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.