Doctor Who @ 50 Peter Butterworth and William Hartnell in The Time Meddler

Published on August 3rd, 2012 | by Alasdair Shaw

017 The Time Meddler

Peter Butterworth and William Hartnell in The Time Meddler

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?

No?

Ah. Spoilers. Should have said.

[pullquote align=right]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.”[/pullquote]

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.

[pullquote align=right]The Doctor 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.[/pullquote]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.

Memories will change and time will be rewritten…

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About the Author

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Alasdair Shaw dabbled in Who throughout the 80s, but didn’t really get into it properly until 1989. His sense of timing has not improved over the years. He’s a third generation Who fan as well as a father of two. His wife has a bad feeling about those two facts. When not working as a lab technician or writing for Kasterborous Alasdair runs the Doctor Who Reprint Society for which he writes In Print and Dangling Threads. He’s a big fan of the Valeyard, but that’s neither here nor there. He has never worked for UNIT and is not related to Dr Liz Shaw.




15 Responses to 017 The Time Meddler

  1. avatar Robbie Shymanski says:

    “I think Harold (Saxon) could be a good King.” I was always surprised that no one picked up on that line during Series 3.

  2. avatar kevin merchant says:

    we were so excited when we saw the inside of the monk’s Tardis. It’s difficult to explain how magical the Tardis control room was. It was the santuary, the place of safety that could be maddeningly out of reach. That is why the cliff hanger in the Web planet where the Tardis was apparently lost worked so well for us

  3. avatar castellanspandrel says:

    “…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” – maybe the Dr/other Time Lords can only sense the presence of high-ranking Time Lords; perhaps the Monk just doesn’t cut it?

    Interestingly, the Dr later senses the presence of the presumed-dead Morbius, when he’s being drugged via the glass of wine at Solon’s castle.

    I enjoyed reading this, AS, though I think you mean ‘basic tenets he was raised with’ rather than ‘tenants’; but I like the idea of the Monk growing up with flatmates!

  4. avatar Gavin Noble says:

    I remember at the time I first saw this in the early 1990′s on BBC2 thinking the implied rape of Edith was totally unsuitable for a children’s programme and totlaly out of the keep of the rest of the story. I still think that, but as Edith seems to get over it very quickly I will too!

    I was really impressed with the cliffhanger for part three though and Peter Butterworth is really good throughout the story.

  5. avatar DavidF says:

    I loved the Target novelizations of the Hartnell stories in the eighties, but being too young to have watched the stories on TV I had to imagine what those years looked like. (Which was the magic of those books. They made us create our own vision of Doctor Who, and this demand on my imagination got me even more hooked on the show).

    But until I recently sat down and carefully watched every Hartnell adventure, I hadn’t appreciated just how good Peter Purves was. Right from the start, he was a reliable foil for the Doctor, and he gives The Time Meddler a solid, human core. His anger at the end of The Massacre is the most believable dramatic moment of the Hartnell years. I’d have loved to see him hang around longer to be a straight man to Troughton.

  6. avatar Merast says:

    The Monk could have been the Master, but of course it was never intended. I like to think that the Monk was Hartnell’s functional equivalent of the Master. Except like many Doctor Who concepts (such as the Doctor at the time) he was unfinished and very much prototypical, unlike Troughton’s War Chief (If you’ve ever seen the War Games you’ll know what i mean).

    • avatar Alasdair Shaw says:

      I’m sorry, but no he couldn’t.

      Even the 80s Master would have been embarrassed by the lack of forethought put into the Monk’s plans, let alone the sloppy execution.

      That and there’s no hint at all of the old friendship with the Doctor that came to define the Master.

      The first Master wasn’t the Monk or the War Chief and why anyone would want anyone but Delgado as the first Master baffles me.

      • avatar Merast says:

        The same 80′s Master that was in the King’s Demons you mean? A basic rehash of the same story you just reviewed? C’mon, even the Monk would facepalm the Master’s sloppy execution in that story.

        I can’t see why you’d be baffled by the idea that someone would like to use their imagination, so what if someone likes the idea that the Monk was the Master? It’s not a crime.

        I simply expressed both the Monk and the War Chief’s functional equivalency to the Master, I could go as far as to say Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty’s relationship was functionally similar to the Third Doctor and the Master, as was intended by the production team. Doesn’t mean i think they are all the same character.

  7. avatar Alasdair Shaw says:

    I was going by your opening comment; “The Monk could of been the Master”.

    I’m all for linking continuities and histories together, as long as there is some logic and substance presented with the argument. Apart from being Time Lords that the Doctor has fought I can’t see a single connection.

    I’ve not seen The King’s Demons, but a quick glance through a synopsis reveals the Master’s plan to be a little more thought out than the Monk’s one.

    • avatar Merast says:

      That’s the beauty of it, a connection or a pattern is always in the eye of the beholder. But from a production point of view, they’ll always be seperate characters, unless some future producer decides to highlight the issue.

      As for King’s Demons, well i guess you’ll just have to give it a spin. One of the Master’s best wigs, and possibly his worst plan yet. Still fun to watch though :-)

      • avatar Alasdair Shaw says:

        I have to admit you’ve got me intrigued about The King’s Demons. I’ll give it a go later on this week.

        Still not buying the Master/Monk argument though. Think we’ll have to agree to differ on that point.

  8. avatar Philip Bates says:

    Just finished watching The Time Meddler. Really enjoyed it, especially Buttersworth. Really wish he’d’ve come back again after The Daleks’ Masterplan.

    It’s quite a grim end for him, I think. Great bit of apathy after the Doctor essentially wrecks his home.

    But I’m also reminded of that Simpsons episode, Hurrican Neddy, when the people of Springfield re-build Ned’s house, and one of the corridors gets smaller and smaller as you walk along it.

    • avatar Alasdair Shaw says:

      I still can’t get over how casually the Doctor exiles him in the 11th century. Like you say; it’s pretty grim.

      Serves to highlight just how little the Doctor has travelled from his Time Lord roots at this point.

  9. avatar sharazkapel77 says:

    In my opinion, it’s Peter Butterworth who really makes the serial; it wouldn’t be worth much without him, and it’s a nice predecessor to his second appearance in The Daleks’ Masterplan.

  10. avatar John Miller says:

    What is interesting is that at the end of Episode 10 of The Daleks master Plan The Doctor strands The Monk on an ice planet and The Monk’s last ever words(if we accept your reasoning) are “I’ll get you for this Doctor! I’ll get you one day!” In “Terror of the Autons” (The Master’s supposed “first” appearance) a Time Lord comes to warn The Doctor that “an old acquaintance has arrived on this planet” and that he “has learnt a great deal since you last met him”. The original script also noted that “The Master” was a new alias, and that the Doctor had ruined one of “The Master”‘s schemes, and that “The Master” was out for revenge. The Doctor is unimpressed “That jackanapes! All hes does is cause trouble!” he states and later “I refuse to be worried by a renegade like The Master. He’s a, he’s an unimaginative plodder.” It is only when he sees that “The Master” has indeed learnt a great deal since they last met that he takes the threat seriously. And we know that when they last met The Master could not have been in his Delgado incarnation when The Doctor fails to recognise the voice on the telephone. Then there’s the fact that The Monk was always going on about his “master plan”. Or the fact that the Time lord specifically states that The Master scored higher marks in science than The Doctor. The Monk was able to fix his faulty chameleon circuit(which The Doctor never did), and escape from 1066 in a TARDIS with a shrunken interior. It makes no sense he would never come after The Doctor again. And where was The Doctor’s prior(to Autons) meeting with The Master? The Master of Logopolis is reckless like The Monk. And Doctor Who Magazine ran an article shortly before the aforementioned King’s Demons stating that it would feature the return of a villain first seen in The Time Meddler. Quite frankly, the idea that The Monk ISN’T The Master is what I find bizarre.

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