THE TIME MEDDLER

The Watcher

Sue likes it when the Doctor pines for his ex-companions, and she finds his anxiety about being left alone understandable and strangely humanising.

Sue: If he could just tone down the bloody, “Hmm hmm hmms”, he’d actually be okay.

When Steven staggers into the console room instead of a Dalek, which Sue thought was much more likely, she’s surprised and relieved.

Sue: I’m really pleased. Peter Purves was great in the last episode. I take it he’s in it for the long haul, then? Good.

It didn’t take her very long to forget Ian and start drooling over Steven, did it?

And then we meet the story’s antagonist: the Meddling Monk.

The Time MeddlerSue: He’s looks familiar. Wasn’t he in On the Buses?
Me: No, it’s Peter Butterworth from the Carry On… films.
Sue: Oh, yeah. I was pretty close.
Me: If you say so. Anyway, be quiet, my favourite line of dialogue from the Hartnell era is coming up now.

Sue finds the reference to a panda on a chair amusing enough, but she’s much more impressed with the subsequent gag about the space helmet for a cow. In fact, she’s laughing so hard she completely misses one of the show’s most infamous Billy-fluffs (“And I don’t like climbing!”), which seems like a fair trade to me.

Sue: You can tell that this is a Dennis Spooner script – it’s very funny. The direction is superb, too.
Me: Any guesses?
Sue: Is it a Camfield?
Me: That’s my girl.
Sue: You can tell. It’s paced better, the lighting is excellent, the camera moves make sense – even the music is appropriate. Oh, and please stop patronising me.
Me: At least we don’t have to worry about Richard Martin again.
Sue: Thank God! Please tell me Douglas Camfield directs the rest of the series. I mean, just look at that set – it’s the most believable studio environment we’ve seen so far.

It’s a refrain that Sue will repeat throughout this story.

The Time MeddlerSue: If I didn’t know any better, I could have sworn the Monk was looking at his watch, then. But that wouldn’t make any sense.
Me: No, that would be silly. He must have dropped a bracelet or something.

Later, when Steven finds another wristwatch after getting bitch-slapped in the forest (“Ian wouldn’t have rolled over so easily”), Sue smells a rat.

Sue: Hang on a minute… he was looking at his watch! What the hell is going on? Are they in the past or not? Is this another theme park ride from the future that’s gone tits up?

When the sound of monks chanting suddenly slows down and then speeds up again, Sue assumes it must be a glitch with the grams.

Sue: That was a pretty embarrassing error. Even Hartnell acknowledged it – perhaps he was hoping for a retake.

She greets the cliffhanger, where we discover the Monk’s gramophone is responsible for the chanting, with a rather delightful, “What the ****?”

Sue: The last time I was this confused, I was watching Lost. Confused in a good way, though.
Me: That was a pretty strong opening, wasn’t it?
Sue: It was excellent. But I’m not going to get my hopes up. All the stories start well, but then they fall apart in the second episode. I’m right, aren’t I? It’s rubbish after this one, isn’t it? I bet you anything.
Me: There’s only one way to find out…

 

The Meddling Monk

Sue: So can the TARDIS sense that someone is interfering with time, and does it choose to land nearby so the Doctor can sort it out?
Me: It’s never actually stated on-screen, but there are plenty of fans who would agree with that theory. It’s either that or they don’t televise the adventures where nothing interesting happens, although The Sensorites contradicts this.
Sue: So the TARDIS has a soul and a moral purpose. I like that idea.

Sue is immediately suspicious when Hartnell is seen but not heard as the Monk delivers an incredibly elaborate breakfast to his cell.

Sue: Don’t tell me: Hartnell’s gone to Spain again. That would explain why he got his lines mixed up last week – he was thinking about his imminent holiday on the Costa Brava.
Me: I thought you’d be relieved.
Sue: Normally I’d say yes, but he’s really good in this story and I want to see him and this Monk character explain what the hell is going on with the toaster and the record player. Is he a time traveller? Or have these things fallen through a crack in time and he’s simply discovered how they work? Or did he break into the Doctor’s TARDIS and find them in a cupboard? I don’t get it.

These questions will have to wait because a party of Vikings have arrived to rape and pillage. And no, that isn’t a euphemism.

Sue: Well, after all these weeks of watching women being threatened with violence, I suppose someone had to be raped sooner or later. I almost wish they’d killed poor Edith, then we could just pretend that it hasn’t happened. I should be shocked by this, but I’m used to 1960s Doctor Who being much more adult than it is today. Still, it is a bit shocking, isn’t it?

Oh, and before you ask, Sue did recognise Alethea Charlton from an earlier adventure, but she confused her with Sabetha the Teenage Wench from The Keys of Marinus. And you wonder why she can’t recognise Julian Glover.

 

A Battle of Wits

The Time MeddlerSue loves the Monk’s wall-planner, which charts the progress of his nefarious plans.

Sue: Every villain should have a wall chart like that. It’s so much easier to follow what’s going on.

The rest of the episode passes in relative silence, a sure sign that she is totally engrossed in the narrative. And when we reach the cliffhanger, she guesses the twist five seconds before Vicki and Steven enter the Monk’s sarcophagus.

Sue: The Monk isn’t just a time traveller, he has a TARDIS!

(Beat)

Sue: Yes!

We’ve watched three episodes in rapid succession, a record for this experiment, but Sue wants to go on. If we do, this will be the first time we’ve sat through a whole story in a single sitting together since Genesis of the Daleks in 1993.

Sue: Let’s carry on.
Me: Oh, very funny.

 

Checkmate

Sue: So the Monk is another Time Lord from Gallifrey?
Me: Yes. Only they don’t mention the Time Lords or Gallifrey.
Sue: How is that possible?
Me: Because the writers haven’t invented those terms yet.
Sue: No, I mean, what about the Time War?
Me: Oh, that. Well, that happens off-screen. In the new series.
Sue: Oh, that’s disappointing. I was looking forward to seeing them cover it. So, do the Monk and the Doctor know each other?
Me: It’s ambiguous. If you believe the spin-off novels the Monk either went to school with the Doctor or the Doctor inspired him to leave Gallifrey and become a renegade. It’s all very mid-90s and a bit hazy, now. I think his real name might be Mortimus.
Sue: Then he isn’t the Master using a different name?
Me: It isn’t impossible, and he does bang on about his master plan a lot.

When the Monk claims to have drawn compound interest from a bank account in 2168, Sue finds it difficult to believe the banks would still be going then. She’s right, they would have collapsed under the Dalek occupation. Although I don’t think that’s what she meant.

Sue: On second thought, he’s far too nice to be the Master. And if you think about it, he’s only calling himself the Monk because he’s currently based at a monastery. If he left that location, he would have to change his name to something else or it would look a bit silly, wouldn’t it?
Me: That’s a good point. I’m not sure about him being nice, though. He’s about to launch some nuclear missiles off the coast of Northumbria. If he’d succeeded, we wouldn’t be living here now.
Sue: I can’t tell if he’s a naughty child or a misguided lunatic. Either way, he’s a fun character and Peter Butterworth is playing him perfectly. It’s impossible not to root for him. Hartnell is having a whale of a time playing against him, too.

Luckily for us, and house prices in Northumbria, the Monk’s plan fails, and when he leaves the Vikings to a grisly death, Sue is once again shocked by the levels of violence on display, which are extremely distressing, even by the standards we’ve come to expect from 1960s Doctor Who.

Me: If you think that’s bad, there are 12 seconds missing from that scene. Their deaths are even more gruesome and prolonged in the original version.
Sue: Still, I guess they had it coming, the raping bastards.

When the Doctor sabotages the Monk’s TARDIS, my wife is impressed, if a little baffled.

The Time MeddlerSue: That’s a neat trick, but why didn’t the Doctor just steal the Monk’s TARDIS? You can tell he’s insanely jealous of it, so why not nick it and leave the crap one behind?
Me: Charming! An hour ago you were talking about the Doctor’s TARDIS having a soul and a conscience, and now you want him to trade her in for a sexier model. It’s a good job I’m not like that.

 

The Score

Sue: If there’s a contender for an old story to be remade today, this is it. It’s got a simple plot that’s easy to follow, but it still keeps you guessing. The cliffhangers were brilliant, and I don’t think Hartnell’s ever been better. It’s the most enjoyable one so far – it’s certainly the best directed – so I’ll have to give it:

9/10

Me: Wow. Well, that’s the end of the second season. Hooray for us.
Sue: It was a vast improvement on the first, if you ignore The Web Planet, that is. They seem to know what they’re doing now. If they can keep this up, we’ll sail through the next season.

 

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Comments

  1. Dave Sanders  March 28, 2011

    I reckon if you want Sue to get the most out of the missing Troughtons and Season Three stories, don’t bother with recons at all. Instead if you’ve got ‘em, stick on the audio CDs with linking narration, show her the telesnaps as it goes, and let her imagination piece it together visually. Every missing story, even The Underwater Menace, becomes more involving or intimate when you turn it into a Big Finish audio.

    This may sound like cheating a bit, but so will watching the episodes in a rapid enough pace for Sue to be made aware she’s sitting through half a dozen base-under-siege tales practically all in a row. I wouldn’t want to be present for the recon ennui once the novelty of looking at the big central set in each one all the time wears off.

  2. DamonD  March 28, 2011

    Oh God, Sue’s recognising Camfield direction within minutes now. One of us! One of us! One of us!

  3. Fuschia Begonia  March 29, 2011

    I’m really glad Sue enjoyed this one.

    I remember watching this one when the Beeb did its repeats of every Doctor (allegedly) and loving it. Was that in the 80s? Its my favourite Hartnell (rape aside) and even though I think Ian is one of the best companions ever, I do think Steven ably steps in to his shoes. It is a bit odd watching someone I grew up watching as Blue Peter presenter actually acting, mind you. Peter Butterworth is superb as the naughty child Timelord; I always had a soft spot for him from the Carry On movies, and the shrunken TARDIS is a superb conclusion.

    But I can’t agree with Sue about a remake. After the whole Master debacle, I’m not sure I trust even the Grand Moff not to cock up bringing the Monk back.

  4. Rory Pond  May 2, 2011

    Just watched “The Time Meddler” for the very first time and it is truly a classic story. I bought the DVD after reading this entry and it certainly lived up to every one of Sue’s raves.

    This is also the first story I’ve seen with Vicki, and she is marvelous. Very strong, very confident, and more than capable of putting Steven in his place when necessary. She’s clearly the clever one (which Steven conceded when she discovered the secret passage in the cell) and her devotion to the Doctor is heartwarming. I know she had a relatively short time on the show, but I’m amazed she isn’t lauded more often as one of the better companions. Or is her characterization here atypical? I need to see more Hartnells!