By now, Tom Baker’s version of the Doctor is so well settled in, I can’t really imagine anyone else playing the role. Even the relatively poor stories have moments of humour and wit, or some banter that makes me chuckle. Even so, to stop things becoming stale, season 16 shakes things up a bit. Firstly, there appears to be a season-long arc running through it, as the Doctor is tasked by the White Guardian (who?) with collecting the six pieces of the Key to Time (one per serial over six serials, presumably). While this doesn’t really limit the Doctor’s adventures, it does focus his motives, which I suppose could be helpful.
Secondly, since Leela left (boo!), the Doctor is assigned new assistant Romana. Unlike previous companions, she is a Time Lord herself (or Time Lady?), so we don’t have the grounded frame of reference that we would get from a human character. So far, this hasn’t had a negative impact, but I fear Romana’s attitude could grow tiresome over time. As with any new character, however, I will give her the benefit of the doubt.
The story is a bit flabby and threatens to becoming boring, but it’s filled with lively characters and amusing accents, so it remains watchable enough. There are some undercooked elements, like the dragon creature or the witch, that add very little. K-9 returns in Mk.II form (identical) and saves the day with his magic laser beam. But it’s fine, not bad, not great.
It remains to be seen if the rest of the season can find interesting ways to present the hidden keys of time, and indeed whether anything exciting happens with it at the end. Right now, it does kind of feel like an irrelevant linking device. Previous “cross-serial” stories (see: Frontier in Space / Planet of the Daleks) have been disappointing in resolving answers, so I’m hoping for something better. On the other hand, The Keys of Marinus was pretty good, and this is giving similar vibes. Time will tell.