Brace yourself. This is the first of a three-part season (that’s already had a prequel) called the Key 2 Time.
Its slightly unpleasant name comes from the fact it’s a sequel to the Tom Baker season-long story the Key to Time, in which Tombo and new companion Romana (Mary Tamm) went searching for something called the Key to Time, said object having the power to stop all of time if reassembled from its six component segments – just enough no-time, in fact, for the White Guardian, a universal force of goodness (or should that be order), to readjust the balance of the cosmos to stop his opposite number, the Black Guardian, from getting too powerful.
Unfortunately, each segment was disguised as something else, ranging from a rock to a human being (Lalla Ward), and the only way to find the segments, scattered all through space and time, was with a magic Geiger-countery wand called a Tracer.
With me so far?
Okay, the Key 2 Time (urgh) sees the Fifth Doctor (who got to meet the Guardians again for a trilogy of stories during the 20th season) once more having to go looking for the segments of the Key to Time, this time with the help of a living Tracer called Amy – and the hindrance of her sister Zara.
First port of call: Mars and the Ice Warriors.
A new adventure in time and space for the Fifth Doctor and his new companion, Amy as they search for the Key to Time.
On a planet where Time stands still, the Doctor meets a woman who is just a few minutes old. She is a Tracer, sent into our Universe by her makers to locate the six segments of the Key to Time. This being without a name wants the Doctor to be her assistant, but she doesn’t tell him the whole truth. Not at first.
Their first port of call is Mars, where a society that one day will become Ice Warriors lives in peace and civility. But the Doctor’s arrival will change all that. The universe is dying, a choice must be made, and the Judgement of Isskar will be declared. The price must be paid – even if it takes centuries…
Is it any good?
Well, it’s better than The Prisoner’s Dilemma, I’ll give it that. Essentially, it’s got three acts: the Doctor meets Amy and gets introduced to the whole concept for the season; the Doctor lands on early Mars, meets the very unwarlike Martians and the not very nice Zara; and then he goes into the future where he meets some weird aliens, and the Martians and Zara again.
The early Mars bit is quite interesting, in an odd sort of way, with more than a few hints of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles to it. But it’s actually too short and too confusing to really have an impact, with much of it dedicated to reintroducing Zara for anyone who hasn’t listened to The Prisoner’s Dilemma and explaining that the Key’s segments are decomposing because of naughty old Tombo.
The future story is far inferior and played too much for laughs. There’s also too much juggling of story threads going on, so it’s hard to tell who has what segments, how many, when it is and so on. And attempts to make the Ice Warriors seem cunning and multi-layered only make it seem like The Princess Bride‘s Iocaine poisoning scene.
Trickily, it’s hard to judge both Amy and Zara. Since both are supposed to be just a few minutes old, it’s hard to accuse them of having thin characterisation. It’s also hard to accuse both the actresses of being rubbish and sounding like they’re in-flight safety videos, since again, they don’t have any personalities of their own yet; and maybe’s it’s just me, but Ciara Janson sounds like she’s about 12 years old.
Davison gives a good performance, although there’s more than a hint of “this is shit and I know it is” about it, while everyone else doesn’t even pretend to be doing anything other than hamming for all they’re worth. Although Nick Briggs is trying to channel Shakespeare for his Ice Warrior, for no real reason I can discern, other than he’s always wanted to be one and wanted to make the most of the opportunity.
The ending’s kind of interesting (no spoilers) even though its denouement in the following story is a bit of a let down, but overall, a little disappointing and flat, although by no means terrible.
Did it keep my brain occupied for an hour or two down the gym or did I, at various points in the play, want to trap myself under something heavy in preference to listening to any more of it?
Mostly I was okay, although every time Amy or Zara said anything, I was hoping for a 16-tonne weight to drop, Wile E Coyote style from the ceiling.
Peter Davison (The Doctor)
Ciara Janson (Amy)
Laura Doddington (Zara)
Nicholas Briggs (Isskar)
Andrew Jones (Harmonious 14 Zink)
Raquel Cassidy (Mesca)
Jeremy James (Thetris)
Heather Wright (Wembik)
Author: Simon Guerrier
Director: Jason Haigh-Ellery