A common complaint against the Key to Time story arc is that the Black Guardian didn’t really play a big role until the final story, The Armageddon Factor, but I’d argue that isn’t true. As spin-off media has established the Black Guardian uses a crow or a raven as a symbol to announce his arrival and The Stones of Blood in particular has a villain who couldn’t be doing what she’s doing without the interference of the Black Guardian, more on that later. The Stones of Blood could have been corrupted with a stale format as The Ribos Operation and The Pirate Planet have the similar plot of the Doctor and Romana going to a planet, finding the segment, a problem arises stopping them from getting the segment immediately, they defeat the problem, they get the segment, and finally say goodbye, moving on to the next. David Fisher’s first script for Doctor Who actually changes this format just a little bit by setting up where the segment is as a mystery. The Doctor and Romana arrive on Earth knowing the segment is somewhere in the vicinity of the TARDIS landing, but the Tracer seems to be malfunctioning and they cannot locate it. It isn’t until Part Four when the segment reveals itself and that’s a good fifteen minutes into the episode with Fisher focusing most of the story on the plot of who is the Callieach, a Druid goddess of war and magic.
Part One, at least everything until the scenes leading to the cliffhanger, is the weakest portion of the story mainly down to the direction from Darrol Blake. The scenes with the group of Druids look great in Part One, but much of the day shots and shots inside the TARDIS just come across as stale and could have easily been chopped down to opening with the disembodied voice of “beware the Black Guardian” and putting together the first two segments to show that that’s how they will work. It really just makes it a bit difficult to get into the plot until it is already underway. This also comes down to the script, which is heavy on the exposition as if people haven’t been watching the season already. You don’t need a recap of the Key to Time, but the revelation to Romana that it wasn’t the Lord President, but the White Guardian who is responsible for getting them on the quest. It could have easily tied into the cliffhanger where Romana is pushed off a cliff, supposedly by the Doctor. This is the best cliffhanger of the episode even if the direction of it is a bit off in places so that you cannot see if it is the Doctor, but I believe that is intentional. Part One should also be noticed for De Vries and Martha played by Nicholas McArdle and Elaine Ives-Cameron respectively. They survive until Part Two where they are killed by the titular stones of blood, but their function is to be cultists that worship the Callieach. They don’t really serve a higher purpose but both actors give such over the top performances it is impossible to forget them.
Mary Tamm as Romana really gets her chance to shine in Part Two as she is wary of the Doctor for the first five minutes as it is the Doctor who pushed her off the cliff. What is great though is that this gets the audience intrigued into the segment of the Key to Time, because it is suggested whoever controls the segment has forced it to look like the Doctor. John Leeson as K9 actually gets involved in the plot in this part as he helps the Doctor look for Romana and just stay around. Part Two also really serves the purpose to introduce us to the Ogri, the titular stones of blood. The Ogri make for a great monster as they are silent, but they kill people to regain strength and are difficult to kill. The way they are portrayed really helps the story give off an atmosphere of fear as many scenes are shot at night, adding to the tone, and the fact that blood is used only improves on realism. You can really believe that these Ogri are killing people and there is a danger as they destroy some of the sets by lumbering around. A random camping couple are introduced only to be gruesomely killed by the Ogri
The Tom Baker era has an odd habit of using elderly ladies in adventures as a foil for the Doctor and The Stones of Blood has Professor Amelia Rumford. Rumford is an archeologist studying the Nine Travelers, and gets caught up with the Doctor. She’s a no nonsense type character and has some of her best moments in Part Three. She spends most of the episode with the Doctor while Romana has been sent into hyperspace, which Rumford thinks is impossible. While the tone of the episode stays towards that of the gothic stories of the Hinchcliffe era, Beatrix Lehmann as Professor Rumford has amazing comedic timing. Just look at the scene where she and Tom Baker figure out Vivian Fay’s secret identity or the scene where the Doctor tries to explain hyperspace to her. It is no small feat as she is working with the comedic timing of Tom Baker who isn’t cracking jokes, but one-liners that catch you off guard at first and then make you begin to laugh at how humorous the situation the characters are in actually are.
There is a real shift in the plot between Part Three and Part Four as it turns out there is a spaceship in hyperspace, one which has been there for thousands of years. There is a bit of a decrease in quality as the sets are a bit jarring. The sets and location footage for Earth look real, while the spaceship looks just a bit too cheap for comfort. Part Four is a highlight for the alien aspects of the story. Vivian Fay, also known as criminal Cessair of Diplos, played by Susan Engel, is a marvelous villain. Engel gives the performance of a cool, calculated murderer. She seems almost one step ahead of the Doctor at all times. This is where the Black Guardian comes in as Vivian uses ravens and crows for one, and couldn’t have escaped her prison without help. She also knows of the Doctor’s quest, but the Doctor and Romana didn’t mention it to anyone. The highlight of Part Four are also the ending’s small downfall with the Megara who are justice robots. They put the Doctor on trial which amounts to fifteen minutes of complete madness and a clever ending, but sadly a deus ex machina. Also Romana has little to contribute outside of opening statements.
To summarize, for the one hundredth Doctor Who story The Stones of Blood is an excellent story with a good mix of humor and horror. It is one of the remains of the Hinchcliffe era of Doctor Who and works as a welcome change of pace for the Key to Time season. Sadly the direction is rather poor and the cliffhangers really don’t allow an actual hang as they cut off just when the time is out. The ending however is awful as it doesn’t really satisfy everything up to that point with the Ogri as great villains. 83/100