Monday, 5 November 2012

64: The Time Monster - Masterful But Hardly A Master-Piece

Written by: Robert Sloman.
Companions: The Doctor, Jo Grant, Brigadier, Captain Mike Yates, Sergeant Benton.
Monsters/Villains: The Master, Kronos, Minotaur.
Brief Synopsis: The Master goes all the way to Atlantis to unleash and harness a powerful being known as Kronos.
Rating: 5/10.

Here we are at the end of Season 9. It's been a fantastic one, but what of the Season Finale? We're back in Atlantis, but it doesn't bare the slightest resemblance to how it appeared in The Underwater Menace just 5 years prior. Penned by Robert Sloman and Barry Letts, The Time Monster is not one of the most loved, or highly thought of stories; this is most likely due to it lacking a memorable design element. The "monster" of this piece spends most of the story waiting in the wings, the location and studio work for the Newton Institute are pretty good, but not particularly memorable, the odd camera work and poor design of Atlantis really pull down the production as a whole and the less said about the one-off, washing up bowl interior TARDIS redesign the better.

The Master's assistants Stuart and and Ruth.
However this story does have some wonderful touches, the most noticeable has to be the Master having assistants. The Doctor's "best enemy" often has allies or cronies, both willing or hypnotised but in this story it feels somehow different. When we first see him posing as Greek Professor Thascalos, the genius behind TOMTIT (Transmission Of Matter Through Interstitial Time) he is working with Dr. Ruth Ingram, and Stuart Hyde; clear assistant archetypes. Surely someone of the Master's intellectual prowess wouldn't need assistance. He is changing. Maybe he thinks it's the Doctor's assistants are what give him the edge. And later the Master takes Krasis under his wing and even in to his TARDIS. In what would be Roger Delgado's penultimate story as the Master, he really excels as the maniacal renegade time lord.

Delgado at his best.
He has some fantastic moments including a reminder/in-joke about how he hasn't used hypnosis in a while, an impression of the Brig, some wonderful scenes of an amorous nature with guest star Ingrid Pitt, and of course being the third explanation/person to blame for the destruction of Atlantis.

Baby Benton.
I noticed something that was clearly homaged recently in with Matt Smith's Doctor in the episode The Lodger. The Doctor constructs a Time Flow Analogue, which is kind of like jamming a radio signal, claiming the Master and he, "used to make them at school to spoil each others time experiments."

The Doctor makes a Time Flow Analogue.
The Doctor makes a similar device in The Lodger.
The story plays out fairly consistently, the Brig and UNIT get frozen in time and Benton gets regressed into a baby. Everything is going well until, at the beginning of episode 5, the Doctor and Jo follow the Master and arrive in Atlantis. The first time we see Atlantis at the very beginning of this story is in an appropriately filmed bad dream of the Doctor. When we finally arrive there in episode 5 it seems as thought the director has forgotten we're not still in a nightmare, as the camera filter quality remains rose-tinted. The sets are equally lacking in budget, this is especially noticeable when the Atlantian hero Hippias, is thrown through a mirror clearly made of tin foil. Fans defend Doctor Who through many tribulations, but this one might be hard to explain away. 

We don't see much of the titular Time Monster itself, and when we do, you can see the stings in an entirely literal sense. The design is impressive but badly presented and sadly underused.

Ingrid Pitt as Atlantian Queen Galleia.
The story boasts a couple of impressive guest stars, Ingrid Pitt (Hammer Horror Starlet) as queen of Atlantis, Galleia. And the second but easier to miss is Dave Prowse who plays the minotaur, famed for another unrecognisable role, as the body of Darth Vader in the Star Wars films.

Dave Prowse as the Minotaur.
There is a wonderful monologue from Pertwee in a scene where the Doctor and Jo are locked up: "When I was a little boy, we used to live in a house that was perched halfway up the top of a mountain. Behind our house, there sat under a tree, an old man. A hermit, a monk. He'd lived under this tree for half his lifetime, so they said, and had learned the secret of life. So, when my black day came, I went and asked him to help me." This presumably alludes to something to do with what would come to be known as regeneration. The hermit is almost certainly a character that we will meet in person in Pertwee's final story, Planet of the Spiders.

The denouement of the story is impressive, but the stakes aren't entirely clear. The Master finally manages to release Kronos thus destroying Atlantis, and escapes with his and the Doctor's TARDISes and Jo Grant. He seems to have finally won. He's bested the Doctor, with Kronos in his control the Master could dominate the universe and he holds all the cards. The Doctor threatens to Time-Ram the Master, which would destroy them both and stop Kronos. But the Doctor can't do it, he can't kill Jo.  In the Master's eyes the Doctor's compassion and pity are his weakness. It is Jo who takes the impetus and activates Time-Ram. This is a huge moment for the role of the companion. When the Doctor's values, which we cherish and respect so much, stop him from doing what he must it is Jo who steps up and saves the universe.

Jo saves the Universe.
Thankful for it's freedom, Kronos saves the Doctor and Jo and at the Doctor's behest the Master as well. The Doctor and Jo are returned but the Master escapes, his ex-assistants Ruth and Stuart manage to free the Brig and UNIT and return Benton to his correct age. After all this impressive high octane stuff, the story fizzles out at the end with a naked Sergeant Benton asking "Can anyone tell me what exactly is going on?"

A Nude Benton.
My answer: "No, I really can't." There are some wonderful moments in this story, some parts I really love but it's let down on too many points to ignore. Roger Delgado rules as the Master, but the story isn't well produced, ultimately it just doesn't feel like a season finale.

But it is, which means we've reached the end of Season Nine. The season in which we saw the long awaited return of the Daleks. We took a trip to Peladon and met the Ice Warriors once more. We caught up with the Master twice, we discovered the Silurians' brothers: the Sea Devils, saw the oppressed Solonians freed from the tyranny of the evil Marshal and colonial Earth and finally, returned to Atlantis. My favourite story in this season has to be The Curse of Peladon. I don't really have a least favourite, if I had to pick one it would be this story, The Time Monster. Out of a possible 50 points I scored Season Nine 37/50. Giving it an average score of 74/100 putting Season Nine in second place overall thus far, after Season 7. It was a really strong season with great monsters, ambitious plots, and thought provoking themes. It didn't quite have the consistency of Season 7 but it certainly earns it's number 2 slot so far.

Join me next time for a new season, an anniversary special, and the return of some familiar faces in The Three Doctors.

1 comment:

Ed Hussein Zhands said...

One of my favorites. The Time Monster itself was bad.