The Androids of Tara
The Androids of Tara was the fourth story in season sixteen of Doctor Who. It was part of the Key to Time story arc, and its original broadcast occurred just days after the fifteenth anniversary of the very first Doctor Who broadcast. It saw Mary Tamm take on four roles: Romana, 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.
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.
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.
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 manages to escape 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 recapturing the errant Romana.
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.