It’s funny how you can change your mind about a story. Many years ago I tried to do a Doctor Who marathon for the first time, watching every Doctor Who story in order. I had already seen them all individually (with a few exceptions that did not exist at that point!) but wanted to experience something close to what an original long-term viewer would have enjoyed.
Watching Doctor Who in order is very different to the pick-and-mix approach. The First Doctor era comes to life, and is much improved by seeing it as a continuing narrative. It is such a huge body of work that it really is a wrench when he changes – that first regeneration comes into sharp focus. Other eras, especially the Sixth and Seventh, go in the blink of an eye. The Third Doctor era was the one that perhaps surprised me the most, because individually those stories had been some of my favourites. But all in one go those five years of stories are a hard slog. The same does not apply to the Fourth Doctor era because things keep changing so much, and the only time they don’t (seasons 12 and 13) the show has hit near-perfection. But the Third Doctor era is a whole lot of the same, and by the time I got to The Time Monster the marathon had driven me to breaking point, because here is where I was with it:
(1) At the end of 3 years of almost exclusively UNIT Earth bound stories.
(2) Two-thirds of the way through a three season run with the same companion. That’s 77 episodes.
(3) The seventh out of ten stories where the Master is the villain, including an entire series of 25 episodes.
(4) Three years with lots of longer length stories, with at least three stories of longer than the “standard” four episodes each year (out of four or five in total).
(5) …and at the end of this series, two of those three six episode stories per season lumped together one after the other, and what’s more two really hard ones to love. Slow stories, low production values.
…so I gave up. The first time around, this was the point at which the marathon had become no fun any more. So it would be fair to say I disliked The Time Monster. The sight of the Doctor managing to jam TOMTIT with assorted kitchen implements and a wine bottle was just too much. I couldn’t look beyond the tedium and the cheapness.
More recently I had another go (mainly to keep me sane through the first few months of newborn feeding and nappy changing), and The Time Monster took on a major significance when I reached it. Would this be the moment I gave up again? But this time round I actually really enjoyed it, and powered on through to a completed marathon. So what did I find to love about The Time Monster? Why did it impress me when I gave it a second chance?
Well this is actually the swan song to the core Pertwee team – the final time we will see them all together: Third Doctor, Jo, the full UNIT and the Master. The interactions between those characters are as glorious as ever. For this reason the Earth-bound part of the story is much more fun than the Atlantean escapades (and also some of the actors go into that default Shakespearean acting for that bit of pseudo-history). Later, there is a beautiful scene where the Doctor talks about his childhood – those moments are rare, especially during the Classic era.
But more importantly this is all just so gloriously silly. It is like something has been plucked out of an annual and made into a television story. You’ve got to enjoy the fun of a story that puts Benton in a nappy, has the Brig running in slow motion, and the Master making a pass at the Queen of Atlantis. It makes a change to see him doing something other than just hypnotising people to get his way – here he uses his charm to seduce her instead, which is an aspect to his character that would not be revisited until the Simm Master found himself a wife.
There is far more to this than the silliness, and a few scenes stand out as really quite wonderful. The best of all is the battle of wits between the Master and the Doctor in their TARDISes, because it shows us their respect for each other, not just their rivalry. And the battles between those two always works best when you realise that it is a fight between friends. RP
The view from across the pond:
Now is as good a time as any to mention that I also did a marathon viewing of Doctor Who. My sons (then 12 and 9) started the journey with me on Jan 1st of 2014. Bryan, the younger, would make it all the way to Tom Baker’s City of Death, completing it before he bailed to fight invisible enemies around the house… (he likes to battle pretend villains; I hope the Doctor gave him some pointers!) AJ would see it through until July 1st, 2017 with The Doctor Falls. Like Roger, I too have seen all the episodes. I have some recorded in my memory for quick access.
AJ and I began The Time Monster on October 22nd of 2014. Yes, we managed to make it into the 3rd Doctor era in under a year and both lads loved Hartnell and Troughton’s stories. We completed this story on November 4th. How do I remember this? For a guy to share something from his childhood with his kids is a wonderful, miraculous thing. I wasn’t going to leave it to memory; I kept a small log of what we watched to chronicle our journey. I treasure this time like my own Crystal of Kronos!
AJ took to the third Doctor. I was surprised. Like Roger said, these stories are long, tedious. They’ve had the same primary villain for so long, it’s amazing the show wasn’t canceled for lack of originality. The 3rd Doctor is chauvinistic. He’s superior, far too full of himself. By comparison to his predecessor and his successor, he doesn’t quite live up. But I met the man once and he was a nice fellow – somewhat larger than life, barrel chested, strong and funny. I liked him and his Doctor took on new meaning to me. But as episodes go, The Time Monster has to be viewed as Roger said: a comic book story brought to the screen. It’s the most comic book-like. The device the Doctor builds is so idiotic, someone should superimpose something over it! It’s the hardest part of the episode for me. Keep in mind, this thing is supposed to stop a TARDIS! Yes, that is a wine bottle, utensils and a mug on top!
Less derivative is the fun the crew seemed to have with the making of the episode. Even in this image, it’s evident they are having a laugh. Baby Benton is indeed a standout moment; it’s funny and silly and frankly, needed for this story. We also discover that the Doctor does indeed sleep and places a lot of stock in his own dreams. He mentions that TARDISes are indeed telepathic and alive – a far cry from my last review of The Edge of Destruction where that Doctor didn’t even accept that his machine was alive!
We also learn about the Doctor’s past; a rare thing indeed. He talks of his home on Gallifrey, a house on a mountain and a hermit who lived there. We discover that The Master and The Doctor often messed with one another, like the use of the wine-bottle-utensil-mug contraption, as friends do. This is, as Roger said, one of the things that do make the story enjoyable. The reminder than there is respect between the Master to the Doctor is a nice touch and works well between Pertwee and Delgado.
And the Master, played by the wonderful Roger Delgado, is as wonderful and interesting to watch as ever. Never has the Master been quite as good as that original version. Ainley tried, but beyond a strikingly similar appearance, he just never reaches those heights. The Master is a villain and in many ways a caricature of villainy, but he’s great at it. So watchable and so likeable. He’s a villain we can love to hate.
One thing that doesn’t hold up well is that the Doctor claims the Master is responsible for the destruction of Atlantis. But it was only a few seasons before that he fought the Underwater Menace. This is the problem with a show of many writers; it’s easy to forget from one writer to another. Speculation: maybe The Time Monster represents the original destruction of Atlantis, far back in time, and the resurgence of Atlantis is what the second Doctor encountered… yeah, go with that!
The Time Monster itself, a chronovore (from the greek: time eater) is a great concept and one that comes back in the audio stories of Paul McGann’s Doctor. The visuals for it/him/her are strange and unexpected, but that’s one of the things Doctor Who does well: tries new things. Credit there at least – they were willing to do something that didn’t seem like a good idea to other shows. For better or worse, I have a lot of respect for the production crew for trying!
So perhaps The Time Ram and TOMTIT (Transmission Of Matter Through Interstitial Time… dear God) and even the Master’s TARDIS controls being written in English can all be forgiven. Like much of Doctor Who, it was experimental, maybe even avant-garde. It is far from perfect. It’s a bit slow. It’s not a favorite, probably of anyone, and Jo’s hair looked ridiculous. But it was part of the shows weird and wonderful history.
For people who view TV with an eye towards understanding and getting an idea where we came from, this is not a bad example. But if you’re looking for solid storytelling, there are better examples. The very next episode is one shining example: The Three Doctors.
Hail Kronos. But stay in the vortex… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Three Doctors