It’s a new series and a new era for Doctor Who as perhaps the most well-known companion in the show’s history – Sarah-Jane Smith – boards the TARDIS for the very first time.
Season 11 is also the season that has the opening credits that make it look like the main character is a vampire; watch them and tell me I’m wrong.
And in the first story of this new season – The Time Warrior – we’re also introduced to one of the show’s most famous ‘monsters’ – The Sontarans – as well as one of the key moments of fanwankery (I’m making that a word), the naming of the Doctor’s home planet.
Doctor Who - The Time Warrior Review: What’s This One About
A warmongering idiot from space and a warmongering idiot from the Middle Ages form an unlikely-but-mutually-beneficial alliance in a bid to get the former back to his fleet among the stars and the latter into Dot Cotton’s house.
Thoughts – Back in Time At Last
So for the first time since The Highlanders (as the War Games didn’t technically take place on Earth and Atlantis isn’t real) a Doctor Who story is set in Earth’s history, but with the twist of also involving an alien menace so the kids won’t get bored. So a bit like modern-day Who then…
But there’s a reason that modern-day Who has gone down that route, and it’s because it works. I much prefer a story set in the environment of the Time Warrior than a bland ‘space opera’ set on an alien planet, like we have to get used to towards the end of the 70s and into the 80s. And of course, the BBC can always be relied upon to do a good job making these historical stories look accurate.
One thing that sets this story apart from almost all of the other stories of its kind though is that the dialogue is also authentic. We see many stories set at an earlier point in Earth’s history where people talk as if it was the modern-day. But in the Time Warrior, all the Middle Ages characters speak like people from the Middle Ages. We would look at lines like ‘Is this Doctor a long shanked rascal with a mighty nose’ or ‘With paltroons like these it would ill work to lay siege to a hen coop’ and say ‘People don’t speak like that’, but the point is that they did at the time. And so it’s wonderful.
Kevin Lindsay and David Daker – An Acting Master-class
In some of my other reviews I’ve written enthusiastically about how certain actors have really lit up the screen by investing everything into their parts and taking things very seriously. Guys like Patrick Barr in the Moonbase or Kevin Stoney in both of his appearances.
The Time Warrior is blessed to have two such actors at the same time.
Kevin Lindsay (Lynx) and David Daker (Irongron) are both absolutely superb in their roles. I really can’t speak highly enough of them.
Lindsay isn’t just a man in a suit when he plays the Sontaran, in the same way as maybe John Woodnut was when he played ‘John Woodnut dressed as a Draconian’ in the Frontier in Space. No, Lindsay – who can be seen without his make-up
and acting completely differently as Cho-Je in Planet of the Spiders – lays down the blueprint for all Sontarans to come with his mannerisms, his alien voice, his tongue movement and even his walk. Bernard Bresslaw did something similar in The Ice Warriors, but Lindsay trumps that here.
And then there’s David Daker.
In amongst a host of actors and actresses playing at being characters in the Middle Ages, Daker’s Irongron seems by far the most authentic. While others look like they might be having to take half a second to think about speaking the lines as written, Daker puts in a truly Shakespearean performance. The lines roll off his tongue as if he really was Irongron, each sentence spoken with absolute conviction and command.
And what makes it better is that these two actors – each playing a character from the absolute opposite ends of the scale – are put together as an odd couple. And it works so well; so much so that I’d have loved it if they’d had their own sitcom. One strength of Robert Holmes’s writing is his ability to put odd couples together, whether it’s Morgus & Stotts in the Caves of Androzani, or perhaps his most famous double act, Jago & Lightfoot in the Talons of Weng Chiang. But Lynx & Irongron could be his best.
As I said earlier, Sarah makes her first appearance in this one, and she starts off well. The longer she lasts in the show she becomes very much a ‘Doctor Who Girl’ like those who have come before and after her, but here – as the strong-willed and independent journalist – she makes for a refreshing change from Jo Grant.
In particular, her scene with Irongron & Bloodaxe where she doesn’t quite believe she is in the Middle Ages is both well written and performed. It always raises a smile for me.
I’m not quite sure why her character believes the Doctor is responsible for the missing scientists though, nor how she is so easily convinced otherwise.
But that’s a minor thing.
The Sontaran Costume
To go back to Lynx for a moment, I really have to credit whoever came up with his costume. It’s fantastically good.
If you watch modern Doctor Who, we do of course now have CGI and all that comes with that to make things look realistic, but sometimes – or most of the time if we’re being honest with ourselves – you can spot CGI a mile off. Look at the Slitheen episodes now and see how badly they have dated.
Then look at Lynx.
Through the use of makeup and what I assume is prosthetic, the costume department have managed to craft a head that looks real. I look at a close up of Lynx and I can’t really see where the actor’s head stops and the mask comes in. It’s
awesome. Even the little things like having wisps of hair coming out of his head in different places adds to the realism of it.
It appears as though the idea comes from an initial brief that the character needed to have a head that fit his helmet perfectly, and they’ve certainly achieved that.
What’s sad though is that they didn’t manage to follow up on that at all. The Sontarans never managed to look even half as good again until their reappearance a few years ago.
It’s Not All Good Though
While The Time Warrior is a great story and certainly one of the better ones in the Pertwee era, it is not without its problems.
First of all there’s Rubeish, a character that I’ve been irritated by since childhood.
In a story full of great acting and well written and well-rounded characters, you have this guy who is a tiresome stereotype of an intellectual type.
Whether it’s the whole ‘He Can’t See Without His Glasses’ routine or writing equations on any surface he can find, he’s performed as the sort of ‘Potty Professor’ you’d expect in a show like
Rentaghost rather than Doctor Who. And while there are other actors treating the task at hand with absolute seriousness, Donald Pelmear seems to be taking the piss. And the fact that he annoyed me even when I was a child watching this on VHS shows he couldn’t even do acting for children well.
Although in fairness, the line about him thinking the Doctor was ‘too old for that sort of thing’ amused me.
Apart from him though, some of the other actors weren’t up to scratch. If June Brown – who incidentally appears to have never been young – wasn’t so well-known now, you’d think ‘She’s a bit rubbish’, while Jeremy ‘Boba Fett’ Bulloch is more wooden than the arrows he’s shooting.
And what was with both the wig and accent on the woman who ran the kitchens?
Still, these are small issues heavily outweighed by the positives of this story.
- I’ve not touched upon Jon Pertwee’s performance, but it’s worth noting that this seems to be one of his best. The key is that he’s having fun with the part and seems very much at home in the surroundings.
- As I’ve alluded to already, the story is genuinely funny at times. One scene that springs to mind is the one in which Irongron’s men try to shoot the Doctor. Like I say, Pertwee has fun here, and so do the rest of the cast.
- Similar to that is the bit before that where the Doctor dresses up in the Knight’s armour. His reaction to having to face both Irongron and Bloodaxe raises a smile, as does their reaction upon finding out it’s him.
- And also the scene where the Doctor and Irongron meet for the first time. The Doctor shows the best way to get out of a compromising position there!
- I wonder if the beginning part, where Lynx comes out of his ship and plants that little flag, claiming Earth for the Sontaran empire is a direct parody of the scene from the ‘Duck Dodgers in the 24th and a half Century’ cartoon where Marvin the Martian claims the planet in the name of Mars. At the very least it has to be influenced by it.
- I’m not exactly sure how the Doctor producing that paper fan managed to repel the beam from Lynx’s gun.
- Similarly, I’m not sure how neither the Doctor nor the Brigadier managed to spot Sarah going into the TARDIS a matter of feet away from them.
- Also, how is the Doctor able to sleep with his feet on the table and balancing on a chair? Talented guy.
- And speaking of the TARDIS, the prop at this point is beginning to look mangy, but I’ll save a picture until the Seeds of Doom review when it is literally falling apart.
- I love that Robert Holmes has gone to the trouble of creating a backstory for the Sontarans. We need more appearances from The Rutans.
- David Daker comes back in The Nightmare of Eden, but lesser known is his role in the Big Finish Audio ‘Creatures of Beauty’, which – if you haven’t already heard it – is well worth listening to. Superb stuff.
Doctor Who – The Time Warrior Review: Final Thoughts
The Time Warrior is not perfect, but it’s very well written and has some terrific performances from the guest cast, as well as from the regulars.
My brother watched this one with me the other day and remarked that he’d forgotten how good it was, and frankly, so had I.
When I come to rate all the Pertwee stories in order, this will be near the top; guaranteed.