The Time Meddler

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.

The First Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor and Vicki are surprised to discover a stow-away aboard the TARDIS and welcome Steven Taylor, who survived the destruction of the Mechonoid city, aboard.

Review

The Time Meddler brings the second season of Doctor Who to a close, and feels a bit like a breath of fresh air after the break neck speed of The Chase. It serves as an introduction to travelling with the Doctor for new companion Steven Taylor, who, although introduced in the previous serial, is not seen aboard the TARDIS until this story. It is, however, perhaps most notable for introducing our first adversarial Time Lord in the shape of the Meddling Monk. It is an enjoyable story, even if the plot does feel a bit lightweight and the guest cast, besides Peter Butterworth, aren’t particularly memorable.

Dennis Spooner provides us with the first pseudo-historical Doctor Who story, set before the Battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings, the latter of which is an important part of British history. Setting it before both battles works in the show’s favour – it doesn’t betray the show’s lack of budget by showing us small invasion forces – but it might also be part of why this story doesn’t play out as well as it could do. Rather than a sense of urgency, there is more of a feeling of treading water before more exciting events happen. The plot is really rather thin, which might have suited either classic series 2 part format, or filling a single episode of the revived series. A lot of the run time is spent having events repeat, like Steven and Vicki leaving the monastery only to essentially turn back around and go straight back.

Something that does interest me about the story is the period of history and the actions of the Monk to attempt to vary events. From a certain perspective, I can see the motivation to do this, as it would prevent the English Kings having a claim to the throne of France, thereby preventing the Hundred Years’ War. Naturally, the Monk isn’t doing this for altruistic reasons, and wants his hands on the steering wheel of human development going forward, now that they will not be consumed by wars. Furthermore, I liked the story taking the time to focus in on how the timeline just adapts to changes.

One of the story’s flaws, however, is the fact that, despite the strengths of the main cast, the guest cast fail to make much of an impression, with the exception of Butterworth, and this is perhaps due to there not being that much for them to do, despite fend off a Viking scout group. This fight scene is well choreographed and directed by Douglas Camfield, who is one of the best directors in the show’s original run, but the characters serve little purpose to the plot. They even throw aside their enmity later on in the story when they realise that they’ve just been played by the Monk the whole time. They feel largely inconsequential, and sadly that prevents this story from elevating itself from being good to being great. There is a reading of this story that there is an implied rape scene in the attack on the Saxon villagers, which feels a little bit daring for a family television show made in the 1960s. Maybe I’m reading a little bit too much into it.

Of course, one of the most important aspects of The Time Meddler is that it introduces us to our first Time Lord other than the Doctor or his granddaughter Susan, who is here played by Peter Butterworth. As someone watching this almost sixty years after this was first broadcast, the appearance of another Time Lord is almost a given: the Master crops up throughout both the Classic and Revived series, as do other Time Lords like the Rani, Rassilon and Romana. However, when it was first broadcast, encountering another member of the Doctor’s species would have been a shock, as we didn’t even know what planet the Doctor and Susan had come from, let alone about other Time Lords. Even coming back from the new series, the Monk is a bit of an outlier compared to other members of the Doctor’s species. He is not out and out evil like the Master, but his intentions are not honourable, as Vicki and Steven discover when exploring his TARDIS, finding the artifacts that he has stolen and that he was able to collect a fortune after depositing £200 in a bank in 1968 and travelling to the future to reap the rewards of compound interest. I really like the Monk, and he’s well played by Peter Butterworth, who looks like he is having a lot of fun, and the character is well written. It’s no surprise that he was brought back so soon after this story, and I look forward to covering The Daleks’ Master Plan when I get to it next year.

So that’s it! You’re a time meddler! No wonder you wanted to get rid of me. And what are you trying to get up to this time?

I’m sure you’ll approve, Doctor.

Are you quite mad? You know as well as I do the golden rule about space and time travelling. Never, never interfere with the course of history.

The First Doctor and the Meddling Monk

The presence of Butterworth seems to almost revive William Hartnell and he really ups his game to compete with the Monk. The First Doctor is quite a lot of fun here at times, whether he is being enigmatic, or frankly dropping enormous spoilers to the Saxons about the outcomes of battles, but when he and Peter Butterworth share scenes like the one in the concluding part, Hartnell really goes for the jugular. It’s equally strong for his companions, with Vicki coming to terms with the departure of Ian and Barbara in the previous story, whilst Steven has stowed away onboard the TARDIS after the destruction of the Mechanoid City. The absence of Hartnell in Part 2 allows for some bonding time between these two companions and they do work really well together, with Steven being the more cynical of the two, doubting everything from time travel to the Monk’s denials that he’s seen the Doctor.

Verdict: The Time Meddler is a good story that had the potential to be great. Strong performances from the main cast and Peter Butterworth make this one not to be skipped, but the plot is a bit thin and the guest cast have little or nothing to do. 7/10

Cast: William Hartnell (The Doctor), Maureen O’Brien (Vicki), Peter Purves (Steven Taylor), Peter Butterworth (The Monk), Alethea Charlton (Edith), Peter Russell (Eldred), Michael Miller (Wulnoth), Michael Guest (Saxon Hunter), Norman Hartley (Ulf), Geoffrey Cheshire (Viking Leader), David Anderson (Sven) & Ronald Rich (Gunnar the Giant).

Writer: Dennis Spooner

Director: Douglas Camfield

Parts: 4 (The Watcher, The Meddling Monk, A Battle of Wits & Checkmate)

Original Broadcast Dates: 3 – 24 July 1965

Behind the Scenes

  • This story was the first full pseudo-historical, being a historical story that featured science fiction elements other than the Doctor, their companions and the TARDIS.
  • The Monk is the first Time Lord other than the Doctor and Susan that appears on the show and would become the first individual recurring villain. Actor Peter Butterworth would reprise the role in The Daleks’ Master Plan, whilst Graeme Garden, Rufus Hound and Gemma Whelan have all played different incarnations for Big Finish.
  • The interior of the Monk’s TARDIS was the same set as the Doctor’s console room but with the console raised up on a platform.
  • This story also has the first reference to what would become the Time Lords’ policy of non-interference.
  • Whilst all the episodes exist as 16mm telerecordings, there are 12 seconds missing from Checkmate, showing Ulf and Sven being killed by Wulnoth and the Saxons.
  • This was the last four-part Doctor Who story Douglas Camfield directed until Terror of the Zygons.
  • During production of this story, new producer John Wiles starting taking over production duties, something which displeased William Hartnell and led to him play-acting a temper tantrum in the rehearsal.
  • According to Donald Tosh, William Hartnell directly addressing the camera with regards to the future arrival of William the Conqueror was ad-libbed and only included as they were unable to reshoot due to technical issues.
  • William Hartnell was on holiday for the filming of The Meddling Monk and only appears in the recap and only heard as a pre-recorded voice over.

Cast Notes

  • Alethea Charlton previously appeared in Hur in An Unearthly Child.
  • Michael Guest played a Mongol bandit in Marco Polo and would go on to play an interviewer in The Daleks’ Master Plan.
  • Norman Hartley would go on to play Sergeant Peters in The Invasion.
  • Geoffrey Cheshire played Garge in The Daleks’ Master Plan and Tracy in The Invasion.
  • David Anderson had previously played Aztec Captain in The Aztecs and Reynier de Marun in The Crusade.

Best Moment

Any scene with William Hartnell and Peter Butterworth together, but probably their confrontation in Episode 4. Both actors are at the top of their game.

Best Quote

What do you think of that, now, eh? A Viking helmet.

Maybe.

What do you mean, “maybe”? What do you think it is, a space helmet for a cow?

The First Doctor and Steven Taylor

Previous First Doctor review: The Chase

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