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The Androids of Tara was the fourth serial in season 16 of Doctor Who. It was part of the Key to Time story arc, and part one's broadcast occurred just days after the fifteenth anniversary of the show. It saw Mary Tamm take on four roles: Romana I, a doppelgänger of Romana in the form of Princess Strella, and their android doubles.

The plot of Tara is a pastiche of The Prisoner of Zenda. Several of the serial's working titles paid homage to this and many of the characters are based on their counterparts in the novel. Only with the BBC's interference was the potentially copyright-infringing name "Zenda" or "Zend" dropped from the title.


Finding the fourth segment of the Key to Time was simple enough, but holding onto it may be another matter. The Fourth Doctor and Romana I find themselves embroiled in the political games of the planet Tara, where doubles, android or otherwise, complicate the coronation of Prince Reynart.


Part one[]

The Doctor and Romana I arrive on the planet Tara in search of the fourth segment of the Key to Time and, for once, the quest is simple. While the Doctor goes fishing, Romana identifies and transforms the fourth segment alone. It was disguised as part of a statue. Her luck does not last, though. She is attacked by a Taran wood beast and only saved by the nobleman Count Grendel of Gracht. Grendel confiscates the segment as an unregistered mineral and insists the injured Romana accompanies him to his castle. Once there, it becomes apparent that Grendel believes she is an android.

The swordsmen Zadek and Farrah have meanwhile recruited the Doctor to the party of Prince Reynart. The society of the planet Tara is a mix of the feudal and the futuristic, with a rigid social monarchical hierarchy developed alongside a skill in advanced electronics and android making, an ability endowed on the lesser orders. Centuries earlier, a plague wiped out nine tenths of the population. The workers, abandoned by the nobles at that time, began building androids to deal with labour shortages. The planet is now troubled by a struggle for the crown. Reynart is the rightful prince, but he is facing a challenge to his rule and coronation from his cousin, Count Grendel of Gracht. The Doctor agrees to help repair an android copy of the Prince. It is to be used to help him reach his throne and crown by diverting the attention of Grendel's men, while the real Prince slips into the coronation chamber through a back way. This plot looks plausible, but Grendel strikes first, drugging the Prince's retinue and kidnapping Reynart himself.

Part two[]

When the Doctor and the swordsmen recover, they decide to change the original plan and crown the android Reynart instead. The party move through the tunnels beneath the royal castle to get to the throne room so that the facsimile Reynart can be crowned. If Reynart is not there at the correct moment, then he will lose his right to the throne; Grendel may be chosen under the law to claim the crown instead. The real Reynart was wounded in his capture and has been imprisoned with Romana at Castle Gracht to prevent any legitimate succession. Romana learns that she is physically identical to another of Grendel's captives — the Princess Strella.

By their elaborate ruse, the Doctor and his party succeed in getting the android Prince to the throne room, and the coronation begins. However, the android Prince is damaged, and it is clear the ruse will not hold for long. Strella enters the coronation room and pledges allegiance to the new King, but the Doctor suddenly rises up and with a shout of "No!" strikes at her head with the King's staff.

Part three[]

The Doctor has not killed Strella, but an android duplicate, who was programmed to kill Reynart. The oath taking is delayed while other possible androids are found, and the "King" is watched over by Zadek and Farrah. When he returns to Castle Gracht, Grendel is furious, but when he finds out that the Doctor and Romana know each other, he has his android maker Lamia, who is in love with him, make an android Romana programmed to kill the Doctor, the man he sees as the one who deprived him of the throne.

K9 is enlisted from the TARDIS to provide armed support and scanning intelligence that confirms that the Count has the Prince, the Princess, and Romana in his castle. Shortly afterward, Till, Grendel's manservant, arrives at the Reynart estate and offers the Doctor a chance to collect Romana from the Pavilion of the Summer Winds, a nearby gazebo. It is, as ever, a trap. While this is happening, the real Romana escapes from Castle Gracht and heads off to find the Doctor. She arrives at the Pavilion in the aftermath of Grendel's attack, which has left Lamia dead, and helps the Doctor flee; but the situation is soon reversed as Grendel succeeds in destroying the Reynart android and then recaptures the errant Romana.

Part four[]

The evil Count now wishes Romana (as Strella) to marry the real King, who will then be killed, leaving Grendel free to take her hand himself and be declared the legitimate King of Tara.

Worried by the length of time a siege would take, the Doctor resorts to other means to get his friends back from Castle Gracht. K9 is used to help them gain access to the castle by means of the moat and underground tunnels. The Doctor reaches the throne room just in time to stop the sham Reynart marriage to Romana. He then engages the Count in a deadly duel with electro-swords, defeating him and forcing the villain to jump into his own castle moat and swim for his survival.

Romana has meanwhile freed Strella and the royal party is united, with Grendel disgraced and presumably on his way to exile. It is a time of reunions: Reynart with his love Strella; and the Doctor and Romana with the fourth segment of the Key and the TARDIS — once K9 has been retrieved from a rowing boat in the middle of the moat.


Uncredited cast[]



  • Taran sabres deliver an electric shock.
  • Taran nobles consider electronics and engineering to be peasant skills.
  • Taran crossbows fire electrical bolts.

The Doctor[]

  • The Doctor saw Capablanca play Alekhine at chess in 1927.
  • The Doctor also met Izaak Walton.
  • After hearing about the prejudice the people of Tara show to their own androids, the Doctor twice remarks that he has encountered androids who feel humans cannot be trusted.


  • K9 is programmed with all world chess championships since 1866.


  • There is a dress from Tahiti in the TARDIS wardrobe.
  • The Doctor has a cupboard full of junk in the console room.

Food and beverages[]

  • The Doctor drinks wine.


  • The plot was very obviously inspired by The Prisoner of Zenda. Even the character names are similar - King Rudolf/Prince Reynart, Sapt/Zadek, Fritz von Tarlenheim/Farrah, and Princess Flavia/Princess Strella. Duke Michael and his henchman, Rupert of Hentzau, were combined into Count Grendel, while the role of Rudolf Rassendyll was essentially shared by the Doctor and the android “George”.
  • Prince Reynart was named after Reynard the Fox.
  • Count Grendel was named after the antagonist of Beowulf.

Story notes[]

  • Among the working titles were The Androids of Zenda, The Androids of Zend and The Prisoners of Zend. Another working title was The Seeds of Time.[1]
  • According to the DVD commentary, Mary Tamm herself designed Romana's distinctive purple outfit after the originally planned costume by Doreen James proved to be made of scratchy tweed.
  • Director Michael Hayes mentions on the audio commentary that Grendel's horse was played by a one-eyed horse called Winston who, according to him, performed wonderfully.
  • Michael Hayes also recounts on the audio commentary that his 14-year-old son Patrick was in the rowing boat with K9 to navigate it.
  • The dating of this story is not explicitly stated in the story itself. The Doctor comments that the journey to Tara was "four hundred years", implying that it is 400 years after The Stones of Blood, in 2378, a date used in A History of the Universe and aHistory. The short story, The Trials of Tara, a sequel to this story, has Grendel recruiting the Kandy Man to assist in his schemes, making this story contemporary with The Happiness Patrol.
  • The Doctor had been planning a holiday when first recruited by the White Guardian, a running joke being that whenever he sets off on a holiday he never gets to enjoy one.
  • While Doctor Who opening caption credits are typically ordered story title, writer's name, episode number, this story's order was story title, episode number, writer's name.
  • Mary Tamm plays four roles in this story: Romana I, Princess Strella and their android doubles. However, she was credited only as "Romana" both on-screen and in Radio Times.
  • This is the only story in season 16 where the search for the segment to the Key to Time isn't a main part of the story, as it is discovered in part one.
  • One of the chairs in Lamia's room was previously used as one of those at Dr. Mehendri Solon's table in The Brain of Morbius.
  • This is the only story to feature Cyril Shaps where his character doesn't die.
  • David Fisher was very proud of Count Grendel, and decided to have him escape death at the climax so that he might potentially be brought back for a return appearance (although, in the event, no such story was ever formally planned).
  • The Taran woodbeast was due to there being no money in the budget for a bear costume to be made and costume designer Doreen James had to hire a bear costume from a costumer.
  • The faceless android is based on the robot head used for the Sarah Jane robot in The Android Invasion.
  • The imperial throne is Tim's chair from The Goodies.
  • David Fisher had hoped that Tara might be populated by animals resembling creatures of legend, such as unicorns (which might be natural or mechanical), and originally envisaged Till as a dwarf rather than a hunchback.
  • Although Mary Tamm was a skilled horse-rider, she refused to do the horse-riding sequence herself because she could not wear a helmet and felt that the potential of an accident was too great.
  • The story originally took place on the planet Zend, with the site of the coronation being a castle located in Tara. This was a reference to the ancestral seat of the kings of Ireland and, according to mythology, of the supernatural Tuatha dé Danann.
  • Tom Baker was given an antique fishing rod to use...which he inadvertently tossed into the River Len during rehearsals. Stunt arranger Terry Walsh had to dive in and rescue it.
  • Michael Hayes' teenaged son, Patrick made the bushes rustle to signify the approach of the Taran Beast.
  • Filming at Leeds Castle was largely done at night, as it was open to the public during the day.
  • While filming the scene of K9 in the boat, the sound recordist fell in the moat.
  • Zadek was originally named Zapp.
  • Romana's costume featured Mary Tamm's favourite colours - purple and turquoise.
  • Michael Hayes was reluctant to direct the serial, regarding the programme as "a children's show with dodgy effects" and admitting to being "toffee-nosed" about working on it. Nevertheless, according to his son, Patrick, he soon abandoned these misgivings and afterwards counted Tom Baker as one of his friends despite finding him difficult to work with at times.[1]


  • Part one - 8.5 million viewers
  • Part two - 10.1 million viewers
  • Part three - 8.9 million viewers
  • Part four - 9.0 million viewers

Filming locations[]

Production errors[]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • When Farrah tries to speak to the Reynart android when they are in the forest, the android is looking right at him. But when the camera changes angles, it is now facing forward.
  • In part three when the Doctor enters the Pavilion of the Summer Winds and shuts the door, it slowly swings open again. A hand then appears from behind the set wall and pulls the door closed.
  • When Lamia is interrogating Romana about the Key to Time, a microphone boom is visible for several seconds.
  • When Grendel is inspecting Romana's android duplicate, his arm crosses the line where the screen is split (to allow Mary Tamm to be in two places at once) and disappears.
  • In the opening titles of all four parts of this story, David Fisher (the writer) is credited last. This is the first story in the classic series of Doctor Who, since The Evil of the Daleks in-which the writer is credited after the numbered part credit. This was fixed in the following story The Power of Kroll.


Home video and audio releases[]

DVD releases[]

Special Features (2007/2009 version)[]


The Key to Time boxed set covers[]

Video releases[]

Digital releases[]

  • The story is available for streaming in Canada & the US through BritBox or Amazon Instant Video in the UK.
  • It is also available to download through iTunes.

External links[]