Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"The Time Meddler"

The Time Meddler

Story 17
Aired: Jul 3 - Jul 24, 1965

Episode 1 – The Watcher
Episode 2 – The Meddling Monk
Episode 3 – A Battle of Wits
Episode 4 – Checkmate

Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Douglas Camfield


The Doctor and Vicki discover that Steven Taylor has stumbled on board the TARDIS prior to its departure from Mechanus. Steven is skeptical of Vicki's explanation that the ship is a time machine, but the Doctor assures her that they will soon show him the truth of the matter.

The TARDIS arrives on an English coastline in the year 1066. Exploring, the Doctor discovers that a man known as the Monk is conspiring to wipe out the Viking fleet and thus allow King Harold to face the forces of William of Normandy with a fresh army at the Battle of Hastings. This will radically alter history.
Steven and Vicki are shocked to discover that the Monk has a TARDIS like the Doctor's, and it's revealed that the Monk is own of the Doctor's own race..

The Doctor, horrified at the Monk's intentions, resolves to stop him and eventually succeeds. The Doctor tampers with the Monks' TARDIS and when the Monk tries to escape, he discovers the Doctor has made the interior dimensions of the Monk's TARDIS too small to use, stranding him in the current time period.

The TARDIS crew return to their craft and leave, journeying out among the stars.

The Time Meddler is a momentous story for several reasons. The most momentous development is of course the introduction of the Meddling Monk, the first other Time Lord we meet (though the Doctor's race remains unnamed). This is the first step towards building a mythology around the central character, and though it is most definitely a baby step, it is tantalizing. As played by Peter Butterworth, the Monk provides a worthy foil for the Doctor and their scenes together crackle with a fun energy. For audiences of the time, it must have been fun to see them play off each other, and also fun to discover that the TARDIS was not unique, but rather only one of who knows how many.

The other momentous development is the creation of a new sub-genre for the series, that of the "pseudo-historical",  which would eventually totally supplant the straight forward historical stories. The pseudo-historicals take place in a largely historical setting, but incorporate science-fiction elements. This would come to be a type of story Classic Who would excel at. But even more important is the central idea at the heart of the story; that history can be changed. This seems to fly in the face of what had previously been established, as in The Aztecs the point seems to have been that history could not be re-written, Spooner's scripts completely reject that in favour of the idea that the past can be altered. It's a decision that completely changes a major part of the series, and solves a significant problem, namely that if the past cannot be altered, where's the tension in stories set there?
The Time Meddler, with all of these compenents, is one of the better Hartnell era stories. Hartnell and Butterworth are both great, and even if Hartnell does commit some spectacular miscues in the story, he proves once again that he was most at home in the more light-hearted stories. It's incredibly odd when Hartnell effectively disappears for an entire episode (due to a one week holiday),  but it's handled about as well as it could be and isn't too distracting.

Maureen O'Brien and Peter Purves as Steven and Vicki are less successful. It seems like the producers want to inject some conflict in their relationship, hence their bickering, but Steven's pigheaded refusal to accept the reality of his situation makes him come off as dim, and Vicki seems a little shrill here, which she was never before.  Thankfully this is just a misstep for this story, as both characters return to great form moving ahead, with Steven becoming a particularly great foil for the First Doctor.

The story itself doesn't really have enough incident to support its length, so there is some padding. It would make a cracking three-parter, but as a four part story, there's not really enough here to fill the run-time. But The Time Meddler is a pleasant enough adventure with major developments in the history of the series. That alone makes it worth the watch.

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