It’s possibly not terribly surprising that the ruthless and deadly Sara Kingdom we saw in her first episode has been somewhat watered down as the serial has progressed (this explains the way she reacts in terror at the sight of a mummy rising from an Egyptian tomb). Steven, of course, moves protectively in front of her. It would have been an interesting wrinkle for Sara to be the protective one whilst Steven showed fear, but the series was a little way off such a role reversal.
There’s no need for any panic though, as the mysterious figure is only the Monk (who’s been trussed up in bandages by the Doctor!) He’s a bit of an imp, this Doctor – it’s a far cry from his original characterisation as an unknowable patrician, but one that Hartnell’s very adept at playing.
The Daleks continue to bumble around. They’re not as useless as the ones we saw in The Chase, but they’re not the greatest bunch of thinkers either. We can’t be too harsh on them though, as it’s mostly Dennis Spooner’s fault (and maybe Terry Nation’s too – since Spooner was still apparently scripting from Nation’s original story outlines).
In this Egyptian interlude, the Daleks decide to recruit the Monk as their agent. Eh? Why wouldn’t the Monk have simply nipped off in his TARDIS at the first opportunity? How could the Daleks have guaranteed his co-operation? And why use him anyway, why didn’t they hunt the Doctor down themselves? Their desire not to see the core destroyed is the motor that’s driven the story, but even if that happened it would only delay (by about fifty years) their plans, not derail them completely.
The Daleks, now extremely miffed at the way things have gone, finally decide to launch an all-out attack. Chen’s not pleased about this and shows his displeasure by roughly shoving one of the Dalek’s eyestalks aside. A scripted moment or something worked out in rehearsal? Either way it’s a lovely little touch which illustrates just how reckless the Guardian has become. Few people would dare to show such an open sign of contempt against the Daleks, since we’ve seen time and again how they “reward” such gestures. It’s another small sign that Chen’s humiliation and fall from grace can’t be far away ….
Steven, Sara and the Monk set out to look for the Doctor. Steven and Sara shout the Doctor’s name at the top of their voices, whilst the Monk also calls out – but sotto voce. Possibly a nod back to a similar gag in The Myth Makers, it’s another opportunity for Butterworth add his inimitable comic touch. When they’re surrounded by the Daleks, the Monk offers up Steven and Sara as hostages – it’s a good plan, as the Doctor would be sure to hand over the core in exchange for the safe of his friends. A pity that neither Chen or the Daleks thought of it earlier then …..
It’s possible to wonder if Hartnell’s got the week off, as the Doctor’s been absent from proceedings so far. But ten minutes in he does finally turn up, as the Doctor listens silently to Chen’s demands broadcast from the Dalek ship – hand over the core, or Steven and Sara will die. Hartnell does little in this very brief scene – he doesn’t utter a word – but the way his eyes dart from side to side and the expression on his face tells an eloquent story.
It’s often been observed that Hartnell – using his years of experience as a film actor – was remarkably comfortable in front of the tv cameras. During this era of television a great many actors had come to the small screen via the theatre, so their performances tended – initially at least – to be broader. Hartnell, as befitted a wily old pro, always knew that less was more, and that just a look or a small gesture could speak volumes. Numerous examples of this are dotted about his episodes and whilst it’s always fun to spot his fluffs and stumbles (and there’s a great one in this episode – “Magic, Mavic Chen”) it shouldn’t be forgotten just how skilled an actor he was.
There’s a classic Doctor/Dalek face-off, with the Doctor seemingly in full control. The Daleks agree that the handover of the core will take place with just one Dalek present. Chen later wonders they agreed so readily. “One Dalek is capable of exterminating all!” is the chilling reply. Thanks to an ominous stab of Tristram Cary’s incidental music and the expression on Chen’s face this is a moment which helps to reemphasise the power of the Daleks.
The Doctor is forced to hand over the core to Chen, but all isn’t lost. He’s stolen the directional unit from the Monk’s TARDIS, so they’ll be able to travel back to Kembel. This is a small, but significant, moment. For those brought up on the new series, it seems inconceivable that the Doctor wouldn’t be able to control the TARDIS, but in the early days every trip was a mystery one. Personally I think that something was lost when the Doctor gained full control over the TARDIS, but what’s really interesting is that up until this point it’s never been clear whether the TARDIS’ erratic performances was due to the Doctor’s ineptitude or a fault with the ship itself. Now it’s made clear – with the right components the Doctor can steer the TARDIS anywhere.
As the Doctor and the others set off, the Monk fades away from the story. This hasn’t been such a good vehicle for Peter Butterworth as The Time Meddler, as the Monk was only a supporting character, not the centre of attention. Even so, Butterworth was always worth watching and it’s a pity the Monk didn’t return for a third time.