The Dalek Master Plan
Empire of Glass
The Time Meddler
|Dates||Jul. 3, 1965 -
Jul. 24, 1965
With William Hartnell, Maureen O'Brien, Peter Purves.
Written by Dennis Spooner. Script-edited by Donald Tosh.
Directed by Douglas Camfield. Produced by Verity Lambert.
|Synopsis: With Stephen as a new member of the TARDIS crew, the Doctor lands in 1066, where a Meddling Monk is attempting to alter the course of history.|
Balmy nights, barmy monks! by Tom May Updated 26/5/03 (originally 17/3/98)
"I was just turning over in my mind what we're going to do with this Monk fellow... He won't listen; he's determined to have his own way! He's got to be stopped. He must be stopped!"
The Time Meddler is a somewhat wonderful extant offering from the Hartnell Era, that quite often makes one laugh. The genial, humorous tone of the story is well married to a basically serious plot -- which were very early a hallmark of Doctor Who. A further fellow of the Doctor's own race is revealed, and what's more, the TARDIS loses its uniqueness, as Peter Butterworth's Monk has one. Wonderfully shaped as a sarcophagus of sorts, ensconsed in a bleak coastal monastery in 1066.
Although I've seen relatively few Hartnell tales, a fairer percentage of his stories exist than do Troughton's. This is comfortably one of the more enjoyable Hartnell adventures that I have seen and I am very glad indeed that the episodes were recovered back in the early 1980s. While other reviewers in this guide have (questionably in the case of the following...?) noted such JNT-era stories as Arc of Infinity as "one to watch on a rainy day", I would whole-heartedly nominate this -- if your life is only mildly miserable or better, this story is bound to cheer you up! Yes, it does have its longueurs -- but didn't many earlier Hartnell stories have far worse examples? The Web Planet indeed, an earlier Season 2 tale, struck me as one long, six episode longueur!
I have to concede, that of the Time Meddler's cast of characters, the majority are faceless and dull. Particular examples ought to be made of the rather beleaguered Vikings, Sven and Ulf, who are so mumbling, physically weedy and stupid it beggars belief! Their very portrayal negates any possibility of the serious rape plotline (yes, it is suggested I concede) having true foundation. Alethea Charlton's scene chatting with the Doctor clearly affirms that it didn't so happen; and I'm not surprised, as those Vikings seem to lack any sense of a plan or formulated villainous intention! The doughty, dour saxons are a little better; Charlton indeed has some lovely scenes with that old master Hartnell... how wonderfully does his Doctor play against spirited women? It plays in the mind a little like his revealing scenes with Cameca in The Aztecs. Charlton is good, while generally the actors playing the brawny saxons to some extent convince -- in a low-key way -- as people of a very different time to ours.
The newly fluid set of companions for the Doctor, are very good in this story; Steven is a wonderfully brash yet harmless chap, who the Doctor takes an amusing dislike to throughout the story. Maureen O'Brien is bland as Vicki, while Purves is certainly likeable and pugnacious as the disbelieving, blase Steven. William Hartnell is a delight to behold here as the Doctor; getting angry with the pompous Steven, speaking unintelligibly at one amusing point, joking along cunningly and eventually outwitting the Meddlesome Monk and making gloriously delivered asides such as: "a balmy night, a balmy night!"
Matching the domineering comic and dramatic presence of Hartnell, Peter Butterworth is superlative as the Monk; perhaps more comedic than dramatic, but it's a real breath of fresh air in the relatively staid and humorous temperament of the show in its early days. Generally, Hartnell had been the only figure given amusing lines to deliver, with occasionally Ian as a comic fall guy. The Chase is possibly a marginal exception, though the comedy may be entirely unintentional in that one - how did Jacqueline Hill keep such a poker-straight face during that ridiculous charade?! Anyway, Butterworth is a skilled, adroit performer, and raises many a laugh, and an amount of sympathy even. And the Doctor-Monk confrontations are pricelessly played by both parties. While the Doctor clowns about with the Monk in a Monk's Habit (as the Monk rightfully comments, "It suits you!") and says "hmmm," alot, he is deviously unraveling the Monk's outrageous plans and taking perhaps overly harsh precautions to stop his time meddling.
Hartnell displays the cunning of Troughton in allowing himself to appear a comic figure, but also an irascibly headmasterly streak in deciding the Monk's fate as he does. It is a beautifully played tragi-comic conclusion with the Monk in pitiable despair as the Doctor has disabled his TARDIS. The Monk is no longer the smug japester but is left a desperate and marooned man in 1066 -- with likely centuries of tedium and stasis ahead! You can't help but feel sorry for him, although you can't quite believe the devious monk's reason is that he thought Harold would be a good king! Though I suppose that the Monk is a most whimsical fellow, his interest in British history is rather a unexplored avenue here...! I await the reconstruction of The Dalek Master Plan so that I can find out how he managed to escape from his sorry predicament...
So, a wonderfully fun tale; important in all sorts of ways, yet autumnal ('Late summer!' indeed as Hartnell states on a cursory inspection of some leaves) and wistful in a pleasantly minor key. The Monk is a unique character who I wish had returned more than once; he is a rather more amusing and compelling character than virtual all the Time Lords revealed in subsequent stories.
Possibly the most important aspect of this story for me is that it initiates the 'pseudo-historical' genre for Dr Who, which was to become a reliable stomping ground for the show, particularly in the 1970s.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 17/3/99
The first impression you get when viewing this story is the fact that it features a lot of location work. In fact, it doesn`t feature any... the relatively low quality of the film interspersed with the stock footage actually belies the fact that this was filmed in a studio.
Given that many cite this as a dull story is somewhat hard to accept, since much of its appeal lies in its atmosphere. And it is partly this which makes The Time Meddler such a joy to behold. William Hartnell is at his best, relishing every comic moment, and the interplay between his Doctor and Peter Butterworth`s meddling Monk is something special.
The character of The Monk, whilst being one of The Doctor`s race, is a mischevious, cunning and sympathetic character who still remains something of a mystery throughout. In fact, he is very similair to The Doctor in many respects. The absence of William Hartnell in part two isn`t too noticable as Steven and particularly Vicki continue their investigations thus establishing the plot further.
The plot in itself is rather simplistic but easy to follow and as such makes for enjoyable viewing. Perhaps the only thing that lets The Time Meddler down is the lack of a cast: there are hardly sufficient numbers for an attempted invasion. This is only a minor complaint when compared to The Time Meddler as a whole, with the ending of the overlaying of The Doctor, Steven and Vicki`s faces over the credits adding a little extra magic to an already excellent tale.
Drama, Sci/Fi and Comedy rolled into one! by Kevin Glover 30/8/00
This story is a great improvment from the underated story The Chase and a story that really is a classic of season 2.
The cast are all wonderful. William Hartnell is wonderful, although he is missing in some pieces of the story. He shines in scenes with the mischievous but wonderful Monk, portrayed by Peter Butterworth. The two actors work wonderfully together; my favourite scene is when the Doctor holds up a stick to the monk who thinks it's a real weapon! The Monk must be one of the greatest characters ever! (before there was ever The Master). The Monk has such great comic timing to him - thank god he returned! The companions are very good. Vicki is more adult (now that Ian and Barbara are gone) and one who should be remembered for this story. Steven, in which this is his first full story, is actually good in this story. He and Vicki are two on the case in search of information on the strange Monk. And on the down side...
Most of the other guest cast are very poorly acted and it would not hurt if BBC actually filmed outside the studio - but then again they're on a budget and very cheap with their money. The ending is very wonderful for season 2 ...
The Season Middler by Peter Niemeyer 12/7/01
The Time Meddler was the first episode of Doctor Who to blend both historical and science fiction elements in a single serial, which paved the way for many future episodes. Unfortunately, neither component is all that gripping.
The story of a Viking invasion in Northumbria is rather plodding. Sven and Ulf, who are just making things up as they go, aren't terribly entertaining to watch. Compared to The Romans and The Crusade, this story has very little going for it historically.
As for the science fiction aspects, I give high kudos to the idea of the Doctor meeting a fellow exile from his as-yet unnamed home planet. Their conversation regarding the differences between their TARDISes is priceless. But the Monk is too much of a bungler to be really intimidating. (Writing out his entire plan in a checklist? I'll bet he's the sort of villain who would kidnap James Bond, put Bond in a lethal death trap, explain his whole scheme, and then walk away, giving Bond just enough time to escape.) And why would someone with a TARDIS at his disposal resort to such unreliable technology as a gramaphone and a wrist watch?
I actually did enjoy The Time Meddler, but not for the reasons I should have. For one, I liked Steven's introduction into the TARDIS crew. His disbelief that the TARDIS was a time machine was nicely reminiscent of Ian and Barbara, though he fortunately adapts to time travel much more quickly. He also takes nicely to working with Vicki... they have enough friction between them to be interesting without being irritating. For some reason, I was also very taken by the character of Edith. When it appeared she had been killed by the Vikings, I was a bit peeved.
Yes, the plot was a bit sparse, but the fact that it was only four parts and the interaction between Vicki and Steven, as well as the Doctor and the Monk, kept me adequately entertained. Not a triumph, but not a disaster either.
One Thing I'd Do Differently: I think I would have held back transmission of this episode until Season Three. It seems to work much better as a season opener, and The Chase would have been a better season finale.
One Thing I Wouldn't Touch: The cliffhanger to part three. The story clearly foreshadowed that the Monk was up to something, but nothing suggested he was one of the Doctor's people. Great shocker.
Would I Watch This Serial Again: Yes, but only if I was watching the entire season. I doubt I'd ever watch this serial in isolation.
Saxon Violence by Andrew Wixon 24/9/01
It's instructive, I think, to imagine what this story would be like if Doctor Who was being made today. This would be an 'event' episode, a big, format-rattling moment, with a bigger budget, hefty foreshadowing, the works. For the very first time we encounter another of the Doctor's race! For the very first time the two strands of the series (historical and SF) collide!
...of course, it's not like that at all. True, it is the finale of Season Two, but this is more through chance than any 'story arc', and clearly all the budget has already gone on the excesses of The Web Planet and The Chase. And landmark story though this is, it still comes across as a whimsical runaround. Hartnell isn't even in the second episode. Having said that, it's interesting to compare Time Meddler with An Unearthly Child. The two stories bookend the first two seasons of the series. Each contains three episodes of fairly dreary historical runaround and one episode of startling, imagination-kindling fantasy. Last but not least, the charming Alethea Charlton pops up to do sterling work as a native in both.
By the time Checkmate is over Doctor Who's format has finally settled down. The Doctor is firmly established as an unequivocably good figure and the series' dominant character. Ian and Barbara have gone and the series seems wholly different without them - Vicki is too young, and Steven too impulsive and headstrong to replace them as the main characters and so the Doctor takes that role. Hartnell's performance had shed most of its harder edge by the middle of Season Two and here the transformation is complete.
Humour - Dennis Spooner's great gift to the series - probably aided this no end. Hartnell is genuinely funny throughout the story, but - interestingly, given his reputation - Peter Butterworth's performance as the Monk isn't overtly comic until his scenes with the Doctor in the second half of the story. But the two spark off each other wonderfully. That's not to say the other regulars don't get their laughs; the rapport and banter between all three is warm and amusing.
But it's not all laughs in The Time Meddler and as a drama its success is far more mixed. The attack on Edith harkens back to the straight historicals such as The Aztecs as it implies strongly adult subject matter. The acting of some of the Saxons is risible in places. And the fight sequence in the second episode is more Kathy Lee than Bruce Lee. (If you watch the story closely it also seems that the Monk still has access to his bazooka and munitions at the close, so there's nothing to stop him carrying on with his plan.)
The Monk himself is a far more interesting creation than the more predictably evil Master. The Monk's cheerful willingness to ignore 'the Golden Rule of Time Travel' in favour of actually improving things marks him out as a unique opponent for the Doctor. He's certainly more believable than the Doctor's more famous nemesis (not that this is saying much) and somehow more credible too. Given that he doesn't actually do anything too bad in this story the Doctor's punishment almost verges on the unnecessarily cruel...
The first two seasons of Doctor Who saw a gradual slide from straight, almost classical drama with either SF or historical themes, to a far more pulp-ish, action-adventure style of story with a much greater emphasis on humour - it's a slide that set in almost at once, true, but it took a long time to become dominant. And this kind of story is what The Time Meddler is. It doesn't obey the same rules of Time as The Aztecs because the series itself is following a different star now; it's on the path it will follow for the next twenty-four years (though not without the odd detour). Here we have Doctor Who completing it's first great reformatting - that's the landmark event of this story, not the first other (presumed) Time Lord in the series. This story isn't as outstandingly good as An Unearthly Child, but it's every bit as important.
A strong and sedate tale by Tim Roll-Pickering 24/10/01
The final story of Doctor Who's second season, The Time Meddler is something of a curiosity. This is the first story where we meet another of the Doctor and Susan's people, the first story to combine futuristic and historical events and even the first story where TARDIS is said to stand for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space (previously it was just Dimension). It also completes the introduction of Steven as a companion and takes the TARDIS to one of the most obvious years in history - 1066. This is quite a list of achievements and what is surprising is that the story not only does all this but adopts a relaxed pace which is a welcome change from the hectic tension of previous adventures.
The opening scenes aboard the TARDIS serve as a useful reminder of the basic format of the series. It is reassuring that Steven doesn't immediately accept everything he is told and instead slowly comes round to accepting that the TARDIS is a time machine and this makes for some nice scenes as Vicki tries to convince him. The mystery is established almost immediately after the TARDIS arrives and the strange Monk observes it but does not seem at all surprised.
As the story progresses and a succession of anachronisms are presented the Monk become ever more the key figure. Peter Butterworth's whimsical performance is a wonderful contrast to William Hartnell's Doctor and the all-too few scenes involving them in the final two episodes are a delight as they seek to outwit one another. Whilst the other guest cast are somewhat bland with the possible exception of Edith, portrayed well by Alethea Charlton, this doesn't matter as it means there's more scope for the conflict between Doctor and Monk. With the departure of Ian and Barbara in the previous story The Chase, the Doctor could have been left without a reason for his wanderings but here one is soon clear - he must put things to rights by stopping the Monk rather than just escape to the TARDIS.
The cliffhanger to A Battle of Wits is wonderful as there is no previous clue that the Monk has a TARDIS too. The conflict between the Doctor's and the Monk's philosophies of time travel and history is strong. Although no famous historical characters appear in this story, the threat to history is all-too clear. The one downside is the story's resolution as it's never made clear whether or not the Monk could still fire his cannon to destroy the fleet and a few lines sorting this out would have wrapped that up nicely.
The story, and the second season, ends with a strange sequence showing treated images of all three regulars over an images of stars and bodes well for the future. About a decade ago this story was chosen to represent the Hartnell years in a series of repeats on BBC2. Although it is highly atypical of the Hartnell years it was nevertheless a good strong choice to launch the repeats with. 9/10
Holiday time! by Joe Ford 7/2/03
Let's face it, season two is fairly bad isn't it? I mean The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Web Planet were both touted at the time as big budget SF epics but in reality they look shit, they drag like hell and have some of the most hysterically bad monsters (camp Dalek voices, embarassing Robomen, the Venom Grubs and Animus...). The Space Museum must rank as one of the most dull Doctor Who stories on record. Planet of Giants is okay but fairly tedious after you've gotten over the fun of the giant sets and as for The Chase... erm well, one of the best Doctor Who comedies and without a doubt the most fluffed up piece of TV ever. Not a very inspiring line up... if it hadn't been for the two brilliant historicals (The Romans and the superlative The Crusade) and the quaint character drama otherwise known as The Rescue fans may have abandoned the series altogether (or at least I would have!). The Time Meddler ends this extremely inconsistent run of stories on a high note. Let's face it the star lit montage at the end made things look fairly promising, didn't it?
The joy of this story isn't the plot (although it can be quite fun in places) but the sheer delight of having four skillful actors working on a good script and hog the screen. I'm talking of course about William Hartnell (who can do no wrong in my book!), Peter Butterworth, Maureen O'Brien and the marvellous Peter Purves. The two can be broken down into pairs and reviewed seperately.
The show was moving (boo hoo) away from its educational phase and into the entertainment buisness. The original TARDIS line up is all but one missing and instead of having characters to educate us (like science teacher Ian and history teacher Barbara) we now have a younger cast to give the show a real family feel, with the orphan Vicki and 'big brother' Steven and the Doctor looking after them all (and snapping like an angry parent!). Thankfully then Maureen O'Brien has matured considerably into the role of Vicki and has the equally talented Peter Purves to act against. They have fantastic chemistry, helped no doubt by the wonderful lines they are given. Steven's intial reluctance to accept the TARDIS as a time ship is woven expertly into the story and Vicki's exasperated responses to his excuses are excellent. It is a great shame they weren't to have many more stories together as they make a great team, Steven is terrific at the Saxon camp and their exploration of the Monk's ship is hysterical ("And earned a fortune in compound interest!").
Hartnell has to disapear on holiday for episode two which is a great shame because he is once again priceless here. There are two many moments to mention but some of my favourite lines are "What else do you think it is? A space helmet for a cow?", "How do we get into this contraption... hammer and chisel!!!?", "Go away I'll come out when I'm ready!". His scenes with the Monk are terrific, his disgust and yet good humour towards a member of his own race is quite revealing. I love it when he holds the stick to the Monk's back and pretends its a gun... and his revenge on the Monk at the end is quite perfect. I should also mention Hartnell's gentle and sobering scenes with Vicki in the TARDIS in episode one, possibly the gentlest and weakest (emotionally) we have ever seen him.
Peter Butterworth is an often forgotten important piece of the Doctor Who tapestry, he is the first Time Lord we meet after the Doctor and Susan and the first sighting of his TARDIS proves there is much to learn about the Doctor's origins. His performance is terrific, charismatic and full of cheek... the script tells the story in two ways and this could have been a far more sinister character but the way Butterworth puts him across you love him just the same! Hell I was sad for him at the end!
It is quite an interesting spin on the usual historical and the sighting of futuristic objects provides some great moments (the grammaphone cliffhanger is excellent). In a way it provides as interesting a dillema as in The Aztecs, except this time history is being perverted just for fun. I think that's more scary. Mind you the Saxons are a pretty useless and unmemorable bunch, only Edith comes away with any character and that's mostly due to her magical scenes with Hartnell.
Also impressive is the direction, Douglas Camfield in one of his earliest Doctor Who duties gives this a very polished look. Much of the story feels as though it has been shot on location but it is merely the work of a skilled magician adding inserts of the sea crashing and gulls flying in the air and terrific sound effects added to some splendid sets. I love the long pans through the monastery, full of slow tension and intruige and although some of the choreographed fights suck (hell this is the sixties, right?) Camfield tries to capture the story in fascinating ways... I love the low shots of Hartnell and co on the clifftop.
It's not the best of Hartnell but it is certainly very admirable and enjoyable. Dennis Spooner knew how to spin a yarn without torturously complicated plots or unrealistic demands on the budget. The Time Meddler is good old fashioned entertainment in the same league as The Time Warrior, The Visitation and Battlefield. Not a classic but very worthy.
A Review by Rob Matthews 12/12/03
It was inevitable that one of the Who production teams would at some point come up with a member of the Doctor's own race to act as adversary. Come the Letts/Dicks years, an overtly evil creation like the Master must have seemed an obvious choice - basically the Doctor (the charm, the genius, the renegade status), but evil, and with slightly more polished resources like a working TARDIS, to up the ante and give this Moriarty figure an apparent edge.
It's nice to see, though, that the first time Who drafted in such a foe, they didn't take the obvious route. In Time Meddler the distinctions between the time-travelling renegades don't feel so clear-cut. The Monk is surprisingly a pretty sympathetic character with good intentions, not all that different from the Doctor but for his willingness to kill - and in fact the Doctor himself has not been averse to taking the odd life here and there for the greater good, or sacrificing a few Thals so he can get his funny little bottle of mercury back. The Monk isn't gratuitously murderous (except in the sense that murder is by definition gratuitous) - like the Doctor he's only willing to kill in the name of a greater good, or what he sees as a greater good. And you feel a little bit sorry for him too, when Hartnell comes along and starts pushing him around and treating him like little more than an irritating child who needs a few daft notions knocking out of his head. This story provides a good example of Hartnell's 'antihero' approach - something which was on the whole phased out after Unearthly Child and Dead Planet, except for here. In Time Meddler he's like a big kid picking on a smaller one, something of a bully who just happens to know the rules of the playground that bit better. Like I say, we can only take his word for it that his way of doing things is right.
This may be partly accidental of course - it might be due to the makers of the show not having the imagination to consider that planets other than Earth must have an immutable flow of history too - to watch these 60s stories you'd think Earth was the only planet whose events the Doctor couldn't meddle with - unless it was 1964 or after, in which case he had free reign; the time-travelling Doctor bizarrely (if you think about it) treating the mid-sixties as the default 'present', and the time-travelling Monk bizarrely (if you think about it) referring to a police telephone box as 'modern'. Maybe the production team, like the Doctor, just thought this was self-evidently right and didn't question it.
What makes you doubt the Doctor most though, is that he demonstrates what appears to be gleeful cruelty in stranding the Monk in 1066 then buggering off. I have no idea if Dennis Spooner thought that this was reasonable, just behaviour on the Doctor's part, but he certainly shouldn't have, as the Doctor comes across as decidely gittish. As I say, though, this could just as well be a case of deliberately weaving gittishness back into his makeup - perhaps afer two years the Doctor had already become a bit safe?
It's genuinely hard to say. In any event, the obvious core of this story has to be the relationship between the two time travellers, and its success depends more than anything on their interplay. That in itself is very enjoyable. Not just because these actors are naturally funny together, but because the Doctor seems to give much freer rein to the sadistic side of his nature when faced with a member of his own race - you'd almost suspect that back on their home planet the Doctor had been a Borusa figure and the Monk his student or someting. He seems to feel more at liberty to boss him around, and it adds an interesting hint of the character's depths - the mischievous patina could be just that, a way of disguising that he's capable of being a bit of a bastard on the side.
(any ambiguity as to the Doctor's heroism ultimately couldn't stay the course - remember how no-one could handle even a hint of it in the Sixth Doctor? How they took his suggestion that Peri shoot a copper at absolute face value?)
It's a shame in this context, of course, that this is one of those stories were Hartnell goes off on holiday and doesn't turn up in one of the episodes. Though even without that problem this would already be a natural two-parter extended beyond its length. It's enjoyable enough but it drags - it reminds me quite a lot of Time and the Rani actually; the Doctor stops other members of his race meddling in Earth history by screwing up their TARDIS, and not much of any real consequence happening between the setup and the resolution.
Oh yeah, except for an implied rape. Not as shocking as it sounds, oddly enough - it's just sort of tossed in and then forgotten about. I couldn't name a single support character either, for the simple reason that they're just period window dressing. Oh for the manifold rogues of Robert Holmes...
Mind you, judging by contemporary audience reactions quoted by David J Howe, this bare bones story which now seems so slight was staggeringly confusing to some of the original viewers: 'Toasters and record players in 1066! I can't believe such a thing! How unrealistic! This Doctor Who show has run out of ideas!' spluttered Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells through inflamed and profusely wobbling jowls. So I guess if they couldn't handle the fairly simple concept of anachronism, any more interesting crimps in this story would have driven the poor black-and-white horn-rimmed spectacled people insane.
(everyone in the sixties was in black and white and wore horn-rimmed spectacles, yeah?)
The production's very nice, particularly the back-projected clouds. There's some obvious use of stock footage but the atmosphere's consistent and studio scenes do look like they're exteriors. It's easy on the eye and a pleasant story to watch (yeesh, now that's damning with faint praise), mainly worth it for Peter Butterworth's comic turn and the Doctor's not-as-loveable-as-it-seems nasty streak.
A Strong Entry by David Massingham 17/2/04
I think The Time Meddler hooked me in right from the beginning. Or, more specifically, from the Doctor's brisk and no-nonsense explanation of the TARDIS --
"That is the dematerialisation control, and that over yonder is the horizontal hold. Up there is the scanner, those are the doors, that is a chair with a panda on it... Sheer poetry, dear boy! Now please stop bothering me!"Certainly one of my favourite quotes from the first incarnation of our favourite Time Lord. And in The Time Meddler, we get what is undoubtedly one of my favourite scripts from the early years of the show, even if its execution isn't always a hundred percent spot-on. For starters, the dialogue is generally great, from the eponymous meddler, to Edith and Wulnoth, and to the regulars' interaction (Vicki and Steven automatically hit it off with some great chemistry -- I love the way that Steven joins in with Vicki's "I'm not good with heights!" in part one). Secondly, the script builds up mystery upon mystery over the course of the story, and then goes on to answer each of them at the appropriate time. On top of this, we get some great arguments between the Monk and the Doctor, which almost make the slightly padded sections worthwhile.
You may have noticed that I described the script as one of my favourites, not one of the best. Unfortunately, it cannot be awarded the accolade of strongest script, because there are a couple of glaring flaws. Most notably, the conclusion, which has the Doctor leaving the Monk stranded in 1066. Which is all very well, but can't the guy still do some damage to the timelines, even if he is stranded? For one thing, he presumably still has that huge cannon on the clifftops... that can't be good for the Vikings.
We also get some signs of "script-flab" in parts two and three, when a lot of the narrative involves characters narrowly missing each other as they come to and from the monastery. Another minor flaw is that the Viking characters and their scenes come across as rather dull in comparison to some of the more intriguing storylines, and this viewer feels that they got more screentime than they deserved.
However, as I noted, these are very minor flaws. Firmly entrenched in the positives camp, on the other hand, is Douglas Camfield's direction, possibly the best the series had seen at this point. Even three minutes in the director is challenging himself and the crew with different and engaging shots, such as the wonderful bird's-eye view of the TARDIS as it lands on the beach. In the monastery, he manages to create a foreboding and labyrinthine aura simply with the use of cross-fades and camera tracking shots. That's not even mentioning the wonderful effects and shots like the rolling clouds in the sky or the slow manner in which the camera pulls out as the Monk realises he is stuck on earth.
The cast deserves to be noted. Peter Butterworth is wonderful as the chuckling yet nefarious Monk, managing to hit the right balance between humourous and dramatic. His habit of muttering to himself as he ponders his "masterplan" becomes very charismatic, and it is hard to imagine the story with anyone else in the part. His interactions with William Hartnell simply have to be seen; the two actors have a wonderful chemistry together. Hartnell himself puts in one of his best performances here, clearly demonstrating his love of the material. Peter Purves makes a much better impression as Steven here than in the previous story, coming across as a different type of "muscle" to that of Ian (although it is painfully obvious that the production team created the character with the role of action hero in mind). His arguments with Vicki become very engaging, and overall the character becomes a welcome addition to the line-up.
But once again, it is Maureen O'Brien who really shines, giving a wonderful performance as Vicki. Without Barbara and Ian's shadows to stand in, she takes the mantle as senior companion, and it is great seeing her explain what is going on to Steven all the time. Her desperation upon discovering that the TARDIS was swallowed by the tide is well-portrayed, O'Brien excels in the more comedic scenes, and she shares a palpable connection with the Doctor, making us believe that these two are really great friends. You know, Vicki is rapidly becoming my favourite companion of the first Doctor. There you go...
So, The Time Meddler ends up being one of the best of the (admittedly rather weak) second season, only falling behind the superlative The Romans. There are definite flaws that just cannot be ignored, and it is difficult to describe it as a classic Who story, but it always entertains with its wit and wonderful performances. One of my favourite episodes of the Hartnell era.
8 out of 10
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 10/7/04
This is one of the best Doctor Who stories of all. It epitomizes the way that DW can mix science-fiction with fantasy with history. It is a wonderful mix of humour, education and fantastic storytelling. It includes wonderful characters that you like spending time with. It's well produced and directed. It's my favourite first Doctor story and is one of the best that the series has produced.
Are we talking about The Time Meddler I hear you cry?! Yes we are, and I'll explain why I hold it up to such high esteem. It's all in the mix you see, because this has got it all. We're talking that wonderfully technobabbley named pseudo-Historical here, the type of story that works BEST on DW.
Science fiction - The time meddler himself has gone back in time to meddle in Earth's history. Two Time Machines - HG Wells would have been proud.
Fantasy - Myth and legend are thrown into the mix with textbook history. Much of the 11th Century is shrouded in mystery, but some facts we do know - the rest is interpretation. Time travelling happily fits into sci-fi and fantasy genre anyway.
Humour - William Hartnell is the master of humour as he shows many times during his tenure as the Doctor. His scene with the Saxon woman in her house with the Mead is classic. He becomes a little tipsy, and the Hartnell stumblings over words are brilliantly appropiate. The time meddler is essentially a humourous creation, turning away his flock to uncover a pair of Binoculars to spy the Viking fleet. The interplay between Doctor and time meddler is classic, two great actors thriving on working together.
Education - The Doctor gives us a brief history lesson that makes us want to turn to those more detailed volumes. It doesn't overpower the story though, just provides an interesting backdrop to the production.
Storytelling - Dennis Spooner is a very good writer. He's the one, with the Director and Producer's help, who pulls all this together. It's full of great one-liners and he uses his characters to full effect. The apparent historical story of the opening episode opening out into something more over the second episode. It's a great STORY and very entertaining.
Characters - The Doctor is infectiously enthusiastic about where he is. This essentially Doctorish characteristic is prominent throughout. It could even be argued that the title refers to him as well as the Monk. Vicki is ever questioning and quite cute too, perfect companion material. New companion Steven doubts the Doctor's and Vicki's statements about the TARDIS, but quickly is flung into the action. The Meddling Monk is a brilliant creation. Peter Butterworth is very impressive - humourous throughout, but with a very serious agenda. The rest fulfill their roles adequately.
Production and Direction - It's all done in the studio, but the sets are impressive. The Saxon home, the woods, the monastery - all feel like you are really there. The music is quietly complimentary, the choir in the monastery being the best example of perfect accompaniment. Limited budget and end of season this may be, but this is still very impressive all round. Clever use is made too of extra footage (seagulls on the coast etc), giving the production a more epic feel than it would have had otherwise. There's some lovely quieter moments in the action too. When the Doctor is exploring the monastery for example, this slow pace keeping things interesting is so different (and better) than the shoot-em-up bombardments of later years.
The Time Meddler has everything that I like in a Doctor Who story. It's fantastic entertainment, educates a little, and you feel completely at ease and comfortable with these marvellous characters. Brilliant. 10/10
"Sheer poetry, my boy" by Terrence Keenan 9/3/05
After suffering through The Chase, I pulled out my recently acquired copy of The Time Meddler and popped it in, hoping to get a better example of Big Bill Hartnell's work.
First things first. It's directed by Douglas Camfield, who gets my vote as top Who director. The Time Meddler manages to look a little more epic than normal, due to some nice film inserts in the right spots and good framing of the studio scenes. Like other Camfield serials, The Time Meddler moves along at a good pace, and has no draggy spots.
The acting, all around is quite good. Maureen O'Brien and Peter Purves make a nice little double act as they chase the Doctor around the English coast. Big Bill Hartnell gives yet another great performance. The guest cast are all right, with Peter Butterworth standing out as the titular character. Butterworth manages to make the Monk quite sympathetic.
By the way, this shows a big sea change in Who. Everybody knows that this is the first time we meet someone with another TARDIS in the series. And the Monk is designed to be a bit like Fallstaff or Puck, mischevious. It's a nice surprise, as is the Doctor's interaction with the Monk, as it comes off as stern teacher and student. The Doctor bullies and browbeats the Monk continuously in the last two episodes. Of course we side with the Doctor, but it also, as I said before makes the Monk a more sympathetic character.
Overall, The Time Meddler is a decent enough story, made better by some strong performances and a top director.
A Review by Brian May 1/9/06
The Time Meddler is a story I never tire of watching.
It's simply gorgeous to look at. Douglas Camfield has always been one of Doctor Who's best directors, but it's here that his efforts could really be described as "elegant". Aside from his usual long pans and zooms, and nice close-ups, the whole atmosphere of the location is terrific. I use the word "location" intentionally; despite this being a studio-bound tale it looks like it's been filmed outside. The mock exteriors are simple but effective, especially as they're enhanced by the fantastic back projections and the use of stock footage, as shots of waves, cliff-faces, seagulls, clouds and Viking ships are seamlessly grafted into the story. Add to this the nice monastery interiors and the main doorway and you have a visual treat.
It's also very funny. The script is full of witty lines, most of which are shared by the Doctor and the Monk - and let's face it, this story belongs to them! William Hartnell and Peter Butterworth are obviously relishing every minute; Hartnell allows his Doctor to be a big kid, while the Monk is such a memorably different adversary: he's meddlesome, mischievous and quite callous, what with his plan to destroy the Viking fleet, but never quite sinks to being evil. For the most part he's a big kid too. His checklist of things to do is hilarious, as is his sulking when he discovers the Doctor has sabotaged his TARDIS; he's a naughty boy who's finally been punished. It's a joyful rivalry to watch.
Peter Purves is the other actor who gets to shine, in his first complete story as Steven, proving he'll be a more than adequate replacement for William Russell. Maureen O'Brien also benefits; after her impressive debut Vicki had tended to remain in the shadow of Ian and Barbara. Even at the beginning of this story she's rather dull, almost spoiling an otherwise lovely opening scene, but as soon as she's teamed up with just the one character she's allowed more scope, and the pair's long absence from the Doctor certainly helps, providing some nice interactions. However the Vikings and villagers are all one-dimensional and, the delightful Alethea Charlton aside, the actors are accordingly bland and perfunctory. The moments that concentrate on these characters - the scuffles in the second and fourth episodes - are the story's least interesting, but thankfully they don't go on for too long. Moments such as the Vikings infiltrating the monastery, Wulnoth taking the wounded Eldred to be treated by the Monk, and the Doctor and Edith talking, are salvaged by the respective presence of Hartnell or Butterworth. In short, as long as the regulars or the Monk are around, it's fun.
The Time Meddler is the programme's first pseudo-historical story; the educational component is played down in favour of the sci-fi, although the history lesson is still there, with the Doctor rather unsubtly muttering to himself about the events of 1066. But what makes certain this story will be remembered is because it's the first time we meet, Susan aside, another member of the Doctor's race. The cliffhanger to the third episode is undoubtedly an iconic moment, especially for contemporary viewers: there's another TARDIS out there! The idea of interfering in history, first discussed in The Aztecs, is elaborated upon here and presents an interesting idea: if known history is changed, does our memory of it change immediately? The Doctor upholds his dramatic stance from season one, via his confrontation with the Monk, but he gets careless: he really shouldn't have muttered out loud about the Viking invasion within earshot of Edith! Of course there are no long-term ill effects from this, and it's obviously a plot catalyst designed to make the villagers turn on the Monk, but you'd think the Doctor of all people would know better.
But overall it's a delight; not the best adventure ever, but one of the most endearing, imbued with an infectious charm. The shots of the TARDIS crew over the end credits are a sublime way to end the story (and the season). I remember when there was only one episode of The Time Meddler in the BBC archives, and how happy I was when I learnt the other three had been recovered. It's one of those stories that had always intrigued me, and when I finally got to view it, I wasn't disappointed. And that hasn't changed to this day. 8.5/10
An Endearing Runaround by Michael Bayliss 9/9/12
This is the first historical-based Doctor Who which has a plot based around an anachronism (aside from the TARDIS crew) whereby an alien with future technology affects the plot within a piece of Earth's history. It is also the first time in which the Doctor comes face to face with a member of his own people outside of Susan.
And while the Meddling Monk is an interesting prototype for the Master, it must be said that his ulterior motives (if not his actions) aren't exactly the work of villainy at its most vile. His attempts to bring democracy earlier to the UK by altering historical events seem more ideologically naive than they are a looming threat. It is interesting therefore that the Doctor is as committed as he is to foiling his plans; while one can understand it is better to let history run its course, weren't we told a season before that it is impossible to alter history? (Unless it's different for Time Lords?)
As a production, the direction is sophisticated and the choreography is quite sound, quite a rarity in this era of Doctor Who. As a script, it is mostly a backward-and-forwards runaround, with obviously not enough substance to sustain 4 episodes. There is, however, enough inherent gentle whimsy and soul in the story to make it irresistible anyway (just watch the scene where the Doctor disables the Monk's TARDIS with a bit of string). A nice bit of history in all senses of the word.
My way is more fun by Paul Williams 3/11/19
The Time Meddler, like the eponymous character, is charming but slow. The first story without Ian and Barbara shows that two companions are better than three, allowing for some delightful banter between Vicki and Steven, with the Doctor taking centre stage. Except for his absence in Episode 2. By the last episode, Hartnell has mastered the art of indignant humour and perfectly contrasts the irresponsible monk.
Peter Butterworth gives a strong performance as the egotistical villain who redefines the historical genre. For the first time, we see that it is possible to change time. Non-intervention is merely a rule, which people can break. Or try to. The monk's objective seems mischievous and harmless, until you realise that he is prepared to slaughter the entire Viking fleet just to meet King Harold. Pure evil disguised in his placid demeanour.
For all his careful planning and flow-charts, the monk is undone by his failure to realise that the villagers would be suspicious of beacon fires. He decided not to engage with them earlier and paid the price, though not as much as the two Vikings he callously sacrificed. Although his failure had nothing to do with the Doctor's intervention, the new TARDIS crew leave knowing that they are observers no more. That bodes well for the show's future, because intervention is much more fun.