“Tara’s most eligible spinster, shortly to become, in rapid succession, my fiancee, my bride, and then deceased..” – Count Grendel
The most interesting aspect of this story is its inversion of expectations. Here we are on a world of castles and horses and knights yet their swords are electrified and their crossbows shoot laser bolts. In the midst of a society relying on candles and moats are computers and replicant androids. The learning of technology and science is considered the realm of the low-class peasants, far beneath the elevated gentry. The medieval-like setting of Tara is another good opportunity to make use of the elaborate regal costumes and sets that the show does so well. These plus a good use of location work in the woods and fields makes for a nice story visually.
The heart of the story is political intrigue though in this case it simply is all for show—everyone knows that the count is basically going to use assassination and marriage to get his way to the throne but as long as he does it in the right order, the leaders and people will just look the other way. It’s an interesting commentary on empty tradition. Taking the idea of The Prisoner of Zenda with a wink and a nod (“Well…it has been done before.”), the story adds an interesting dimension by adding not only the natural look-alike in Romana but the added doubling by androids for even more confusion—thus the surprise ending when the Doctor seems to take a swing at Romana. Granted the count’s plans seem to get more and more convoluted unnecessarily.
There’s also a lot of good back and forth between the Doctor and the count ruining one another’s plans. One of my favorite scenes is when the count and the rest of the court walk into the throne room expecting no one and instead find the Doctor and the whole entourage of the prince confidently sitting there. It’s an unexpected triumph since we had just seen them trapped and you can almost feel the dumbfound double take of the count. (It’s also definitely humorous having the android start to tilt over almost giving the show away.) On the other hand, the later ‘magnificent’ sword fight between Grendel dn the Doctor is rather slow and tedious and quite makes the final scene drag on.
There are other nice little bits like some nice humor in Romana’s encounter with a horse (unsure of how to “make it go”) or K-9 being left stranded on the boat. It’s also nice that they try to change things up by having Romana stumble upon and change the piece of the key almost right away. In the end, the story is not that exciting over all, but it’s still a decent enough to enjoy.
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
It’s surprisingly adult when Romana comments that Lamia looks jealous and the count comments that she is just a peasant getting above her station because he once showed her *ahem* “a certain courtesy”. Seeing her as a victim of an abuse of power makes it all the more tragic when she rushes out of the cabin calling to him and is accidently shot down by his guards.
It’s a good moment to mention about all the doubles of Time Lords we see in the show. We’ve already seen this with the First and Second Doctors (and will see again in the Sixth) and now in Romana as well. I always considered it in my ‘head canon’ that there must be a double of every incarnation of a Time Lord—that the process of regeneration randomly latches on the form of some being in the history of space and time for a pattern to copy. I assume this is usually random but not always so since the Second seemingly had a chance for a choice as does Roman later. Indeed, the modern iteration of the show explicitly states that the Twelfth Doctor (unconciously) chooses his appearance to copy someone he encountered previously.
One of the first scenes is of the not very believable forest creature attacking Romana. Even as a child, I immediately thought it was embarrassingly badly done costume. It’s all the more a shame having this set the tone for the story since it is really unnecessary to the plot and could have been filmed less starkly with better effect.
I also don’t like that we just had an episode a bit before with a tyrant leader called the Graff and now have this one with a tyrant leader called the Knight of Gracht which they pronounce almost the same. It causes an unnecessary association of two parts of the story arc that should feel totally unconnected.