Doctor Who – The Time Meddler. Part Four – Checkmate

It’s not too much of a stretch to see the Monk as an inversion of the Doctor.  Wheras the Doctor has had a strong aversion to changing history (although only it seems to apply to the Earth prior to the 1960’s) the Monk is quite the opposite.

He explains his brilliant plan to the Doctor. “Well, for instance, Harold, King Harold, I know he’d be a good king. There wouldn’t be all those wars in Europe, those claims over France went on for years and years. With peace the people’d be able to better themselves. With a few hints and tips from me they’d be able to have jet airliners by 1320! Shakespeare’d be able to put Hamlet on television.”

No surprise that the Doctor is appalled, although one of the problems with stories which address the possibility of changing history is that they pose more questions than they answer.

Doctor Who’s first script editor David Whitaker was quite clear on this point – the Doctor couldn’t change history.  Not wouldn’t, couldn’t.  Several less than convincing reasons were provided to explain this. For example, if they’d attempted to assassinate a key figure like Napoleon then the bullet would have been bound to miss him.

Quite how this would happen is never made clear, unless we assume that that there’s some mysterious force in the universe which knows the “true” course of history and would automatically deal with any deviations.

This isn’t very satisfying and when Dennis Spooner took over from David Whitaker he quickly changed things around.  Now, the Doctor could change history but the question was more whether he should.  The Doctor voices his fear about the Monk’s meddling.  “He’s utterly irresponsible. He wants to destroy the whole pattern of world history.”

Is the Doctor concerned because the Monk’s plans will have a detrimental effect on Earth’s development or is it that he doesn’t want to see established history changed?  If everything the Monk predicted came to pass then it might actually be positive.  But how would anybody know?  As discussed by Vicki and Steven, as soon as a change is made it would become true history and they’d never have known any other.

VICKI: It looks as though that Monk’s going to get away with it after all.
STEVEN: Yes, but he can’t, can he? I don’t know much about history but I do know that William the Conqueror did win the Battle of Hastings.
VICKI: Up till now he did. If the Monk changes it, I suppose our memories will change as well.
STEVEN: What about the history books?
VICKI: That’s all right. They’re not written yet. They’ll just write and print the new version.
STEVEN: But that means that the exact minute, the exact second that he does it, every history book, every, well, the whole future of every year and time on Earth will change, just like that and nobody’ll know that it has?
VICKI: I suppose that’s what I’m trying to say.

Although the Doctor’s still keen to present himself as an observer and not a meddler like the Monk, every time he visits a planet he makes a material difference and therefore changes history. If he hadn’t appeared somewhere then events would have played out differently. How different this is from the Monk’s plans is hard to say. See, time travel is a tricky business …

The Doctor manages to defeat the Monk, although I’ve always found it slightly strange that he elects to strand him on Earth.  He may not have access to his TARDIS, but he still has his knowledge and a stockpile of anachronistic inventions.  Surely he could do some damage to history with these?

Ah well, probably best to think about it too deeply.  The Time Meddler is content to be nothing more than a comic romp, with the main entertainment to be found in the Doctor’s clashes with the Monk.  It’ll never top any favourites poll, but it’s a solid entertainment and brings the second series to a decent conclusion.

Doctor Who – The Time Meddler. Part Three – A Battle of Wits

At the start of this episode it’s clear that Vicki still has the upper hand over Steven.  She’s the one who deduces that the Doctor must have escaped from his cell via a secret passage (and she also manages to find it).

But the roles are reversed later after they return to the beach.  Vicki is appalled to find that the tide’s come in, as it surely must mean that the TARDIS has been washed out to sea.  Steven tries to comfort her by telling her that maybe the Doctor has moved it, but that only upsets her even more.  If the Doctor’s demateralised the TARDIS then he’d have no way of returning and they’ll be stranded in eleventh century Britain forever.

Although Vicki has developed a pleasingly independant streak over the last few stories, her sudden despair and defeatism does suggest that she’s not too far removed from the naive young girl we met in The Rescue.  It seems hard to credit that she’d really believe the Doctor would just leave them – but possibly this doubt can be put down to the lingering trauma of her life on Dido.

The Doctor’s still very much about though and he pays another visit to Edith.  As he takes his leave of her, there’s a nice shot as the camera moves from behind the actors and refocuses with Hartnell framed in a close-up and a puzzled looking Edith placed in the background.

Apart from Douglas Camfield’s undoubted skill with a film camera, he was also someone who pushed hard to achieve interesting picture compositions in the studio.  Due to the hectic nature of Doctor Who‘s production it wasn’t always possible, but scattered throughout his stories are numerous examples (the grouping of the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria at the start of The Web of Fear is a good one).

Given how unwieldy the cameras were in 1965 it obviously wasn’t an easy task to move it so quickly (you can detect a little wobble as it repositions) but I’m glad Camfield made the effort as it just adds a little something to the conclusion of the scene.

The nature of the Doctor’s relationship with the Monk is still a mystery (which is only answered, indirectly, at the end of the episode).  That the Monk knows his name when they meet again might suggest that they already know each other, but this could also be explained away by a conversation earlier in the story which we didn’t see.

It’s interesting that the Doctor gains the upper hand by using the old trick of pointing a stick into the Monk’s back and pretending that it’s a rifle.  If they were old acquaintances then you’d have assumed that the Monk would know that the Doctor wouldn’t pull the trigger.  Unless, of course, the young Doctor was a bloodthirsty sort who’s only recently mended his ways!

The Monk’s plan is becoming clearer though.  He wants to destroy the incoming Viking fleet and has a helpful checklist to aid his memory, which I love.  It starts with his landing in Northumberland and ends with him meeting King Harold (no doubt to receive the King’s grateful thanks).  Clearly the Monk was a little starstruck.

Two less than fearsome Vikings – Sven (David Anderson) & Ulf (Norman Hartley) are still lurking about.  They decide to hide in the monastery, which is a bad idea as the Doctor and the Monk are able, independently, to deal with them.  Both are attended to in the same way – the Doctor and the Monk bash them over their heads with what appears to be very thin strips of balsa wood.  Is this just a coincidence or is the script attempting to show that the two time-travelers are very much the same deep down?

Various clues – a wristwatch in the forest, the record player – have strongly suggested that the Monk isn’t of this time, but we have to wait until the end of the episode before Vicki and Steven make a stunning discovery – the Monk has a TARDIS.  This is something of a game-changer for the series as it’s the first step on the road to introducing the Time Lords.

Doctor Who – The Time Meddler. Part Two – The Meddling Monk

monk

During The Watcher, the monk was presented as something of a sinister figure, but the first minutes of The Meddling Monk portrays the character in quite a different light. We see him pottering about the monastery preparing breakfast (with the unspoken question ligering about how there could be a toaster and other modern appliances in England, 1066). He then toddles along to the Doctor’s cell and cheerily bids him good morning.

Although he’s obviously crowing that the Doctor’s still his prisoner, since he’s gone to the trouble of preparing him a hearty breakfast he can’t be all that bad. Such a pity that his efforts are wasted as the Doctor flings the food back into his face! Pre-recorded lines of dialogue from Hartnell help to create the illusion that the Doctor’s in the cell (whereas we won’t actually see him in person again until the following episode).

Butterworth’s a joy throughout this episode and indeed the rest of the story as well. Little bits of business – such as attempting to take some snuff on the windy mountaintop – might have been the sort of thing worked out in rehearsal, but it helps to fill what would otherwise be a quiet moment.

Butterworth interacts appealingly with the villagers as well as Vicki and Steven but he really shines when the monk and the Doctor clash later in the story . Hartnell and Butterworth spark off each other so well that it’s no surprise that the monk was brought back for a further appearance in season three.

Steven continues to act in a fairly aggressive manner. After they’re apprehended by the villagers he’s quick to react angrily, but the headman of the village, Wulnoth (Martin Miller), believes they’re are innocent travellers and is content to see them on their way.

He provides them with food and drink for their journey, which Steven – first grudgingly and then with more feeling – thanks him for. In parting, Wulnoth and Edith offer their ritual farewell – “god be with you”. Politeness dictates that both Vicki and Steven respond in kind. Vicki does so straightaway, but it’s another nice character beat that Steven hesitates for a few seconds before he gives the response as well.

A small raiding party of Vikings adds an element of danger to the story. They’re a rum looking lot though (beards and eye-patches ahoy). The leader orders his men to remain undetected, as their mission is to gather intelligence for a forthcoming substantial attack. However they don’t really achieve this …..

Two of them attack Edith and although it’s not explicitly stated, it’s plain that she’s been raped. That Vikings enjoyed a bit of rape and plunder is a historical fact, but it’s still a slight surprise to see it in this story (even if it’s done in an understated way).

Eldred (Peter Russell), a beardy, wide-eyed member of the village is convinced that Steven was responsible, but this potential plotline was never developed as Edith quickly confirms that it was the Vikings. Had this been a six-parter, then maybe we might have seen the angry villagers pursuing Steven and Vicki, but this potential plotline is nothing more than a throwaway moment here.

Indeed, the story continues to move at quite a pace – only a few moments after Wulnoth, Eldred and the others set off to look for the Vikings, they find them (and a brief battle ensues). With Eldred injured, Wulnoth takes him to the monastery, where the monk is forced to take him in. Vicki and Steven are also there and find the Doctor’s cell, but the Doctor’s no longer there …..

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.

Peter Wyngarde – A Life Amongst Strangers by Tina Wyngarde-Hopkins

wyngarde

I’ve been a fan of Peter Wyngarde’s film and television work for a fair few years, but until now I didn’t really know a great deal about the man himself – apart from a series of oft-repeated tales (which no doubt grow more distorted every time they’re repeated).

Tina Wyngarde-Hopkins’ hefty tome (clocking in at over 500 pages) has been designed to rectiy this and although she’s obviously approached the book intent on righting perceived wrongs from various points in Wyngarde’s life, it still manages to paint a vivid picture of a charismatic, but often difficult, man.

Wyngarde-Hopkins first met Peter in the early nineties when she set up a fanzine dedicated to him. Over the years their bond grew closer as she became his assistant, companion and eventual soul mate. Drawing upon an impressive archive (letters, scripts, diaries, interviews) she’s been able to fashion a substantial biography where the subject is often able to chip in on the subject in hand.

His early years, as a prisoner of the Japanese in an interment camp in Shanghai, are vividly portrayed. There are lighter moments – organising theatrical entertainments – but also darker ones (the guards broke both his feet in order to discourage him from running about).  Wyngarde’s relationship with his parents – his mother looks to have been something of a flighty man-eater whilst he idolised his father (who died at sea in 1947) – is also touched upon.

Rather like his mother, Wyngarde enjoyed a healthy sex life (one of the things he’s – along his with acting – probably best known for). And as he attempted to establish a name for himself as an actor in post-war Britain, there were no shortage of opportunities for liasons.  Plus plenty of invitations which Wyngarde declined (from the likes of Noel Coward, Peggy Ashcroft and Bette Davis). It’s up to the reader to decide how much of this is credible – no doubt Wyngarde wasn’t above spinning a tall tale or two.

His years in provincial rep and his eventual emergence during the 1950’s as a familiar face on both the London stage and as an early television favourite are entertainingly sketched. The likes of Kenneth Williams and Orson Welles feature in some amusing anecdotes.

By the 1960’s Wyngarde was guesting in a number of cult television series which still endure to this day. Most notably The Avengers and the episode A Touch Of Brimstone, in which he played the Honorable John Cleverly Cartney, leader of a modern Hellfire Club. Wyngarde would later recall that Cartney’s whip cracking was very carefully choregraphed – one wrong move could have resulted in a serious injury for Diana Rigg.

His real ascent to cult fame would, of course, come with Department S and Jason King. Paid the princely sum of £336 for the first thirteen episodes (rising to £1,000 if the series continued past that point) Wyngarde seems to have earned the respect of many of the guest actors (Anthony Hopkins speaks warmly of his experience working with him on Department S) although it was a different story with his co-star Rosemary Nichols. More detail on this – or indeed production of both series – would have been welcome, as they’re dealt with rather quickly.

Two very different events during the seventies are still debated today by Wyngarde watchers. The first is his 1970 self-titled spoken word album, which included such memorable offerings as “Rape”. Judging by the eleven tracks not included in the final cut (including “Merry Sexmas”) it could have been a double album ….

A Life Amongst Strangers posits that RCA had hoped the album would be a flop, thereby allowing them to write it off as a tax loss. But unfortunately for them it turned out to be a success. That’s certainly an interesting spin on events.

In 1975 Wyngarde was fined £75 for committing an act of gross indecency in the public toilets at Gloucester Bus Station. Although he kept working, this dealt a devastating blow to both his career and public image from which he never really recovered.  Wyngarde-Hopkins remains convinced he was innocent (and that he was PERSECUTED! not prosecuted).  Throughout the book she’s also at pains to dismiss the numerous rumours concerning his sexuality – presenting Wyngarde as a firmly heterosexual character.

From the eighties onwards the work began to dry up, although there were still some notable credits, such as Flash Gordon (1980) and a guest role in a 1984 Doctor Who serial (Planet of Fire). Peter Davison would remember Wyngarde’s contribution to this story in his autobiography, although this still attracted Wyngarde-Hopkins’ ire (due to the fact he misspelt Wyngarde’s surname and omitted him from the index).

His final years, as his health began to falter, makes for bleak reading – although by the end you’re left in no doubt about just how much Tina Wyngarde-Hopkins loved him.

A Life Amongst Strangers offers a substantial portrait of Peter Wyngarde. As with all autobiographies and biographies the reader will have to decide just how accurate a portrait it is, but it certainly doesn’t skimp on detail.  Published by Austin Macauley, it’s well worth checking out.

Doctor Who – The Chase. Part Six – The Planet of Decision

The Mechanoid takes the time-travellers up to the city.  The lift they travel in is incredibly quiet, which is either an intentional touch (to suggest how advanced the Mechanoids are) or it’s because Richard Martin forgot to add any sound effects.  Given all that’s happened so far, I tend to favour the latter possibility ….

It’s easy to see where a large part of the budget went.  The Mechanoids are substantial creations, although their sheer size and unwieldiness was a major factor in making this their only appearance.

The episode has a faint echo of The Daleks – the Doctor and his friends are apprehended by the strange inhabitants of a futuristic city who then imprison them – but the Mechanoids have quite different motives from the Daleks.

The Daleks are thinking creatures, acting on fear and racial hatred, whilst the Mechanoids are purely machines – they aren’t evil, they’re simply obeying their programming.  And if that means keeping people captive (albeit in comfortable surroundings) then so be it.

Steven Taylor (Peter Purves) has been a prisoner of the Mechanoids for several years.  Starved of any human contact during that time, his first reaction when he meets the Doctor and his friends is to wonder if they’re real.

This might suggest that his grip on reality has started to go, but we’ll soon see that he’s still a very resourceful young man.  After appearing as the hillbilly Morton Dill a few episodes earlier, Purves (now with a natty beard) returned to play a quite different character.

With the imminent departure of William Russell and Jacqueline Hill, Purves would go on to be the solid rock of the series during the next year or so.  William Hartnell remained the star (although there are points during series three, which we’ll no doubt touch upon in due course, where he’s rather sidelined) but his increasing health issues meant that he would come to depend on Purves, who would be invaluable in dealing with his variable moods.

One interesting point is that the Daleks refer to the Mechanoids as Mechons, due to the fact that all their dialogue was pre-recorded before this script element was changed.  Given the chaotic nature of the story it’s good there aren’t any glaringly obvious Dalek dialogue mis-cues (as happened in The Dalek Invasion of Earth).

The set-piece battle between the Daleks and the Mechanoids is impressive – an element of the serial which benefitted from being shot on film.  It’s got nothing to do with the Doctor though, who’s hot-footing it with the others down to the surface of the planet, courtesy of a very long rope.  Possibly Terry Nation already had visions of his big-budget Dalek series (in which they maybe faced off against the Mechanoids week after week) so was this ending something of a trial run?

So that just leaves the departure of Ian and Barbara.  Companion exits tend to happen in one of two ways – either their desire to leave is hinted throughout their final story (Susan or Victoria, for example) or, like Ian and Barbara, they only decide at the end of the story that the time is right to go.

The discovery of the Daleks’ abandoned time machine gives them a perfect opportunity to return to their own time (remember this was still the period when the Doctor had no control over the TARDIS) although the Doctor’s very dubious.

You’ve got to a feel a little for Hartnell here.  Although the Doctor’s obviously sorry to have to say goodbye to Ian and Barbara, William Hartnell was even more unhappy that William Russell and Jacqueline Hill were leaving.  Possibly this contributes to one of his most famous fluffs (he tells them they’ll end up as cinders floating around in “spain, err space”) if they use the DARDIS.

I love the photo-montage that shows their delight in returning to the 1960’s, especially Ian’s mock-horror at observing a telephone box!  They’ll certainly both be missed, as Ian and Barbara were the moral centre of the series (especially during the early stories) but it’s true that their place in the series was becoming slightly redundant.

By this point the Doctor was a much more rounded character, so he didn’t need other people to act as his conscience.  All he needed was a young girl to get into scrapes and a young man to provide a bit of muscle – a formula that would endure for the rest of the decade.

Doctor Who – The Chase. Part Five – The Death of Doctor Who

death-of-doctor-who

One of the frustrating things about The Chase is the fact that the script has some very good ideas which are then rather frittered away.  The robot duplicate of Doctor Who is a case in point – this could have easily been developed over a number of episodes, possibly with the audience unaware that a substitution had been made (which would have made the reveal all the more dramatic).

But as this didn’t happen, this part of the plot doesn’t really progress beyond the robot Doctor briefly menacing Barbara before its true nature is revealed to her.  Although there’s one plus point – since today’s episode was structured more effectively than the previous one, Hartnell’s able to play both the Doctor and his robot double in several key scenes.

There are still some close-ups of Edmund Warwick mouthing William Hartnell’s pre-recorded lines which doesn’t even remotely convince, but we do get a short battle between the real Doctor and his mechanical counterpart which is quite amusing.

Although The Chase isn’t the sort of script you really should spend a great deal of time thinking about, it’s always slightly irritated me that although the Daleks have now got a time machine they never seem to think it might be a good idea to find out where the Doctor is going to land next and then arrive before him  That’s what a time machine can do, for goodness sake!

Instead, Terry Nation seems to regard the TARDIS and DARDIS (only named in the script – popular fan opinion states that it stands for “Daleks are Rusty Dustbins in Space”) as purely linear machines, meaning that the Daleks are always x number of minutes behind the Doctor’s craft.  This is rather silly, but no more than the rest of the script I guess.

Anyway, mild rant over.  The Doctor, Ian and Barbara have arrived on the planet Mechanus, home of the Mechanoids (who are mechanical, do you see?).  Mechanus has the sort of jungle that Terry Nation always seemed to love – the flapping fungoids are an unforgettable sight – although it’s a lot more of a low rent environment than those we would later see in The Daleks Master Plan  or Planet of the Daleks.  Money was clearly running out, so it’s a mercy that the lighting is kept low (although Barbara and Vicki’s tussles with the fungoids are still hopelessly unconvincing even in this dim light).

The others are reunited with Vicki and after defeating the robot Doctor they ponder their next move (they can’t get back to the TARDIS, since the jungle is crawling with Daleks).  The dawn of a new day reveals the city of the Mechanoids in all its glory – it’s a shot not dissimilar to our first sight of the Daleks’ city on Skaro.

For those keeping an eye on the number of times that BBC television cameras wander into shot, then 21:14 into this episode gives us a good sighting of another one.  Although if you wanted to do a ret-con, maybe it was actually a new, special weapons Dalek ….

If this episode has somewhat meandered about, then the final twenty seconds or so – when we get our first sight of a Mechanoid – is worth waiting for.