Saturday, 26 March 2011

17: The Time Meddler - The Birth Of Doctor Who's Sci-Fi/Historical.

Written by: Dennis Spooner.
Companions: The Doctor, Vicki & Steven Taylor.
Monsters/Villains: The Meddling Monk.
Brief Synopsis: In 1066 a mysterious Monk wants to change the outcome of the Battle of Hastings.
Rating: 5/10.

Hello blog land. It's been a while. 11 days to be precise. We have magically arrived at the last story of the second series. Ian and Barbara have left, and we find ourselves with a new dynamic in the TARDIS. I am very pleased to announce for this one I was joined by equally huge Doctor Who fan Ed Blagrove; a dear old friend of mine from Oxford, and we watched the story right after a visit to the Doctor Who Experience. Lovely.

The first thing that strikes us both is the loss of Ian and Barbara. The Doctor is getting better at saying goodbye to his companions, but as an audience member I truly feel the programme will never be the same without the terrific twosome.

We both agree that Maureen O'Biren is excellent and does really well with some fairly suspect lines. Ed points out that he misses the days when the Doctor didn't have sexual tension with his companions. I quite agree. We also find ourselves with a new member to the TARDIS crew: Steven, played by the wonderful Peter Purves. The whole story starts out as a means to prove to Steven that the TARDIS is in fact a time machine. But not before Vicki is ordered to clean Steven up and get him some new clothes. Ed comments that Steven looks like a 19th century french mime artist in his black polo neck and cloak.

As the trio exit the TARDIS I beg the question: Why does everyone have to wear capes? Ed replies "did they still have travelling capes? - I travelled here today, should I have worn a cape?" Only a short while in and we get our first glimpse of the Meddling Monk, played beautifully, and somewhat tongue in cheek by the glorious Peter Butterworth. Ed notices that the Monk has a ring just like the Doctors. Something I never noticed before. Steven refers to the Doctor as Doc, to which he replies, "Don't call me Doc." A line which will be repeated years on by Richard Hundall in The Five Doctors

The Doctor gets his first clue as to the TARDIS' location in the 10th or 11th century by discovering a helmet with horns. This is of course incorrect as any self respecting kid who read Horrible Histories will know, as there is no indication at all that the Vikings ever had horned helmets; this connotation has come from film.

Alethea Charlton with Saxon Company. 
As we get further in Ed admits he hasn't watched a black and white story for a long time. We both have a little chuckle as we spot Alethea Charlton, not as the cavewoman Hur but this time as the Saxon woman Edith. She brings the Doctor some "drink" in a conch and Ed notes "she's got the horn." It's so great to have someone here to make these jokes. Later in the story, things aren't as comical, as Edith gets attacked and suggestively raped by an invading Viking with an eye patch, who Ed lovingly dubs "Patchy." The rape is implied, but in a very subtle way. Doctor Who is often faced with the issue of having to not let itself get too real and gritty and staying inside it's 'family show' remit; this is handled very well here. The Doctor questions Edith to decipher where and more importantly when he is. He gleans that he is in Northumbria in 1066.

We then get our first anachronism as Steven attacks a man who finds a wrist watch! Both Ed and I agreed that we loved the cliffhanger, as the Doctor enters the monastery to discover not as expected an abomination of Monks, but a gramophone playing monastic chants.

The main thing The Time Meddler has going for it is that it's the first story where history and future meet. The Meddling Monk is seen running a toaster, toting binoculars, a British cross medical kit, a biro, and a rather impressive gun. For viewers in 1965 who didn't know what was going to happen this must have been thrilling and intriguing.

Ed remembers that this was the first black and white story he ever saw in a re-run in 1993. I keep noticing that there is a lot of stock footage used to signify night falling, waves crashing on the sand, and a rather hilarious group of Vikings on a Viking ship. Ed also makes a little reference to the new series which sends me into floods of laughter as Steven goes up to the monastery and bangs on the door, "he knocked four times." Ed also points out that if Saxons appeared in the series as it is today they wouldn't look they way they do in The Time Meddler

Saxon Beefcake. Not! 
Hands down the worst part of this story is the "Battle" between the Saxons and the Vikings, in which sadly "Patchy" bites the dust. Everyone appears to think they're in a benny hill sketch; as they run in and out of the Monastery, screaming at the top of their lungs for some reason, and all the while with the sound of drumming in the background, which makes the scene even more farcical. But this hilarity passes quickly and the story comes across as strong overall, with the possible exception to the cliffhanger to episode 2 which fails pretty miserably. The whole second episode suffers as Hartnell was on holiday again for the shooting. Ironically the cliffhanger entails Vicki and Steven trying to spring the Doctor from his cell, only to discover his absence.

Ed is shocked that the cliffhangers don't match. I explain that the resolutions were re-shot in the next batch of filming. He maintains that the animal skins on the bed are different.

Peter Butterworth is excellent and gives a wonderful comic turn as the Monk. He is also involved in one of the best cliffhangers ever in Doctor Who, when Vicki and Steven stumble across his TARDIS! Imagine what that would have been like as a viewer in 1965. Another TARDIS and another 'Time Lord.' Although we won't hear them called that for some time to come, so for now we'll call him another of the Doctor's race. Inside the Monk's superior Mark IV Tardis, with working chameleon circuit disguising it as a saxon sarcophagus Vicki and Steven discover a collection, something from every period and place and a journal detailing how the Monk discussed principals of powered flight with Da Vinci. He also goes on to boast that the britons would never have made stone henge without using his anti gravity lift. Thanks for clearing that one up Mr. Spooner.

Peter Butterworth as The Monk. 
Butterworth has a real camaraderie with the Hartnell. Even though this duo are enemies, you can tell they're of the same species; the Doctor claiming he is from 50 years before the Monk. The Monk gets some great comedic lines such as "it's getting so you can't call a monastery your own." With the Doctor warning, "no more monkery." The Doctor uses a stick masquerading as a gun to subdue the Monk, again showing his nonviolent nature. Although he does hit the monk over the head with it. The Monk also hits a Viking with a bit of wood too which causes Ed to wonder: "The Time Lords like to knock people out with a bit of wood, don't they? I don't think a bit of wood would knock me out. It would hurt but it wouldn't knock me out." I reply, "maybe it's something to do with Sonic Screwdrivers not working on wood?"

The Doctor and The Monk, close enemies. 
The Doctor classes the Monk a Time Meddler and berates him for breaking the golden rule. "Never, never interfere." To which the Monk replies "And who says so!" Indeed he does! The Monk's intentions are finally revealed when he admits that he wants to improve things, speed them up! Make Harold King, change the course of history, to have jet planes by the 13th century and enable Shakespeare to do Hamlet on television.

In the end The Doctor stops the Monk by sabotaging his dimensional control within his TARDIS, marooning him in 1066. 

And this is the last story in Season 2. This one's been a very bumpy ride. Some masterpieces and some full-on haddocks! We've witnessed giants, met the Daleks for the second and third times, went to Rome, mets some oversized creepy crawlies in the Menoptra, Optera & Zarbi, went to the crusades a space museum, and met another member of the Doctor's race. We lost 3 companions and gained 2. We saw 37 out of 39 episodes, with just 2 missing ones. I gave The Romans the highest rating, but my favourite story in this season has to be The Chase, it's a guilty pleasure. My least favourite is, as expected, The Web Planet. Out of a possible 90 I scored this season 49/90. Giving it an average score of 54/100. Unsurprisingly this season doesn't beat the first overall.

The Monk's shrunken Tardis interior.
Ed's says he has really enjoyed The Time Meddler. "It would have worked better as a three parter, you'd never have an episode without the Doctor now, unless it was purposefully Doctor lite. It's a real mixed bag, some great dialogue, some... [not so great]." And he gives The Time Meddler 8/10.

I would like to thank Ed for joining me for this adventure. I am now entering the wilderness. Only three more Hartnell stories exist in their entirety, the rest have missing episodes or are audio only. This is where the journey gets difficult and where as they say "everything changes".

Join me next time for Season 3 and Galaxy Four.


tigerna9 said...

Yes, this is where we get Normans/Norsemen from both ends at once! Hence the two horns, perhaps? Up your end, vicar?

Anonymous said...

I remember watching this when it was aired, and being completely perplexed as to how the stone sarcophagus could be opened wide enough to allow access into the Time Meddler's tardis. Didn't they just crouch down behind it and in the next scene were miraculously inside?

Anonymous said...

Yes. They also had to go through an equally small hole in the bottom Tardis doors. Very odd indeed!!