Doctor Who – The Time Meddler. Part One – The Watcher

The opening moments of The Time Meddler finds both the Doctor and Vicki in a reflective mood.  But this period of quiet (nicely played by both Hartnell and O’Brien) is rudely shattered by noises from within the TARDIS.  Vicki’s convinced that it’s a Dalek and the pair take up defensive postures.  Although had have been, I’m not sure that the Doctor’s coat and Vicki’s shoe would have been adequate weapons!

But of course it’s not, instead a rather disheveled Steven Taylor comes staggering through the door, still clutching his toy panda Hi-Fi.  Our last sighting of Steven came in the previous episode when he was grabbed by the fungoids (insert your own joke here).  So somehow, weak though he was, he was able to stagger into the TARDIS – but rather than remain in the console room, he ventured further inside and managed to remain undetected until after the Doctor had taken off.

It’s a slightly contrived way of reintroducing him, but nonetheless it’s quite effective – I’m sure a large portion of the audience would have assumed he was simply a one-episode character who we’d never see again.

Immediately after Steven makes his presence known, the TARDIS lands on a rocky beach next to the sea.  One the things that most impresses me most about this serial is how Douglas Camfield was able to use a number of simple, but very effective, tricks to create the feel of outdoors locations in this wholly studio-bound story.

The arrival of the TARDIS is a good example – there’s a few seconds of stock footage showing waves crashing on rocks, then a cut to a photographic slide of a rocky outcrop where the TARDIS materialises, followed by  a shot of the monk (Peter Butterworth) observing events from higher up.  Behind the monk, courtesy of back projection, clouds roll past.  The latter was a fairly common trick used at the time, but sometimes – if the backcloth was wrinkled – it didn’t convince.  Here it’s perfect and the illusion is very effective.

Whereas Vicki had little difficulty in her first story about believing that the TARDIS could travel anywhere in time and space, Steven is a lot harder to convince (he’s rather like Ian in this respect).   But whilst Vicki (and later Dodo) were designed to be little more than Susan clones, Steven is a little different from Ian.  Steven is initially presented as brash and arrogant and incurs the Doctor’s displeasure when he refers to him as Doc (something which always irritated the Doctor down the years).

The Doctor’s quickly separated from Vicki and Steven (and isn’t reunited with them until episode four).   This is partly designed to cover Hartnell’s absence from episode two, but it also allows Purves and O’Brien to immediately build a rapport.  Steven and Vicki work well together and there’s a few entertaining sparks in their relationship (something which never happened with the much more settled combination of Ian, Barbara and Vicki).

Meanwhile the Doctor’s wandered off to a small settlement and has made the acquaintance of Edith (Alethea Charlton).  Charlton had appeared in the first story, also in a somewhat grimy role, but Edith is a much more welcoming character than Hur.  The Doctor’s scenes with Edith, as he shares a cup of mead and they chat, are rather charming.  But his time relaxing is cut short when he hears strange noises at the monastery – the chanting monks suddenly dramatically slow down.

This moment marks the first occurrence of what tended to be known as the pseudo historical.  Historical stories had been a feature right from the start of the series, but this is the first time that elements from the future (apart from the Doctor himself) were added into the mix.  Possibly this was done in order to shake up the format – a mixture of history and sci-fi was an obvious move.

During this episode Peter Butterworth’s monk has been a solitary, silent figure (the watcher of the title).  The cliffhanger shows the Doctor trapped in the monastery and the monk laughing at his fate.  We’ve still yet to learn anything about the monk or his motivations though – but the next episode (as Hartnell takes a holiday) will allow him to come to the fore.

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