Reviews

Doctor Who: The Time Meddler

Exploring complex themes, this classic Doctor proves to be heady and entertaining in equal measure.


Doctor Who

Distributor: BBC Video
Cast: William Hartnell, Peter Purves, Maureen O'Brien, Peter Butterworth
Network: BBC
First date: 1975
US Release Date: 2008-08-05
Amazon

When William Hartnell's Doctor lands in 11th Century England, he at first seems excited by the idea. After all, he's with his darling companion Vicki (Maureen O'Brien, playing the surrogate grandchild role well) and the surprisingly strong-headed stow-away Steven Taylor (Peter Purves in his first "official" Who episode), and they're all fairly anxious to explore this new era.

Yet as the Doctor goes one way and Vicky & Steven go another, their paths have a hard time running into another, especially as the Doctor discovers a somewhat primal village that seems to be under the control of a mysterious array of monks. Upon entering the nearby monastery and discovering that the sound of chanting monks is actually a vinyl recording being played on an early-20th century phonograph, it's obvious that there are far more devious things afoot.

Written by Dennis Spooner, the four-part Time Meddler remains one of the stronger "historical" episodes for the First Doctor, largely due to its brisk pacing and interweaving storylines. The day in which the Doctor lands is actually very shortly before the Battle of Hastings is to take place, with the Vikings arriving and King Harold taking power shortly afterwards.

As the title of the second episode ("The Meddling Monk") indicates, there's one somewhat foppish monk (never named, but played somewhat clumsily by Peter Butterworth) who has plans of his own for the Doctor and the village. The additional mystery of where all these modern decorations are arriving from (Steven finds a modern-day wrist-watch after a brief tussle with a wild native) only drives the story forward, leading to a series of episode-ending cliffhangers that solidly carry the momentum forward from segment to segment, culminating in an excellent reveal at the end of the third episode ("A Battle of Wits") that's best left unspoiled.

From the get-go, this episode was significant for a lot of reasons. For one, the Steven/Vicki dynamic works quite well, both showing a bit of "time traveler's naivety" but -- most critically -- they both actually make plans of action instead of merely standing by and existing as mere plot fodder (hello, Adric). There's a slight romantic chemistry that exists between them that isn't fully acted on in this episode, but, regardless, they make for a pleasantly compelling duo.

As revealed in this disc's commentary track (with Purves, designer Barry Newbery, producer Verity Lambert, and story editor Donald Tosh), this was also the very last episode that Lambert herself would work on, which is a shame considering how absolutely influential she was as the first-ever Who producer. Though she proves quite lively during the commentary (second only to Purves, that is), it's somewhat sad hearing her voice, as Lambert passed away in November of 2007. On this DVD, an obituary and Lambert photo gallery are included, making a fine, fitting tribute to one of the most influential figures in the creation of the Doctor Who universe.

Though the other bonus features are certainly welcome (including a missing 12 seconds that were never fully recovered from the initial broadcast and the ever-informative Stripped for Action documentary detailing the comic-book history of the First Doctor), it's still the episode itself that poses the most interesting questions, particularly with the concept of religious fanaticism.

The monk in question at one point tells the Doctor that the people in the village will do anything he says, which, of course, is soon cross-cut with shots of the villagers gathering around and figuring out that if a Viking fleet is coming, then perhaps building fires atop their sea cliffs would be a bad idea, even if it was the monk's. Throughout it, the "Meddling Monk" is continually pulling off clever rouses to get what he wants (like convincing the Doctor to don a monk's robe so that their guests aren't startled by his presence -- even if the guests turn out to be Vikings), but the Doctor -- as always -- is fully aware that history must take its proper course, and disrupting it would have disastrous consequences that would ripple throughout space and time.

As the town's faith in the monk gradually recedes (his tending of a wounded soldier with a mere pill proves most unusual), the villagers instead decide to take matters into their own hands, leading them into battle but also into ownership of their own town -- each person owning a part of its future. The stakes escalate with each passing episode (particularly when the Vikings show up), and, as such, we're drawn in all the way to its satisfying (if somewhat dark) conclusion.

In the end, however, The Time Meddler is fitting in a lot of ways: it's a fitting send-off for Lambert, a fitting introduction for Purves, and a fitting "historical" episode altogether. When it comes to the First Doctor, this truly does rank as one of Who's finer moments.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.