So a new era is upon us in Doctor Who. William Russell & Jacqueline Hill have left the show and been replaced by everyone’s favourite no-nonsense straight shooter, dog lover and Blue Peter presenter – Peter Purves (as Steven Taylor).
But that’s not all that’s new here.
Significantly, for the first time since the series began, they introduce another member of the Doctor’s race – The Monk (people often call him ‘The Meddling Monk’ but he’s never called that on screen) – who has his own TARDIS.
Unlike the Doctor, The Time Meddler is up to no good!
Doctor Who – The Time Meddler Review: What’s This One About?
The Doctor, Vicki and Steven land on a beach in the North of England in 1066, shortly before the Battle of Hastings.
While they set about trying to convince Steven that they have really travelled in time, something just doesn’t seem right. If they are in the Viking era, why do they find a 20th century watch on the ground in the forest? And why does the sound of the monks singing in the monastery slow down like a (wind up?) record player running out of energy?
The reason is – as you’ve probably guessed from what I’ve written above – that the monastery is inhabited by a fellow time traveller, and his intentions are to stop the Viking Invasion by using mortar fire to destroy the Viking ships before they arrive in England, all so he can change history and meet King Harold before his defeat to William the Conquerer.
And of course, it’s up to the Doctor to stop him!
Thoughts – The Pseudo Historical
I’ve written at length in previous reviews about how the show has used historicals to varied effect. This is a historical, but it has a twist. While it educates the viewer about 1066 – a key part of every primary school’s history curriculum – with as much info as it needs, it also brings the mystery and time travelling of a ‘non-historical’.
Up until this point we’ve heard the Doctor say that you can’t interfere with the established order of events in history. That’s why he couldn’t interfere in King Richard’s Court and why he wouldn’t entertain Barbara’s attempts to ‘improve’ the Aztecs. The viewer has come to understand that it isn’t the done thing (although this is only ever an issue for the Doctor in
pre-20th century Earth for some reason – he’s quite happy to interfere in Earth’s future and on other planets).
But now we find another member his own race who happily travels through time, changing things as he goes, all to try and improve things. He freely admits he wants to destroy the Vikings before they invade because he thinks King Harold is a better man than the history books show, and he wanted to give him the chance to prove what kind of a King he could be. He also believes that if Harold lives there will be less wars in Europe and mankind will progress quicker.
More than that, we find he’s already changed history as ‘we’ know it anyway, by helping in the construction on Stonehenge using advanced anti-gravity technology. I liked that – a very nice touch.
So what we’ve really got is a pseudo-historical – it’s a story that adds a futuristic element to an established and relatable point in Earth’s history. In many ways this is a prototype for a lot of the stories we get in ‘modern’ Doctor Who, like the Doctor’s meetings with Shakespeare, Dickens, Queen Victoria and Vincent van Gogh.
And it’s done very well too!
The Monk is an interesting and unique character in the Doctor Who universe. That’s because the show’s mythology tells us that there are three kinds of Time Lord…
- The vast majority of Time Lords who are stuffy, unadventurous, governed by rules and…well…boring
- Evil renegade Time Lords like The Master and The Rani
- The Doctor
But then there’s the Monk. He’s not evil, he’s not wanting to conquer the world and he’s not governed by Time Lord rule.
In fact, he comes across as a nice enough guy. When confronted with a man in need of medical attention, he was quite happy to provide it. But he just likes to meddle. He wants to change history to suit his own whims, and despite the Doctor telling us how wrong this is, he still seems likeable. He comes across as ‘naughty’ rather than evil and someone that the audience can appreciate.
And that is in no small part to the man who plays the role – Peter Butterworth – who does a fantastic job playing the Monk exactly how he’s supposed to be played.
Most people will know Butterworth best as one of the ‘second tier’ of Carry On actors. He’s not quite Sid James, Bernard Bresslaw or Kenneth Williams, but he’s still well kn0wn for his appearances in those films. It may or may not be coincidence that his first Carry On role came shortly after his performance in this story, and it’s certainly no surprise that he becomes the first ‘humanoid’ character to be brought back in the following season.
- This story contains one of my favourite lines of dialogue in the show’s history. When presenting Steven with a Viking Helmet he’s found at the beach to prove they’ve travelled back in time, the Doctor replies to Steven’s scepticism that it merely ‘may be’ a Viking Helmet by retorting sharply “What do you mean maybe? What do you think it is – a Space Helmet for a Cow?” A superb line – which the makers of the main menu of the DVD seem to agree with me on.
- It’s good to see Alethea Charlton back, playing Edith. I don’t know what it is about her, but she seemed to be perfect for playing ‘historical’ female characters (her previous appearance was playing Hur in An Unearthly Child). Having just looked her up to see what else she appeared in, I was saddened to read she died only a few years later at the age of 44.
- There’s a scene in Episode 2 which – from my interpretation anyway – strongly implies that Edith has been raped by the members of the Viking Scout party. Rape – in a 1965 kids TV show. Think about that for a moment…
- Apart from the two actors already mentioned, I thought Michael Miller was well cast as the big, burly Wulnoth, and I also liked – perhaps due to the blatant ‘stereotyping’ involved – the casting of the three Vikings. Especially the bloke with the eye patch.
- For anyone who watched the 1991 BBC2 repeat of the show, you’ll remember the massive and obvious cut in Episode 3. Thankfully, this has been resolved for the release of the DVD. The fact that the cut was made at all (the reason being
because the Doctor pokes his walking stick into the Monk’s back and pretends it’s a shotgun) is ridiculous.
- All of a sudden, Vicki has moved from being the ‘young girl attached at the Doctor’s hip’ to a free thinking and independent woman – presumably to pick up some of the slack left by Barbara’s departure. If anything, this improves Vicki’s character tremendously, and it’s a shame that there are no further surviving episodes with her in it.
- On that note, this story is unique in that it’s the only surviving example of the Steven/Vicki double act. Again, I find this to be a shame as they work well alongside one another.
- When you come to think of how the Doctor is currently portrayed as the last of the Time Lords, isn’t it sad to think that this means The Monk is dead?
Doctor Who – The Time Meddler Review: Final Thoughts
I notice that this review is considerably shorter than most of the Doctor Who reviews that I’ve done, but it’s because I find it hard to criticise this story, and therefore it leaves me with less to say.
While it won’t ever be considered as the best Doctor Who story, and probably won’t feature in many people’s top 20s, it really is a solid effort, and considering it was the first story without Russell & Hill, it needed to be.
As I say above, Peter Butterworth is excellent as the Monk, but it’s not as if he’s salvaging a dodgy part with a great acting performance; the character of the Monk and the story in general is cleverly done and well written.
Shoved away at the end of the second series, with a Doctor/Companion combination that only exists on tape in this one story, it is very much the under-appreciated gem. I sense people will find it easy to forget it when there are better known stories around it, but I wouldn’t let that put you off. It’s an excellent story with sharp dialogue, a good flow and an exciting plot.
It’s well worth your time, and can be purchased for a mere £5 online.