Monday, July 6, 2015

"The Time Warrior"



Aired Dec. 15, 1973 - Jan 5, 1974

4 Episodes

Story 70

Written by: Robert Holmes

Directed by: Alan Bromly

Synopsis

Impersonating her aunt, famed virologist Lavinia Smith, allows journalist Sarah Jane Smith to gain access to a secure research facility where leading scientists are being guarded by UNIT. The Doctor and the Brigadier are there to investigate the disappearances of some of the scientists, and though the Doctor soon uncovers Sarah Jane's real identity, he also discovers the scientists are being kidnapped by an alien force and taken back in time to medieval England.

Sarah Jane stows away aboard the TARDIS when the Doctor leaves to investigate, and she finds herself in the middle ages, in the castle of an ambitious and violent feudal lord named Irongron. The Doctor discovers that a Sontaran soldier named Linx has crashed his ship on Irongron's lands, and is using his technology to steal the scientists, take them back in time, and then hypnotize them into repairing his damaged craft so he may leave. In exchange for Irongron's cooperation, Linx is providing the lord with anachronistically advanced weapons to make war on his neighbours.

Teaming up with Irongron's enemy, Sir Edward of Essex, the Doctor and Sarah hatch a plan to drug the food in Irongron's kitchens, knocking out his forces so that they can steal and destroy the weapons and send the scientists back to the 20th Century. Sir Edward sends Hal, his best archer, with them to assist in the pan.

Though the Doctor's plan works for the most part, Linx still plans to leave in his ship. The Sontaran kills Irongron and readies for departure. Hal fires an arrow into Linx's phobic vent on the back of his neck, his one vulnerable spot, and kills him. The Doctor, Sarah and Hal escape, along with all one Irongron's men, just before Linx's ship explodes, destroying the castle.

Analysis

Given the task of launching the 11th season, Robert Holmes was also saddled with a directive by Terrance Dicks to write a story set in a medieval castle. By all reports, the writer was displeased at the setting, and years later as script editor Holmes would place similar restrictions on the returning Terrance Dicks in good-natured revenge.

Even given his reluctance regarding the setting of the story, Holmes manages to create a frothy and fun action-romp that highlights characterization and dialogue over plotting and suspense. The creation of Linx and the Sontarans is an immense success, the monsters getting both clearly defined personality traits and a well-structured ethos as well as being superbly designed in appearance to maximize their horrific aspect. All of the supporting characters are fun and interesting, with particular notice being given to Irongron (David Daker) and Bloodaxe (John J. Carney), a solid example of the famed Robert Holmes double-act, given great lines and a sparky relationship that produces the serial's biggest laughs. 

The dialogue is beautiful throughout, witty and charming, and it remains the strength of the serial, to be sure. If the plot is slight and feels inconsequential, it at least keeps moving at a good place and has enough incident to keep it from being boring. It's a shame then, that the direction from Alan Bromly is uninspired. It's serviceable, it works fine, but there's a distinct lack of vision in realizing the visual effects for the story, and some of the action scenes are sluggishly shot.

The serial is of course historic for its introduction of Sarah Jane Smith, as played by Elisabeth Sladen. She makes an immediate impression, and Sladen's performance is captivating. She is written as an overtly feminist companion, and though the writers and creators of her character could definitely have benefited from spending some time with an actual feminist, Sladen's charm and energy prevent the character from becoming strident. She's a big change from Jo, and even through she doesn't share Katy Manning's immediate chemistry with Pertwee, her different character creates a new type of relationship with the Third Doctor that is welcome. Sarah Jane would eventually, of course, become one of the definitive companions in all of Doctor Who, and though she's not quite as iconic in this story as she would later become, all of Sladen's talent and skill are on display.

All in all, The Time Warrior is a fun adventure, one that you can throw on during a rainy Sunday afternoon and greatly enjoy watching. It's an odd choice to open the season and introduce a companion, as it is so slight, and it's that frothy slightness, that feeling of coasting, that keeps it from reaching greatness. 

4 comments:

  1. "the writers and creators of her character could definitely have benefited from spending some time with an actual feminist" Quoted for truth. For a long time the program seemed to conflate "independent woman with agency" and "butch lesbian." See Hilda Winters in "Robot."

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    1. Yeah, but Sladen makes it work. I think but Letts and Dicks wanted to be feminists, but didn't quite know how. Still, I love Season 11 Sarah, she's so independent and take-charge.

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  2. But secretly the strongest female character is the politically savvy Lady Eleanor. She could hold her own in "Game of Thrones."

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    1. Truth. She's great. All of the characters in this story are kind of amazing. Good old Bob Holmes.

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