Doctor Who #78: The Watcher

"That is the dematerialising control and that, over yonder, is the horizontal hold. Up there is the scanner, those are the doors, that is a chair with a panda on it."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 1 of The Time Meddler, available on DVD. First aired Jul.3 1965.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS lands in 1066 England, soon to be raided by Vikings, but anomalous equipment from the future crop up, and a Meddling Monk captures the Doctor.

REVIEW: Spooner wrote The Romans and Camfield directed The Crusade. It bodes well for this first of a new breed of historical in which alien influence is juxtaposed upon History (soon to be the only way historicals are done in Doctor Who). But TARDIS scenes first. In the wake of Ian and Barbara's departure, there's some wistfulness aboard ship, and the Doctor even gives Vicki an out. She doesn't take it, little orphan that she is. And that's when Steven shows up, with that damned teddy bear in hand. Let's just say there's ONE mammal I wish hadn't made it off Mechanus safely. A new dynamic is born. Vicki and the Doctor, thick as thieves already, make it a point of teasing the stowaway, but Steven gives as good as he gets. And his early skepticism is well served by a story that upends the usual time travel story.

It's 1066, and yet our heroes soon run afoul of 20th-century watches and record players, making it all the more difficult to convince Steven that they've traveled back in time. 1066! Vikings on the horizon (though the found helmet is Hollywood, not historical). A great sky projection above a rocky outcrop. A rather sweet performance from Alethea Charlton as Edith, just about as grubby as she was in 100,000 B.C. as Hur. And of course, a peculiar monk spying on the TARDISeers. A first-time viewer might well think this man is a native who sees and hears too much, at least, until the final scene with the phonograph. 47 years on, we know him to be the Meddling Monk, the first Time Lord to appear on the program after the Doctor and Susan. The clues are there - he wears a ring very much like the Doctor's, and Peter Butterworth, showing his qualities as a personable actor without speaking a word, makes sure to show us that hand. And of course, it would explain the anachronisms.

It should also be noted that with Ian and Barbara gone, we're no longer "Lost in Time". The show now features three science fiction stars (people from the future) whose goal is primarily to help others, not move on as soon as is sensible. The Doctor is particularly adventurous, not only ready to put his coat over a Dalek (a well-known way to defeat them), but taking off on his own, working out the date, and following the clues right into the monastery. Vicki, the veteran, tries to boss Steven around, to no avail, as the new recruit attacks a Saxon over her objections. Ok, well, the companions aren't quite up to speed on this "helping others" thing, but Ian and Barbara's ethics have rubbed off on the Doctor. He's proactive to the point of becoming a one-man show. Now if he could only keep from being captured.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - An intriguing start to the most off-beat historical to date. Will it fulfill its promise?


Madeley said...

Many years ago, during the dark days of the 90s without any Who, the BBC showed a series of Doctor Who episodes, one serial from every era. This was the first, and is the first Hartnell adventure I ever saw.

Can't remember what the Troughton was (War Games, maybe?), but the others were the Daemons, Genesis of the Daleks, Androzani, Revelation and Battlefield. Man, that was a fun series.

snell said...

"What do you think it is, a space helmet for a cow?" just might be my favorite line in Doctor Who history...

Tim Knight said...

Another of my all-time favourite Who yarns. I shall be following with interest (and look forward to DWAITAS c/s for the Monk)


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