The Time Meddler

Doctor WhoThe Doctor seems to calmly accept that Earth space pilot Steven Taylor, stranded on the planet Mechanus, has stowed away aboard the TARDIS following their harrowing adventure with the Daleks. The TARDIS arrives on 11th century Earth, and despite all evidence to the contrary, Steven refuses to believe that he is now traveling in a time machine. The Doctor receives a warm welcome from the locals and quickly determines that he has arrived in 1066 A.D., just prior to a Viking invasion of Northumbria. But something is amiss – the chanting of the monks in a nearby monastery seems to slow down, as if it has been recorded. Steven and Vicki have a run-in with another local, finding a 20th century watch on his wrist. It soon becomes apparent that someone else capable of time travel is here, someone who has no ethical qualms with a little bit of historical tampering. The Doctor sneaks into the monastery and finds that a tape player is indeed responsible for the music…but he is then trapped, a prisoner of a lone Monk who seems to have a wide array of anachronistic technology, including his own TARDIS. Now, in the shadow of a great historic battle, the Doctor and his friends must try to wrest the timeline back from the Monk’s machinations.

written by Dennis Spooner
directed by Douglas Camfield
music by Dudley Simpson

Guest Cast: Peter Butterworth (Monk), Alethea Charlton (Edith), Peter Russell (Eldred), Michael Miller (Wulnoth), Michael Guest (Hunter), Norman Hartley (Ulf), Geoffrey Cheshire (Viking Leader), David Anderson (Sven), Ronald Rich (Gunnar)

Broadcast from July 3 through 24, 1965

LogBook entry & review by Earl Green

This rather modest four-parter is an absolutely vital entry in the Doctor Who mythos, for it finally puts beyond any doubt that the Doctor is not human (or, according to the 1996 TV movie, not entirely human at any rate). The Monk is an interloper, like the Doctor, and the fact that he has an identical time machine puts the lie to any possibility that the Doctor himself invented the TARDIS. (Though such an assertion was made in the Peter Cushing Dalek movies, the only hint of the Doctor being the inventor of the TARDIS occurs in An Unearthly Child, the series premiere in which Susan claims to have given the TARDIS its acronym name.)

The Time Meddler is an amusing little adventure which makes good use of the show’s time travel premise. It takes advantage of known historical events without becoming so bogged down in them as not to have a little fun, and that fun doesn’t come at the expense of real live drama. The Viking invasion is a big deal, as is the fact that the Monk plans to derail that vital point in history with an atomic cannon (!). It’s a nice little romp, rather than the overly serious time travel epics of later years. There are some immensely funny scenes, though – the Doctor holding up the Monk with a stick (which he claims is a loaded Winchester!) stands out as one of them.

Peter Butterworth puts in a nice comic performance as the Monk, and I wonder if I’m the only one who notes a slight resemblance between Butterworth and Patrick Troughton, the second Doctor. Hartnell didn’t vacate the role of the Doctor for another year, but the fact that the Monk was brought back in the later epic The Daleks’ Masterplan (the bulk of which, sadly, is missing from the BBC’s vaults today) indicates that the character and the actor made some sort of impression. One wonders…

I’ve always wondered…what’s with the funky bit before the end credits of part four? Steven, Vicki and the Doctor’s faces are superimposed briefly over a starfield before the credits roll. Once again, the BBC was ahead of its time.

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