The Time Meddler feels like a very different show to the television series that began its second season in the autumn of 1964. Susans departure in The Dalek Invasion of Earth shook things up a little bit, but with her replacement character, Vicki, more or less a carbon copy of Susan things didnt feel all that different. Ian and Barbaras departure really takes some getting used to though; they truly were the backbone of the show for nearly two years (in the days when two years of TV literally meant two years of TV!) Arguably, in the early days of Doctor Who it was William Russells Ian not William Hartnells Doctor that was the true hero of the show.
Cast at the last minute following his brief and amusing appearance in The Chase as Morton Dill, an Alabama yokel, Peter Purves made his debut as new companion Steven Taylor in the last episode of that serial, The Planet of Decision. However, it isnt until the opening moments of this serial that we discover that he has stowed away on board the TARDIS, teddy-bear and all! The opening ten minutes or so of The Watcher reworks much of An Unearthly Child, though with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek this time. The Doctors sheer poetry speech to Steven about the TARDIS is fantastic; its just a shame that Steven is so annoyingly pig-headed about his belief that time travel is impossible! In An Unearthly Child, Ian and Barbaras incredulity at the TARDIS was handled brilliantly by the writer and made for some top-notch drama. However, with this story having a more light-hearted take on things, it does tend to grate a hell of a lot more.
Im not the biggest fan in the world of Steven, either; hes certainly no Ian! To be fair, he does get much more palatable over his tenure and Peter Purves always gives his all to the role, but in this story hes an absolute nightmare. His running Doc / Doc tor joke is cringe worthy; that daft teddy bear; his arrogance The Time Meddler certainly isnt the best debut a companion ever had.
However, Dennis Spooners story itself is a gem, and more importantly it introduces my favourite black and white Doctor Who villain Peter Butterworths Meddling Monk (or Mortimus, if you will.) A member of the Doctors own (as yet nameless) race, the Monk also wants to improve things for humanity. However, he is prepared to cross the one line that the Doctor never will altering history. The Monk is planning to ensure Harolds victory at Hastings with atomic bazookas! Whether his actions really are for the greater good or not is open to debate, but whatever his motivations the Monk is an absolute joy to watch on screen. He has a checklist, written on a whiteboard in marker, where his plan is broken down step-by-step! Genius! They dont make villains like that any more! The Monk is eventually overcome when the Doctor sabotages his Mark Four TARDIS (a superior model to the Doctors), stealing the dimensional control and shrinking the interior dimensions so that the Monk cant get in, marooning him on Earth! The look on the Monks face is brilliant!
One of the better second season stories, The Time Meddler is a William Hartnell story that certainly shouldnt be missed. The chemistry between Hartnell and Butterworth is electrifying, and even in spite of Hartnells absence from the second episode, the story sustains itself well over the four episodes. The end title sequence is also worth looking out for, instead of the credits rolling across a blank screen as normal we see the faces of the new TARDIS crew in space, and for the first time there is no Next Episode caption, despite filming for Galaxy 4 being well underway by this point. As I said earlier, this serial really feels like the beginning to a very different Doctor Who; a Doctor Who with a very inconsistent third year ahead of it.
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I have to confess here that theres little I like more in Doctor Who than a nice, intriguing pseudo-historical. (Does that expression ever get used outside of Doctor Who writing, I wonder?). It stands to reason really the two worlds the show almost exclusively explores are those of science fiction and historical adventure, so it makes sense that any story that combines these two strongest elements of the programme should benefit from the result.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the story is its simple premise, as set-up beautifully by writer Dennis Spooner in the opening episode. It seems as if the TARDIS has landed in a fairly ordinary Saxon England, but there is something not quite right going on, something very strange happening that the audience and the TARDIS crew cannot quite put their fingers on. I admire the way as with so many of the series most successful episode ones that we are given little hints as to what is happening, such as the knowledgeable Monk and the wristwatch, before we are really given any of the answers or an adequate explanation. Its a tantalising mystery.
Its also a nice change that the Doctor actually manages to find some natives who neither want to kill nor imprison him on sight for once. Edith is a very pleasant character who seems to want nothing more than distribute food and drink to all and sundry as if she is on some kind of permanent harvest festival kick, but its a very pleasant change to have historical characters who are warm, friendly and likeable rather than simply being portrayed as ignorant savages or mistrustful miseries.
Sadly of course this historical setting is somewhat spoiled when, halfway through episode two, the most ridiculous group of Vikings in the history of the moving image wander into the story. Perhaps its the names isnt Sven Swedish, for a start? Were there Swedish Vikings? But I suspect its actually the ludicrous hat their leader wears that really robbed them of any credibility for me all in all when they first land they look as if theyve wandered in from a Monty Python sketch. Spam, anybody?
If nothing else, the appearance of silly Viking hats does at least give the Doctor the opportunity to utter the priceless A space helmet for a cow? line in the first episode. William Hartnell is on absolutely sparkling form throughout The Time Meddler, whether getting merry on mead with Edith, trading puns and insults with the Monk or getting irritable with his companions. Its an infectious performance, not quite the grumpy old man of his very earliest appearances, but still having a very serious edge to his light-heartedness that makes sure we never underestimate him as a character.
Perhaps its having Peter Butterworth to play against that inspired Hartnell to hit such a rich vein of acting form in this story, as there is no doubt that as the Monk Butterworth makes one of the strongest guest appearances in the whole of the shows history. A comic performance, of course, but one with a nasty edge to it he thinks nothing of sending the two Vikings in the last episode the wrong way so that they fall into the hands of the pursuing Saxons, and seems to regard the idea of single-handedly massacring hundreds if not thousands of Vikings in their invasion fleet in a similarly pragmatic manner.
For all its comedy, the Monks intentions are one reminder that the story has a darker side to it in places. There is the very strong implication that Edith was raped by the Vikings when she is attacked by their raiding party, something that was apparently made even more explicit by footage censored from this episode by foreign broadcasters and still missing from the existing returned prints. The entrapment of the Monk at the end of the story, left stranded in eleventh century England, is quite a bleak conclusion despite everything that he has planned to do and everything he may have already done in his time meddling career, you cannot help but feel a little sorry for someone used to so many advantages and such a superior level of life and technology to be left alone in such an age. This would be all the more powerful if we did not know in retrospect that the Monk went on to escape, but taking the story in isolation it is certainly a memorable finale to proceedings.
And what of the Monk himself? Again in retrospect some of his impact can be lost, because its hard to imagine a time when the watching audience, or at least the fans, didnt know that there were many others of the Doctors people in the universe with similar TARDISes. He becomes intriguing right from the first time we see him, when his reaction to the Doctor, Steven and Vickis talk of time travel is not quite what we would expect from someone of the period, and as the mystery around him slowly unravels it builds towards the stunning revelation at the end of episode three. Sadly even I cannot imagine what this must have been like for the audience watching in 1965, and its also become something of a cliché to say it, but still The Monks got a TARDIS!
Now thats a cliffhanger!
The other noteworthy factor about The Time Meddler is that it marks Peter Purves first full story as Steven, and Stevens first trip through time and space with the Doctor. He is also impressive in fact I think Ill just say the whole cast are good, bar the Vikings and instantly strikes up a rapport with his co-stars Hartnell and OBrien. Very much a go-getting, derring-do kind of hero figure but with guile and intelligence as well, hes not overly macho and has an endearing curiosity about everything around him, at least after his initial scepticism about the TARDIS and its properties wears off in any case.
Stevens entry into the TARDIS forms a significant prologue to the story proper, which begins with a charming little scene of the Doctor and Vicki missing the recently homebound Ian and Barbara. Hartnell pulls off a melancholic kind of Doctor, that he didnt often get a chance to portray, very well in this little piece, but hes soon back to his energetic self once he has a new companion to dazzle and impress.
In a way Stevens introduction to the TARDIS makes the first episode of this story similar to a condensed version of An Unearthly Child, as he disbelieves the dimensions and time travel capabilities of the ship and so forth. Except of course this time the audience sees the situation from the other way around rather than being in Ian and Barbaras shoes coming from the outside in, were already with the Doctor and Vicki, part of the secret ourselves, welcoming the newcomer into our midst. Theres even more of a reflection of the series very first story when we get to see the Saxons for the first time, including an argument about who should be Headsman between two rather dishevelled men with beards.
Douglas Camfields direction of the story is to be admired for its competence at both the technical and artistic aspects of telling the story it never feels too badly as if were confined to a small studio in London, and the clever use of stock footage even manages to make the idea of the beach and approaching Vikings seem quite convincing. Although in the latter case he is of course probably helped by the telerecording process making all the footage appear more equal in quality.
In summary then, The Time Meddler is an utterly charming and absorbing story, in which a hugely enjoyable script coupled with good direction and endearing performances combine to create one of the very best of the First Doctors adventures.
It is a pity about those Vikings, though
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The Time Meddler is a story that seems to have increased in popularity over the last couple of years, and I would say it deserves this increased attention. It is an inventive and at times funny outing for the First Doctor.
The clever script allows us our first glimpse of another member of the Doctor's race. The Meddling Monk is an excellent creation and the anachronisms he introduces to Saxon era England really enliven the piece. As the Monk, Peter Butterworth is enjoyable, particularly when verbally jousting with William Hartnell, who is on fine line-fluffing form. Episode 2 is probably the worst of the four due to his absence. I did have a slight problem with the actors playing the Saxon characters- they're perhaps a little too civil and nice to look comfortable in the harsh surrounds of early Britain...
While technically I think this is quite good for the time (dodgy Viking sword fights aside), the designer missed an opportunity with The Monk's TARDIS, which is mostly just the same as The Doctor's. Still, it's a great idea so I won't class it as a major problem. The musical score creates an unsettling atmosphere which the acting and direction do not necessarily offer up; an implied rape scene does go far to equal it, but in a less pleasing way.
Anyway, The Time Meddler is a fun little story, which is sadly, and obviously, dated. View it in the spirit intended, though, and you will find much to enjoy.
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'The Time Meddler' is extremely underrated. It is well-written, well-acted and well-directed, but more than this, it ends season two in style, with what must at the time have been something of a shock revelation for the viewer...
Firstly, 'The Time Meddler' looks great, thanks to the superb direction of Douglas Camfield and excellent sets and costumes the use of stock location footage blends in with the studio footage remarkably well, and adds an air of realism to the story. The monastery in particular looks very good, as do the woods around the Saxon village. The costumes too look fairly authentic. Secondly, the plot, whilst meandering along at a fairly sedate pace, never feels padded or slow, in part thanks to the witty script. As in Dennis Spooner's previous scripts, the humour is mixed with grim and gritty realism, in this case the rape of Edith by the Vikings and the Vikings' subsequent death at the hands of the Saxons, but unlike in 'The Reign of Terror', these brutal aspects are kept to a minimum, which is perhaps wise as they do not sit well with the light-hearted tone of the rest of the story. The Saxons and Vikings do not get much to do, but fill their roles adequately enough, especially the afore-mentioned Edith who comes across as very likeable. The actors playing the Vikings through themselves into their sparse roles too, and manage to compensate for looking like Swedish porn stars with cheesy names (Sven and Ulf!).
The main guest character however, is of course the Monk. Peter Butterworth is perfect in the role, and makes the character immediately memorable. But then of course, as the first member of the Doctor's own people to appear in the series apart from Susan, he would stick in the mind anyway. He's a great character, taking obvious glee in his interference, but refreshingly never seeming really evil. Even when he admits that his plan involves blowing up the Viking fleet, he seems troubled by the fact, which makes a change from the black-and-white villainy of the Daleks in the previous story. Indeed, it is interesting that he claims to have the best motivations for his time meddling, telling the Doctor, Steven and Vicki that he wants to improve things. The Monk is a delight from the start, and steals the show in episode two, whether he's making preparations for the arrival of the Vikings, or dealing with Steven and Vicki with an expression of wide-eyed (and totally fake) innocence as they try to find the Doctor. But it is the scenes between Hartnell and the Butterworth that really make 'The Time Meddler' great, as they engage in a battle of wits in episodes three and four. As in 'The Romans', Spooner aims for comedy, but the comedy this time is less slapstick based than in that earlier story. Here, the humour arises from the Monk, whether it is his rather endearing journal entries as read by Vicki, or his interaction with the Doctor. The Doctor alternates between indignation, smugness and glee as he confronts and ultimately strands the Monk, and it is a further reminder of the unusual nature of this story and its villain, that he actually bothers to leave a note for the Monk at the end. Perhaps he genuinely believes that the Monk has the potential to recognise the folly of his actions, or perhaps he just can't resist gloating
Steven and Vicki get a fair amount of screen-time, even though in plot-terms they do little more than run around looking for the Doctor and reveal to the audience things that the Doctor already knows. Steven's character gets to shine here in his first full story; he's more cynical than Ian, refusing to believe that the TARDIS is a time machine even when he is forced to admit that it is bigger inside than out, and can travel through space. He also seems more hotheaded, attacking the Saxons unprovoked in search of answers, despite Vicki's attempts to stop him. I like the way in which he gradually comes to respect the Doctor, initially gently mocking the old man about the TARDIS exterior and his inability to steer his craft, but slowly changing his assessment of the old man as the story progresses. Since much of this time is spent with Vicki, it is clear that it is her faith in the Doctor which rubs off on Steven and by the time they leave 1066, he seems keen to be traveling in the TARDIS the fact that none of the current TARDIS crew want to return home makes quite a difference to the feel of the show. Vicki continues to show her independent streak, happily bossing Steven around as they explore separately from the Doctor. Steven seems happy to humour her in this, immediately creating a friendly atmosphere between the two. With the Doctor telling them at the end that they are both very welcome passengers, this ends the season on a high, as the new crew goes off into the unknown together, with their faces superimposed on a starry backdrop for added effect as the end credits roll.
It is not this new status quo aboard the TARDIS however, which so changes the emphasis of the series at the end of season two. It is of course, the cliffhanger to episode three, as Vicki announces in stunned disbelief "It's a TARDIS! The Monk's got a TARDIS!" When originally broadcast, this must have been something of a shock as for the first time we see that the Doctor's ship is not unique. Neither for that matter is he, since at least one other member of his race is out there in time and space. More importantly however, we learn that the Monk is "a time meddler", and that he has already changed history on at least two previous occasions. This is a huge development, since in the past the Doctor has claimed that this cannot be done, most notably during 'The Aztecs'. We now learn that in fact it can be done, but that the Doctor considers it to be hugely irresponsible (interestingly, no dangers of altering history are actually discussed at this point) and will not allow it. This adds a new dimension to the idea of future historical stories. These revelations make 'The Time Meddler' stand out in Doctor Who's history, and the high production standards give the story added bonus. It is a fine end to the season.
Overall, season two maintains the high quality established by season one, whilst starting to stretch the format of the series through a miniscules story ('Planet of Giants'), the series' first alien invasion of Earth complete with hugely impressive location filming ('The Dalek Invasion of Earth'), a comedy ('The Romans'), a flawed but ambitious attempt to create a really alien world ('The Web Planet'), and surrealism ('The Space Museum' episode one), amongst others. As with season one, we're lucky that so much has survived, with only two episodes from 'The Crusade' missing from this season. Unfortunately, the next season has fared far less well, forcing to me to turn to my trusty CD player.
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I will admit it now, I am one of those young scallywags who has never really been a fan of early Doctor Who for me, the 1970s was the zenith of the series. However, I have still endeavoured to see all of the episodes of the series that still remain, and as such, I recently viewed 1965s The Time Meddler in one sitting. You heard me, I loved it. It was one of the best Hartnell serials, and it is a damn shame that the BBC took so long to release it on video.
The plot itself seems so familiar now, a mysterious figure changing established Earth history for some reason or another. However, I wonder how many television series had dealt with this concept in 1965. Obviously, this concept was used again later in the series, and to somewhat monotonous extent in both the Virgin and BBC novels, but at the time here we have what is constantly referred to as another of those stories full of firsts. The first pseudo-historical, the first serial to feature another renegade Time Lord, the first to have no Next Episode at the end.
Where this story really excels is in its pseudo-historical nature. The set-up is really over three episodes until we learn of the Monks true nature in what must be one of the series best-ever cliffhangers. Imagine after two years of watching the series to suddenly learn that there are other TARDISes out there, and this strange monk was in possession of one. Maybe he knew the Doctor, maybe they were of the same race. The Monks use of anachronistic objects (seemingly only collected from periods in history prior to 1965, with the exception of his atomic cannon which looks suspiciously like a modified WWI-era Vickers machine gun) is a clever way to raise audience interest, in both the nature of Monk and whether or not this really is 1066.
The other aspect of this story is, of course, the setting and its inherent characters. OK, so the BBC could always do historicals. But only late 19th century ones. As far as the Saxon village was concerned, I thought it was only one hut, until one of the locals referred to it as the village. The Viking invasion was, of course, really only a scout party, so the complete lack of any horde of invaders is understandable. The monastery was extremely well crafted, although the sets were a bit similar, meaning that it was hard to follow exactly where characters in the building were, relative to each other. In general though, the setting is secondary to the Monk and his interplay with the Doctor.
The Monk was a superb character, and it is a shame his only other contribution to the series has been largely lost. As a character he seems to reside between the Doctor and the Master compelled to interfere, but not for his own gain he simply wants to make history better. His interplay with the Doctor is fascinating, and it remains unclear whether they have met before or whether they simply size each other up relatively quickly. It is interesting to note that the Doctor seems to refer to the Monk as a Time Meddler as if this is an established type of time-travelling miscreant. Indeed, the Doctor seems almost guilty of this when his ramblings about upcoming events are overheard by the Saxon Edith. The Monk is a brilliant creation, and it is a shame he has only been explored as a revenge-crazed meddler in the Alternate History arc of the New Adventures. A stand-alone novel concerning one of his previous meddlings would be a fascinating read.
All in all, a classic serial, with all of the elements of a Hartnell-era story and a new twist to Doctor Who mythology thrown in to boot. Thoroughly recommended.
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Written By: Nigel Robinson
Based on a TV story written by Dennis Spooner
Read By: Peter Purves
Published: 6th October 2016
Duration: 240 Minutes
1066, Planet Earth. The Doctor and Vicki must now move onto new journeys without the company of lively and brave Ian Chesterton, and wise, protective Barbara Wright. The two Coal Hill School teachers have finally made it back to their home time and place after the Doctor's team made a close escape from a Dalek execution squad.
To their surprise another has immediately joined their crew (in somewhat stowaway fashion): pilot Steven Taylor, who was a prisoner in the city of the Mechanoids, and had begun to lose his grasp of reality. As they explore their new surroundings in north-east England, the Doctor repeatedly is forced to convince Steven Taylor that he pilots a craft that is both capable of space flight, but also time travel.
What none of the new arrivals can anticipate is that a member of the Doctor's own race has landed sometime earlier in this pre-Renaissance era, and is posing as a native monk. And this individual is both scheming and manipulative, yet perfectly jovial and charming. He is also determined to use his awareness of future events to execute a scheme whereby the Viking invasion never went ahead. This would allow reigning King Harold to comfortably defeat William (of Normandy), and thus the whole course of future history both in England and the whole world changes irrevocably...
The Time Meddler has been something of an acquired taste for this reviewer. Soon after Doctor Who's cancellation, a repeat season on BBC 2 was commissioned, and this particular black and white story was chosen as the representative of the Hartnell years of 1963 - 1966. One reason was that no episodes were missing, and another was its relatively brief episode count. The copy shown on TV was serviceable for those fans used to the BBC Videos, but certainly would not stand up today on modern TV screens (many of which support high-definition).
To my (then nine-year-old) eyes, this was quite hard to watch for other reasons. The lack of frenetic music and the long, talky scenes meant I struggled to keep myself in the moment as I normally did. I would watch the episode once or twice and quickly move on. By contrast my viewings of the next couple of stories that followed in the season, saw me re-watch each and every episode many times on home cassette. The week long wait for the next repeat seemed an eternity.
Now however, watched in context of a marathon of the Hartnell era, or at least a number of consecutive stories, this serial is easily one of the more thoughtful, well-crafted and realistic (in terms of then-production facilities). The Time Meddler may be relatively small stakes compared to various other tales, but it still was at pains to show how dedicated the Doctor was in terms of protecting the web of time that was integral to planet Earth.
Many Classic Who fans cannot help liking The Chase despite all its problems, but only would one dare show the final episode (and possibly the opener for those that like Shakespeare or the Beatles) to a 'newbie'. By contrast this story had director Douglas Camfield who always throve on the pressures and made each and every cast and crew member feel part of a team.
Nigel Robinson was one of the better contributors to the TARGET novelisation range, and later went on to produce two very enjoyable early entries in the Virgin New Adventures book line (Timewyrm - Apocalypse and Birthright). Robinson understood what the essence of Doctor Who was, but also what material would be worthy of expansion and exploration in book form. A lot of the two-dimensional characters of the source material are given that bit more meat on their bones. I also appreciated the use of both a prologue and epilogue - the former to give a sense of Steven's terrifying ordeal escaping Mechanus and stumbling upon the TARDIS, the latter to fully portray the just desserts the Monk has been served by his fellow (but far more moral) time traveller.
One aspect of the story which really was unusual for 1960s Doctor Who was its exploring of adult themes. Yet - by contrast to the very first season of Hartnell - some stories in the 1964-1965 run had a rather more adult side to them: Susan's relationship with a human that made her leave the TARDIS and her grandfather, and the politics and morality aspects of Richard the Lionheart's campaigns in Palestine, were certainly more than mere teatime escapism.
One section of The Time Meddler saw a rather disturbing 'after-shock' scene of Edith conveying that she had been sexual assaulted, or raped, with the actual crime taking place off-screen. In the original story this was rather brushed under the carpet soon after and it appeared that all was more than well by the time the TARDIS crew have won their battle of wits with the Monk. In this book Robinson commendably tackles the topic in some detail, and was surely aware of portraying keystone morals for the youngster/child demographic that was essentially the target readership. The final violent end for the two Vikings who committed the despicable act feels justified. But there is that tinge of 'two wrongs do not make a right' which is part of the laudably strong characterisation at work by the adaptor.
Peter Purves once again shows his all round skills as a narrator and voice artist. I had the pleasure of reading his enthusiastic and detailed memoirs some years back. The former Blue Peter presenter had a varied and interesting career, with a lot of fast paced training/ performing in theatre in his formative years. Consequently the alter ego of Steven Taylor is able to handle both high pitched and bass voices with equal aplomb, and has the uncanny sense of when to speed up the tempo of his reading and when to allow some meaningful silences. Some of the music used is familiar from other BBC Audio releases, which is welcome, as so few TV Hartnell stories were linked to each other through recurring musical themes. Suspense and excitement are punctuated well, and the sound effects continue to be employed with good judgement.
So in short, this is yet another entertaining and atmospheric audio gem, and you could do far worse in choosing an item for the impending Yuletide gift list.
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