Monday, April 6, 2015

The Time Meddler — Blogging Doctor Who

A space helmet for a cow?
The “Time Meddler” was something new in Doctor Who. Dennis Spooner previously gave us a series of historicals, in which the only science-fictional element was the appearance of the Doctor and his companions. The episodes with science-fictional elements were set on other planets or in the far future, and not in Earth’s past.. In the seventeenth Doctor Who serial, Dennis Spooner successfully merges the two elements and gives us the pseudohistorical. The Doctor and his companions go back to 1066 and meet another time traveler.

The serial is important also for being the first time, other than Susan, that we encounter someone from the Doctor’s (then-unnamed) home planet. The Meddling Monk is the series first adversarial Time Lord. It’s a spry little story too, kept to a manageable four episodes with plenty of surprises. We also get the humor in that Steven is aware that they have traveled in space (since they’re clearly no longer on Mechanus), but he’s unwilling to admit that they’ve traveled in time, especially as they keep encountering anachronistic items.

Oddly enough, the Monk—other than his own TARDIS—doesn’t seem to have any technology more advance than mid-twentieth-century Earth. He seems to have been bouncing around Earth’s history, grabbing certain souvenirs, but some of his choices seem a little suspect. There’s a major plot point where his plans start to unravel because he used an unreliable (very) early twentieth-century phonograph (with a horn!) instead of a nicely reliable MP3 player. Certainly, if he wanted to avoid having power cables all over the place, that would have worked much better.

His actual plan seems to be a little misguided. Spoiler alert He claims—at least—to want to speed up human development by having King Harold beat William at the Battle of Hastings, thus avoiding the series of wars with France that William’s succession caused. But if he wants to get to the jet airline by 1300, he’ll need to help humanity a lot more than that. End Spoiler Alert

Technological innovation has usually happened in response to war, not during times of peace. You’re only beating swords into plowshares when the enemy is no longer at your gate. When the enemy is at your gate, there’s no need to waste valuable metal on farm operations, when a good, old-fashioned ard plow (just a pointy stick, really) will do. I’m certain that when metal became common enough to be used for plows, a few traditionalists resisted giving up the old ways.

There are a couple of odd bits in the story. Late within the story a group of Vikings enter this seaside town. They can’t be that hardy a set of warriors though, as two of them are knocked out when tapped lightly be fairly slender planks. For that matter, the abandoned monastery has a too-convenient secret passage. Why is it there? There would certainly be reasons to have locked rooms in a monastery, but usually the sort to keep people out of them (storerooms, treasuries), not for keeping people locked in. So that part doesn’t make much sense. But those are quibbles.

Eye Candy for Gay Time Lords
In the second episode, there’s a brief shot of shirtless Viking oarsmen. In the fourth episode, the village headman, Wulnoth, is seen shirtless, a treat for gay Time Lords into bears. And, throughout, Steven is better-looking than Ian (at least, in my opinion).

So, Is This a Must-See?
The first sight of a TARDIS that isn’t the Doctor’s (with some comments about newer models!). How could you miss this? With this script, the Doctor goes from being an eccentric time traveler to being one of a species of eccentric time travelers.

The Big Jump
For viewing, I’m on the brink of a big jump. Lost serials prior to this story are just # 4, “Marco Polo” (season 1) and #14 “The Crusade” (season 2). Almost every episode following “The Time Meddler” is missing, until story #23, “The Ark.” I didn’t watch (or review) the surviving episodes of “The Crusade” in context, nor do I plan on re-watching the sole surviving episode of “Galaxy 4” or the two of “The Dalek’s Master Plan.” Suffice to say that stories that cannot be seen in their entirety aren’t likely to reach the criteria for “must see.”

Had the Doctor Who archives not been purged in the 1970s, there would be many Hartnell episodes to go. Instead there are four stories left (including the dreadful story “The Gunfighters,” which nevertheless is not my least favorite Doctor Who story). After that, there will be another big jump into the stories with the Second Doctor, whose serials were also hit hard.

Next: Beware of Monoids bearing gifts.
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