My second venture into 1970s Doctor Who and folk horror for this Halloween season.
The Stones of Blood is one the Key to Time stories from Tom Baker’s 5th series as the Doctor, an overarching plot that connects all of the stories during that year. The Doctor and his new assistant, a younger Time Lady named Romanadvoratrelundar (Mary Tamm) are sent to various places around the universe by an entity known as the White Guardian to hunt down and collect objects that make up the Key to Time. These objects can be transformed into large crystal fragments once they’ve been found. When all six pieces are collected, they must be assembled to create a device that gives the wielder absolute timey-wimey powers.
Before we get to the actual story, this first episode therefore begins in the Tardis’s unlit and minimalist kitchen with the Doctor and Romana attempting to assemble the two pieces they’ve gathered so far from Ribos and the fun but silly Pirate Planet. Behind them is a 1930s-style fridge, in which they store the Key to Time when they aren’t working on it.
The third planet, on which they have to search for the next piece of the Key, will be Earth. Romana’s never been there, but it’s well known to be the Doctor’s favorite planet so he’s looking forward to showing it to her.
Meanwhile, somewhere on Earth (Cornwall, as it turns out), a scene very like the one at the opening of K9 & Company is being enacted. Robed and hooded cultists have gathered for a midnight ceremony, but this group is meeting at the center of a circle of Stonehenge-like stones instead of a ruined chapel, and the name they’re chanting isn’t Hecate. It’s Cailleach (yes, I did have to look that spelling up).
The cultists pour small bowls of blood onto the stones–and the stones glow red and begin to pulse and make a sound like a heartbeat.
One of the cultists raises her head and cries out:
“Come, O Great One, come! Your time is near.”
On the Tardis, Romana has changed into a stylish orange pants suit with a matching, jaunty tweed cap and high-heeled strap shoes that are completely unsuitable for walks in the countryside.
It’s raining when they land on Earth. Well, that’s only to be expected in England. The Doctor takes an umbrella, although he decides that he doesn’t need it and tosses it a few hundred yards from the Tardis.
Romana uses her Key detector, which sounds like a Geiger Counter, to guide them to the stone circle. For the scenes filmed outdoors, the story uses the Rollright Stones. I’ve been there; they’re actually in the Cotswolds not far from Banbury. The outer rings of stones is real. The inner circle, created for this story, is Styrofoam.
The two Time Lords are checking the stones to see if one of them is the Key, when they’re interrupted by a distinguished archeologist, Professor Emilia Rumford (the intrepid Beatrix Lehmann) and her friend Vivien Fay (Susan Engel). The professor thinks she’s met the Doctor before at one symposium or another–she’s a little vague on that point and the Doctor goes along with it.
Professor Rumford has come to do a definitive survey of the stones. She says that they’ve been previously miscounted. The first survey, done by Dr. Beaulais in 1750, the survey of the Reverend Thomas Bright in 1820, and two later surveys all contradict each other. Beatrix Lehmann’s delivery of this speech about the surveys is delightful; she sounds like a slightly absent-minded old scholar who has all this knowledge accumulated in her head, but sometimes has trouble accessing the particular details.
The circle is commonly known as the Nine Travelers… but there are more than 9 stones here.
Romana is somewhat alarmed when she discovers puddles of dried blood in the circle, but the two Earth women aren’t concerned. It’s the local Druid sect, they explain, who like to come here to enact sacrificial rites. Professor Rumford calls it “mumbo jumbo,” but thinks that the Druids can be a nuisance since they take it so seriously. The leader of group, Mr. DeVries, happens to live quite nearby; the manor house he now owns once belonged to the landlords of the meadow where the stone ring stands. He doesn’t own the meadow now, but probably feels it’s still his to use.
The Doctor also asks about some deep dents in the ground that he and Romana noticed on their way to the stone circle. Something weighing at least 3 1/2 tons must have made them. Vivian suggests that farm equipment would make those marks–although the Doctor will dismiss that idea when he looks at the dents again on his way to DeVries’s house.
He walks over to visit DeVries, leaving Romana behind with the two women since she can’t walk two miles in those strappy little shoes. While she waits for him to come back, Romana helps them with their survey and measurements of the stones, and is frightened by a crow. It looks evil.
Mr. DeVries and the woman who spoke at the previous night’s ceremony are having their own private Druid’s ceremony at his home. (We’ll learn that the woman’s name is Martha, but whether she’s DeVries’s wife, housekeeper, girlfriend, or just good friend and fellow Druid, I couldn’t say.)
“Death to the enemies of the Cailleach!” they chant. “He comes! The one foretold is here!”
Just then, the Doctor comes up to the front door and rings the doorbell.
The exterior of DeVries home is an actual Tudor house–the Manor in Little Compton, which goes back to the 1530s and the Dissolution of Monasteries, so it’s a good location for the history given in this story. There’s also a beautiful and almost convincing interior set of the front hall when the Doctor goes on in instead of waiting for someone to answer the door.
His attention is first drawn to a portrait on the wall of Dr. Beaulais, the man who first surveyed the stone circle and miscounted them. When DeVries appears, he tells the Doctor that one of the stones fell on Beaulais, and they hope that a similar fate will not befall Prof. Rumford.
DeVries addresses the Doctor by name and seems to know something of who he is and why he’s here. It’s hinted that the crow Romana saw at the stone circle is his spy and has flown over to bring him this information.
The Doctor also notices empty spaces on the wall where three paintings have been removed. DeVries says they’re being cleaned, but he tells the Doctor about them.
- One is of Lady Morgana Montcalm, a member of the family who owned the house and land including the stones after the Reformation. She’s known as Wicked Lady Montcalm and is reputed to have murdered her husband.
- A Victorian widow named Mrs. Trefusis who lived in the house as a recluse.
- A Brazilian lady who also seems to have lost her husband before her residence at the house; DeVries says that he didn’t make it through the ocean voyage from Brazil.
In these descriptions, we have signs of a promising cyclical and recurring theme–which is a historical horror trope I’m particularly partial to (and have mentioned before when reviewing Rats in the Walls or Nigel Kneale’s work).
Back at the stone circle, the women are just finishing up their work. Prof. Rumford and Vivian take their equipment and go over to Vivian’s nearby cottage for mugs of tea and hot sausage sandwiches. They invite Romana to come along, but she would rather wait here for the Doctor to return in spite of her worries about the number of crows circling overhead.
When we return to the Doctor and DeVries, the two men are sitting comfortably in the latter’s library and discussing Druidism over sherry. DeVries says that he’s not a conventional Druid, only a student of the ancient religion. Even so, he’s obviously offended when the Doctor replies that there’s so little information about it historically–just a brief mention by Julius Caesar and a bit in Tacitus–and dismisses the modern practice as a 19th-century invention, “mostly a joke” of Sir John Aubrey’s (whom the Doctor seems to have been personally acquainted with).
DeVries, who does believe in it, huffily cites the worship of Celtic goddesses. He provides a few names, including Cailleach. “Crows and ravens are her eyes,” he adds.
“You don’t believe that, do you?” the Doctor playfully asks the crow that’s sitting on its perch in the room.
When he turns back, DeVries is accompanied by his fellow cultist, who is dressed in a feathered cloak and striking-looking bird mask. The Doctor is more puzzled than alarmed by the appearance of this oddly dressed person, but while he’s distracted by her, DeVries takes the opportunity to club him in the head.
The Doctor falls stunned on the carpet and DeVries crouches over him.
“The blood is still warm,” he tells Martha. “I know what to do.”
So the story is off to a good beginning, but the final scene is just a little bit irksome.
Romana is still waiting at the stone circle as the evening draws in, when she hears what sounds like the Doctor’s voice calling to her. She’s normally a highly intelligent person and got much better grades at the Academy than the Doctor did, but she behaves idiotically here.
Leaving her shoes behind, she walks barefoot out of the circle and through the adjacent woods, following the voice until it draws her to the edge of a rocky cliff over the sea. She gets pushed over.