Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The Time Meddler

(2/19/04 4:14 pm)

The Time Meddler 1:
After the rambling rubbish that was the Chase, it now seems to be back to normal. This is a rather fine episode. It's not particularly pacey or spectacular, but after the forced melodrama of the previous six weeks this is a nice change. It's relaxed and comfortable. The opening scenes continue the fallout from the departure of Ian and Barbara (watched back to back the phrase 'I shall miss them' seems overused, but this is a minor quibble, and I suppose it is the only way this can be expressed). It's lovely to see a clear bond between Vicki and the Doctor there, playful and sweet. And the proper incredulity of Steven to the whole concept, his refusal to accept that they've travelled in time and space, reminds you of how easily latter companions accepted the ridiculous. Again Steven seems a hugely likeable and promising character - utterly stubborn, rash and thoughtless, and a wonderfully crap fighter in comparison to Ian. His relationship with Vicki is interesting; sort of like the older brother who thinks he knows best, and Vicki doesn't put up with this - her breaking down and ordering him about and his cowed response are fantastic.The story is quite leisurely, using only the faintest glimmer of a plot to keep us intrigued, at least to start with. The main grabber is the Monk - his reactions and virtually wordless appearances are odd and intriguing - mainly because they appear to have no particular point or meaning, but are given much weight. Obviously, we have the blatant problem that we know who and what he is now, but we can see that he is very much an enigmatic figure.Secondarily, there's an intriguing central question - what is the meaning of the wristwatch (clearly belonging to the Monk due to his earlier gesture) and the gramaphone. Again we are in a position to know what this means, but it must have been confusing for the initial viewers - is it a faked 1066?Hartnell's delicate conversation with the Saxon women is rather sweet - his gentle interest and subtle information gathering are great. The cliffhanger with his laughter being curtailed and replaced by that of the Monk is rather good too.So rather a pleasant episode. No vast fireworks, just solid tight writing with interesting people and a little bit of intrigue. A terribly mature bit of writing. After the last story, one grown-ups can be pleased to watch.

(2/23/04 7:04 am)

Sorry to be a bit behind on the old Day by Day. I've had a bad cold, and whilst I could watch a couple of episodes, I really felt disinclined to actually write them up. As a result the review is probably going to cross both episodes.

The Time Meddler 2-3
I really like this story. It's gentle and slow, more concerned with intelligence and thought than action. This is a story about detail, minor little things. It explores the relationship between Steven and Vicki more than the plot, for example.The Monk is one of the most intriguing characters the series has yet produced - not wholly comic, not wholly menacing, something of a mixture. Peter Butterworth's performance is delightful, portraying the Monk's frustrations at his various interruptions brilliantly, and having a slight underlying menace at times (like his requests for the torches in part three). There's also something joyously sarcastic about his Monk persona, especially when dealing with the Doctor. He still keeps the trappings despite both of them knowing that he obviously isn't a real monk, almost to mock. The relationship between the two is cheeky and entertaining. And he's just an utterly watchable figure, filling his performance with detail, business and mannerisms so you can barely take your eyes off him. Hartnell comes into his own when playing against him too. There's a commanding quality to him which hasn't been there for a while - the Doctor's up against a foe he knows isn't vastly dangerous or murderous (at least not in cold blood), a villain who has no obvious physical advantages against him, so it becomes all about who has the more commanding brain, the more forceful mind, who can out-think the other. The battle of wits of the title. It's nice to see that they do seem a match for each other in terms of wile and guile.The abscence of the Doctor for the second episode does slightly prevent the plot from progressing much (and to be honest, when it does progress it really is little more than a series of trips between the village and the Monastery, with the occasional stopping off at the clifftop - damn fine cloudy skies, btw.). This prevents any real explanation of what the monk is up to until part four (though you can get a sense of what he's doing from a read of his wall chart). However it does have an advantage that, like the Space Museum, it uses the Doctor's non-appearance as a dramatic point.The people giving themselves away by over elaborating trick was awful in Keys 6, but here is acceptable as there's the inference that the Monk's done it deliberately. This scene is rather nicely done - you get the impression that Steven takes the lead, and ever so slightly bullies Vicki into submission. He's rash and impetuous. However, Vicki is clearly the brains of the operation, never trying to be smarter than she is, but clearly on the button all the time in a way Steven never is.One other thing I rather like about this story is the way it's in two distinct halves - we have the Viking's versus Saxons plot, and the Monk plot. The Doctor, the Monk, Steven and Vicki aren't really all that bothered by what's going on outside their little sphere, but it's becoming clear that this is a mistake. It could be argued to be a central theme of this story. That no matter how smart you are, there's always an element of chance when you're dealing with real people. The primitives keep upsetting the plans of the intellects. The whole storyline of the main plot is obviously simple and would have the potential to be wrapped up terribly quickly and simply - if the saxons and the viking's didn't keep messing things up. Possibly my favourite moment in the story so far is when the Doctor makes his elaborate reasoning about what to do regarding the people knocking at the door. He goes into a full and detailed plan that will stop the Monk from taking advantage, but then gets hoist on his own petard, to use the cliche. The entire story is about best laid plans going awry.To be honest, the meandering nature of the story and structure doesn't really bother me. It doesn't have any pretensions to be more than that. It wants to be gentle and light, and mild. It has no interest in overcomplicated plotting or epic scope. It merely wishes to entertain, and it easily does. That said, it is no slouch in the plot department. There are several instances of suprising little twists - the Doctor hanging around to club Sven rather than use the secret passage most obviously, the Doctor's sudden disappearance in part two, and what must be the greatest cliffhanger in Who history. OK, it's value is blunted by our foreknowledge, but imagine the impact it must have had when it first happened. This is the only cliffhanger in the series history that completely turns not just the story, but the entire series on its head. It's barely been any time since the Doctor was saying he built the TARDIS in episode three of the Chase, and here we have another one.The only other element to mention is the legendary implied rape of Edith. I don't think I've watched this story since I was fifteen or so, whenever it got repeated on BBC 2, and I was pretty wet behind the ears, so I completely failed to notice this. However, I'm going to get on my high horse and say that it isn't as strongly implied as people say. We know she's been raped more due to knowledge of the Vikings behaviour rather than anything in the episode itself. Vikings rape and plunder, so knowing that suggests the interpretation. However if you don't then I don't think you'd realise a thing - heck, I'm not sure I'd think it was a rape today if it wasn't for people constantly banging on about it (possibly a bad choice of word, but I digress). This is especially true because she seems right as rain what can only be an hour or two later when speaking to the Doctor in part three (she's subdued, yes, but not traumatised).So generally, quiet and calm, violent but strangely lacking in action (it all takes place away from the regulars, so it seems less important somehow), but utterly engaging and enjoyable. Brilliantly frothy light entertainment drama. Nothing serious, nothing political, just fun. And that's no bad thing.


The Time Meddler 4:
All tv series these days tend to end with the big season finale spectacular. Something always happens that's big or that shakes the series up a bit. Every series has its grand finale.For example the first (and thankfully only) series of the mediocre Crime Traveller ended with the revelation that there was another scientist with the same type of time machine as Chloe Annett. And he was barkingly evil, etc etc. It was scaled up and a finale.It sounds staggeringly similar in basic premise to the Time Meddler. And that's what's interesting. We know from the various things that Andrew Pixley et al have discovered that, like series one, two stories were bumped back into series three, so the second year of Who should have ended with Mission to the Unknown. The first, of course, should have ended with DIOE. Now whilst Dalek Invasion makes logical sense as a climax (bring back the best foes in a noticeably more expensive script, write out one companion, etc.) the idea of Mission as the climax, a one parter with none of the regulars, even as a teaser, sounds weird. (After all, what's so exciting about a Dalek episode so shortly after one other?)Content wise, the major paradigm shift in the series occurs with the Time Meddler, as we all know. The Doctor is no longer a lone traveller, the TARDIS isn't something he made himself. Our entire conception of what the series is changes at this point. And what's really bizarre is the fact that no-one seems to have attached much weight to this, or even noticed.The Time Meddler plays itself as a quiet little inconsequential tale between the epic of the Chase, and the start of the Masterplan cycle. It's treated, bizarrely, with exactly the same weight as Galaxy 4 which follows.And you know what? That's why I think it works. The Chase, for example, really wants us to be impressed. It throws everything it can into the mix - horror legends, recurring villains, climactic battles, companions joining and departing - but makes a hash of it. It tries too hard. Whereas the Time Meddler in contrast doesn't want us to sit there open mouthed at its epic scale or spectacular set-pieces - it just wants us to be entertained for four weeks. It has no ideas above its station.The gentle intimate nature of the piece means that there's less to go wrong. The drama of the script is defined by the interaction of a couple of middle aged men, rather than by ultimately soul-less 'big' moments. And only Doctor Who could treat something so major so offhandedly.The episode, where almost all the revelations take place, is sublime. Hartnell and Butterworth interact brilliantly, each getting the best out of the other. It's a shame Butterworth didn't return after the Masterplan, but I doubt he'd have worked as well with the more tonally and physically similar Troughton.Interesting to see that the Doctor states the Monk is fifty years after his time, which would seem to suggest that they didn't know each other before - I've always wondered precisely what Borusa taught that so many of his students became renegades. Make one hell of a page on Friends Reunited.The minor cut, the Viking's being stabbed, doesn't really bother. It's slightly more in keeping with the mischevious light air that most of the rest of the story has - the story is nonetheless slightly schizophrenic, with the rather more brutal subplot of the Vikings and Saxons only briefly interacting with the main plot. The two threads don't really connect until the end, though as I said earlier - without the interference of the locals this story would be terribly easy to rap up. The higher intellects getting messed over by the human factor. It's worth adding that the Monk rather callously sets up the Vikings for capture to aid his escape, that rather belies his fan reputation as ultimately harmless (bear in mind too he's planning a massacre - Butterworth is so cheeky and likeable we almost forget this. All right, so it's a bunch of Viking's fated to die anyway, but it's still mass murder).I like the way that Steven is slowly losing his pomposity and coming back to the real world. He's still got a degree of it - and that's great, it does aid the characterisation superbly. But he's willing to accept when he's wrong now, less self-righteous. Vicki is still appealing, ballsy, smart and fun.So, to sum up, a wonderful story. It has no lofty ambition, and understates the massive shifting of the series' concepts. It doesn't want to impress us, it wants to entertain us, which is no lesser thing. It pulls this off expertly and without fuss. Sure, it's not a particularly 'worthy' piece, not gothic or grim - but it's hugely enjoyable and pretty damn perfect Doctor Who.

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