Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Serial 17: The Time Meddler

Doctor: William Hartnell (1st Doctor)
Companions: Vicki and Steven

Written by: Dennis Spooner
Directed by: Douglas Camfield

Background & Significance: William Hartnell's second season saw a series of Doctor Who firsts. It saw the first return of the Daleks, the first departure of companions, the first arrival of new companions...

And to cap it all off, they rounded out the season with the first appearance of another Time Lord.

While it is kind of a cheat (The Doctor is not revealed to be a "Time Lord" until Patrick Troughton's last episode and Gallifrey is not mentioned by name until Jon Pertwee's final season), the main villain of this story, The Meddling Monk, is revealed to be "a member of The Doctor's race", and an evil one at that.

I think it's safe to say he was created to be a sort of Proto-Master, but he doesn't quite succeed at that. There's a reason he only appears in two stories, this one and "The Dalek Invasion of Earth". He's just not that great of a villain. He's kinda goofy, kind of a waste of time, kind of ridiculous... when you get right down to it, he's just not a formidable foe. The Doctor has much more interesting Rogues in his gallery, from Daleks, to Cybermen, to The Master, to Time Lords themselves... The Monk just isn't the sort of character I'm able to take super seriously.

And that, most likely, is why this story fails.

This story takes place right after "The Chase," at the end of which Barbara and Ian (The Doctor's only two remaining original companions) find a way back home, leaving Vicki (Susan's replacement), and The Doctor alone, recovering from the epic events of The Daleks' great chase through time and space.

So let's get to it!


Part 1:

We open in the TARDIS, where Vicki stands watching a clock. Thrilling opening.

They begin to talk about the state of affairs, especially with the departure of Barbara and Ian. The Doctor offers her an opportunity to leave the TARDIS as well, but she graciously declines, saying she has so much more to see with him.

And really, it's a great scene. It gives you the sense of serialization within the show and it shows you that The Doctor really did care about Barbara and Ian and also reveals him as aware that he is getting old.

They hear a rustle from the living quarters and head to check it out. Vicki thinks it's a Dalek, but The Doctor is not convinced. He whips off his coat, cuz it's time for a smackdown.

But then he chickens out and uses his coat to hide.

It actually turns out to be Steven, who appeared at the end of the last serial. Also, he's the new replacement for Barbara and Ian. Also, he's carrying a stuffed Panda Bear.

And then he collapses.

The TARDIS lands on a cliffside, with waves and water crashing on the rocks. Unbeknownst to the TARDIS crew, The Monk stands at the top of the cliff and watches their materialization.

Back in the TARDIS, Steven explains how he made it inside following the events of "The Chase". He's still terribly weak, though, and unconvinced that everything they're saying is true... The Doctor tells him and Vicki to go freshen up as they've arrived on the planet Earth.

We then cut to a RANDOM scene of some Saxons, where Saxon Woman (Edith, but I'm calling her Saxon Woman) is cooking for her husband. Another Saxon arrives and says a blue box has arrived on the beach and Saxon Leader decides to go investigate. Saxon Woman gets really upset, demanding that they eat the meal she has provided. But they do not. They have men things to do.

Ugh. Men.

On the beach, The Doctor, Vicki, and Steven have found a Viking helmet. The Doctor theorizes it's from the 10th or 11th Century, but Steven is unconvinced, and makes The Doctor explain all the basics of Doctor Who mythology to him. What they don't know is hiding just below frame behind the rock right in front of the TARDIS crew is The Monk, overhearing all this convenient explanation exposition

This discussion of the TARDIS is also something that's important for a reveal later, so it's quite... interesting how this is just a plant for a payoff down the line.

The Doctor opts to go for a walk to the top of the cliff face, telling his companions to wait until he's reached the top by trail before heading up by climbing up the cliff itself. He leaves, and Steven, not wanting to be told what to do by some foolish old man, decides to climb up to the top anyways.

What a young whippersnapper.

Once they've left, The Monk starts to fondle the TARDIS and then tries to break in, but to no avail. Also he's lost his watch or something. I don't know. We follow that shot with like... a minute of watching waves crash. It is all quite exhausting.

Several hours later (we know this because night has fallen), The Doctor arrives at the Saxon encampment and starts rooting through their stuff for... no reason. He just likes being nosy.

Elsewhere, at the Monastery, monks start to chant lovely evening hymns which echo out across the countryside. They can't hear it at the beach, though, where the Saxon recon party has arrived at the cliffside overlooking the TARDIS and find it not there, most likely smashed against the waves.

At the Saxon camp, the Saxon woman gives The Doctor some mead, and they talk events and history, through which The Doctor susses out that it's 1066, just before Harold Hardrada invades England to try to take over the throne from King Harold of England.

And that's when the Monks' singing starts to warp. Like a record.

The Doctor gets suspicious, asking the woman questions about the monastery, and discovers that no one has seen any monks except for the one who walks around [like a buffoon]. Suddenly excited for the mystery afoot, he runs off to the monastery to investigate.

In the forest, Steven and Vicki watch Scrawny Saxon walking around. Scrawny Saxon sees something in the dirt and bends over to grab it and Steven randomly jumps him. FOR NO REASON.

It's really funny. Steven just runs and tackles this guy for zero reason, just because a guy picked something up and started looking at it. I wish I had that much gumption. "HEY! YOU! GET YOUR HANDS OFF THAT SIDEWALK QUARTER! THAT IS MY SIDEWALK QUARTER!"

Good lord... What is that. Can you imagine how scared the little guy must be? Poor Saxons...

That's okay, though. Because the guy manages to out-wrestle Steven and bonk him on the head and then traipse away into the forest. .... What a little bastard.

Vicki goes to check on Steven, who reveals that he managed to wrestle the object away from Scrawny Saxon (so his manhood is not completely emasculated by scrawny creepy beard guy with tofu for arms) and that it's a gold watch. (Probably the one The Monk realized he was missing.)

The Doctor arrives at the monastery and The Monk sneakily lets him in. He walks through the Monastery, following the sound of Monk Song, finding the Monastery devoid of people.

He traces the singing to a gramophone, which he turns off, and chuckles. Ha ha. Gramophone in the middle ages. What poppycock.

And then SLAM! Prison bars come down, trapping The Doctor. The Monk walks out and starts pointing and laughing at him. And that's how it ends. With The Monk laughing at the caged Doctor.

Which is.... weird. But quirky. I guess.

Part 2:

The Monk uses a toaster to make some toast (but where is the outlet! It's 1066) and then fries up some eggs on his gas stove (WHERE IS HE GETTING THIS STUFF?) and brings The Doctor some breakfast. He laughs a lot. Like. A lot. Constantly. It's kinda annoying.

He starts to taunt The Doctor, telling him breakfast is ready, but The Doctor throws milk through the cell door's window. And hits The Monk in the face. Ker-splash! Haha. Slapstick.

And that's just... more example of why I'm not a huge fan of the Monk. Whereas I think The Monk is kind of a big deal, he's played as CRAZY goofy. All the actor does with the character is clown around and try to be funny. But it's just sad. It's not what I look for in my Doctor Who. I don't want evil bad guys to have pie face humour.

The Monk heads off to check out The Doctor's TARDIS, but finds it not there. To manage this "setback" (at least I guess it's a setback. We don't really know The Monk's plans... Also, spoilers. It's not really a setback at all.), he takes out some snuff and snuffs it. Not joking. This is your first Time Lord bad guy, folks. The snuff snorting silly man.

And then he spots some Vikings (but maybe he didn't. Maybe it's the snuff) and gets really excited.

Here's what The Vikings look like.

Elsewhere, The Saxons come across a sleeping Vicki. She startles herself awake and calls out for Steven. He arrives and brings her blackberries for breakfast, and they're about to set out to find The Doctor when there's a rustle in the bushes. Steven goes to check it out, but Saxons leap out and capture them at dagger point.

Who is the most awkward in this shot?

They bring the Companions back to camp and argue over what to do with them. Scrawny Saxon gets really angry and starts to argue that they shouldn't allow Vicki and Steven to live (he's just mad Steven stole the watch that didn't belong to him), but Leader Saxon and Saxon Woman both argue to let them live, as they are strangers and not Vikings.

And then Scrawny Saxon gives them the stink eye.

Dude. Fendelman's got you beat.

Woman Saxon advises Steven and Vicki of The Doctor's heading off to the Monastery. She gives the two food and water and they set off to go investigate.

And that's when the Vikings arrive. Climbing the cliff face. With grapples. And they do look like Vikings, don't they?

Vicki and Steven confront The Monk, but he says he's not heard of The Doctor, but he'll check.

When he goes inside, Steven gives Vicki a hard time for believing what The Monk says. He tells her to shut up and let the men do the talking when The Monk comes back out.

Which The Monk does, saying he can't help them. Steven asks The Monk to keep an eye out for him and makes The Monk verify The Doctor's description.

And the Monk does a superb job of describing The Doctor.

Ah ha! They never described what The Doctor looked like! A classic ploy! You fell for it, you villainous hack!

But Vicki thinks it's too easy. (NO NO! Don't you get it! The Monk is a buffoon!)

They decide to break into the Monastery later that night.

Once night falls, Vikings raid the Saxon camp (which is apparently ridiculously poorly defended because there is literally zero defense put up to stop them) and attack the Saxon woman.

A bit later, the Saxons arrive and find the Saxon woman attacked and comatose, seemingly dead. She wakes up enough to tell her people it was the Vikings. Enraged, they chase after them and what follows is an epic Viking/Saxon battle! In glorious youtube!

In the monastery, the Monk puts on the evening song as Vicki and Steven break in and Leader Saxon arrives with wounded Scrawny Saxon. The Saxons beg the Monk for help and medical aid (because that's what Monks are for) and The Monk lets them in.

This distracts Vicki and Steven long enough to find the gramophone (which they rightfully think is odd) and The Doctor's cell.

They break in and rough him awake, only to find...

The Monk has turned The Doctor into a pile of animal skins!

..... Or maybe he's just gone missing.

Also, The Doctor was NOT in this episode at all. He had pre-recorded lines, but that's it. Apparently Hartnell had a vacation. Did anyone else notice? I did. It means nothing happened in this episode. NOTHING.

Part 3:

Vicki and Steven are completely baffled as to how The Doctor could have possibly gotten out, especially because the door was locked when they had arrived. Vicki, ever resourceful, theorizes that The Doctor must have escaped out of a secret passage because, as she says, "There's always a secret passage." As such, they start to root around, looking for it.

After a few seconds of looking (it's a not-super-secret secret passage), Vicki finds "a loose stone" and has strapping man Steven help her out, as she is weak and a woman and can't move said loose stone.

Also, this is the loose stone.

The Monk returns from taking care of the Saxons to find the door unlocked and The Doctor missing. He tries to play tricks on the hiding spaces in the room... But no... No, the room is empty.

Vicki and Steven crawl through the passage leading out of the Monastery, talking about how hard it'll be to find The Doctor now that he's not there.

Little do they know that he's hanging out just around the corner at the Saxon camp. Putting his feet up, drinking rum out of a coconut, and rubbing suntan lotion on his perfectly waxed and oiled pecs.

Someone please make a photoshop of that.

Before he heads off for the Monastery to confront the Monk, he talks politics with Woman Saxon and spoilers the hell out of the future for her, saying that King Harold will beat Viking King Harold. Way to go, Doctor. You know this is how Back to the Future Part II happened, right?

The Monk slips Scrawny Saxon some pills, turning him into a penicillin junkie for the rest of his Middle Ages life. He sends away the Saxon leader and manages to find out from the Scrawny Saxon (henceforth called Penicillin) that the Vikings are two to three days away from invading.

To which The Monk talks to himself (again) that he is right on schedule. He orders the Penicillin Saxon taken away, but Leader Saxon forbids it, as Penicillin Saxon is too weak and too addicted to Penicillin to be taken away from the Monastery.

Somewhere else amidst this very expansive area this episode takes place in, two Vikings traipse through the wilderness, lone survivors of that epic battle. They also look like Vikings and don't even try to look otherwise. The least you can do is try to Saxonize yourselves so you don't look like such losers.

They start to fight (because that's what Vikings do) and decide to go to the Monastery to continue their evil Viking ways, which, here, includes taking Monks hostages.

And then we get a look at The Monk's Master Plan.

Oh my god that's so amazingly 60s/70s storytelling. I love that he had to write all these down and check them off like they're chores. What they don't show you is the scene after this, where The Monk gives himself a cookie for a job well done.

He then starts to continue his plans... That is, until he's rudely interrupted by a knock at the door. He complains bitterly and goes to the door, but finds a suspicious no one there. He shuts it again, but there's another knock. He goes out to investigate, but The Doctor gets the jump on him.

The Doctor holds The Monk at stick point and brings him back into the Monastery, ready to interrogate him about his plans.

On the cliffside, Vicki and Steven see that the TARDIS isn't there. Steven thinks that The Doctor left without them, but Vicki says that means he would have left them behind and they'd be stranded in 1066. She cries. Like women of the 60s so often did.

And that's when they spot the really conspicuous atomic cannon. Freaking out about who could have put it there, they race off to the Monastery to try to go talk to the Monk about this odd piece of technology.

The Monk manages to get a turnaround on The Doctor, but The Doctor's too awesome for him. There's a knock at the door (spoilers. It's the Vikings) and The Monk tries to let The Doctor let him go answer it. But The Doctor won't let him unless he can go too, and The Monk says he can't go unless he wears Monk clothes.

My brain hurts.

The Doctor acquiesces to putting on Monk's clothes. And now he looks like this.

Also, The Doctor is STILL holding The Monk at branch point, despite the fact that The Monk knows it's a branch. Just thought I'd point out that awesome.

The Doctor opens the door and Vikings enter, swords drawn. The Doctor tries to take him down with the branch, (Branch-Fu! Make it happen) but The Vikings are too smart for him and they subdue The Doctor, not noticing that The Monk has scarpered off.

I'm going to youtube this next bit, just so you see how ridiculously painful it looks. It's The Monk and The Doctor vs. these two Vikings.

The Monk heads off to the village and hits on the Saxon Woman, but then her husband walks out without a shirt on.

THAT'S the Saxons! Right there! They were missing but now we got 'em and this serial just got real!

The Monk thinks better of his hitting on this dude's wife (realizing he just probably walked in on some heavy petting or something. I don't know. The Saxon isn't wearing a shirt. You tell me.) and instead tells The Saxon Leader to prepare beacon fires on the hilltops.

Vicki and Steven arrive in The Doctor's cell and come across the unconscious Viking. Steven picks up a sword. (That second sentence makes this paragraph awesome.)

The Monk comes across the Viking he knocked out, and starts talking to him, but then The Doctor shows up. With a sword. And makes The Monk stand. Using his sword. It's awesome.

Vicki and Steven come across a Saxon sarcophagus and notice cables coming out of slightly open doors. Curious, they pull the doors open, and crawl inside.

And where is inside?

A TARDIS. The Monk has a TARDIS.

And this is a badass ending. Can you imagine? Knowing The Monk is a bad guy, but that he has a TARDIS? That's a superb ending. Too bad it's revealed with only one episode left. That tells you their priorities. They're not interested in who The Monk is, only that he brings stakes with him. That's sad. What a waste. TARDISes are big deals. And here's bad guy with a TARDIS. But he's a goofball. So whatever.


Part 4:

As Vicki and Steven enter the Monk's TARDIS, The Doctor starts to question his foe about the nature of the signal fires. The Monk reveals that he plans to defeat the Vikings single handed and then help King Harold of England to defeat William the Conqueror.

So what The Monk's saying is that he plans to re-write history, give King Harold technology, and accelerate human development towards the future much faster than it should. That, I think, is an interesting character. But there's no reason for why The Monk is doing this. I guess he just wants to accelerate human development so he can live in a progressive world? He doesn't even want to become ruler or King, so why's he doing this? If he's worried about being in the past and such, why doesn't he just use his TARDIS to leap really far into the future when everything's hunky dory (which he will try to do once his plans eventually get foiled)?

That just... yeah. Doesn't make any sense to me. That is what kills his character. No direction.

Oh. And then The Monk says that he helped build Stonehenge using anti-grav units (OH HELL NO. THAT IS IT, THE MONK! I HATE YOU FOR RUINING MAJESTY AND MYSTERY AND WONDER AND FUN YOU CRAZY FUN KILLER! STONEHENGE WAS BUILT FOR THE PANDORICA!). The Doctor gets angry at his meddling in history, and makes The Monk take him to his TARDIS.

While this is going on, Vicki and Steven are touring through The Monk's TARDIS, seeing all the relics he's pulled through history. At one point, they find The Monk's diary, where he talks about the cute girls he met at Time Lord Academy and how little The Nun shoulda been named The Tease because of how she treated him.

But no. Really. This is The Monk. The plans he writes in his diary include placing two hundred pounds in a London bank in 1968 and then time jumping 200 years into the future and making a fortune in compound interest.

That's right. One of The Monk's dastardly schemes is about compound interest.

Check out Vicki's face when she reads that. It's about the same as mine.

Finally, The Doctor meets up with Steven and Vicki in the Monk's TARDIS, but the rejoicing is minimal, as Vicki tells The Doctor that The TARDIS has washed away.

And then The Doctor explains that water can't affect the TARDIS. Nice.

So they start examining The Monk's TARDIS, and The Monk explains that this TARDIS is a later model than the one The Doctor has, and thusly it is more advanced so The Doctor's already lost. This leads Steven to realize that The Doctor and The Monk are "from the same place" and The Doctor to realize that The Monk left [Gallifrey] fifty years or so after he did.

But there's no time for that fascinating back story! It's the last episode! The Monk needs to finish revealing his plans.

The Monk completely reveals his plans of going out and re-writing all of history, keeping the wars of Europe from happening and allowing England to advance rapidly. Airplanes by 1320 (that seems optimistic), Shakespeare on television (someone missed the point of Shakespeare)...

The Doctor starts to go on a tirade, and while his back is turned, The Monk runs out and is promptly captured by Vikings. He hastily swears allegiance to Viking King Harold and sics the Vikings on The Doctor and his companions.

Fast interlude: The Saxons find out about the Vikings in the Monastery and set out to go bust some skulls.

The Monk gets the Vikings to tie up The Doctor and his companions and then the three of them set off to go set the beacon fires and prep the atomic cannon for use against the Vikings.

Vicki and Steven start to discuss the mechanics of changing history. It's an interesting conversation of paradoxes and the such and then they try to see if The Doctor's awake. Which he is.

Oh look! Saxons vs. Vikings! Youtube time!

Woman Saxon lets The Doctor out. The Doctor, with the help of Steven and Vicki, jerry-rigs a cord to the console of The Monk's TARDIS and, once he's gotten out, yanks a component that will... probably disable it somehow.

Very pleased with himself, The Doctor leaves The Monk a note atop the Monk's TARDIS and then departs with Steven and Vicki and the component. Now that the tide's come out, they head back to the cliffs and find the TARDIS and right at the bottom of the cliff where they left it.

The Monk, having escaped the wrath of the Saxons but with his plans completely foiled by their interference, escapes back to the Monastery, very clearly the worse for the wear.

But no matter. He will monologue. And narrate his thoughts. Because that is what we do here. In the 60s. In Doctor Who.

He walks through the monologue, figuring out his plans. He decides to go on his way (WHY NOW! You can probably still win it or whatever! You're a Time Lord with Penicillin! Get the Vikings addicted to Penicillin!)

He finds The Doctor's note, and reads it aloud for all of no one to hear. The note is foreboding and warning from The Doctor, but the Monk doesn't take it very seriously. He's better than The Doctor. He talks to himself AND he has a "Mark IV" TARDIS. He's genius guy. But oh well. He's going to leave, so he puts on his sexy face and goes to check out his TARDIS, only to find...

The Doctor shrank it!

NOOOOOO! Vile Doctor! Now how will he be able to use his beloved machine?! How will he read his plans to make tons and tons of money off of compound interest?! HOW I ASK YOU. HOW?!?

Maybe The Monk figures out how to turn himself into a midget. That'd be awesome. Midget Time Lord. Maybe he trains a crack team of chihuahuas to fix the TARDIS for him. And then he loses control of the situation (and the chihuahuas) and the little dogs fly the TARDIS out into space and become big cosmic Doctor foes.

I'd watch that. I'd watch the hell out of it.

So then the Monk gets angry and curses The Doctor, which I like. Finally we see The Monk as a menacing angry dude and not just some goofy failure guy (which he so obviously is).

We leave on him sitting alone, dejected as The Doctor dematerializes his TARDIS and heads off.

Final Thoughts:

Recently, I read an article in which current Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat called all the black and white stuff abominable and really not good and so totally boringly 60s.

While I don't think he's wrong, I'm able to look past that in favour of some good plot points or character moments or the hokey silly. But yeah. This was horrendously 60s in the worst way. It was slow, nothing really happened, and it was much more focused on not doing anything important than it was with making the character of The Monk a truly worthy foe of The Doctor.

And that's why this story fails, if you ask me. It's not really on The Doctor (although he could've at least appeared in episode two) or Vicki or Steven. They're just doing the thing they always do. Nor is it on the Vikings and the Saxons (although I guess people love Vikings, so that's something, I guess) as they're silly window dressing.

All of the fault of this episode comes from the writer, Dennis Spooner, treating The Monk like a cheap villain. Compare what The Monk is here with what The Monk *should* have been: The Master. The Master wasn't a joke. The Master was a total badass. Still is, in fact. And instead, what The Monk is here is a really cheap jokey version of The Master who literally does not matter.

This means The Monk needs a reboot. Here he is. Give him a hard reboot. Give him an eye patch. Give him a [cool object]. There you go. That's all he needs. We've rebooted bad guys and re-shaped them in the new series and they've been awesome. So let's give this guy a proper treatment, because all we really have are him and The Master as viable renegade Time Lords.

So let's make a team-up. The Monk and The Master doing battle with each other while The Doctor is caught in the middle, because right now, if you compare The Master with The Monk, nothing really matters. On the one hand, we just have cool badass with history and on the other is a hokey waste-my-time guy who can't even do a good joke.

And really, when it comes down to it, I know who I prefer.

Next Time!: 4th Doctor! A White Guardian! Russian-lookin folk! Fur coats! Jewel Display cases! And a mythical key in six parts! We kick off the two week long look at the six serial long The Key to Time with the "The Ribos Operation"! Coming up on Monday!


  1. Small little thing, but The Monk was in ?The Daleks' Master Plan", not "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" (Wrong title for the link which says Invasion but links to the correct Master Plan though.)

  2. I have an idea how to reboot the Monk.
    Since his last appearance saw him vowing revenge against the Doctor, his return should see him materialising his TARDIS on Earth, to seek revenge.

    When the Doctor finds out that he has returned, he should be unconcerned and call the Monk a 'jackanapes'(mediaeval term for childish meddler) and 'an unimaginative plodder'. However, we would discover that the Monk has learned a great deal since his last encounter with the Doctor.

    Like his first appearance, he should do things like trying to change key events in English history. So after the Battle of Hastings, how about the signing of the Magna Carta? Or distorting the Luddite risings and the invention of the Stevenson Rocket? Come to think of it, why stop at English history? Maybe he can go back and try and change the fate of Atlantis?

    And since he disguised himself as a Roman Catholic monk, why not have him disguise himself as an Anglican vicar when he returns?

    Perhaps in a continuity reference to the end of The Time Meddler, we can also later see not only the Monk's TARDIS shrunk down, but the Monk himself shrunk down inside it? Another good idea would be to build on that 'minituarisation' theme and have the Monk have some kind of weapon/tool that shrinks things and people.

    Another good idea would be to reference the Time Meddler by having a mysterious figure of authority be not quite right, the Doctor fail to recognise him, but then his identity becomes revealed when the Doctor's companion finds the Monk's anachronistic watch.

    He could then try and make another bid to have 'Harold Saxon' become ruler of England.

    Perhaps the Monk could once again ally himself with the Daleks, but plan to betray them.

    It would also be a good idea to show him in his monk's cowl, hiding in the background on Galifrey.

    However, the "Monk" was clearly a disguise, not his actual title(the way the "Doctor" is another Time Lord's). He'd need to use another name, one more suited to his desire to master events, let's see he was in a story called The Daleks' Master Plan, the title of his first chapter in the novelisation of The Time Meddler was 'The Monk's Master Plan', he was always going on about his "master plan".....how about...?