Thursday, September 16, 2010

"The Time Meddler" wrapup

Hello everyone, the Historian here, with out final wrapup of season two! (Well, all right, the Season Wrapup should be coming in the next week or so, but still.) And yes, this is being written later than I'd planned. I have to be honest--I love this story and I kept feeling I needed to wait until I had the time and energy to do it justice. But I'm quickly running out of time and here we are. Bear with me!

I know I've said it before, but this was one of those Important Defining Stories of Doctor Who's first few years; indeed, it had repercussions far beyond that. Let's start at the top with the show's first major cast change. True, Susan had left, but she'd been almost immediately replaced by a similar (but by no means identical) character, Vicki. But, with the departure of Ian and Barbara and the arrival of Steven, the dynamic in the TARDIS has been permanently changed. As we discussed in episode posts, that had to have been a bit of a risk for the program; it was pretty well established by this point, but not replacing the teachers with similar viewpoint characters (remember, Steven and Vicki are both from the future!), there was the chance the show could lose its audience.

Behind the camera, this story marked some significant changes as well. Dennis Spooner, who wrote the story, had just ceded his job as Story Editor to Donald Tosh (though the latter claims to have done basically no work on the story, it does have his first Who screen credit on it). And, even more importantly, "The Time Meddler" was Verity Lambert's last story as producer, having decided that two years (dating from her pre-production work) was enough for one project. She had shepherded Doctor Who from a few pieces of paper all the way to being one of the more successful programs on Saturday nights; it's really difficult to overstate how important Lambert was to the success of Doctor Who. One of the important things she did was managing William Hartnell, who was not at all happy by all of these changes. William Russell has said that Hartnell's reaction to the news he and Jacqueline Hill were leaving was a feeling of "betrayal," and Verity Lambert leaving put him in an even worse incoming producer John Wiles would find out very shortly.

And that's not even mentioning the other big change this story brought: the Monk himself! Yes, someone from the Doctor's home (although some fifty years behind) who has his own "time machine!" There had been some implications, previously, that the Doctor might have built his TARDIS (named by Susan; note that neither the Monk nor the Doctor use that title for the Monk's machine), but it seems now that there are others out there--and others from the civilisation that produced them! It'll be some time before we get this much new information about the Doctor in one story....

But enough of that--let's talk about the story itself! There are people out there who dismiss this story as being "dull," that "nothing really happens," etc. etc. True, the story is far more concerned with character that incident, but the plot and characterization are stitched together expertly. Absolutely nothing is wasted; things that seem to be extraneous or forgotten wind up being crucial (Eldred being left in the monastery and disappearing for most of an episode, only to be the prime mover for the climax later as an example). Yes, all right, the Saxons and Vikings are not exactly the most developed of people, but they're exactly as developed as they need to be for the story to work. Yes, Edith seems to recover a bit too quickly (the one real flaw in the story), but balance that against the absolute guts that that whole bit must have taken on a family show in 1965. (As an aside, it completely went over 6 year old MiniSpoo's head.) And yes, of course there's a serious plot hole--the Monk still has his gun and shells outside of his TARDIS at the very least (and, if he doesn't retrieve them, they're odd things to leave in 1066)! Yeah, ok, all of that is true, but to dismiss this story as dull or without incident...that I just don't understand.

What makes this story, quite simply, are the four principals. Or, for most of the story, the two double-acts of Steven/Vicki and the Doctor/the Monk. The interactions between the characters, the interplay and wit, is simply delightful. Peter Butterworth's Monk is wonderful in and of himself, so fun to watch, but when he meets Hartnell's Doctor, they spark off each other. As for the companions, who carry a good deal of the screentime on their shoulders, their bickering bantering works very well and feels like a great preview of things to come for the new TARDIS team.

My goodness, I've gone on. What can I say, I love this story! And I was really happy to discover that the Project crew (most of whom had never seen it before) loved it too. (So much for the naysayers!) Here are the links to the episode posts to help folks easily catch up or look back:

"The Watcher"
"The Meddling Monk"
"A Battle of Wits"

Given all the stuff I discussed above, I'd very much recommend checking out Shannon Sullivan's behind the scenes information on the story. And here's the BBC Episode Guide for "The Time Meddler."

Before I end this overlong post, I want to thank Jon and Robin for answering our little survey. Your feedback is definitely being taken into consideration! And hey, the rest of you, feel free to comment or e-mail! You have until 1st October (when we begin season three) to let us know what you think!

Next up will be the Season Two wrapup--coming sometime over the next couple of weeks! (Before the Project reconvenes, I promise!) Until then, I remain


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