Should the Key to Time make a comeback?

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Guest contributor Anthony Willis believes there’s potential for a return.


With this being the 50th Anniversary year there have been a lot of nods to the Classic series: The Eye of Harmony, Ice Warriors, mentions of Susan and even the Valeyard. I’ve been thinking about what else might or could return and I’ve concluded that out of everything in the Classic series that hasn’t made a return or been mentioned, the Key to Time is the thing that should return.

What is the Key?

tom-baker-key-to-timeFor those of you who haven’t had to good fortune to see the Key to Time episodes I will summarise them all for you. The Key to Time is a cube made up of six pieces that when put together gives whoever possesses it mastery over the entire universe and all of time. The pieces are scattered throughout the Universe, throughout time and can be disguised as anything. It’s a little bit like the Skasis Paradigm in the sense that the person who holds it can essentially become a God.

The Fourth Doctor is visited by an entity called the White Guardian who is responsible for all order and good in the universe. The Doctor is tasked with the challenge to gather all six pieces so that the White Guardian can restore balance to the Universe. The Doctor is warned of the Black Guardian, the White Guardian’s opposite and responsible for all evil and chaos in the universe. The six-part series shows the Doctor finding a piece of the Key per episode whilst doing the old Doctor thing of saving a world at the same time. When in possession of the completed cube the Doctor tells his companion at the time, Romana, that the Key is a source of unimaginable power that must not fall into the wrong hands. Had it not been for the humorous nature of this particular scene it could have easily been turned into one of the fourth Doctor’s top moments alongside “Do I have the right?”

At the end of the serial the key pieces are scattered among time and space once again. Both the White and Black Guardian are immortal and are often described as ‘God-like’ with their powers. Both made other appearances in later episodes outside of the Key to Time series, however the Key itself was not touched on. It was never again seen or mentioned in the TV series, although a ‘retelling’ of the story was featured in the 3 (or 4 depending on whether you count one of them or not) part Big Finish Audios series known as ‘Key 2 Time’. This saw the Doctor once again trying to find the pieces of the Key to Time and reveals many new facts about the White and Black Guardians. The Key was also briefly mentioned in ‘The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith’ in The Sarah Jane Adventures by the Trickster, who as it happens is often likened to the Black Guardian.

The series arcs of classic and new

One thing that was very rare in the Classic era was series arcs. You had the occasional string of stories that followed directly on from each other, but not that many storylines that linked episodes together. The only ‘proper’ story arcs were Season 23 or ‘The Trial of a Timelord’ as it is more well-known and Season 16 or ‘The Key to Time’.

The revived series on the other hand is full of series arcs: Bad Wolf, Torchwood, Saxon, the cracks, Silence will Fall… you can’t move for all of them. It’s quite obvious that the writers like using arcs because they act as another way to get the fans speculating about upcoming episodes without having to use too many big ‘John Hurt’ sized cliff-hangers.

This is essentially the difference to the series arcs of the Classic and new series: the new series’ arcs are ones that provide mystery and anticipation to keep the audience guessing whereas the Classic series’ are there to provide a back story to link a series of episodes together. The Key to Time arc however was a mixture of the two. It was not only a back story for why the Doctor and Romana were visiting these places but it also allowed the audience to play a sort of guessing game as to what object was going to be the Key to Time. Which I think would make a great Series 8 or 9 Arc.

Lower budgets and shorter series

black-guardian-The-Armageddon-FactorThe main two differences between Doctor Who now and when the Key to Time series aired is budget and series format/length. The Key to Time series fitted the series format very well, there were around 6 episodes which meant one piece per episode, however nowadays we get 13 episodes a series plus a Christmas special, which means a Key to Time series would mean a bit of inventive organising.

If the Doctor was looking once again he would not go on trips between looking for the pieces, chances are if he needed to find them he needs to do it quickly. If the show ever reintroduced two-parters or had a bit of jiggling around with the series format, maybe fewer, but longer episodes then a 6-story (not necessarily 6 episode, remember we have the two-parter option) then a new Key to Time could be possible.

The main thing I feel that let the original Key to Time series down was the budget. I mean the episodes, for that era of Doctor Who were actually quite good quality but entities like the Black and White Guardians are essentially Gods and down to the abilities of TV of the time and the budget that followed they looked no better than men is White and Black costumes. The show has a much higher budget and special effects ability than it did then, so a more ‘explosive’ appearance of the Guardians would be not only possible but excellent to see.

We can dream can’t we?

At the end of the day I think a Key to Time series is unlikely, hell I even thing a mention of the Key/Guardians is unlikely. But I genuinely think a reintroduction would be a good move. Much how the original did, you don’t have to stray too much from the current setup, they just have to introduce a bit near the end of the episode where they find out the Sontaran’s gun was a piece of the Key to Time. It was a case in the last Key to Time series where a living person was a piece of the key… what if they revealed that the Doctor himself was now a piece of the Key?

Doctor Who is a show of unlimited possibilities and the reintroduction of the Key to Time would not hinder on that, if anything it would expand on it.