The Time Meddler
Target novelisation
Doctor Who - The Time Meddler

Author Nigel Robinson Cover image
Published 1987
ISBN 0 426 20312 7
First Edition Cover Jeff Cummins

Back cover blurb: When the TARDIS materailises on an apparently deserted Northumbrian beach, Steven disputes the Doctor's claim that they have travelled back to the eleventh century. The discovery of a modern wristwatch in a nearby forest merely reinforces his opinion. But it is 1066, the most important date in English history, and the Doctor's arrival has not gone unnoticed. Observing the appearance of the TARDIS is a mysterious monk who recognises the time-machine for what it is. He also knows that the Doctor poses a serious threat to his master plan - a plan which, if successful, could alter the future of the entire world...


A Review by Sarah Crisman 17/3/07

The 126th book in the Target library takes us all the way back to the second season for an adventure with the First Doctor. I'll be honest - I've hardly seen any of the Hartnell-era episodes, and aside from the post-McCoy cast, his run as the Doctor is the one I'm least familiar with. So why begin my first review for the DWRG with a novelisation of a First Doctor adventure? Quite simply because it was an enjoyable book when I first read it, and an enjoyable book again when I read it today, nearly a decade after having first purchased it.

Being so unfamiliar with the First Doctor's adventures, I can't say whether or not Nigel Robinson manages to perfectly capture the essences of Vicki or Steven. However, I can say that based on what I've seen of both William Hartnell and Richard Hurndall's portrayals of the beloved First Doctor, Mr. Robinson has him nailed perfectly here. The Doctor is delightfully tetchy, snapping and arguing with newcomer Steven, fresh on the scene from his encounter with the Daleks in The Chase, who manages to hit all the raw nerves in the first several pages of verbal sparring with the white-haired gentleman from Galifrey (namely, the TARDIS's lack of a steering mechanism, the non-functionality of its Chameleon Circuits, and the Doctor's intense dislike of the nickname 'Doc'). Vicki plays a good foil between the two, trying to keep the Doctor on task while keeping Steven from aggravating him further. In addition, she has the unenviable task of convincing the wayward astronaut that the TARDIS really is a time machine while increasingly more anachronisms show up within the story to indicate that they may not be in 11th century England as the Doctor so confidently states.

Robinson, of course, has both the luxury and curse of having the best of both worlds when it comes to novelising an episode of television. If it turns out terribly, then, well, the characterizations come from a script he didn't write, and he could hardly be blamed for that. On the other hand, if it works well, then it's mostly due to the effort of Dennis Spooner who penned the story in the first place. But the best thing about this and most of the other novelisations is their ability to dazzle the imagination with things that could not have been done easily, if at all, with the special effects technology of the time. In addition, the books can drop more hints about character motivations, get us further inside the minds of both protagonists and antagonists, and imply things even more strongly than the TV show could. It is here that Robinson is able to so greatly expand what was no doubt an already wonderful episode without descending into the depths of "18 and up"-rated violence.

That's probably what shocked me the most about this story, given the time period of its writing. Though not explicitly shown, the rape of Edith by the Viking scouts is chilling simply because you know what's coming, and the aftermath of the attack feels realistic as well, with Edith simply laying on the floor quietly while the men of the village question her about the Vikings - and this was written for television over 40 years ago? I can't help but think this kind of thing was probably not hinted at as strongly in the show, and that's what makes the final scene between Wulnoth, Sven and Ulf so chilling. We don't need to be told what is happening to them - the mind supplies all the details quite richly of what the Saxon husband of a violated woman would do to the Viking invaders who perpetrated the act once he caught up with them. Small wonder the Monk covers both his eyes and his ears.

The Meddling Monk himself holds a place in my heart for being a terriffic adversary for the Doctor: a Time Lord, one of the Doctor's own race, possessing his own TARDIS, but instead of harbouring a deep hatred and penchant for villainy like the Master, the Monk is dangerous for an entirely different reason. Plainly, the Monk sees history as something that can be shaped, bent, and molded into something better than it already was. His naivete at failing to understand that even the smallest, best-intentioned distortion of the timeline can have the most disasterous of consequences is far more apt to cause harm than the Master's calculated schemes ever were. While it could be said that the Monk's desire to interfere with the Battle of Hastings in 1066 is noble, it is also ill-thought as the Doctor so aptly proves to Steven and Vicki:

"You're both English, but can either of you say you come from pure 100 per cent Anglo-Saxon stock? Because if you can't, all it would take is for one of the Norman invaders to be your distant ancestor and for that one Norman to have been killed in the Battle of Hastings due to the Monk's interference - and you would never have been born!"
And yet, one never gets the impression that the Monk is sinister or evil, just more analagous to a child who has gained access to incredible power and doesn't have the maturity or experience to understand how to use it correctly. While we as readers can sit back and chuckle at the Monk's claims that the Ancient Britons would never have been able to construct Stonehenge without the help of his anti-gravitational devices and the Doctor's snappy retort about what a draughty location he picked and that the stones are mostly falling down today anyway, a part of us should still be horrified at the prospect. It is this lack of objectivity on the part of the Monk that makes him such a fitting adversary, and the Doctor's method of dealing with him in the end such a fitting punishment.

So, was everything written to perfectly fit with the broadcast episode? Were all the characters represented on the page exactly as their screen counterparts? I've no idea. What I do know is that The Time Meddler is a quick and enjoyable read even for those who aren't terribly familiar with the characters, and that Nigel Robinson has no trouble at all keeping the reader turning any of the 141 pages at which his novelisation clocks in. 10/10 for a cracking great story.