A little light relief from current affairs – for Doctor Who fans anyway.
I’ve commented before on mistletoe having bit parts in Doctor Who – notably protecting Queen Victoria (and David Tennant’s Doctor) from a Werewolf in a 2006 episode. And also mistletoe featuring, unremarked but possibly significantly, outside a portal in a 2017 episode with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor (I met Mr C briefly this year. Nice man, he said ‘hello’).
Now, via the magic of Britbox, I’ve discovered another whovian mistletoe moment, with Tom Baker’s Doctor, in the 1978 4-parter The Stones of Blood. This story (the 3rd of the Key to Time stories, for the anoraks among us) features a prehistoric stone circle and a back story about druids. And so, inevitably, there’s some mistletoe.
I remember something of this one when it was first broadcast, primarily because I recognised the location used for filming – the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire. These were recognisable even though the set designers did tart the circle up a bit, adding fake additional stones, including capstones in Stonehenge style, to the middle. The druid angle seems a strong part of the story at first, with a bevy of druids conducting blood sacrifices, including an attempt on Tom Baker. The druid theme does, however, peter out in the later episodes.
But what there is is quite entertaining, with the Doctor’s usual comments on personal experiences of times past. In conversation with the lead druid, a Mr De Vries (who, spoiler alert, doesn’t survive long) the Doctor refers to John Aubrey, the antiquarian who did so much to promote druidry in the 17th century. It’s well-known that Aubrey elaborated and re-invented many druidic customs but the Doctor goes further, implying that he knew Aubrey and that druidry was ‘founded by him as a joke, he had a great sense of humour did John Aubrey’!
Mistletoe features only in passing. Before the Doctor is trussed up and tied to a stone we see Mr De Vries performing a ceremony indoors with mistletoe on an alter. The screenshots I’ve got are low quality but you can see, I hope, that it is, er, plastic mistletoe. Which is slightly disappointing, I’d wager that even John Aubrey would disapprove!