Blurb: The TARDIS lands on the Northumbrian coast, where new companion Steven discovers a Viking helmet and the Doctor deduces they must have arrived in the 11th century. Steven remains skeptical, especially when he and Vicki encounter what appears to be a Saxon hunter with a modern wristwatch. Investigating a monastery, the Doctor discovers further anachronisms. Who is the mysterious monk observing the time travelers' every move, and why is he so interested in the outcome of the Battle of Hastings.
Format: Television drama transmitted from July 3, 1965 - July 24, 1965 and released on DVD on August 5, 2008.
Setting: Earth: Northumbria, England in late summer 1066 (it's bright light outside at 5AM, so it is likely sometime in August as July is probably to early to call "late summer" and by September the sun would not rise so early).
Continuity: Vicki discusses the fact that Ian and Barbara left with the Doctor and she mentions that she wishes that they could go back to New York as they barely saw it the last time. It is revealed that Steven Taylor came aboard during the previous story. The Doctor mentions that he regrets that Barbara is no longer with them (see The Chase for all of the above). The Doctor mentions that Susan has already left him (see The Dalek Invasion of Earth).
DVD: The extras on this one aren't all that great. There's the normal commentary and a featurette on the techniques used to restore the picture quality. There's also a reconstruction of the 12 seconds of episode four that were edited overseas and have not been restored on the prints returned to the BBC. Other than that the extras don't have anything to do with this particular story. There's no "making of" with interviews with the cast and crew. Instead we get an obituary for Verity Lambert and a documentary about the first Doctor comics. It seems like there's probably a good bit of wasted space on this DVD and I was disappointed with the level of the extras when I first got it.
Discussion: The Time Meddler was the last story made for the second season of Doctor Who. Production-wise recording continued through Mission to the Unknown, 2 serials later, but viewers at the time would have seen this before the show went off the air for a few weeks. The Time Meddler is an incredibly important story in the history of Doctor Who. It's the story that establishes that the Doctor isn't unique nor is the TARDIS. It also gives us the sci-historical, which in a year or so will become the only type of historical that Doctor Who ever does aside from one small blip in the 1980's. In many ways this seems like a series Bible, reinventing the format that David Whitaker had already created in the first season and laying the groundwork for what would come in the decades thereafter.
It's almost impossible for those who viewed Doctor Who in the 70's onwards to go back and look at this and see what's so game-changing about it. The thing is that the series so embraced the ideas of this story that they became part of it. Up to this point the series took the stance on time travel that David Whitaker championed. Basically he almost imbued a will of some sort to time and it verged on the point of predestination. Time couldn't be altered because even if a time traveler tried to change things, time would simply bend back onto its course. The Aztecs is the most famous example of it but the ending scene of The Reign of Terror explains this more explicitly. Even if you sent Napoleon a letter telling him everything that would happen to him he'd either lose the letter or think the writer was crazy and forget it. Yet, we're never so flippant about time in the series after this and it's here where the show clearly changes on its stance of history's immutability as a physical law and instead focuses on the Doctor championing history having a "natural course" more as a moral law. When the Doctor says "you can't change history" The Monk replies with "who says"? We also find out that several of the Monk's changes have already become part of the fabric of history - the building of Stonehenge as well as Leonardo da Vinci's attempts at building a flying machine. If we look at the series we can see that this attitude had already begone to change in The Space Museum where a possible future that the travelers are shown is altered, but that story never makes it clear if that's only due to the special circumstances of jumping a time track or whether it can happen outside of that. It does make us re-evaluate The Aztecs. The Doctor rather than thinking that Barbara can't change history is worried that she will and he's worried about the ramifications of that. When he tells her that she can't change history then it becomes a moral objection. He's worried about the results and that gives more depth to that earlier story in my opinion.
The other change here is the sci-historical. Up to this point Doctor Who has been meticulous in making the only science fiction component in the historical stories the presence of the Doctor and his companions. Now, with anachronisms showing up in 1066 you see that even history is no longer safe. We still have the obligatory historical information dump but allowing other elements to come in allows for more variation in what kind of drama the travelers can experience. It could be argued that The Chase started this trend. Daleks show up on the Marie Celeste in that story, but that's only a small fraction of one episode. The Time Meddler cements the new direction and it'll become the basis for all historical stories after The Highlanders in season 4.
Another huge change in the series landscape is the revelation that the Doctor is not the only member of his people who can travel in time and that the TARDIS isn't unique either. The Chase may have partially paved the way for this as well. The Daleks built their own time machine making it a potential technological leap that anyone could eventually make. Still, the series had always strongly implied that the Doctor built his time craft. Thankfully the statements were ambiguous enough that there's wiggle room and in hindsight we can re-evaluate those statements. The Monk's TARDIS actually works and he can steer it to wherever he wants to go. It also has a working chameleon circuit, which allows it to blend itself in wherever it goes, both features that the Doctor's TARDIS originally had but have since been lost. The Doctor recognizes that the Monk's TARDIS is more advanced the Monk refers to it as a "Mark Four". It's unclear if the Doctor and the Monk recognize each other. They don't seem to do so. The Monk may only know that the Doctor is a Time Lord because he saw the TARDIS materialize and saw the Doctor leave the Ship, whereas the Doctor may only know that The Monk is one because of the anachronistic devices that he keeps at the monastery. Some have pointed to the fact that the Monk calls him "Doctor" without being told the name, but it seems like there was a conversation between the two of them between the episode one cliffhanger and the scene in episode 2 where the Doctor throws his breakfast back in the Monk's face, so that isn't a clear sign that they knew each other. The Doctor suspects that he's from "50 years earlier" than the Monk. Some have taken that to mean the he left Gallifrey about 50 years before the Monk but if that's the case then it creates another wrinkle for Susan's origins. I think it's more likely that he's stating that his TARDIS model is 50 years earlier than the Monk's, but there are other ways of interpreting that conversation. Still the assertion of many of the books that the Doctor and the Monk were at the academy together with the Master does seem to be on shaky ground here (see Divided Loyalties). The universe of Doctor Who becomes far more complicated once we have another time traveler in the mix and the fact that the Monk just wants to have fun and see the results of his manipulations makes him in many ways a more interesting villain than one who wants to conquer and destroy. For this fact alone, I want to debunk the idea that the Monk and the Master are the same guy. While the series never explicitly says that they're different the fact is that they're just far to different and it seems beyond the quirks of change that come about through regeneration. To me that's a good thing as it keeps the Doctor's rogues gallery a bit more interesting to have more renegade Time Lords out there with whom he can engage.
One of the things that I really like about the Time Meddler is that Dennis Spooner takes the change as he's leaving as script editor for the series to do what David Whitaker had done with The Rescue. He writes a story that's about the characters and their relationships to set things up for the next script editor, Donald Tosh, and to give him something to go one. Vicki and Steven get the most time together and I love the brother and sister dynamic that they develop. If you've been reading my blog for a while then you know that Vicki is not my favorite companion by far but I really like her in this. She's the little sister that knows things that her older brother doesn't and she relishes being the more seasoned time traveler and showing Steven the ropes. Steven meanwhile is the know-it-all older brother who can't believe a word of it because it's outside his experience. Their dynamic is fun and it's a pleasure to watch. Steven's a rash, hothead making him a far cry from the more methodical Ian. Yet, this story has the Doctor as the only original cast member for the series. As a result he's promoted from "one of the stars" to the "the star" of the show. This is no longer a series about equals. instead it's a story about The Doctor and his two sidekicks. When viewed by that lens Steven is a fitting sidekick for the Doctor. He's rash but he can handle some of the physical stuff that the Doctor can't. The scenes between Steven and the Doctor in this one are fun and I really love it when the Doctor is explaining the ship to Steven. It's no "you'll become burnt cinders flying around in Spain" but it is one of my favorite lines ever from the series. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the brilliance of Peter Butterworth as The Monk. The Monk is a really fun character whose so amused by his own antics. All the scenes between he and the Doctor are brilliant especially when the Doctor bluffs him into thinking that he has a rifle pointed at his back when he really only has a stick. I also love how they both defeat their Viking opponents with ease. You get the real feeling that these two old men are to clever for everyone else that they encounter, so sparring with each other is a real joy. It also leads to another great line when the Doctor says that they'll have "no more monkery" as the Monk's pious act gets on his nerves. It's not all about the jokes in this one though. I find the heart-to-heart between the Doctor and Vicki at the beginning of the story to be really touching. It's there to let folks who missed the previous week know that Ian and Barbara have left but it's also a nice character moment that solidifies the relationship of these two before introducing us to newboy Steven.
I should probably devote a little bit more time to Steven. I've already talked about how hard it is to convince Steven that he's in a time machine, but that's partially there to serve the story as well. Explaining the TARDIS and how it works to Steven is a way for new viewers to jump in who might have missed the early stories but it also helps to remind the viewers about the lore of the Ship just before we're introduced to a new one. The conventions of the series are reinforced just before they're smashed and it's a really neat way of introducing the new character and making that important. I also really find the fact that Steven keeps a stuff animal as his one touchstone to home as incredibly touching. It's something that the books and audios haven't really touched on but I'd love a little backstory on why he has the thing and I'd really love for Hi-Fi to make some sort of appearance again in the expanded universe material. I do think that at the very least there's an untold story of how Steven finally moves beyond Hi-Fi or loses him, so that he doesn't feel the need to take him when he leaves the TARDIS in The Savages. I'll also note that Maureen O'Brien seems to be having a ball in this one. I'm not sure if it's just because she had good chemistry with Peter Purves or because she loves being the female lead but she is in really fine form. Vicki continues to have her "crazy moments" like when she declares that because it's a castle it must have a secret entrance but other than that Vickis becomes a really fun character here.
There are some decent production values in this one. I think that there's a lot of good direction here of merging the stock footage with the stagework in making it look like they're really out by the seaside or in the forest even when they're in the studio. The monastery set looks good but we've come to expect that sort of thing from Doctor Who. One of the neat effects is that we have a camera angling upwards so that you can see the sky, which is really just a back projection of a real sky, but the fact that they put that into the shot really helps to sell that they're really at the edge of a cliff looking downwards. It just looks so real. Camfield is also a master of manipulating the locations, so that one set effectively becomes several as he's clever about how it's shot from multiple angles to give it a different look each time. The other nice effect is the Monk looking in on his TARDIS after the dimensional control has been taken. It really looks like the TARDIS has shrank and is now to small for him to get inside. The final neat bit is the end titles which have the Doctor, Steven, and Vicki's faces superimposed over a starfield. It's shades of the 80's titles and it's amazing that they could do that in the 60's. The faces even move, which is a nice touch to make it feel very dynamic. It's to bad that cost kept them from doing that kind of thing very often. I do have to say that the one thing that lets this one down are the fight scenes. Up until this point we've actually had some really decent fights and Camfield is known as an action director. I don't know what happened here but it seems like every fight is really pathetic and it isn't convincing at all. Still overall the production on this one is quite good, so that's enough to handwave it away.
There are some things that don't make sense about this one. The Doctor and Vickis suspect that a Dalek may have gotten into the ship and what does Vicki do? She takes off her shoe as if she's going to whack it when it comes through the door. It's cute but really undercuts the tension of running into the Daleks that we just spent a story going through. So, Steven got into the TARDIS off camera, which means that the entire time that the TARDIS crew were on Mechanus, the doors were unlocked. It's a shame that the Daleks didn't try the doors, they could have gotten in and captured the ship and just waited for them to come back to it to attack. It also seems very odd for the Doctor to leave the Ship this way especially when he knew that he was being pursued. So we're told that it's extra important that the Viking recon team don't allow themselves to be seen as it's imperative that the English are not alerted to their planned invasion. Yet they leave the recon team there with no provisions of any kind so that they're forced to attack a village. Does no one see a conflict here? Forcing them to attack a village only works if they kill everyone and it's only a 3-man team. Forgetting that they might miss someone or someone might flee 3 vikings is nowhere near enough to take on an entire settlement and its only sheer luck that they apparently arrive when only one person occupies the village. The whole plan seems incredibly silly. There's also the resolution to discuss. So the Doctor decides that the best thing to do with a man bent on changing history is to maroon him on Earth with atomic weapons handy. While I suspect that the Doctor figured that once the Monk was marooned he'd do nothing other than focus on getting his TARDIS fixed and would stop worrying about meddling it is a bit of a risk. The Monk could have blown something up just because he was angry and that would have really messed with things. It just seems like a really dangerous plan for the Doctor to make.
Final Rating: 8/10
Recommendation: It's Dennis Spooner creating the series Bible for the next year in the grand tradition of script editor departures on Doctor Who. Being a Spooner script you know there is going to be some comedy and it's here but not as over-the-top as the Romans. We also get some excellent characterization as the regulars are allowed to grow into the show's new dynamic and we get a feeling for how these people are going to relate to each other. The story is a good one and it ranks as one of the most important stories in Doctor Who's history. If all that doesn't get you to watch it we also get our first renegade Time Lord other than the Doctor. I highly recommend watching this one.