Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"The Time Monster"

Aired May 20 - June 24, 1972

6 Episodes

Story 64

Written by Robert Sloman

Directed by Barry Letts


Disguised as Professor Thascales, the Master is conducting experiments at the Newton Research Unit at Cambridge. He has has constructed a device known as TOMTIT (Transmission Of Matter Through Interstitial Time) and he plans to gain control over Kronos, powerful and unpredictable creature from outside time known as a Chronovore.

The Doctor, having had a vision of the Master's return to Earth, rigs a device to track a TARDIS and he and Jo head to Newton, which UNIT is already investigating. Uncovering the dangers of the TOMTIT experiments, the Doctor shuts the device down, though the Master escapes. Examining the device, the Doctor deduces that the crystal at its centre comes from the long-dead city of Atlantis, which legend had claimed had once attracted Kronos from the time vortex.

The Master goes back in time to Atlantis in his TARDIS in the hope of stealing the sacred Crystal of Kronos, a larger version of his own crystal, and with which he aims finally to dominate the creature. The Doctor and Jo are able to follow him back in the Doctor's TARDIS, but arrive too late to prevent the Master from ingratiating himself with Galleia, queen of Atlantis and wife to King Dalios. Seducing her with visions of peer, the Master deposes Dalios and takes control of Atlantis. However, his rule is short-lived when Galleia discovers that the Master has caused the death of Dalios after promising he would not be harmed.

In a last desperate grasp at power, the Master summons and unleashes Kronos, destroying Atlantis. The two Time Lords manage escape in their respective TARDISes into the time vortex where they each try to finally defeat the other. The Doctor threatens to destroy the Master's TARDIS using a Time Ram, but cannot bring himself to do it, especially with Jo as the Master's hostage. However, Jo makes the sacrifice herself and instigates the Time Ram. 

The TARDISes materialize in the realm of Kronos, whereupon the grateful creature informs the Doctor and Jo that the Time Ram freed the Choronovore. Kronos agrees to return the Doctor and Jo to Earth, and plans to subject the Master to eternal torment. The Doctor successfully pleads for the Master's freedom, and Kronos grants it, but the Master escapes in his TARDIS once again.


Remember how, in my review of The Mutants, I said there are two kinds of bad Doctor Who? Well, The Time Monster is the fun kind. Make no mistake, it is awful. The plot is executed woefully, with the major issue being that the first four episodes at Cambridge are riddled with terrible dialogue and abysmal production values, a plot that is both nonsensical and tedious, with little to no charm. UNIT and the Brigadier get virtually nothing to do that isn't silly or insipid, and it's actually kind of shocking to see how small a role a formerly major supporting character like Mike Yates has. Why even have him appear at all? The scientists Ruth and Stuart are insufferable, both in writing and performance, and the Master is found out and then hides in an office that seems to be about ten feet away from the lab where he was discovered.

The story marginally improves once it gets to Atlantis, but only marginally so. This is mostly due to the presence of Ingrid Pitt as Galleia, and the overtly sexual seduction of her by the Master, which is a previously unseen facet of the Master that is welcome. But unlike the Cambridge stuff, which has basically no plot or interesting characters, the Atlantis section has too many characters to fit in to its two episode allotment, resulting in characters whose relationships get hinted at, partially established, and then totally jettisoned. There's a staggering amount that happens in these episodes, which sees a coup, and a character's death all happen while the Doctor and Jo are sitting in a cell. The final episode sees a ridiculous resolution where the Master basically tells the Doctor his shoes are untied and then scarpers (which is roughly the fourth time that particular trick has been employed this story). Also, in the Cambridge section, Kronos is this being that can't really do anything and basically acts like a pigeon stuck under a skylight. But in Atlantis, Kronos destroys everything in seconds. Why the disparity? No one bothers to explain. Just like they don't explain why Kronos suddenly becomes a female God-like being in the climax. Nothing is given any narrative justification. 

Weirdly, Benton gets a pretty good showing at first,  singlehandedly outsmarting the Master and capturing him in what's probably his best outing as the character. Then he falls for the shoelace gag and subsequently gets turned into a baby before being restored to a naked adult. So….it's both his best and worst story somehow.

All of this insanity coalesces into a rubbish story, with indifferent direction and shoddy production values. It's the kind of thing you get when the producer of the series and his writing partner produce a script that is supposed to be shaped by his best friend, the script editor. Basically, no one wanted to tell Barry Letts his story was awful.

But, this is one of those Doctor Who stories that it's fun to have a bunch of friends over to mock while you all get drunk. I would never do that with The Mutants or The Dominators. It takes a special kind of bad for that kind of thing to work; the fun kind.

It does contain one truly special scene, which is when the Doctor and Jo have a sweet and tender conversation while captured in Atlantis, and Jon Pertwee really nails a wistful story of his youth on Gallifrey. It's a really nice moment, one that shows how special the bond between the Third Doctor and Jo is by this point. It's a shame that it shines out so nakedly in the middle of all the silliness that surrounds it. This scene exists in the same story where the Doctor puts together such a ridiculous piece of slapdash technology that even McGyver would shake his head in disbelief.

And TOMTIT? Seriously? They actually wrote that and forced Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado to say that many, many times with a straight face. I can't decide if that's awesome of horrible. Probably, and gloriously, both.

1 comment:

  1. At least tomtit is an actual word (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomtit) so there's the possibility that the innuendo is unintentional. Like my favorite line in all of classic Who: "IT CAME FROM URANUS, I KNOW IT DID!" in the Daleks' Master Plan.

    What I love about The Time Monster is that it's a grab-bag episode. I firmly believe the roots of this story came from a bucket list of stuff they always wanted to do on the show but never got around to, and somehow sewing them together (albeit loosely) into a story. The Master messing about with time assaulting UNIT with 17th century Roundheads and a V2 rocket, a TARDIS inside another TARDIS ad infinitum, an episode set in ancient Atlantis, the Master getting some sexytime, the Master gleefully messing with the Doctor's head, the Time Ram concept, plucky Sgt Benton outsmarting the Master, a character being aged into an old man, another character being aged into a baby, Sloman's first reference to the Hermit Halfway Up A Mountain (i.e. K'Anpo from "Spiders"), the gadget made out of a wine bottle, tea leaves and some car keys, and don't tell me Stuart wasn't gay (that Elton John poster in his apartment is a dead giveaway).