The Stones of Blood

Written by:
David Fisher
Directed by: Darrol Blake
Starring: Tom Baker
Year: 1978
Video Availability (NTSC Version): Try Amazon

Like a fair few Who "classics" it took me a while to like The Stones of Blood. What I couldn't get to grips with - still can't, really - is how this one topped the DWAS season poll. It seems such a blinkered mentality on behalf of fans, because the first half is "traditional" Who, with gothic sets. Yet this completely overlooks the fact that the second half is arguably the daffiest of the season, with Tom hamming it up with two flashing lights in hyperspace. And while I can appreciate the virtues of the story after a couple of viewings, I still feel it lacks in imagination when compared to the two stories surrounding it. The season highlight which follows is, lest we forget, The Androids of Tara, which was written by the same writer, but came last in the season poll. We can return to that later.

It's staggering how the budget was being tightened for this season. It must have gone up again the following year because we got some decent film and location work, not to mention the first overseas shoot. But here the penny-pinching is all on screen, with the Tardis interior, apart from the console room, a black hall with an old bedside cabinet in it. The exposition dealt out here makes it even more painful, with Tamm's horrifically stagy delivery making it seem far worse. It's pretty awful stuff, and often seems there to pad out the episode - look at the "what does she mean, 'not yet'?" scene. Having Romana say, "Yes, I know all that" only highlights how fatuous it all is. And just how many confused double takes can Tamm cram into one episode anyway?

Things don't get much better with an exterior filmed in the studio, and sound effects that seem to suggest the Ogri devour blood by using the Liberator's teleporter. There's also an unusual look to the location filming with the Doctor and Romana - is it the weather? Shot on video? Both? Thankfully things do improve, and let's make two points: one is that this is, famously, the 100th story in the series. The other is that this another of Who's great attempts to give an SF explanation of a real life mystery. The stone circle isn't Stonehenge (though it is referenced in the second episode), but then the triangle of disappearing ships in The Sea Devils wasn't the Bermuda Triangle either. Yet you can put this one in with stuff like the Yeti and the Loch Ness Monster for mysteries that the Doctor has tackled.

Yet the best thing about the whole story is one of Who's finest guest stars and characters: Beatrix Lehmann as Emilia Rumford. She has almost Hartnell levels of recall (partly intentional) but full of charisma and magnetism. Some fans allege that she and Vivien Fay are supposed to be lesbians, but it's never really struck me that way. Maybe it's because I've never wanted it to - now if it was Zoe and Romana, it'd be a different story…

I'm almost getting sick of hearing myself bitch-slap Dud-ley, but his function as incidental music composer here really is redundant. Atmosphere is allowed to be squandered as he lets whole scenes go by without any attempt at a score, while other moments have musical stabs at quite the most inappropriate times. The sense of timefilling is intensified when one of the eerie ravens is given a twelve-second close-up. It doesn't sound that long, but in TV terms it's a real "we've still got over three minutes to go before the cliffhanger" moment. Still, despite my slags, this is more respectable than the previous eight weeks of the season, so…
* * * ½

Nearly ten years before Dragonfire tried to be all postmodern by having a rubbish hanging over a cliff climax as a cliffhanger, Stones does it first. Well, all except the fact that Romana only hangs off it for the reprise. Well, I say hangs off it. I mean she pretends to while lying in front of some lame back projection that would have looked dated in the 1950s.

"It's getting rather exciting, isn't it?" says Emilia, though either it's quite dull or my back is just aching from the gardening 'cos I'm just not that into it and feel like I need a break. A good Who story you should be able to watch in one sitting, but this one is already starting to pall just a few minutes before the halfway point. The bit where the Doctor and K-9 argue over whether he wanted to be a bloodhound is funny, but the CSO used to place the Doctor and Romana in front of a cliff face makes that used in The Green Death look hi-tech.

However, this is a story that keeps getting propped up by introducing new factors: just as Emilia made the first episode pick up a notch, here we have the first proper introduction of the Ogri, and they really are quite disturbing. With their pulsing, sinister sound they could well make this the last scary story Doctor Who ever did. In fact, having an enemy that lives on blood is one of Who's most graphic attempts at horror.

Tom is at his most serious all season in these opening two episodes, but still more hammy than the script demands. Tamm is notably uncomfortable with exposition and is involved in yet another perils of Romana cliffhanger…
* * * ½

"It's closing on us fast." "But it's impossible!" "No it isn't, we're standing still." Class! The night filming is wonderful, too. In fact, the weather conditions are so bad for this one you can hardly see what's going on half the time. Lehmann keeps performing miracles in this one. She seems to be acting in a completely different story to everyone else, but she's absolutely magnificent.

Listen - I hate to keep knocking Dudley, but if something's true then it's worth saying twice. What could be a vaguely witty bullfight parody is over-egged by his music, all semblance of subtlety trumpeted out of it. And if ever there was a story of two halves then it's this one. After two and a bit episodes of relatively straight gothic horror, we now get some light entertainment spaceship shenanigans. Seeing this for the third time I'm now fairly immune to the kid's show recreation of the Megara, but when I first saw them I couldn't believe how silly it all was. It seems even worse because it's in such a fairly serious story. On a completely unrelated point, how many Who stories have featured those walls with the triangular shapes? (As seen in the room where Romana is held prisoner). I know they're used again next season in Nightmare of Eden, and seem to be used in about fifty other stories, not to mention cropping up in Blake's 7. The scene with the campers is boundary pushing horror, while there's also the famous cameo of the Wirrn in this, the best episode of the story.
* * * *

Strangely the reprise is different to the previous episode, and the Megara subplot seems only there for narrative convenience. It's something of an anti-climax as all the developing plot strands are not naturally resolved but subverted into an artificial addition to the plot. Another thing I couldn't get my head round at first is how the Doctor just happens to have a barrister's wig in his jacket pocket, though I guess it's just part of the Williams regime of meta SF. Besides, we do get to see Susan Engel's boobies painted silver, which is a plus in any episode.

Something I've never noticed before is when Tom says "I beg your pardon, your honours…" his voice picks up the microphone distortion of the Megara. Any complaints about the Doctor realising that Fay's necklace was the third key are redundant as it was clearly pointed out in the second episode, you just have to look for it. All things considered, it's still quite a clever way to wrap things up. Only one sour point - Beatrix Lehmann finishing the story without a bra. There are many things I can live my life without - seeing a granny's nip-nips is one of them.
* * * ½

This is the perfect example of the overall verdict theory. A quick summing up of the story as a whole, and illustrating whether it matches up to the sum of its parts. In the case of The Stones of Blood then it becomes far more. An overall rating isn't just a straightforward equation, and while three of the episodes present verged on an average score, as a whole Stones is worth so much more. Quite a clever story that rewards repeat viewings, it holds higher status within the Who pantheon than its individual components would seem to attest..
* * * *