And so it begins. Gallifrey begins to emerge into the Doctor Who mythos, ready to take it’s grand place alongside other significant Who staples. At last the noble race of Time Lords can stand revealed as we learn just where the Doctor came from.
Except we don’t.
Don’t worry, we will. Gallifrey, as Rassilon proclaimed not long ago, will rise. But The Time Meddler is more akin to a sneak peek and the Monk a rather less than sterling example of Gallifrey’s finest.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We open on a rather sinister looking clock ticking away. It’s obviously an attempt at foreshadowing, but it just doesn’t quite work for me. It puts me more in mind of the opening of Back to the Future. What is effective is the shot of the Doctor standing over the TARDIS controls as if he’s just left Bad Wolf Bay, even without knowing what has gone before you can tell just looking at William Hartnell that he’s suffered some kind of loss. Vicki is kind enough to bring us up to speed by discussing the recent departure of Ian and Barbara. It’s quite easy to dismiss the importance of this event nearly half a century later, but their departure left Hartnell as the only remaining cast member from the opening episode.
In a moment that sadly doesn’t seem to have set a precedent the Doctor freely admits to being saddened by their departure. This isn’t yet the gallivanting alien who picks up and deposits passengers like a interdimensional taxi driver, this is a man who is hurt enough by his abandonment to let it show and it’s quite disconcerting.
“We may land in their time one day and be able to discuss old times.”
We know they won’t. Even once the Doctor finally learns to fly the TARDIS we know that he seldom revisits old friendships outside of Sarah Jane and the Brig, but it leaves the door open nicely for Ian and Barbara to return and for the audience to not feel they’re gone forever.
As luck would have it just as Vicki and the Doctor are bemoaning their lack of company they hear what they presume to be a Dalek wondering round the TARDIS. It turns out instead to be Steven Taylor, played by Peter Purves (yes him from Crufts) rather than Jack Davenport.
Whist Steven recovers with his cuddly panda (I’m not joking) the TARDIS materialises on a beach, observed by a lone monk. He seems intrigued about the TARDIS, but not overly shocked. Almost as if he knows more than he should. The first time I saw The Time Meddler I was genuinely intrigued about the monk, after all the Internet had yet to spoil most of the series for me. I’d imagine that most of you reading this review know fine well that the monk is in fact a Time Lord?
Ah. Spoilers. Should have said.
“Please stop buggering me.”
Meanwhile, back in the TARDIS Steven is being given a guided tour of his new home. The highlights for me include the horizontal control and “a chair with a panda on it.” The tour concludes with the Doctor making a request of the new companion.
“Please stop buggering me.”
It’s safe to presume from Vicki’s face that this wasn’t the intended line, however I can state with absolute certainty that whatever was initially scripted wasn’t nearly as amusing.
Steven’s disbelief is somewhat refreshing. No polite disbelief or incredulous looks for him. As far as he’s concerned this old man is off his rocker, but he takes it in good humour and continues to gently mock the Doctor for the rest of the episode. Indeed his mock interrogation of the Doctor’s story leads to details of the craft being given within ear shot of the Monk’s hearing.
It’s at this point I had to remind myself that this was made in the 60s. It’s early days for the show’s mythos and there is absolutely no reason that the Doctor should be able to sense the Monk just because he could sense the Master in his Tenth body. We’re reminded, quite forcibly, that a lot of the show’s continuity was cobbled together as it went along and that there was just no way the writers could anticipate their scripts having to conform to rules that wouldn’t exist as we know them for decades to come.
But I digress.
As night falls on our crew it casts an eerie shadow over proceedings, that is until you hear the wildlife sounds cranked up just a little too much. I’m still trying to decide if it was a plot point or not. The night shots are beautifully realised. Just as well really as the sun sets in this serial more times than it would in a Michael Bay film. Still, it looks the part.
After wandering off from his companions the Doctor tries to casually ascertain the year from a local stopping just short of asking what the year actually is. He later informs the fourth wall that he misses having a History Teacher as a companion. He’s not alone, not if it means we’re spared such painful conversations.
The monks chanting that the Doctor then overhears sounds suspiciously like a bad recording. So much so that when the chanting speed suddenly varies like a tape being chewed it takes me a few moments to realise that it’s a plot point rather than a prop failure (although curiously the chanting is revealed as originating on a gramophone player. Possibly high technology at the time of broadcast, being a child of the late 70s I can only guess, but it certainly isn’t a tape!)
The first episode ends with the Doctor being trapped by the Monk. We’ll skip the second episode entirely as it feels very much like filler, probably due to the absence of the Doctor for the duration of it.
When we finally catch up with him, the Doctor is casually discussing his escape with a local. Given his later fear and disdain of his fellow Time Lords he seems remarkably unconcerned about the Monk. Continuity tinted glasses again I guess.
These same glasses muddy the waters somewhat when it comes to judging the Monk. On one hand he’s seen healing the wounded and sick with penicillin, something quite Doctor-like, and then we see him consulting his eight point plan for villainy.
Seriously. He has an actual plan on a pull down chart. ‘Position Atomic Canon’ followed by ‘Sight Vikings’ gives you an idea of just how well thought out his plan is.
But the Monk isn’t the highlight of this episode, it’s the Doctor himself. The time off seems to have worked wonders for Hartnell and he returns in sparkling form and seems to relish taking on the Monk. A shame then that the Monk fails to live up to any kind of challenge. Having said that, their dialogue in the last episode gives us our first glimpse of where these Time Lords have come from.
“You know as well as I do the golden rule about space and time travelling”
“Never, never interfere with the course of history.”
“Who says so?” Asks the Monk and the thought occurs that his dialogue wouldn’t be out of place spoken by the Fourth Doctor and to prove the point he finishes with “It’s more fun my way.” As the Monk rattles off his list of achievements to date you can’t help but agree with him. Then when he mentions his hand in building Stonehenge you begin to wonder just who it was that built the Pandorica for the Alliance.
Continuity Tinted Glasses again and if you watch this episode wearing them then you can’t help but be struck by the sheer hypocrisy of the Doctor. Throughout this story the Doctor acts more like the Time Lords he’s running from rather than the free spirit he’s set to become, but when you consider that he only seems to be fifty years away from Gallifrey according to the Monk then it’s really not that surprising he’s still holding on to some of the basic tenets that he was raised with. His final solution of trapping the Monk on earth without a functioning TARDIS actually works better with the continuity glasses as it eerily foreshadows the Pertwee era.
Speaking of the Monk’s TARDIS, it’s reveal at the end of Episode 3 must have been truly staggering at it’s first showing. No-one knew anything of where the Doctor came from and to discover one of his own kind half way through an historical must have been staggering for the audience of the time.
Ultimately The Time Meddler works best for what it implies rather than what it shows. The Monk isn’t anything close to a match for the Doctor despite superior equipment and could never be the Master in my mind, regardless of what some fan theories have suggested. However through his dialogue with the Doctor we learn an awful lot about where they came from and just who the Doctor might have been before we met him.
And this wouldn’t be the last time we met a Time Lord. Indeed, we might even meet this particular Time Lord again…
I’ll leave you with the highlight for me though; an exchange between Vicki and Steven discussing the implications of meddling with time. “Memories will change” we’re told. It’s an explanation for every continuity error made during the fifty year run given, for all intents and purposes, at the very start of the run. Yet people still get upset when some things don’t match up perfectly between episodes.