Sunday, 9 July 2017
Inspirations - The Time Meddler
It's the final story of Season 2, written by Dennis Spooner who has now stood down as Story Editor to go off and join Terry Nation on more lucrative ITC film serials. His replacement is Donald Tosh, who doesn't have to do too much with these episodes - trusting his predecessor with delivering workable scripts. John Wiles starts to shadow Verity Lambert as the new producer.
The story starts with the Doctor and Vicki on their own. Ian and Barbara used the Dalek time machine to get home last week. Astronaut Steven Taylor was last seen stumbling through the jungles of Mechanus, cursing his panda mascot. However, whilst the Doctor was saying his goodbyes, Steven had chanced upon the TARDIS and he is still on board. He's welcome to stay, so long as he doesn't call the Doctor "Doc". When Steven asks what a particular control on the console does, the Doctor has this brilliant response:
"That is the dematerialising 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."
We then have a story set back in historical times - except Steven doesn't believe they have time travelled. The ship lands on a beach, and Vicki finds a Viking helmet - leading to that classic Hartnell line to the incredulous Steven: "What do you think that is, a space helmet for a cow?"
The Doctor gets separated from his companions and soon finds himself at a farmstead. Here he meets Edith, and from her learns that they have arrived in the North East of England, in the year 1066.
Steven and Vicki meanwhile encounter a Saxon peasant, who drops a modern wrist watch. The Doctor listens to the chanting coming from the nearby monastery, and hears the singing wind down like a slow gramophone record - for that is exactly what it is.
Viewers at the time were naturally puzzled by all this. Up until now, the Doctor had adventures in space, with aliens, or he went back in time and had adventures with human villains. The only Science Fiction elements of these latter stories were the presence of the TARDIS and its occupants.
The Time Meddler presents a third line of story telling - what we now call the pseudo-historical. Here, the historical setting merely forms a colourful backdrop to an alien incursion story. Why should aliens only invade in the present day, or be encountered in the future? The purely historical stories will shortly be phased out all together, and eventually be replaced by this new sub-genre.
Here, the rogue element responsible for the anachronistic technology is the Monk, played by Peter Butterworth. He is a time-traveller, and the Doctor deduces straightaway that he is someone who likes to meddle with history.
The Doctor sits out the second episode - locked in a cell and so giving Hartnell a week's holiday. This means that Peter Purves, in only his first full story, is called upon to take the lead in the investigations into the mysterious Monk.
Things start to get complicated when a Viking scouting party turn up. Time for the history lesson.
Earl Harold Godwinson was the most powerful man in England, after the King. Edward the Confessor died at the beginning of 1066 without naming an heir, and Harold was voted into the role. Some time previously, Harold had spent some time in northern France, and it was claimed - by the Normans - that he had promised to uphold Duke William's claim to the English throne. When he learned that Harold had been crowned, William planned for invasion. At the same time, King Harald Hardrada of Norway made his own claim to the throne.
The Time Meddler only touches on these machinations. There is no King Harold, and no battles at Stamford Bridge or at Hastings. Events take place in Northumbria on the eve of these.
The Doctor learns that the Monk intends to destroy King Harald's Viking fleet, and so eliminate the need for Harold to march north and fight just before the Normans land. The Battle of Hastings was reportedly a close run thing, so the Monk's argument is that a stronger Saxon force will be victorious.
He gives as the reason for his plan that this will prevent many of the future wars between England and France. This should lead to technology advancing faster - citing as an example Shakespeare writing his plays for television rather than for the stage.
Steven and Vicki discover that the Monk is no stranger to meddling in history. They follow an electrical cable into a stone sarcophagus in the monastery chapel, and find themselves in a TARDIS. Not only is the Monk a time-traveller - he is of the same race as the Doctor. His ship is full of loot, and his notebook tells of using anti-gravity lifts to help build Stonehenge, meeting Leonardo Da Vinci to give ideas about powered flight, and depositing money in a bank so that he can travel forward 200 years and collect a fortune in compound interest. His TARDIS is of more advanced design, and the Doctor believes he must be about 50 years his junior.
This is monumental stuff for the programme. Up until now, it had been implied that the Doctor had built the TARDIS himself. He and the machine were unique. Now we learn that he is just one of a race of time-travellers.
Needless to say, the Monk's temporal tamperings do not succeed. He first of all tries to get Edith's husband, Wulnoth, to help him - only to make him suspicious. He then tries to trick the Viking scouts into helping him destroy their own fleet.
There is some talk about what would happen if the Monk did succeed. Earlier stories had implied that history couldn't be changed, that something would correct its path. Here, the implication is that history can be changed, and Steven's and Vicki's memories would simply change to match the new history.
As it is, the Saxons find and kill the Vikings, whilst the Monk retreats to his TARDIS - only to discover that the Doctor has sabotaged it by removing the dimensional control. The ship's interior is now the same size as the exterior. It's a bit of a risk, the Doctor leaving the Monk in 11th Century England - he could still do some damage. As an exile, he can't take the Monk back to their own planet and hand him over to the authorities, which would have been the safest thing to do.
Before we close, a word about that space helmet for a cow. From what little evidence we know, Viking helmets did not have horns. At least not those worn in battle. Horned or winged helmets may have been used in a ritual context only.
Next time, looks can be deceptive...