Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Time Warrior - "Is this 'Doctor' a longshanked rascal with a mighty nose?"

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Time Warrior - Details

Series 11, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #70) | Previous - Next | Index

Sometimes, the experience of watching a story with a friend makes it more memorable. For example, I'd have no willingness to sit through "The Curse of Fenric" again if I hadn't watched it for the first time on VHS over a friend's house as part of our classic sci-fi viewing sessions lo, those many years ago. Our mutual bafflement, the way that episode made us question our very sanity -- even now I wince and shake my head to get straight -- I'll watch it again (one of these days) just to confirm we didn't miss the bigger picture and it really was a muddled, crappy waste of time and the human spirit.

Other times, watching with a friend is the icing on the cake, and a fine, fun adventure is improved by the camaraderie of enjoying the good in it, while gently teasing the silly bits, with an old friend. (Oh my, that sounded much more like gay code upon re-reading! Where's my editor?)  "The Time Warrior" is a classic bit of Pertwee that I thoroughly enjoyed watching on my own a few times over the years, and enjoyed even more watching with another fan of the classic series last year. Because I watched it on a vacation trip and wasn't on a computer at all, I didn't get to write this up while it was fresh in mind. Undaunted though, I'll take a stab at it five or so months later ...

If you're after a story with adventure, Pertwee (well, maybe it's his stuntman in a wig) gets plenty of opportunity to show his action chops in this one. There's a scene where he's attempting to evade capture within the walls of Irongron's keep that is, I think, filmed from atop one of the walls looking down on the action which is unlike any other in the run of the series. It includes a fairly long shot of Pertwee (or the stuntman) running back and forth, tangling with Irongron's men as he hops over bales of hay and such, that feels very dynamic. (I could be wrong about its uniqueness, but I've thought every time I've watched this one, "Why didn't they do that more often?") He also gets to  do a bit of an Errol Flynn impression in another action sequence against Linx's robot knight. There really is a lot to like in this one. Irongron and Bloodaxe are a great pair of louts, and Holmes gives them a bevy of great lines. If there hadn't been a Linx, could we have a Strax today? The introduction of the Sontarans in the potato-ish person of Linx in make it worth the viewing all by itself. 

Now, look, Yuen Woo-Ping had only just gotten started in 1973 and his influence wouldn't be seen in fight sequences here in the West for many years, so we watch these keeping in mind -- as we always must! -- that Doctor Who is a family show made so the parents can watch along with kids. Then, as now, it wasn't being made to push the boundaries of technique or storytelling -- good grief it was often unbearable those occasions when it tried the latter, see my reference to TCoF above -- so we must watch it, and judge it, for what it is. And that was some pretty well done action for an early 70s, low-budget British children's show.

Linx gets an earful from Irongron.
(Image via An Unearthly Doctor)

But it's the other first that makes this one more than just worth watching, it makes it special: this is the introduction of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. She's marvelous, even if they introduced her by the credulity straining device of having her journalist character penetrating a top secret, military installation with a daft cover story that'd never have worked. But never mind that, our little "narrow-hipped vixen" (thanks again, Mr. Holmes) is a spunky and intrepid reporter with a perfectly natural reaction to being an unwitting time-traveler dropped in medieval England.

I swoon a little, and then feel a bit heartbroken every time I watch an episode with Sarah Jane. I had a mad crush on her as an adolescent that evolved into ... well, I guess it was still a mad crush all those years later when she came back for "School Reunion". I was every bit as pie-eyed and gushy watching it as Tennant was playing Ten when he met Sarah again. (I'll put Tennant's foreword to Ms. Sladen's autobiography below -- if you've not heard it, it's quite touching.)

If this episode has a drawback, it's one that's typical of the show as a whole from the classic series: the mechanics of getting the story from point A to point B in the four cliffhanger format tends to lead to a bit of A to B back to A back to B as characters get captured, thrown in the dungeon, escape, make their way back to the dungeon, have to escape again, and so on.  I will say though, that it's more than a little refreshing to watch the first story of a season and not to be inspecting it for clues to a mystery we know will take a full season to play out, and probably wind up an incomprehensible jumble in the end anyways. *cough* New series. *cough*

My advice is to watch it with a like-minded friend, ideally with an adult beverage or two as well, and appreciate Pertwee at his finest, the fresh-faced Sarah Jane, and the dialogue of Robert Holmes.  

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