Crazy cultists worshipping aliens as gods, meeting in secret and making sacrifices – these are all well-worn ideas by now, and not an inspiring way to usher in the 100th serial. However, the druid theme and the stone circles do provide a creepy flavour to the proceedings, and the ending takes an unexpected turn as the Doctor finds himself aboard a prison-ship in hyperspace, at which point it turns into a sci-fi court drama.
There continues to be a thread of light-hearted humour running through these serials, even amidst the dark themes, but it is this humour that I find confident and charming. The Stones of Blood is funny in places, a little scary in others, but always watchable. It is, to coin an annoying phrase, a “fun romp”, like watching a Scooby-Doo episode. I’m even growing to like K-9, the Scrappy-Doo character, and when he gets temporarily squashed by the big stone thing and all his circuits are hanging out, I felt a bit sad for him. Of course, he always bounces back, recharges, gets fixed or whatever.
I can’t decide whether the stones are scary or ridiculous. I think there is potential for them to be threatening that sometimes works. They’re sentient blood-drinking stones that emerge from the darkness with that pulsating noise (it sounds familiar, I want to say it’s from Fury from the Deep, but I’m not sure) and strip the flesh from your bones with a touch, a “hidden in plain sight” concept much like a proto version of the Weeping Angels. But at other times, the way they just slide around the sets in full view, barging around the place knocking into things, looks daft.
Vivien, who turns out to be the villainous Cessair of Diplos, puts on a solid performance but the part is underwritten, and the final moments of the court proceedings fall flat, as the Doctor convinces the Megara of her guilt while Romana and Professor Rumford pointlessly rush to gather evidence to do the same thing. And then there’s the warning at the start, “beware of the black guardian”, which is never mentioned again. Is the implication that Cessair is the black guardian? Why did she have the key to time around her neck? It doesn’t tie up satisfyingly. Maybe the next story will provide some answers.
I can’t help but feel this one didn’t turn out quite as planned. It’s got some good ideas, likeable characters and witty dialogue, but it fails to be anything more than okay. Not bad but unremarkable.