The Androids of Tara

The Androids of Tara is the fourth serial of the 16th season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts on BBC1 from 25 November to 16 December 1978.

101 The Androids of Tara
Doctor Who serial
Romana (centre) meets her first doppelgänger, the Princess Strella (left)
Directed byMichael Hayes
Written byDavid Fisher
Script editorAnthony Read
Produced byGraham Williams
Executive producer(s)None
Incidental music composerDudley Simpson
Production code5D
SeriesSeason 16
Length4 episodes, 25 minutes each
First broadcast25 November – 16 December 1978
 Preceded by
The Stones of Blood
Followed by 
The Power of Kroll

The serial is set on the planet Tara, which is made up of a feudal society with electronic weapons and androids. In the serial, Count Grendel of Gracht (Peter Jeffrey) kidnaps Prince Reynart (Neville Jason) and the alien time traveller Romana (Mary Tamm), along with the fourth segment of the powerful Key to Time, as part of his plot to become the legitimate King of Tara.


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, a skill reserved to the lesser orders. Centuries earlier, after a plague wiped out nine tenths of the population, the peasants, abandoned by the nobles, began building androids to deal with labour shortages. The planet is now troubled by a struggle for the crown and the power on Tara. The rightful heir, Prince Reynart, is facing a challenge to his rule and coronation from his cousin, Count Grendel of Gracht, a suave but deadly villain who has kidnapped Reynart's sweetheart, the Princess Strella, and is holding her captive to persuade Reynart not to take the throne.

The Fourth Doctor and Romana arrive on Tara in search of the fourth segment of the Key to Time. While the Doctor goes fishing, Romana identifies and transforms the fourth segment alone—it was disguised as a segment of a Grachtian statue. She is attacked by a native Taran bear and only saved by Count Grendel, who takes Romana to his castle on the pretext of treating her injured ankle and "registering" the Key segment as an exotic gemstone. Once there, it becomes clear that Grendel believes she is an android, because she exactly resembles the captive Strella. Grendel orders her to be disassembled, and just before Romana's head is to be chopped off, Grendel's surgeon/android engineer Madame Lamia realises Romana is real. However, Romana is then imprisoned in Grendel's dungeons like the Princess.

Meanwhile, the noble swordsmen Zadek (Simon Lack) and Farrah (Paul Lavers) have recruited the Doctor to assist Prince Reynart. He agrees to help repair an android copy of the Prince, which is to be used as a decoy to help him reach his coronation 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 and his 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 android Reynart can be crowned, for if he is not there at the correct moment then he forfeits his claim and the crown may be offered to Grendel. The real Reynart was wounded in his capture and has been imprisoned with Romana to prevent any legitimate succession The Doctor calls K9 from the TARDIS to provide armed support and scanning intelligence that confirms that the Count has Romana in his castle. The Doctor and his party sneak the android Prince into the throne room, and the coronation begins; but the android is damaged and it is clear the ruse will not hold for long. After the Prince is crowned King, Strella appears, to swear loyalty to the King. Although struck by her resemblance to Romana, the Doctor recognises that she is an android and hits her on the head with the King's sceptre.

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, however, a trap engineered by Grendel who knows the Doctor is the man who has deprived him of the throne. Grendel has persuaded his android maker Madame Lamia to make another android in the image of Romana that is programmed to kill the Doctor. However, K9 detects the android Romana and eliminates it. 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. The situation is soon reversed; Grendel, coming under a flag of truce to secretly offer the crown to the Doctor, destroys the Reynart android and then recaptures Romana. The evil Count now plots to have Romana pose as Strella and marry the real King Reynart in a shotgun wedding at Castle Gracht. Once they are married and she is his Queen, Reynart will then be killed, leaving Grendel free to marry her immediately afterwards thus ultimately making himself the legitimate King of Tara.

The Doctor has K9 assist him to gain access to the castle by means of the moat and tunnels. The Doctor reaches the throne room just in time to stop Reynart's coerced marriage to Romana. He then engages the Count in a deadly duel with electro-swords, eventually defeating him and forcing him to flee. Romana has meanwhile freed Strella who is finally reunited with Reynart. Having retrieved the fourth segment of the Key to Time, the Doctor, Romana and K9 depart.


Mary Tamm designed Romana's distinctive purple outfit after the originally planned costume proved unsuitable.[1] Although 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. Location work was performed at Leeds Castle, Kent.[2]

In the opening credits, the episode number appears before the writer's name, contrary to the order in most Doctor Who stories.

Cast notes

Mary Tamm plays four roles in this story: Romana, Princess Strella and their android doubles.

Peter Jeffrey previously played the colony pilot in The Macra Terror (1967). Declan Mulholland previously played Clark in The Sea Devils (1972). This is Cyril Shaps's fourth and final appearance in Doctor Who, the others being The Tomb of the Cybermen (1967), The Ambassadors of Death (1970) and Planet of the Spiders (1974). It is his only appearance in which his character is not killed. Simon Lack had previously appeared as Professor Kettering in The Mind of Evil (1971).

Broadcast and reception

EpisodeTitleRun timeOriginal air dateUK viewers
1"Part One"24:5325 November 1978 (1978-11-25)8.5
2"Part Two"24:272 December 1978 (1978-12-02)10.1
3"Part Three"23:529 December 1978 (1978-12-09)8.9
4"Part Four"24:4916 December 1978 (1978-12-16)9

The story was repeated on four consecutive Thursdays on BBC1 from 9–30 August 1979, achieving viewing figures of 6.2, 10.4, 10.4 and 9.6 million, respectively.[4]

In their book The Discontinuity Guide (1995), Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping described The Androids of Tara as "Wonderful, Doctor Who as heroic romance, with plenty of swashbuckling, wit and colour." They particularly praised the Doctor's duel at the end and the small stakes.[5] On the other hand, David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker in The Television Companion (1998) felt that the story relied on The Prisoner of Zenda, which made it "rather less engaging than the other stories of the season, coming over more as a gentle run-around than as anything particularly significant". They praised the premise, but wrote that there was a lack of suspense and the characters were bland, with the exception of Grendel.[6] DVD Talk's Justin Felix agreed, writing that "its whimsical nature makes this episode feel more like an excursion than an advancement of the season's storyline" and described the story as "a competent albeit standard runaround". However, he praised Baker and the development of Romana's character. Felix gave the story three out of five stars.[7] In 2011, Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times praised the acting and direction, but stated that it "strays too far into the 'adventure serial' territory" and lacked a sense of "real urgency or jeopardy".[8]

Commercial Releases

In print

Doctor Who and the Androids of Tara
AuthorTerrance Dicks
Cover artistAndrew Skilleter
SeriesDoctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
PublisherTarget Books
Publication date
24 April 1980

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in April 1980. An audiobook release of this story was made in 2012, and does not use the Target novelistion by Terrance Dicks, but uses a brand-new novelisation written for audio by David Fisher and narrated by John Leeson.

Home media

The Androids of Tara was released on VHS on 1 May 1995. This serial, along with the rest of season sixteen, was released in North America as part of the Key to Time box set. A remastered version was released on region 2 DVD in September 2007,[9] and region 1 in March 2009.


  1. DVD commentary
  2. "BBC – Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide – The Androids of Tara – Details".
  3. "Ratings Guide". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  4. "Doctor Who Guide: broadcasting for The Androids of Tara".
  5. Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "The Androids of Tara". The Discontinuity Guide. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-426-20442-5.
  6. Howe, David J & Walker, Stephen James (1998). Doctor Who: The Television Companion (1st ed.). London: BBC Books. ISBN 978-0-563-40588-7.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. Felix, Justin (29 March 2009). "Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara". DVD Talk. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  8. Mulkern, Patrick (21 January 2011). "Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara". Radio Times. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  9. "DVD News". BBC. 18 May 2007. Archived from the original on 6 June 2009.

Target novelisation

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