lenient’. K9 is both ‘a hamster with a blunt penknife’ and an old sea-dog.
Everything about this just works, which sounds like damning with faint praise, but after the production mishaps of Season 15 there’s a real sense of the show coming together both onscreen and off. I’m excited to see where the Doctor and Romana’s quest will take them now.
Next episode: The Power of Kroll