The Stones of Blood

Posted in Episode by - January 13, 2017
The Stones of Blood

Aired 28 October – 18 November 1978

‘The Stones of Blood’ represents the 100th serial of Doctor Who, though there is no sense of occasion or celebration during the course of the four episodes. Instead, the Doctor and Romana tirelessly continue their quest to obtain the next segment of the Key to Time with a meshed space and gothic horror adventure that hearkens back to Tom Baker’s earlier years as the fourth incarnation of the titular Time Lord.

Of course, with the remit to tone down the violence following Philip Hinchcliffe’s departure as producer, ‘The Stones of Blood’ finds itself in a bit of a strange position. There still are some startlingly dark moments, the Ogri rock monsters that feed off of blood a suitably dark concept and the scene in which they feed off of two unsuspecting passers-by quite unnerving. However, while Tom Baker has proven to be a master at comedy and timing, the script does sometimes veer into too overtly comedic territory, giving a somewhat unbalanced tone to proceedings that never quite decides what it wants to be. This is perhaps most evident near the end of the story where the Doctor takes part in what amounts to an intergalactic court case, a premise that allows him to demonstrably plea for humanity and his own life but which is somewhat undermined by the unnecessary presence of a stereotypical judicial wig.

Despite the unsteady tonal shifts and the direction usually taking away from some of the innate menace of the rock creatures, ‘The Stones of Blood’ still has many positive attributes throughout its running time. In particular, Beatrix Lehmann gives a superb performance as the feisty, geriatric Professor Rumford. She shares a wonderful chemistry with Tom Baker and is completely unafraid to stand up to the Doctor and to let her opinion be known. The strong presences of both Mary Tamm and she lend credence to the later commentary in the story about the general treatment of women as characters at this time when the Doctor leaves Romana alone with two other women he hardly knows in order to explore on his own. ‘The Stones of Blood’ also deserves credit for introducing a very menacing and even-keeled female villain in the Cessair of Diplos, and, truly, the biggest achievement of this story may just be its numerous strong and crucial female roles even if the villain’s motivations are never fully explained.

Still, the quip-laden script pretty much perfectly encapsulates what Doctor Who is striving for at this time, and ‘The Stones of Blood’ as a result is still a very enjoyable story even with its few misfires in terms of plot tone and structure. As with the preceding two stories, there still is no true explanation of what the Key to Time can accomplish and why it’s so important that it be reassembled so quickly. At the same time, the introduction of the Black Guardian through a warning again suggests an ominous force in play, but it’s unfortunate that this character is not fleshed out more thoroughly or shown to have agents of his own like the Doctor and Romana for the White Guardian. Of course, the Doctor being on the side of cosmic order is somewhat ironic given his propensity for upsetting the status quo even with the best of intentions, but there are still plenty of intriguing notions left for the remaining three stories of this arc to explore.

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