Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Story 17 - The Time Meddler

In which the Doctor and Vicki suspect they have a Dalek stowaway aboard the TARDIS. They have just been reminiscing about the departure of Ian and Barbara, and Vicki reassures the Doctor she has no intentions of leaving as well. They hear a noise coming from the crew quarters - and fear a Dalek has found its way onto the ship. It proves to be space pilot Steven Taylor - who they thought had been lost in the destruction of the Mechonoid city. He had gone back to get his panda mascot, Hi-Fi, and stumbled, confused, into the ship.
Once he has freshened up, he refuses to accept the attributes of the TARDIS as they are explained to him. The ship materialises on a rocky beach. A rusty Viking helmet is found - but Steven still does not believe they have travelled in time. A cowled figure has observed their arrival. He is worried - but not surprised - at the mode of their arrival, and spies on them to see who they are. The Doctor sets off alone to find an easy way up the cliffs, whilst Steven and Vicki decide to climb a steep path.

Steven and Vicki see a Saxon peasant pick something up from the ground. He drops it when they try to approach him. It is a modern wristwatch - leading Steven to further doubt when they are. The Doctor is enjoying a refreshing cup of mead and the hospitality of villager Edith, whose husband is headman of the small settlement. From her he learns that this is Northumbria, September 1066, and they are only a few weeks away from the Norman Invasion. Viking ruler Harald Hardrada's attempted invasion is imminent. He hears the monks' chanting from the nearby monastery suddenly wind down like a slow gramophone recording, and decides to investigate. Inside the apparently deserted building, he finds modern appliances like a toaster and hotplate. He is captured by the man who had spied on them earlier - the Monk. The Doctor has realised that he is a fellow time traveller.
Steven and Vicki meet Edith, who sends them to look for their friend at the monastery. The Monk claims not to have seen him, but gives away that he has. They break in - only to find the Doctor has escaped.

The Monk has come here at this time to alter European history. He will destroy the Viking fleet before it lands - thus saving King Harold Godwinson from having to march north and fight the Battle of Stamford Bridge. He should then be able to easily defeat Duke William of Normandy when he arrives near Hastings in October. The endless wars over France won't happen, and Europe will develop technologically much faster. The Monk has a habit of meddling - such as helping build Stonehenge using anti-gravity lifts. He also uses time travel to enrich himself materially. A Viking scout party lands and the Monk pretends to help them. Steven and Vicki discover that not only is he a time traveller, he is actually of the same race as the Doctor and has a TARDIS. It is disguised as a Saxon sarcophagus in the monastery chapel.
Edith's husband Wulnoth and the villagers help defeat the Vikings, and the Monk's plan is wrecked. The Doctor decides to teach him a lesson by stranding him on Earth in this primitive time period - removing his ship's dimensional control and so shrinking the interior to the same size as its sarcophagus exterior.

This four part story was written by Dennis Spooner, and broadcast between the 3rd and 24th July 1965. It is the last story of Season 2.
Spooner had just stepped down as Script Editor, to be replaced by Donald Tosh. As with the previous change of Script Editor, the outgoing person would write the next story - thus allowing the newbie to concentrate on later stories, knowing their first tale was in a safe pair of hands. Terrance Dicks claims to have invented this tradition - but it was already happening in the 1960's.
This story is significant for three reasons. First is the proper introduction of Peter Purves' Steven Taylor as a full-blown companion. Secondly, it is the first "pseudo-historical" - in that it mixes science fiction elements with a real historical setting. Thirdly, and most significantly, it kick starts the whole Time Lord mythology. The future of Doctor Who starts here.
The race isn't named yet, but the Monk is the first other Time Lord we have met since the Doctor and Susan. The Doctor is no longer alone in the Universe, but part of some wider society. He - and the TARDIS - are suddenly no longer unique.

The Monk is played by comic actor Peter Butterworth. His character is an ambivalent villain - unethical and immoral - though he does claim to be trying to usher in peace and progress. The Doctor must stand up to him as changing history, irrespective of motive, simply mustn't be allowed to happen. The Monk's meddling could simply lead to a whole lot of other problems happening. Mankind could develop weapons of mass destruction far earlier than it knows how to handle them (not that we do now, of course).
The character is played with a great deal of humour, and this sometimes sits uncomfortably with the adult themes elsewhere in the story. It is implied that Edith is raped by the Viking scouts, Sven and Ulf. It is alarmingly glossed over very quickly. The Viking duo are presented as a bit thick, otherwise - incompetent and even cowardly. They meet their demise at the hands of the vengeful villagers - including Edith's husband - in a few seconds of the programme which have been cut and lost.

Peter Purves really hits the ground running. He is so well known for TV presentation that we forget what a good actor he is. It's a great shame so little of his material still survives, and I'm glad to see that he is doing well with the Big Finish audio stories. He also makes a fantastic DVD commentary moderator. He works really well with Maureen O'Brien in this - and with Hartnell. Hartnell really rises to the challenge with Butterworth and once again shows a natural flair for comedic performance.
After the marvellous The Crusade, Douglas Camfield continues to show why he will become one of the programme's better directors - though his normally forte action scenes are a bit of a let-down - especially when you consider one of the Vikings is being played by a fight arranger - David Anderson.
Barry Newbery is the designer. The amazing cloud-scudding cyclorama on the cliff top really makes you think this is location work.
Episode endings for this tale include a variation of an already used joke...

  1.  The Watcher - After discovering modern appliances in the monastery, the Doctor enters a room and a gate falls down, trapping him. He has been captured by the Monk.
  2. The Meddling Monk - Steven and Vicki enter the cell and are stunned to discover... Yes, Hartnell's off on his holidays again. If you look closely you'll see a postcard from Blackpool taped to the cell wall. Maybe.
  3. A Battle of Wits - Steven and Vicki follow a power cable into the sarcophagus - and discover the Monk has a TARDIS.
  4. Checkmate - The TARDIS dematerialises, and we see the travellers' faces superimposed over a starscape. They did something similar for the end of Season 1 after all...
Overall, a game changing story, though it will be quite a while before we truly realise it. Slight in other ways - mainly the historical plot elements. Worth watching for that episode 3 cliffhanger, Peter Purves, and the Doctor / Monk interplay. They really should bring this character back...

Edith found the annual 'grow a beard in a day' competition increasingly difficult to judge.
  Things you might like to know about this story:

  • Edith is played by Alethea Charlton, who had played Hur in the very first Doctor Who adventure.
  • I've refrained from referring to Peter Butterworth as a Carry On... star - as he hadn't started yet. His first filming on that series - more next post - begins a couple of months after recording this. Did you know he was a POW in WW2 and dug his way out of about 3 Stalags? It was whilst a POW that he met Talbot Rothwell, writer of most of the Carry On... films.
  • The Doctor succinctly sums up the TARDIS control room to Steven: "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 my boy. Now please stop bothering me."
  • Vicki, much as I like you, the 'D' in TARDIS stands for Dimension - nnnnn, singular - not nsssss, plural. Do you know how many pub quiz arguments you have just unleashed???

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