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.

Doctor Who – The Romans. Episode Four – Inferno

inferno

Inferno opens with another demonstration of Nero’s ruthlessness. Ian and Delos have escaped and Nero’s none too impressed with Barbara (Barbara couldn’t help but shout out to Ian, which infuriated Nero). “So you’re a friend of the gladiators are you?” He then asks a soldier for his sword and looks set to murder Barbara.

The scene is blocked well, as Nero stands in front of both Barbara and the solider when he strikes the killing thrust. We hear Barbara scream and it’s possible to wonder for a split second if he has actually done the unthinkable – but no, it’s the guard that’s died. “He didn’t fight hard enough” mutters Nero as he looks at the (presumably) blood-covered sword whilst Barbara looks suitably sick.

Although The Romans is generally regarded as a comic gem today (although some people will never accept that Doctor Who could or should be a comedy) there’s plenty of evidence that viewers back in 1965 were rather nonplussed. The audience research report includes a number of unfavourable responses, such as “this programme gets more and more bizarre; in fact it’s so ridiculous it’s a bore” and someone else declared that the series “was only fit for morons”. The report summed up that most of the respondents felt that “the story had steadily declined to a farcical and pathetic anticlimax”. Oh dear!

It’s difficult to see exactly what they found to be so irritating, as the script is still bubbling along nicely with some excellently played comic gems. Nero, tiring of the acclaim heaped on the Doctor, decides to throw him to the lions. But he doesn’t directly tell him, all he says is that he wants him to play in the arena. The Doctor knows what’s going on though and Hartnell and Francis share another classic two-handed scene. Francis’ hangdog expression is priceless!

DOCTOR: Yes, well I promise you I shall try to make it a roaring success.
NERO: You’ll have to play something special, you know.
DOCTOR: Oh, yes, of course, of course, yes. Something serious, yes. Something they can really get their teeth into, hmm?
NERO: You can’t know, you can’t. I’ve told no one.

The major weakness with the story is the revelation that Maximus Pettulian had come to Rome to murder Nero – since the real Pettulian was so feeble it’s rather a stretch to imagine he could ever be a successful assassin. The burning of Rome isn’t quite as successful as it could have been either – but on Doctor Who‘s budget this isn’t too much of a surprise. It’s worth reflecting that later prestige serials like I Claudius had similar production standards so if you place them side by side, The Romans stands up quite well.

But as we’ve seen, most of the viewers questioned in 1965 weren’t impressed and seemed to be bored of historical stories – much preferring the Doctor’s trips into the future. But they should have been careful what they wished for, as we now jump headlong into six episodes of The Web Planet …….

Doctor Who – The Romans. Episode Three – Conspiracy


Conspiracy opens with another clandestine scene between the Doctor and Tavius.  The obvious joke is that the Doctor still has no idea what Tavius is talking about.  Tavius imparts the following vital information “I haven’t got long, so listen carefully. I’ve managed to get rid of that body and I don’t think anyone suspects. But if you delay your action, it will be safer.”

Every time that Tavius appears he hisses in a most unsubtle manner (in order to catch the Doctor’s attention).  It’s interesting that this bit of business wasn’t present in the script, so presumably Hartnell and Michael Peake worked it out in rehearsals.  Much later, Tom Baker’s willingness to treat the rehearsal script as simply a jumping off point for his own improvisations and suggestions would become legendary, but there’s no doubt that the four days rehearsal each episode was given during this period did allow for a certain leeway which sometimes benefited the story.

This episode sees the farce quotient ramped up another couple of notches as Barbara is presented to Nero’s wife Poppaea (Kay Patrick).  Poppaea’s not terribly impressed with Barbara, no doubt because she’s witnessed Nero’s instant attraction to her.  This wasn’t the first time that Barbara had found herself the object of male lust, although the others – Vasor in The Keys of Marinus and El Akir in The Crusade – weren’t played for laughs like Nero’s pursuit is here.

There’s a level of innuendo in the script for those who want to look for it (for example, Nero tells Barbara to “close your eyes and Nero will give you a big surprise”) and the farce element is at its most obvious as Nero pursues Barbara through the palace (she just avoids bumping into the Doctor or Vicki each time).  That Barbara remains unaware that the Doctor and Vicki are at court (and vice-versa) hardly seems credible – but that’s the whole joke and it’s delightful to see how the actors throw themselves wholeheartedly into the swing of things.

Derek Francis is a joy to behold in these scenes, he plays Nero as a little boy who’s anxious not to be found out.  But his other, more ruthless side, is demonstrated at the end of the episode as he watches Delos and Ian fight as gladiators.  Delos gains the upper hand and Nero has no hesitation in ordering Ian’s head to be cut off.  Whilst this seems at odds with the amiable, befuddled ruler we’ve previously seen, it actually fits in very well – Nero (like most Emperors) had lived so long with the gift of absolute power that he could be either cruel or compassionate, depending on his mood.  That so much power could be in the hands of such an unbalanced individual seems remarkable – but for all the comic stylings of the script, that part of The Romans is probably historically accurate.

Ian’s rather sidelined in this episode.  Locked up with Delos for most of the duration, he faces an uncertain future as a gladiator.  These scenes are most notable for the shots of two gladiators practising – unfortunately the way they fight is so feeble that it’s hard to imagine either would be capable of punching their way out of a paper bag …

Back at court, Vicki confesses to the Doctor that she might have poisoned Nero(!) which leads into another scene which is comic and dark at the same time.  The Doctor warns Nero and he passes his cup to the unfortunate Tigilinus (Brian Proudfoot).  Tigilinus drinks and plummets to the floor, dead.  “He was right” deadpans Nero as he shrugs and moves off.  What’s remarkable is that Vicki nevers seem to realise or indeed care that her actions cost the life of the court poisoner Locusta (Ann Tirard).

It’s finally time for the Doctor to demonstrate his non-existent skills as a lyre player.  “I would like to play my new composition in honour of this occasion. The music is so soft, so delicate, that only those with keen perceptive hearing, will be able to distinguish this melodious charm of music.”  Delightfully, he then proceed to play not a single note aloud, but since nobody wishes to admit that they lack the perceptive hearing required, everybody (including Nero) pretend to be entranced.  “He’s all right, but he’s not all that good” mutters Nero testily.  Brilliant!

Doctor Who – The Romans. Episode Two – All Roads Lead To Rome

Although the main plot of The Romans is straightforward enough, the various palace intrigues which bubble below the surface are slightly more opaque.  At the start of this episode it’s confirmed that the Centurion we met in the previous episode wanted Maximus Pettulian dead and he’d commissioned a mute assassin called Ascaris (Barry Jackson) to do the deed.  The joke being of course that Ascaris is unable to tell him that he’s already killed Pettulian once!

So he has to kill him again (in the shape of the Doctor) but the Doctor offers more evidence that he’s handy in a scrap.  The fight scene between Ascaris and the Doctor is a comic highlight of the episode and although it was designed to put as little stress onto Hartnell’s shoulders as possible, it still works very well.  When Vicki enters the room, Ascaris has clearly had enough and heads for the nearest window.  The Doctor’s rather disgruntled.  “Young lady, why did you have to come in and interrupt? Just as I’d got him all softened up and ready for the old one, two.”  Lovely stuff.

And what of Ian and Barbara?  Ian’s been sold as a galley-slave and quickly strikes up a friendship with Delos (Peter Diamond).  Although Diamond was a bit-part actor, he spent most of his time working as a stuntman/arranger (amongst his numerous film credits was the first Star Wars movie).  Delos performs much the same function as Larry did in The Dalek Invasion of Earth – he’s someone for Ian to talk to as he searches for the others.  Diamond’s a solid presence though and manages to be something more than just a line-feed.

Barbara’s landed on her feet as she’s been bought by Tavius (Michael Peake) and brought to the court of Caesar Nero.  Tavius is an interesting character – he’s someone who has an agenda of his own (which is connected to Maximus Pettulian) although his ultimate aims remain nebulous for a while.  And is he Barbara’s friend or foe?  Peake had an imposing physical presence and would clearly have found no difficulty playing the heavy, but we’ll see that there’s more to Tavius than meets the eye.

Nero (Derek Francis) makes an impressive entrance (he belches loudly).  “Royal felicitations” murmurs the Doctor.  Amongst a host of sparkling performances, Francis’ is the jewel in the crown and his byplay with Hartnell is delightful.  From their first meeting, the running gag of Maximus Pettulian’s skill (and the Doctor’s total lack of skill) as a lyre player is established.  Nero is keen to hear Pettulian play, but the Doctor manages to cleverly sidestep this potentially awkward moment by asking Nero to go first.  Another nice comic moment occurs when Nero calls for a stool – the Doctor begins to sit down on it, but it quickly becomes clear that Nero wanted it to balance his leg upon, causing the Doctor to rise again with a disgruntled expression!