The Time Warrior

A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting.

The Third Doctor


Journalist Sarah Jane Smith poses as her aunt, virologist Lavinia Smith, in order to gain access to a research centre where top scientists are being held in protective custody.


This month, I’ve reviewed one of Robert Holmes’ weakest stories in The Space Pirates, but I’m pleased to say that I’m closing the month off with what is one of his strongest. The Time Warrior introduces both a new companion in Sarah Jane Smith and a new alien race in the Sontarans, who have gone on to appear through both the original and revived series.

The Time Warrior has a plot that revolves around the idea of Linx rewriting human history by giving them more advanced weaponry, like rifles, something which horrifies the Doctor. I really like the Middle Age setting, which is not tied to a particular specific year by Holmes, who reportedly disliked the historical stories for Doctor Who, so it is especially ironic when it turns out that he was capable of writing one of the best. The dialogue is rich and really well formed and the story is really nicely paced and builds nicely towards the conclusion.

Alan Bromly directs this well and manages to produce a decent effort, even if some of the opening sequences feel like they may have been poorly blocked. Some bits feel a bit too stagey and as though a line is delivered and the pause goes on a beat too long to feel utterly organic. Bromly directs the siege on Edwards’s castle by Irongron really well as it feels like there are more people besieging the castle than there really were through clever camera angles. The robot soldier suit that Linx builds for Irongron does not, perhaps, do enough to disguise that Jon Pertwee is in it in the final part so much that the audience can undoubtedly tell that it is him inside the outfit. Equally, Sarah Jane sneaking onboard the TARDIS could work a lot better if you suspect that Jon Pertwee would not have been able to see Elisabeth Sladen clearly sneak onboard the TARDIS, albeit it that we would lose the lovely gag of Rubeish using the TARDIS as a blackboard.

It would not be a Robert Holmes story without a solid double act, and here that is Irongron and Bloodaxe, played by David Daker and John Carney respectively. They are quite amusing, with Irongron’s aggression and Bloodaxe’s incompetence laid plain to see. The story has a lot of charming and compelling guest actors as well as these two. There’s the lovely Professor Rubeish, who is kidnapped by Linx but is unable to be controlled by him as he wasn’t wearing his glasses when the Sontaran took him. In lesser hands, Rubeish could potentially be quite annoying, but Donald Pelmear manages to make him charming and endearing as he aids the Doctor and Sarah Jane to foil Linx’s plans. Equally June Brown shines as the rather devious Lady Eleanor, who is clearly relishes the power she has over her weak and feeble husband Edward. Holmes makes her the power behind his title, instructing Hal the archer to attempt to assassinate Irongron as he patrols his castle’s walls in the morning.

Kevin Lindsey does a great job giving the Sontaran a sneering indifference towards the human race. It is clear to see a clear line between what Lindsey does with Linx and how Dan Starkey plays his Sontarans. Starkey is clearly playing his Sontarans as close as possible to the original, something which can be seen by the sheer similarity of their voices. Holmes has created a fairly complete picture of this alien race, even down to their reproductive system, and I was surprised how many of the basic details of the Sontarans are here in their debut story, which means that they are a pretty fully rounded race to bring back in future adventures. In fact, the Sontarans would reappear the very next year in The Sontaran Experiment. The Sontarans’ weakness of their probic vent is mentioned here, and whilst their foes in their everlasting war are not named, the war is mentioned, and the style of their ships stays consistent between this story and their next appearance in Tom Baker’s debut season.

The other debut in this story is of course Sarah Jane Smith, played by Elisabeth Sladen. Sladen, would of course, remain with the show for the next few years, acting alongside Pertwee and his successor, Tom Baker, and becoming one of the most popular companions in the entire show, including the revival. Sarah Jane is surprisingly well written, considering that Robert Holmes often struggled to write for women, or even write women into his pieces. She stands out from Jo and Liz, and feels like a breath of fresh air from what has gone before. When she point blank refuses to make the Doctor a coffee, it almost harks back to the reason we’re given for Liz’s departure in Terror of the Autons, where the Brigadier tells the Doctor that he only wanted someone to pass him test tubes and tell him how wonderful he is. Holmes even has Sarah Jane attempt to recruit the Middle Age women to rise up, with a humorous twist when she highlights that they have a very Middle Ages attitude towards their role in society.

You’re serious, aren’t you?

About what I do? Yes, not necessarily the way I do it.

Sarah Jane Smith and the Third Doctor

The Third Doctor is surprisingly charming here, and Jon Pertwee captures this side of the Doctor really well. He is clearly intrigued by the prospect of Sarah Jane, quickly coming to the conclusion that she cannot possibly be her aunt, as she has managed to keep up this lie to get her past UNIT security. It’s notable that he goes off and makes himself a coffee after being told off by her! Pertwee is charming throughout this story and is great fun, as he needles characters like Irongron. He’s also great when it comes to making the explosives to enable Edward to defend his castle, juggling them and passing them to his new friend.

Verdict: The Time Warrior is a strong debut for Sarah Jane Smith and the Sontarans, and kicks off Jon Pertwee’s last season as the Doctor with a real bang. 8/10

Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Kevin Lindsay (Linx), Donald Pelmear (Professor Rubeish), David Daker (Irongron), John J. Carney (Bloodaxe), June Brown (Eleanor), Alan Rowe (Edward of Wessex), Jeremy Bulloch (Hal), Sheila Fay (Meg), Gordon Pitt (Eric) & Steve Brunswick (Sentry).

Writer: Robert Holmes

Director: Alan Bromly

Producer: Barry Letts

Composer: Dudley Simpson

Parts: 4

Original Broadcast Dates: 15th December 1973 – 5 January 1974

Behind the Scenes

  • Working titles for this story were The Fugitive, The Time Fugitive and The Time Survivor.
  • The story is notable for featuring the first mention of the name of the Doctor’s home planet: Gallifrey. It was originally written as Galfrey.
  • The story features the debut of a new opening and closing credit sequence, designed by Bernard Lodge, using a process called slit-scan. It also features the debut of the diamond logo, which would remain the show’s logo until 1980.
  • Terrance Dicks assigned Robert Holmes the task of writing a story in a medieval castle, something which Holmes had no interest in and believed that they were boring, twee, whimsical and relics of the show’s educational roots. He agreed to write it so long as it could have a strong science fiction element and no historical personages. Holmes would repay the favour by assigning Dicks Horror of Fang Rock.
  • Barry Letts approached Jeremy Bulloch about Hal being a second companion, but nothing came of these discussions.

Cast Notes

  • Kevin Lindsay would go on to play Cho-Je in Planet of the Spiders and Styre and the Marshal in The Sontaran Experiment.
  • David Daker would go on to play Captain Rigg in Nightmare of Eden and Gilbrook in Creatures of Beauty.
  • Alan Rowe had previously appeared in The Moonbase and would go on to appear in Horror of Fang Rock and Full Circle.
  • Jeremy Bulloch had previously played Tor in The Space Museum.

Best Moment

It simply has to be the cliffhanger at the end of Episode One, with Linx removing his helmet to reveal our first-ever look at a Sontaran.

Best Quote

All my eggs in one basket, so to speak.

That’s fine, so long as no one steals the basket.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the Third Doctor

Previous Third Doctor review: The Green Death

For more Third Doctor reviews, click here.

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