C'mon Doctor, would it kill you to complement her dress?
Would you mind not standing on my chest? My hat's on fire.
— The Doctor
The search for the Key to Time
takes the Doctor and Romana to the planet Tara, where feudalism and chivalry have endured. They split up to search, and Romana finds the fourth segment a few minutes in — it's part of a statue. However, she's promptly Trapped by Mountain Lions
and captured by the villainous Count Grendel of Gracht, who thinks she's an android double of Prince Reynart's betrothed, Strella. The actual double was created for Grendel by his Ignored Enamoured Underling
, Lamia. This way, Grendel is trying to usurp the throne, and will succeed if Reynart doesn't show up for his coronation. Also, he's got Princess Strella locked up in his dungeon.
The Doctor, meanwhile, also gets captured, by Prince Reynart's men. He's taken off to the Prince's hunting lodge and made to repair the Prince's android double, which will be used as a decoy. Grendel's men kidnap the Prince, but the Doctor is able to modify the decoy android so it can attend the coronation in his place.
The Doctor soon realises that Grendel plans to have Romana (or Strella or the android or whoever looks the part) marry Reynart, just so Reynart can be killed that same day and Grendel can proceed to marry the "queen" and take over the country. Grendel is a little annoyed when the Doctor refuses a part in this (after stringing along Grendel with wide-eyed fake enthusiasm for a while). He commissions a Romana android to kill the Doctor, but K-9 sees her for what she is and saves the day, while Romana herself escapes. Lamia dies in the crossfire and ruins Grendel's plans of using androids, since only she had the technology.
Finally, the Doctor rows across the moat to Grendel's castle and swipes the Key segment just before the Prince's men attack the castle, leading to the Doctor and Grendel having an absolutely magnificent Sword Fight
. It's ended by the latter diving into the moat and escaping.
- Accidental Murder: Madame Lamia is shot down by crossbow fire. She's the only one to die in the serial.
- Acting for Two: Mary Tamm as both Romana and Strella, not to mention all the androids.
- Affably Evil: Count Grendel.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Lamia's yearning for Grendel.
- Apathetic Citizens: The peasants don't seem to care for the whole Succession Crisis.
- The Archimandrite gets the prize: Grendel explains basically his whole plan (he plans the king's wedding, his funeral and his wife's second wedding in less than a minute) and the Archimandrite doesn't seem to remark anything strange.
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: "Gracht" is Dutch for "city canal" or "moat". The actors make a valiant attempt at pronouncing it, but only get the "a" and "t" right and noticably struggle with the "ch" throughout the story. (The "g", "r" and "ch" should actually all be guttural/rolling.) As later heard in "Arc Of Infinity" and "Vincent And The Doctor", this started a time-honoured tradition of no Doctor Who actor ever being able to pronounce Dutch. Of course, since the story takes place on another planet altogether, this comes with an easy Hand Wave here.
- Bilingual Bonus / Visual Pun: Dutch speakers will note that Grendel escapes by jumping into the gracht (moat) of castle Gracht.
- Call Back: This isn't exactly the first time we saw the Doctor win at fencing against a villain.
- Come Alone
- Costume Porn: Romana's purple and green hat-coat-trouser ensemble, which is apparently fashionable on Tara. In reality, Mary Tamm herself actually designed this costume.
- Damsel in Distress: Princess Strella can't care for herself as well as Romana can.
- Doppelgänger: Strella and Romana look exactly alike.
- Doppelgänger Replacement Love Interest: played with, Grendel doesn't really care whether Reynart marries Strella, Romana or an android, as long as he can kill both.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Though he's not in love with her, Grendel really cares about Lamia. Mostly because she knows how to make androids, but there's somewhat more than this.
- Everything's Better with Princesses
- Feudal Future
- Frickin' Laser Beams: Taran swords and crossbows shoot them.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Lamia's in love with Grendel, ever since he showed her his... ... ... [beat] ... "courtesy".
- The Guards Must Be Crazy: Sick Prisoner version.
- Heroes Gone Fishing: The Doctor resolves to spend this episode fishing, leaving the leg work to Romana.
- High Dive Escape: Count Grendel.
- Honor Before Reason: Reynart's swordmaster refuses to attack Grendel while the latter is under a flag of truce, even though he knows Grendel will break the truce.
- Hopeless Suitor: Madame Lamia to Count Grendel, and he takes advantage of it to further his ambitions.
- Hostage Situation: Reynart and Romana are forced to marry (and be killed afterwards) to save the life of Strella.
- Hot Scientist: Lamia.
- Identical Stranger: Romana and Strella.
- Ignored Enamoured Underling: Lamia.
- Impossibly Cool Clothes: To quote the BBC's webpage for this episode, "The Archimandrite's hat has to be seen to be believed."
- Magnificent Bastard: Count Grendel. It's even mentioned in-universe by another character.
- Medieval Stasis: An odd example. The more advanced technology is used by peasants while the nobles live mostly without it.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Count Grendel of Gracht.
- Nice Hat: But top honors for hats must go to the Archimandrite's headpiece, which is very colorful.
- Recycled IN SPACE!: The Prisoner of Zenda IN SPACE!
- Ridiculously Human Robots
- Scenery Porn: The very beautiful forests, that's not to forget the location work at Leeds Castle.
- Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: The Doctor gets there a little too early, and has to ask if they've gotten to that part of the wedding yet.
- Stage Whisper: Grendel whispers "think of the princess" to Romana and Reynart, who are on less than an arm's lenght of the Archimandrite, but he doesn't appear to have heard anything.
- Stellar Name: Princess Strella.
- Succession Crisis
- Sword Fight: The Doctor vs. Count Grendel, a very long and completely magnificent battle. The Doctor keeps his scarf on.
- Textile Work Is Feminine: Strella is working on an embroidery frame in her cell, and she and Romana are happily discussing the work when the Doctor finally finds them. (They've already taken the liberty of rescuing themselves.)
- Throwing the Distraction
- Trap Is the Only Option: Lampshaded.
- Villain Exit Stage Left
- Whole Plot Reference: The Prisoner of Zenda.
- The X of Y
- You Look Familiar: The Archimandrite is Professor Clegg, the ill-fated psychic from the beginning of "Planet of the Spiders". And Lennox, the ill-fated physicist from "The Ambassadors of Death". And Viner, the ill-fated archaeologist from "The Tomb of the Cybermen". Finding religion and steering clear of professors turns out to be a good move: he survives to the end of this one.