The Stones of Blood

DVD NTSC
Special Edition!
1-story disc
Region 1


for North America
DVD PAL

6-story set
Region 2

for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC A
NTSC B
PAL
(Doctor Who Story No. 100,
3rd adventure in season 16's Key To Time quest)
  • written by David Fisher
  • directed by Darrol Blake
  • produced by Graham Williams
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The intermittent signal from the third segment of the Key to Time brings the Doctor and Romana to a stone circle in England in 1978. Aided by Professor Emilia Rumford, they investigate the various alien powers behind a modern cult practicing sacrifice, and the interdimensional properties of the circle itself....
The Key to Time
Special Edition!
6-story set
(7 discs)
NTSC Region 1


Special Edition and Region 2 DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by actress Mary Tamm (Romana) and director Darrol Blake.
  • Audio commentary by Tom Baker (The Doctor), Mary Tamm (Romana), Susan Engel (Vivien Fay), and writer David Fisher.
  • "Getting Blood from the Stones" making-of featurette (26 min.) with Fisher, Blake, Tamm, Engel, John Leeson (Voice of K9),
    script editor Anthony Read, visual effects designer Mat Irvine, and fan magazine contributors Clayton Hickman and Steve O'Brien.
  • "Stones Free" Mary Tamm researches the stone circle on location (9 min.)
  • "Model World" clip of Mat Irvine building the story's miniatures (3 min.)
  • Tom Baker interview on Nationwide (9 min.)
  • Deleted scenes (2 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles by Martin Wiggins
  • Photo Gallery (8 min.)
  • Featurette on the influence of "Hammer Horror" on Doctor Who (13 min.)
  • Blue Peter celebrates Doctor Who's 15th anniversary (6 min.)
For more details, visit the Key to Time DVD Comparison Chart.

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.


Although this story doesn't seem too exciting at first, it quickly becomes another shining gem for both the Key to Time season and the Graham Williams era as a whole. It is also worth noting how its story structure in microcosm reflects its position in the Doctor Who macrocosm in marking the end of the gothic cult as a Doctor Who story device.


First Impressions

Like Romana, I too got my first introduction to the Earth of the Doctor Who universe through this story, and I was slightly surprised that it was a present-day Earth and not a futuristic one as might have been suggested by dialogue in "The Ribos Operation" (story no. 98) or the spacey settings of the show in general. I didn't realize Earth was so primitive either, and I anticipated some disappointment and boredom during the search for this third Key to Time segment.

However by the time Part Three was finished, I was so pleased with the plot's surprise twists and escalations and new interesting settings, that I thought it was turning out to be even better than "The Pirate Planet" (story no. 99). Doctor Who was a show that just kept getting better and better. I was hooked as a fan for life, and have always held a special place in my love of the program for the Key to Time stories that initiated me.


-------------------------

Stones In-depth

That said, the earlier parts of the story are a bit lacking. There is a lot of exposition near the beginning, which rightly needs to be what it is. However, more gripping questions would improve things a lot and help to engage the audience's curiosity in all that gets explained. If you're already interested in the cultural or scientific possibilities behind stone circles, it's great stuff. If you're not, it's doubtful that episode one will grab you. Professor Emilia Rumford's absent-minded ramblings to the bored and unusually patient Doctor epitomize the stagnant pace of the first episode's exposition.

However, I do want to give a nod to the first scene in the TARDIS dealing with the Key to Time and say that I welcome this scene far more than the birthday party idea that producer Graham Williams rightly vetoed. First of all, we didn't get to see the second segment at the end of "The Pirate Planet", so this scene nicely satisfies those of us who were looking forward to that. Secondly, it is good to have the entire quest explained again for those who might have missed the first episode of "The Ribos Operation" and joined the season later on, while at the same time this allows "The Stones of Blood" to be completely understandable to anyone as a stand-alone story. Thirdly, this first scene with two segments complements the final scene with three segments being put together, tying the story together like a well structured pair of book-ends. The birthday idea offers little beyond inside-joke indulgence by comparison, and probably would have come off as really silly to the non-devoted viewer. But scene-swapping aside, what we get throughout most of the episode could still be improved with a sharper line of questioning to generate more interest in the flow of information and exposition.

Although lacking a good satisfying materialization for the TARDIS, this story is perhaps the best yet for demonstrating the interior/exterior relationship, thanks to all the logical mid-story returns to the vehicle.

Early on, "The Stones of Blood" features the most common story-crutch brought to over-use by the era of producer Philip Hinchcliffe (seasons 12-14), a gothic dark-arts cult, in this case a Druidic chapter led by Mr. & Mrs. deVries, who worship the mysterious Callieach. The deVries's turn out to be very melodramatic characters, and the cultish angle lacks interesting substance. However, the cult is of little importance in the true grand scheme of the story, and thankfully the more important characters are allowed to treat it as such. It is fitting that the full throng of cult members can be frightened away by one old woman in the dark, like the substance-less cowards they must be at heart, and Mrs. deVries has a chance to demonstrate more backbone than mindlessness during a heated debate with her husband early in episode two.

But most refreshingly, the cult is pushed far into the background and ultimately forgotten by the middle of episode two, as far more interesting elements take center-stage, and as writer David Fisher makes good use of as many other possible rumours and theories surrounding stone circles as he can. On the larger scale, Doctor Who TV productions never quite returned to the same mindless kind of gothic cults after "The Stones of Blood". Like the rest of this same story indicates, from now on, it's on to extra-terrestrials, physics, neater-looking space environments, and a more intelligent level of drama and humour. Much more to my tastes.

That said, episode three of "The Stones of Blood" is perhaps the most excellent 25 minutes of the whole of season sixteen, at least in being so perfectly plotted and balanced in the script. From the early stone chases peppered with humour, to the scientific industry and more personal scenes between the Doctor and Emilia, to the tense standoff between the Doctor's party and the Ogri at the circle, to the exploration of the newly revealed spacecraft environment and its implications to the mystery and backstory at work, to the menace and legal satire of the highly unique Megara characters, episode three is packed full of all the best elements that give Doctor Who its unique charm.

The effects are quite satisfying as well - lots of colourful, full visual beams where required, not to mention hyperspace backgrounds and optical picture mixes to make the spacecraft come alive. Electronics Effects Supervisor A.J. Mitchell does a superb job on this story, as does uncredited guest Sound Effects editor Liz Parker, who makes the menace of the Ogri stones come alive. I quite like that the Megara turned out so different than most of the creatures one usually sees on Doctor Who; they truly represent an exploration of something new and different, which the show so often needs more of.

An odd disappointment is the editing during the stone chases - quite often too much of a shot of a pursuing Ogri is used, allowing the viewer to watch it start or stop at the end of its rush up to or across the camera, destroying the illusion of its continued pursuit and the unrelenting tension the chase needs to sustain.

I do think Professor Rumford falls into a common misconception among scientists regarding the speed of light while she's trying to explain hyperspace, which I have great fun in detailing in my article on speed and e=mc˛. Although writer David Fisher leaves room for this to not be the complete truth (thankfully it is Rumford who spouts it and not our more widely studied main character the Doctor), it is sad that this view doesn't really get challenged either. It is actually more interesting when you find out how in many ways it is really hyperspace that put the "c" in E=mc˛.....

Episode Four doesn't quite have the same excitement or logic of the previous episode. The Doctor's plea to save his own life from Megaran justice takes up the focus of this episode, not bad if only it hadn't quite upstaged the investigation of Cessair of Diplos and the third Key to Time segment quite so much. The Doctor also misses the most obvious and logical reason that the Megara would have for sparing his life - if he made the honest claim that he was a witness needed for Cessair's trial, surely he would be spared until after her trial had concluded. Ah well, one doesn't always think of everything under pressure, and the Doctor definitely called his witnesses in sequence of desperately being able to think of them, rather than in the sequence that would most help his case and convict Cessair instead.

Romana, Emilia and K9 get a lovely B-plot of action and investigation this episode, to make up for what the court room drama on the ship may be lacking. While this delivers a good energy to the final episode, their noble efforts and hard work amount to little when the Doctor resolves the main issues before Romana can present the new evidence. What a pity.

Add to that the writer's cop-out when it comes to finding the third segment and dealing with the Megara in the end. The clues from the Tracer in the earlier episodes don't really match up with what the segment turns out to be. And when would the Doctor have had a chance to set the controls on the Megaran ship, facilitating his last minute get-away? The ending doesn't satisfy logic quite as much as it should.


"The Stones of Blood" remains highly enjoyable thanks to a great cast and some good solid, fun character writing. Beatrix Lehmann, Susan Engel, and the TARDIS-traveling trio play excellently off of each other, while the Megara's voice & mime artists create very memorable satiric caricatures. Darrol Blake also seems to be the most exciting director the series has seen for some time, and it's a pity he didn't do more Who stories. And even though he might have preferred a different variety of music, as I often advocate myself, I think this is one of Dudley Simpson's far more interesting and memorable scores for the series, capitalizing on some excellent variations of his fourth Doctor's theme, some Celtic flute solos for the circle, and a classic atmospheric motif for the hyper-ship environment, not to mention some all-round good cues for action and drama throughout the rest of the story. This tale has lots to recommend it, but I think it still remains rough enough around the edges that it must sit in second place behind the slightly more unique "Pirate Planet".



This story is the 3rd adventure in season 16's Key To Time quest. It has become available on DVD and VHS video.

Single Story versions:
DVD NTSC Region 1
2009 Special Edition
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.:
See boxed set below.
VHS Video
NTSC A in the U.S.
NTSC B in the U.S.
PAL for the U.K.
DVD NTSC Region 1
2002 release with limited extras
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada

6-story full season boxed sets:
The Key to Time
2009 Special Edition
7 disc boxed set
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
The Key to Time
7 disc boxed set
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K., limited edition
for the U.K., 2009 re-issue
The Key to Time 6 DVD boxed set
2002 release with limited extras
NTSC Region 1
in the U.S.
in Canada


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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story
of the Key to Time season: "The Androids of Tara"



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