Doctor Who #80: A Battle of Wits

"It’s getting so that you can’t call a monastery your own!"TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 3 of The Time Meddler. First aired Jul.17 1965.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor confronts the Monk, but Vikings crash the monastery. Vicki and Steven find the Monk's TARDIS.

REVIEW: There's nothing unpleasant about The Time Meddler so far, quite the opposite, but the plot itself does seem to be a little slight. Three episodes in, we only just glimpse the Monk's plans and find out, at the end, that he's a member of the Doctor's race (or at least, has a TARDIS; more on this below). Meanwhile, Vicki and Steven continue to be just a step behind the Doctor, giving many of their scenes a sense of déjà vu. If the two first episodes strung us along slowly, A Battle of Wits tries to do better. Vicki (her instincts are still proving correct) and Steven (he finally gives her some respect) work out how the Doctor escaped and it's a revelation rather than a repetition. The companions also discover the truth about the Monk, and they don't do so the same way the Doctor does, so again, the results may be the same, but the journey is not. Still, there does seem to be a back-and-forth between the wilderness and the monastery, as all characters converge there for the finale.

If we objectively can't wait for the companions to catch up to the Doctor, he seems quite happy to be a man of action (or of violence, as the Monk calls him), getting the Monk from behind with a stick posing as a revolver, trading barbs with the Monk and even making short work of a Viking (cue Bondian quip)! It's not all action - he also has a charming chat with Edith (who's back on her feet, thank you very much) and shows us how well he knows his history. By contrast, the Monk doesn't seem to have as good a handle on it, though his uncertainty may be due to getting details - rather than dates - right, or maybe it's just that he doesn't respect its sanctity. His 8-point plan revealed as a giant checklist is silliness of the highest order, but somehow fits the temporal con man and his funny little habits (pun not intended). It's not even clear from it what the plan is exactly, especially the later stages, but it does seem to involve destroying the Viking fleet with an atomic cannon, probably to free Saxon forces to win the Battle of Hastings. I don't think the Monk is counting on the Saxons to be quite so smart though. Simple folk, sure, but Edith knows her political gossip and Wulnoth doesn't trust these beacon fires he's been ask to light after that run-in with his wife's attackers.

Peter Butterworth continues to give a fun and expressive performance. For him, everything seems to be a bit of business, and no action is thrown away. Look at how he discovers the Doctor has escaped, for example. He doesn't just walk in and find the Doctor gone. He tries to fake the Doctor out, tries to find him behind the door, to foil an escape ATTEMPT. The Doctor is just a few steps ahead of him, that's all. Though he's up to no good, he never seems dangerous, and the menace is left up to two dishonorable Vikings - Sven and Ulf - who get into the monastery and take the "monks" hostage. The fact that a couple of older men so easily defeat them reminds us that this is a bit of a spoof. Certainly, we haven't had a "dangerful" cliffhanger yet. Vicki and Steven walking into the Monk's altar and finding the TARDIS set there is the third in a series of WTH! moments to close The Time Meddler's chapters.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - We're being let in on the plot rather slowly, but the characters - both regular and guest - all get moments that elevate them beyond the duo-dimensionality of a lot of TV.

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