Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Reviews


List:
02 Sep 2003The Time Warrior, by Paul Clarke
30 Oct 2005The Time Warrior, by Adam Kintopf
30 Oct 2005The Time Warrior, by Ed Martin

The Time Warrior' is one of my favourite Pertwee stories, succeeding as it does on many levels. It's funny and well scripted, well acted, and serves as a superb debut story both for one of Doctor Who's most popular monsters and also new companion Sarah-Jane Smith. 

First of all, the script is great. Faced (apparently reluctantly) with a story set in the middle ages, Robert Holmes adopts a cod-Shakespearean style for his characters' dialogue, but takes the opportunity to derive great humour from this. The best lines all go to Irongron, who gets to describe the Doctor as "a longshanked rascal with a mighty nose" and later shouts at his men, "With poltroons like this it would ill work to lay siege to a chicken coop!" Then there's "the wench is crazed", "He is a toad. Who knows what a toad thinks?", "that narrow-hipped vixen", and many, many more. Bloodaxe also gets to say to Irongron, "Yours is indeed a towering intelligence". Even the non-comedic dialogue works well, sounding convincingly suited to the period, even though it probably isn't. 

In addition to the excellent script, there is some fine characterisation. I'll discuss Linx and Sarah below, but Irongron and Bloodaxe almost steal the show. David Daker is outstanding as the former, a brash, almost piratical brigand, who took his castle by force and thinks of nothing but violence. And wine. The character is almost OTT, but remains just the right side to be believable, swinging unpredictably between vicious humour, anger and, on several occasions, complete bafflement. In addition to Daker's spot-on delivery of his lines, demonstrating perfect comic timing, his facial acting adds a great deal more to the role, especially when Linx confuses him with talk of primary and secondary reproductive cycles, and interstellar travel. Bloodaxe, his sidekick, gets less to do, but crucially provides a comic foil, since he's far more stupid than his would-be cunning Captain and John J. Carney's facial expressions find several different ways to express confusion. In addition to his double-act with Bloodaxe, Irongron also has an ongoing double-act with Linx. His relationship with Linx is a key factor in the success of 'The Time Warrior', as the pair of them constantly bicker, both having "much that the other wants", Irongron frequently attempting to bully his "star warrior", which on most occasions doesn't work and on one occasion earns him a humiliating trouncing. 

Linx is a superb villain, easily cementing the success of the Sontarans. He works well for several reasons, not least of which is Kevin Lindsay's great performance, complemented by one of the best monster costumes of the era, with a very convincing latex mask. Linx is not just a great villain, he's a great character; he isn't some stock megalomaniac who wants to rule or destroy the world, he's a stranded warrior whose sole motivation is to return to his war, which we quickly learn is what Sontarans live for. To achieve this end, he is ruthless, showing a callous disregard for the scientists who he has kidnapped, and refusing the Doctor's (genuine) offer of help if he'll just bugger off and leave human history alone, preferring instead to escape on his own terms rather than bargaining with the Time Lord. He's also sadistic at times, especially in Episode Four when he decides to let the Doctor witness Sarah's death before the Doctor is killed in turn. However, he's also a more complex character than that; although he considers humans to be primitive, he seems genuinely concerned with honouring his alliance with Irongron. The construction of the robot warrior is unnecessary given that Linx is also working on the rifles, but he builds it anyway. This is partly because of his fondness for weapons, but he also seems keen to impress his host. He also delivers a full consignment of rifles to Irongron after the abortive raid on Wessex castle, which utterly disgusts him, and at the end he makes several attempts to convince Irongron to leave the castle before it is destroyed, before giving up in disgust. This all suggests a certain warped nobility to Linx, which might boil down to honour between warriors, hence his complete lack of tolerance for the Doctor from the start, given that he considers the Time Lords to lack morale. It is also worth noting that we get a considerable amount of detail from the script about Sontarans in general, all of it fitting naturally into the dialogue without feeling like a forced infodump, another credit to Holmes' talents. 

The story also marks the debut of Sarah-Jane Smith, who makes an immediate impression. Liz Sladen takes to the role with ease, and helps make the character work. It is a good opening story for the character, as she gets to rescue the Doctor several times, leads a handful of Wessex's men into Irongron's castle on a raid, and plays a key role in defeating Irongron and his men by spiking their dinner. I especially like the fact that she initially distrusts the Doctor, which hasn't happened with a new companion since Ian and Barbara first got abducted way back in '100,000BC'. This works well because when she finally starts to trust him, it gives the Doctor an opportunity to explain that he is a Time Lord and generally point out what a splendid fellow he is without it feeling forced; it arises naturally out of the situation and also out of Sarah's inquisitive journalistic nature. The fact that she stows away in the TARDIS and thus becomes embroiled in events by accident also provides a useful mechanism for her becoming the new companion, which makes a refreshing change from Liz and Jo, who became companions as a result of working for UNIT at the same time as the Doctor. Her objection to the Doctor's occasional sexism (which he plays up here in order to wind Sarah up as soon as he notices her angry reaction to his make a "making coffee" joke) also makes her relationship with the Doctor different to Jo's, since she comes across as more independent. Whilst she grows to like the Doctor, she has a more adult relationship with him than Jo, who often seemed to idolize him. Oh, and the scene with Meg, where Sarah tells her she sounds like she's living in the middle ages and then quickly shuts up, is priceless. 

The other characters all work well, from the rough and ready Meg (Sheila Fay), to the dashingly heroic Hal (Jeremy Bulloch), the weary Edward (Alan Rowe), and his devoted wife Eleanor (June Brown), who strives to protect her ineffectual husband by sending Hal to slay Irongron. I also like Donald Pelmear's Professor Rubeish, a stereotypical eccentric scientist who proves of great help to the Doctor (he rescues him from Linx twice) and also provides further comedy (his response to the Doctor's line about going to find a young girl is "Young girl? I would have thought he's a bit old for that sort of thing"). Pertwee is also great here, as the Doctor gets to outfight Irongron and Bloodaxe at the same time, swing to safety on a chandelier, and generally swash his buckle. 'The Time Warrior' shows the Third Doctor at his best, courteously dealing with Edward and Eleanor and supping wine in their castle, cheerfully throwing smoke bombs at Irongron's men with great relish, making quips as they try to shoot him with rifles, and fighting Linx hand-to-hand (unsuccessfully, as it happens). 

Production wise the story is generally OK, although the corridors and "wooden" doors in Irongron's castle are obviously plastic. Fortunately, the location work compensates. In addition, mention must be made of Linx' spacecraft, which is one of the more memorable spaceship designs that the series came up with. 

In summary then, 'The Time Warrior' is a great debut for the Sonatarans, a great debut for the new companion, and generally a hugely entertaining story. And if even takes the time to name the Doctor's home planet.

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I love the Sontarans and Rutans. The idea of two alien cultures locked in unending conflict across millennia certainly resonates with many political dichotomies in our real world; those real-life dichotomies are usually sad ones, and yet an allegorical reading of the Sontaran/Rutan war is not without its humor too. Sontarans, especially, view everything they encounter *only* as it relates to their holy war – it’s a rather funny way to look at the universe, and how often in life do we see political parties going to extraordinary lengths to tie even the most neutral topics in to their agendas, and fighting as hard as they can *not* to see the other side? This becomes even funnier when we realize that never in classic ‘Doctor Who’ history did the Sontarans and Rutans actually appear onscreen together: we only ever got one side of the story, and we can’t help wondering, considering their insulated approaches to warfare, how often the two races actually met in battle at all. (Some fans have suggested that Russell T. Davies should finally have them meet in his new series, but I hope he doesn’t – I don’t want to see this amusing tradition spoiled.)

‘The Time Warrior’ introduced the Sontarans, and in the context of a refreshingly small-stakes story: Linx isn’t trying to destroy the Earth, or even to take it over – he just wants to fix his spaceship and get back to the front lines. The Sontarans’ fixation on their own private conflict makes them interesting villains in ‘Doctor Who’ history. After all, they couldn’t be further from the megalomaniacal individuals who make up the rank and file of ‘Who’ baddies – their encounters with humans in the series are usually irritating distractions, and here Linx’s annoyance with his situation is amusingly palpable throughout. Linx is humorless and impatient, and as macho as a sexless clone can be, but he is not a megalomaniac – he is simply focused on his mission. And if he can have a little sadistic fun in the process, well, where’s the harm in that? (Personally, I prefer the mask from ‘The Sontaran Experiment,’ but Kevin Lindsay is still marvelous as Linx – even if it is sometimes difficult to hear him as he shouts through his helmet!)

As for the story itself, its plot makes wonderful sense (for once), and events progress very naturally from one scene to another. Robert Holmes’s script may not be as funny as some of his others (specifically, his other [mock-] medieval story, ‘The Ribos Operation’), but it is vividly characterized, and this ‘primitive’ setting inspires the writer to great inventive heights: Irongron’s much-quoted metaphors are just a few examples of his colorful creations here. Some of the ‘medieval’ moments do tend to go a bit Renaissance Faire-y (you certainly wouldn’t accuse the cast of not having fun), but for the most part it doesn’t get in the way of our taking it all seriously. David Daker chews the scenery as Irongron, but likeably so – Holmes always had affection for small people with delusions of grandeur, and despite how hard the writer works to establish the character as a barbaric warlord, we can’t help liking him. (His repeated description of Linx as “Toad Face” gets funnier and funnier too.) Ultimately, Irongron is more like Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirate King than a real villain, and it’s almost a shame Holmes decided to kill him. Donald Pelmear’s take as Rubeish is extremely amusing too, and yet the character isn’t a mere buffoon – he is an absent-minded professor, yes, and yet he accepts the fact that he has traveled in time with a (wonderfully scientific) open mind, and of course it is he who bravely creeps up on the Sontaran and stuns him. And smaller parts like Sheila Fay’s cynical wench Meg and June Brown’s ambitious Lady Eleanor are made just as memorable as the principals.

And then, of course, there’s Sarah. For a generation of ‘Doctor Who’ viewers, Sarah Jane Smith will always be *the* companion, and her meeting with Jon Pertwee’s Doctor here can only be described as historic. The treatment of Sarah would vary from script to script over the years, but here she is everything one could want from a companion. In many ways, Sarah really steals this show – it’s isn’t hard to see why the Doctor is impressed with her, especially when she single-handedly leads a raid on Irongron’s castle! The introduction of a new assistant always presented ‘Doctor Who’s’ writers with an opportunity to reinvent the series, and here, briefly, we certainly get to see the Doctor and the TARDIS with fresh eyes – a rare treat.

A very strong story.

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The Time Warrior is remarkably inauspicious given that itÂ’s actually quite important, introducing as it does Sarah Jane Smith and the Sontarans. While Sarah in retrospect came out as probably the best companion ever (once the 1970s were out she hardly faced much competition), I sometimes wonder if the Sontarans deserved to become such comparatively big monsters. I know that the only reason they did was because Barry Letts was playing it safe and brought them back for the following season, thereby opening the floodgates, but even so: theyÂ’re not bad monsters, by any means, but I can think of better monsters that deserved more appearances (Zygons anyone?). That said, this is their best story, as all but one of the others didnÂ’t have Robert Holmes (also known by his nickname, Lord and Master) at the helm.

Immediately noticeable with this story is the new title sequence, which is fantastic; in fact, for my money it’s the best after the Hartnell original. I prefer it to the Tom Baker version that followed it closely – it’s aesthetically more daring with its broken lines and swirls, and the way the picture of Jon Pertwee zooms out only to rush forward again and become a vortex is a killer. There are no cheesy two-dimensional TARDISes here, either.

David Daker cannot fail to make an impression early on: he is over-the-top to be sure, but not in a way that disrespects the audience like Anthony Ainley’s master would do. Here his performance is loud and vibrant, but carefully and caringly matched up with the tone of the rest of the production. John J. Carney as Bloodaxe, by contrast, is completely swamped. He does his best and so I won’t tear into him, but he simply doesn’t have the energy of Daker’s manic Irongron. However, his patronising and extremely obvious and clichéd characterisation as a West Country simpleton is very annoying, arr, so it be. The set of Irongron’s castle is poor, which is a shame as when it came to period settings Doctor Who was usually on solid ground: its plastic props and painted-backdrop brickwork perhaps explaining why Sarah initially believes it to be a fairground mock-up. Still, barring comparatively short interludes in the past in Carnival Of Monsters and The Time Monster, this is the first story to really make an effort to create a period setting since The War Games in 1969 so I suppose I can forgive them being a bit rusty.

A small globe is a nice idea for a spaceship, especially two decades before Star Trek gave us the Borg Sphere (and the Borg had ripped off the Cybermen anyway). However, the design of their ships – which have since passed into canonicity – were initially conceived so that Irongron could believe it to be a star, while the only reason this monster is called a Sontaran is so that Holmes can make a cheap pun on ‘Saracen’. Bear that in mind when watching the deadly-serious The Two Doctors, which Holmes also wrote but under the thumb of Eric Saward (oh so easy an excuse for a Holmes fan, but there you are). One thing that annoys me though is fans who moan about subsequent plots involving Sontarans attempting to discover time-travel, “when they had it all the way back in the 12th Century. The answer, I’d have thought, is obvious: Linx is from the future, jackasses! I have to say that Linx is brilliant, with Kevin Lindsay’s brooding sadist portrayal stealing the acting crown from Daker; it is hard to believe that this is the same man who played the affable and somewhat effeminate Cho-je in Planet Of The Spiders. As I said, this is the Sontarans’ best story, with Holmes doing what David Whitaker did so successfully with the Daleks: keeping his monsters in the background, as part of a story rather than the be-all-and-end-all of it. Linx is so much more menacing through not being rubbed in our faces all the time.

Jumping to the future, and the Brigadier’s line of “most of their work's so secret, they don't know what they're doing themselves” is a cunning way to avoid having to give a proper explanation why all these scientists are all bundled together for kidnapping. It’s interesting to see that Pertwee is mucking about like Tom Baker did in his last few seasons, but he may be taking advantage of Holmes’s shamelessly boisterous dialogue.

Although Sarah would be brilliant, a lot of this would be down to the relationship she had with her co-stars. This has yet to develop at this point, and her one-dimensional crusading feminist characterisation sees Barry Letts’s drive to be socially responsible misfire. I was going to do the old “DON’T ASK ME TO MAKE THE COFFEE!” bit, but then she actually said that line or thereabouts (I’d forgotten), which had me lost for words. Thankfully she became much more of a realistic character under Philip Hinchcliffe. Rubeish is also a very irritating character, Holmes tastelessly mocking his lack of vision and creating a character straight out of a dated 70s sitcom. He even mentions a scientist called Dingle, for crying out loud. It surprises me as well why he and the Doctor talk abut Sarah with raised voices even though she’s only in one of those temporary cubicles.

The drama of RubeishÂ’s disappearance is spoiled since we have already seen what happens to the kidnapped humans, but there is a great effect as the Doctor projects an image of Linx on the stairs (look closely and you can see his feet waiting on the landing beforehand). However, as with much of the season the characterisation of UNIT is dreadful, with the grunts living up to their nicknames and shooting at passing insects and the Brigadier uttering out-of-character lines like “oh my giddy aunt!”. 

ItÂ’s actually quite effective not letting us see SarahÂ’s reaction to the TARDIS (doesnÂ’t the prop look tatty here?), instead just showing her wandering around. Her acting as she is captured is excellent, and it is easy to see why she would be so popular once the writers had got the hang of her.

There is some great location shooting (always a strength of the programme), which in part makes up for the tackiness of the studio sets. We see the Sontaran make-up for the first time, and itÂ’s fantastic, much better than it would be in later years. I know it was uncomfortable and severely restricted LindsayÂ’s breathing, but even so I was sad to see it go in subsequent stories. However, my copy of The Time Warrior is the extremely old BBC video release from 1989 9still in good nick, mind) where the episodes are all edited together into one feature, and it becomes very obvious that Linx only removes his helmet to set up the cliffhanger. ItÂ’s slightly strange and not very dramatically satisfying to see him take off his helmet, pose dramatically for a second, then replace his helmet and walk off.

You only get lines like “narrow-hipped vixen!” with Robert Holmes. Sarah’s comment that the castle contains “no lights or cameras” could possibly be metafiction, but really it’s just Holmes having a massive laugh at everyone else’s expense, taking his revenge when Terrance Dicks made him write a period piece against his will (in fairness he turned the tables later with Horror Of Fang Rock). Linx’s comment about human reproduction is very funny, although his genuine interest in the more violent aspects of medieval society turns him into far more than just an average ‘evil’ monster. The robot knight is quite creepy, with its zombie-like gait and distended, out-of-proportion features. The Doctor knocks Irongron’s control unit out of his hand with a crack shot from a crossbow; Russell T. Davies wants a return to the non-gun bearing Doctor. All I can say is, he has a lot of contrary evidence to make up for.

Rubeish takes the idea of time-travel in his stride, babbling like an idiot; is he HolmesÂ’s most annoying character ever? The music here is so rare that there isnÂ’t really a place to discuss it, so IÂ’ll just say quickly that Dudley Simpson, having passed his near-unlistenable electronic phase, is on good form.

Amazingly, Gallifrey is casually namedropped for the first time here as if its name had been known already (another important contribution Holmes (presumably) made to the show). Pertwee’s constant fighting with extras is getting tiresome at this stage, especially as it drives his character into the ground, although it’s not as annoying as him yelling “hai!” with every stuntman that goes down.

Linx’s description of Pertwee as “a longshanked rascal with a mighty nose” is hilarious, but in fairness Holmes chose a description that could equally apply to himself. The plot here is simple without being patronising, allowing for Holmes to avoid clumsy exposition while still keeping the story going. There is a bit of padding, I should say, in part one where the Doctor doesn’t arrive in medieval England until the very end.

The siege scene is fun, being nice and simple (which is not how Holmes had wanted it; his revenge again). The location scenes are very well directed by Alan Bromly, and even in the studio the very mobile cameras are nice to see. However, his handling of action scenes does tend to fall a bit flat. The castle sentry, I should add, is appalling. 

The cliffhanger is spoiled by my clumsily-edited tape, which just shows Linx shooting the Doctor and his subsequent fall to be possibly the slowest action scene outside The Aztecs. In the fourth episode, the Doctor masquerading as Linx to fool Bloodaxe is silly and pantomimic, but by contrast SarahÂ’s terrified bluff to the serving woman is excellently played. However, her feminist tirade is so clumsily written that I feel the need to point it out even though I went on about it earlier. There is a poor, shaky piece of action as the Doctor swings on a chandelier, and there is a horrible boom mike shadow on Linx at the end.

HolmesÂ’s real weakness was his penchant for anticlimaxes; his endings range from deus ex machina overload (Spearhead From Space, Pyramids Of Mars) to the too lame for words (Terror Of The Autons). This isnÂ’t one of his worst, but writing his monsters to have inbuilt weaknesses like Power RangersÂ’ enemies makes me cringe a bit. The final explosion is also a bit too simple, although no one can claim itÂ’s not within the showÂ’s limits.

Despite not being the best-realised period piece the show ever did, this is still a great fun story. It’s no classic, but given how most non-classic Holmes scripts get unfairly ripped apart (The Krotons, The Power Of Kroll), this is a story that actually tends to get quite fairly treated – maybe because Holmes’s unwillingness to write to specifications provides his advocates with a scapegoat. I’m only giving this an average rating, which spells bad things as it’s probably the best story of the season, which wasn’t Pertwee’s best. Taken story by story though, The Time Warrior is fairly representative: it has few pretensions (OK so it’s not representative of Planet Of The Spiders), but it’s just good clean fun.

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