Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Time Meddler - "I'm not a mountain goat and I prefer walking ... "

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

Season 2, Story 9 (Overall Series Story #17) | Previous - Next | Index

I've watched this story twice now, each time late on a Saturday night, tired, possibly slightly drunk, and with heavy eyes. These may not be optimal conditions for watching any Hartnell story; a more exciting story might shake the cobwebs off, but this one doesn't have a lot oomph. Those Saxon/Viking scrums are some of the slowest, most poorly choreographed melee sequences ever televised. But, it's by no means a flop. The GIFs linked above hint at the bit of whimsical energy that manages to keep this story afloat. (Or, perhaps anchored, like a TARDIS that refuses to be swept out in the tide.)

Exciting stuff: this is the first appearance of another of the Doctor's own race, though we don't learn here they're Gallifreyan, and our first look inside another renegade Time Lord's TARDIS. Paul Butterworth, as the Monk, is marvelous and brings out the best in Hartnell who -- when present, he's barely in the second episode -- is chirpier, seems fully engaged, and fumbles fewer lines than is usual for him -- though I think he flubbed that mountain goat line I pulled from in the title of this post.

It's a bit surprising, based on the strength of Butterworth's performance here, that we only see the Monk one more time in "The Daleks' Master Plan" -- although he's featured in several novels and audio adventures. We won't see another renegade Time Lord until the War Chief, and later in "The War Games" we'll get our first look at non-renegade Time Lords. I suppose though that, if his large-print 8 point plan for meddling with Earth history is any indication, he wasn't exactly going to pose much of a challenge to even this Doctor. Here's his plan, helpfully itemized in a chart for progress tracking:

It's not a great capture, so I'll type it out for you. It won't take long ...
  1. Arrival in Northumbria 
  2. Position atomic cannon
  3. Sight Vikings 
  4. Light Beacon Fires
  5. Destroy Viking Fleet
  6. Norman Landing
  7. Battle of Hastings
  8. Meet King Harold
We see the above in Episode 3, entitled "A Battle of Wits." It's not clear if this is meant to refer to the Doctor vs. the Monk or the dopey Saxons vs. the mead-swilling Viking scouts. Unless I dozed for a moment and missed it, I don't think he even managed to accomplish or tick off #4.

"The Time Meddler" is almost an important episode. It's Steven's first as a companion, it's our first glimpse of a member of the Doctor's own race besides himself and Susan, and the first time we see another TARDIS. It establishes the Meddling Monk as a character who will reappear in the mythology, it's a different sort of historical adventure than what had been attempted to this point, and it sets the stage for later pseudo-historicals, like "The Time Warrior".

Stray Observation:

Vicki at one point demonstrates a working knowledge of Game Theory. Her analysis of how easy it was for Steven to trick the Monk into revealing he'd seen the Doctor, suggesting that the Monk might be playing a deeper game by pretending to be tricked to set a counter-trap, is the greatest display of mental acuity demonstrated in the story. I like that Vicki.

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