Doctor Who #79: The Meddling Monk

"Looks as though they want us to stay." "Yes, we must be more popular than we thought."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 2 of The Time Meddler. First aired Jul.10 1965.

IN THIS ONE... The Vikings attack while Steven and Vicki try to rescue the kidnapped Doctor from that strange Monk. Only he's already done it...

REVIEW: Well, Hartnell's missing an episode again, for whatever reason, but the Doctor is kept alive with a few choice sound clips that make him out to be a difficult prisoner, and of course the fact that his companions are consistently talking about him, looking for him. The Doctor's absence has one good consequence, and that's giving Steven and Vicki a chance to shine on their own. And it's quite fun to watch these two compete for a leadership role. Steven is an action hero (future astronaut) and naturally believes he should make the decisions for this petite teenager. And he's certainly got innate talent for this, finally accepting that he's back in time, spotting the Monk's lies and (apparently) tricking him into revealing he's got the Doctor. But Vicki is the real veteran, not so quick to pat Steven on the back when, from experience, she knows the Monk could be playing THEM. And though Steven more obviously fits the mold, it's Vicki's voice that arrests the mistrustful villagers. The things you pick up from Barbara, eh? Their competing natures are glimpsed in other moments as well, like Vicki bristling when Steven puts down something she finds beautiful, or when they simultaneous tell the other "Follow me!" And the previous episode's "proactive" Doctor may not be in this episode, but he's still proactive - he's escaped by the time they get to his cell!

Peter Butterworth's performance as the Monk is pretty great and director Douglas Camfield gives him a lot of close-ups to let his wonderful expressions tell the story. In fact, a lot of the story is played on faces, and even the villagers forgo dialog in favor of meaningful looks when they can. It's a rare television director or writer who trusts the actors to tell the story visually. The Monk does get to speak in this one, and it turns out Butterworth is a good with spoken language as he is with body language. The Monk's smooth beneficence and false piety paint him, more than his anachronistic stash, as a member of the Doctor's race (though we don't know that yet). Why the renegade Time Lords are so idiosyncratic compared to their stay-at-home brothers is something we'll have to address at some point, but for now, it's enough to say that the Monk is a reflection of the Doctor, one who's no more evil than the Doctor is, but is perhaps as morally ambivalent as the Doctor was in early Season 1.

What else is in this episode? Oh yeah! Vikings! After some rather sharp stock footage that looks like it could have come from a feature film, but is actually a historical recreation of a famous crossing, they make landfall. They're a varied group, and I was happy to see there wasn't one horned helmet in the lot. At least one MAD helmet, sure, but no Hollywood in the costumes. This is just a scouting party - not sure the village and the Doctor could deal with a whole band - but they do what Vikings do best. And it's a little shocking, honestly. First thing they do when they find the village is - I'll use the word "savage" - is savage poor Edith. When her husband Wulnoth finds her, that's clearly the implication, her eyes vacantly staring into thin air, traumatized. It seems harsh, but early Who tried to be true to history, and that definitely is. Sadly, the ensuing battle between Saxons and Vikings is not the best the show's ever offered. It might even be one of the worst. Slow, deliberate and clumsy, it could have done with a few more stuntmen rather than actors carrying the action, or perhaps some nice film editing.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Vicki and Steven get their day in the sun and make the most of it, though the episode may seem slightly redundant as they go through the Doctor's paces from the previous one.

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