Monday, February 23, 2015

Where we meet another Time Lord. Only we don't. - The Time Meddler

This is an important moment in the show. The Time Meddler is the first time we ever meet another member of the Doctor's race.

Except it's not that simple. The Monk is still not a Time Lord, never mind being from Gallifrey. It's another four years before anyone even utters one of those words. We get an acknowledgement that he’s a time traveller, and a very different one to the Doctor. But that's it.

But first, after potentially being left to die in the forests of Mechanus, Steven officially joins the crew after revealing that he actually stumbled into the TARDIS and had a bit of kip while everyone was distracted by the departing Ian and Barbara. We have a nice bit of characterisation with him not believing anything, even when faced with dark ages Britain until things get too far along. He handles himself quite well, so it’s shame that he and Vicki's part of the plot basically does nothing.

The Doctor manages to wander off on his own again, mainly because the story wouldn’t work with companions, and so he and The Monk can have a few good bantering arguments.

As I said earlier though, the most important part is that we meet another Time Lord, or at least he will be retrospectively. There’s no mention of other races though. We’re told he’s from fifty years from the Doctor’s future, as he has a more sophisticated TARDIS. Of course this contradicts what we’re told later that Time Lords stay in sync with Gallifrey so there’s no way The Monk could be from the future. It causes a bit of stink with fans, trying to reconcile that line.

To me the answer’s obvious. The Doctor has been away from Gallifrey for fifty years now. It’s well established that he doesn’t become The Doctor until two years ago when he met Ian and Barbara. Up to then he and Susan were probably just sight seeing and hiding out. In An Unearthly Child you do get the impression that Susan is a bit sick of moving just when they’re starting to settle down. The adventures are clearly a result of the teachers coming onboard.

The Monk’s reveal is fantastic though. There’s clearly something suspicious going on, but there’s chanting coming from the monastery so what could it possibly be. Then he pulls back a curtain and the chanting is from a gramophone. In 11th Century Britain that’s a damn good twist.

The weird part is that he's not what you expect. As a member of the modern audience we're used to the Master. Even looking back, the next Gallifreyan we meet, The War Chief, is practically a proto-Master. But the Monk is more of a cheeky chappy. Sure he's out for profit and himself, but it's more low-rent with none of the megalomania or grand schemes of the others. He's in yet another historical and almost seems like a farce, but only the Monk does, everything else about The Time Meddler is pretty straight forward.

The Vikings attacking the Saxon’s, and the Monk attempting to scare them off in order for Harold II to not be worn down when William the Conqueror hits Hastings is solid historical plan. Unlike Nero and Rome, that part is never played for laughs, and the ramifications are addressed appropriately. The Vikings and Saxons at war is played almost as brutal as it could.

Looking back, The Time Meddler is a pretty decent serial, but watching it I felt a bit let down. I think part of the problem here is that I've built this, and The Chase before it, up so much. The first real Time Lord story, and the Daleks chase the Doctor through time. Both sound epic, and neither live up to that. I can imagine some will tell me I'm hoping for too much from the Hartnell era. But am I? I'm not expecting Day of the Doctor. I'm thinking something along the lines of The Daleks or The Aztecs. I know this era can do it, and the two stories that are historically important, just don't live up to them.

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