Defining the Doctor: The Stones of Blood

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Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull continues his monthly series looking at one key story from each Doctor.


“Nobody home but us druids.”
– The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker).

The Stones of Blood in my humble opinion is a classic. The settings shown on screen were manifold, the characters were explored to their full potential and the antagonist was a refreshing change. In spite of the fact that the story is set on Earth, I felt that David Fisher utilized the environment efficiently and had the Doctor and Romana move around much more than other Earth-based stories of that time (viz. Horror of Fang Rock).

The dialogue is spruce and sensible (particularly Tom Baker’s lines), and the story’s discourse has aged remarkably well. Mary Tamm is on top form as the Doctor’s sexy and sassy assistant, Romana whose mannerisms (her knowledge of Earth) are explored as the Time Lord brings her to his home turf for once. Tom Baker meanwhile is superlative as the curly-haired maverick, whilst John Leeson’s K-9 gets some laugh-out-loud lines (“Forget. Erase memory banks concerning ‘tennis’. Memory erased.”). Take this uproarious conversation in de Vries’ manor for instance:

K-9: Master.
The Doctor: Shh! What? K-9, why don’t you bark or something?
K-9: I’m not programmed to bark, master.
The Doctor: Yes, but listen – never mind about that – I’ve got a job for you. Now you’ve always wanted to be a bloodhound.
K-9: Negative, master.
The Doctor: Yes, you have. Yes, you have!
K-9: Negative.
The Doctor: Shh! Now here’s your chance. Find Romana, hm?

Doctor Who has been everywhere; ancient Rome, the end of the Earth, the end of the universe, Cardiff, numerous quarries, and wherever the Doctor goes, he will always bump into a new friend. These characters can be unexceptional and forgettable, or they can be memorable and loveable. So was the case of Professor Amelia Rumford, a dotty archaeologist who the Doctor and Romana encounter on their trip to Earth. I think of Professor Rumford as my favourite character of classic era Who. Beatrix Lehmann imbued her with such an unceasing affability, that it really is hard to not like her.

The Stones of Blood isn’t as buoyant a tale as its main characters, because the themes it covers are rather dark. I draw your attention to a scene in the third episode of the story where James Murray and Shirin Taylor play two unfortunate campers who quench the bloodthirsty Ogris’ needs. The depiction of Taylor and Murray getting their blood drunk by the malevolent stones is grisly, and unsettling [I direct you to a paragraph on this scene, in Shane Spangler’s marvellous article: 12 One-Scene Wonders in Doctor Who]. David Fisher ‘does a Moffat’ in making a villain out of something so ordinary, in this case, a cromlech [or standing stone]. The cause of the ghastly death of Mr. de Vries and his maid, Martha is described as having their “skulls crushed”, the connotations being extremely unpleasant.

The primary antagonist of the piece is Susan Engel as Cessair of Diplos, an absconder from the planet, Diplos who fled to Earth in an attempt to escape capture. Engel’s glittering silver makeup is unnervingly bright and disturbing. Whilst Cessair is in her ‘Vivien Fay’ guise, you always have an uneasy feeling about her seemingly artificial cheeriness.

The Fourth Doctor is, hands down, the most popular, Doctor of them all. His madcap persona, and ridiculously overlong scarf are all highly memorable features of his incarnation. Tom Baker is the actor to portray the Time Lord the longest, setting the record at seven years. This means it was incredibly hard to pick a story for him (out of season), and so I eventually decided on The Stones of Blood basing my decision on the quality of the story, his and Mary Tamm’s performance, and the standout eccentricity of the jelly-baby-loving Time Lord.