Doctor Who: The Time Meddler
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The TARDIS seems emptier without Barbara and Ian - at least until the Doctor and Vicki discover that the astronaut Steven stowed away before they left Mechanus. Steven's skepticism toward time travel pushes the Doctor to confront him with living proof. Shortly after landing on a beach in England, they discover a Viking helmet, but Steve remains unconvinced. Instructing Steve and Vicki to wait with the TARDIS, the Doctor seeks further proof. Heedless of the Doctor's warning, Steven persuades Vicki to explore the cliffs above the beach, where they find an abandoned wristwatch. Meanwhile, the Doctor investigates a ruined monastery, where he encounters an electric toaster, a gramophone playing ecclesiastic chants, and a monk who traps him in an alcove. Eventually, the Doctor realizes that the famous Battle of Hastings is only a few weeks away. That should provide ample proof for Steven, but who is this mysterious monk, and what is his interest in the events of 1066?
One of the most popular adventures from the William Hartnell era of Doctor Who, The Time Meddler pits the Time Lord against Carry On star Peter Butterworth in an entertaining, well-written adventure. Set in England back in 1066, on the eve of the Battle of Hastings, The Time Meddler sees the Doctor drawn to a monastery where a single monk resides. So how come the singing of the monks can be heard from far away? And what's the reasoning behind the modern utensils he discovers? All paths lead to the aforementioned Butterworth, whose character's backstory adds a nice twist to the story. The Time Meddler throws in the backstory of Jamie discovering the world of time travel for the first time, but it's the sparring between Hartnell and Butterworth that provides the sparks. And while it's not a perfect adventure, The Time Meddler is very entertaining, and a nice slice of classic Doctor Who. Poignantly, the late Verity Lambert joins an intelligent, interesting commentary track in the highlight of the disc's extras. The Time Meddler was the last Doctor Who story she produced, and her contribution to the supplementary features package is both interesting and a fitting tribute to her work. --Simon Brew
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The important distinction between the two types was that the historical stories contained no science fiction concepts. The villains were regular humans, not evil alien monsters. Fights took place using swords or pistols, not death-rays or blasters.
THE TIME MEDDLER changed all this by combining the science fiction with the historical (pseudo-historicals as they became known in fan nomenclature). Looking back, it's intriguing to see how the production team played on viewer expectations by opening with an adventure set in the 11th century and only slowly dropping clues that a subversion of this story-type is unfolding: a modern wristwatch is found in the woods; a monastery has a phonograph (which apparently broadcasts the "Chant" album across the countryside).
The story is relatively straightforward. Landing in England in 1066, the TARDIS crew are puzzled by the aforementioned anachronistic clues. The one thing they have in common is a monk who has recently appeared in a previously abandoned monastery. This character is commonly known in fan circles as the Meddling Monk, who would become a semi-recurring character in one later television serial and a few spin off media appearances. (Watching this story for the first time in a decade or so, I was stunned by Peter Butterworth's resemblance to New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, complete with hoodie.)
Once the Meddling Monk's scheme is discovered, the Doctor, Steven and Vicki must stop him to prevent the entirety of Western Europe's history from being completely corrupted. The Monk's plan never feels particularly concrete and so there isn't a lot of drama to be pulled from what is a relatively high concept in this era of the show's history. The character is also mostly comic relief which makes for fun viewing, but is an odd decision for the serial's only real villain.
THE TIME MEDDLER contains a neat science fiction concept, but it isn't a story that really stands up to multiple viewings (in 1965, it wasn't meant to be seen more than a single time). Once the secret and the plot are known, follow-up viewings make the serial seem slow to get to the point. What's left are the performances from the actors and they do in fact just manage to keep the story afloat. William Hartnell and Peter Butterworth have a great rapport which makes it a pity that Hartnell is absent for all of the second episode. I particularly enjoyed Alethea Charlton who has a much more subtle character to play than that of the cave-woman which she portrayed in AN UNEARTHLY CHILD.
Still, the script is probably cleverer than it appears at first glance. Take, for example, the fact that at the beginning of the story, Steven (as a brand new traveler on the TARDIS) is given the standard information dump about what kind of adventures he can expect and how the TARDIS works. This seems like just the usual material, but for once it actually comes in handy in episodes three and four once the Monk's true nature is revealed.
This DVD release (as usual) contains a much cleaned up and superior picture compared to the old movie-format PBS version that had been my only experience of this serial. There's a short extra which briefly explores how and where much of the digital scrubbing took place.
The text commentary is informative but seemed even more dry than usual. If you ever find yourself wondering the exact time of day the actors took their lunch and dinner breaks on the recording days of this serial, then this is the extra for you.
The audio commentary track is crowded in this one: producer Verity Lambert (who unfortunately passed away only months after she recorded this track), actor Peter Purves, story editor Donald Tosh, designer Barry Newbery and commentary moderator Clayton Hickman. As with other moderated commentary tracks, the conversation very often is not focused onto the on-screen action, but instead in loose discussions. It's rather refreshing to hear Peter Purves freely admit that he recalls almost nothing specific about this serial. The track really only gets lively during a digression where Verity Lambert starts dishing the dirt on which male members of the BBC production staff couldn't stand working for a woman.
THE TIME MEDDLER is a decent little story, and, if slow at times, it manages to not become tedious. The twist is a little long in coming, but there's other stuff to appreciate along the way. And who hasn't wanted to see someone throw their breakfast on Bill Belichick?
The pure historicals are ones like Doctor Who - The Aztecs, where the TARDIS crew winds up somewhere in the past, runs into trouble and has to get out. This is all done without them having to deal with any kind of monsters or sci-fi peril.
But after a while, the powers that be decided the show needed to have a sci-fi angle to every story, so gradually the pure historicals faded away, leaving behind a beast called the pseudo-historical. These are stories that take place in a historical setting, but feature sci-fi elements to them. Aliens meddling in Earth's past, power-mad time-travelers meddling in Earth's past, robot's meddling in Earth's past or, surprisingly enough, other Time Lords meddling in Earth's past.
The first of these, appropriately enough, is "The Time Meddler", where another Time Lord (though they weren't called that yet), called the Monk, goes back in time to change the outcome of the Battle of Hastings. He's not exactly evil, more of just a problem. Naturally the Doctor has to put a stop to this nonsense.
The story is quite good as is the acting, and the Doctor comes off as something more heroic than the usual anti-hero role the First Doctor had. I loved what he wound up doing to the Monk at the end of the story.
As for the rest of the episode... well, the sets and costumes are good, as one expects for a historical story. Much less cheese than when they tried to do sci-fi (then again their budget was something like 2000 pounds for an entire season, so yeah).
The extras are nice, including commentary that features Verity Lambert in her last role on the last episode she produced (it was also her last commentary). There's also a nice obit for her, and a few other nice extras, including a feature on the First Doctor's adventures in the "Doctor Who" comic strips.
Overall this is a nice purchase. It's always good to see some of the earliest episodes and the extras are nice icing on the cake.
Most recent customer reviews
Really sets the stage for the future stories regarding the time lords.