Oh, I could murder a cup of tea.
…and at that moment the British viewing public fell in love with Sarah Jane Smith. It was no thanks to Robert Holmes though. Just look what Elisabeth Sladen has to contend with in her debut story. She is denied the usual fun of seeing a companion experience the TARDIS interior for the first time. Instead we see her go into the TARDIS and then step out of it in the past. It would have been useful to have had a scene inside the TARDIS, particularly as this is the first episode of a new series. The nature of the TARDIS should have been re-established for any potential new viewers, who would otherwise be wondering how on Earth the Doctor didn’t see Sarah inside that little blue box. Presumably she goes through the other door in the Console Room to another part of the TARDIS, but we are left to guess. Then when she comes back out of the TARDIS, her reaction to the interior unseen, she says this:
It’s still only a police box. I must find a telephone.
Apart from the fact that a police box has a telephone in the door, why wouldn’t it still be a police box from her point of view? She knows nothing of the TARDIS’s potential to change. This kind of incompetence is why the idolisation of Robert Holmes puzzles me at times. Even if there couldn’t be a scene inside the TARDIS for budgetary reasons or something, wouldn’t you have the first thing the new companion says when she comes back out of the TARDIS be something connected with how it has moved somewhere else?
So from Sarah’s point of view, having entered the TARDIS, somehow managed to not see the Doctor inside it, and exited somewhere different, all she has to go on is that she has set foot in a magic box and it has somehow changed her location. Then, like a Ben with long hair, she refuses to believe the evidence of her own eyes. What kind of leap of logic leads a person to accept that they have magically moved in space but refuse to accept the possibility that they have moved in time during the same process? Why would being transported to a pageant be easier to believe than being taken back in time? What kind of books did Sarah Jane read as a child, to make her assume that there would exist a magic box that takes her to Middle England pastimes?
So if we peel away all those years of adoring Sarah as a companion, and look at this in its original context, she is difficult to warm to straight away. It also doesn’t help that her feminism is dealt with in such patronising and shallow terms. She tries to preach to Meg, which was never going to have any positive effect in the middle ages, but then fails to raise any objections when the men are all saved from the castle and the serving girls are left in there to die. Holmes presumably just forgets about them, because they’re only women after all. But there is an ideal opportunity missed to put a fresh stamp on the companion. If you are going to make her a feminist, then do something with it! Have her be the one who points out that everyone is focussed on the men who are driving the plot along, and call out the Doctor for not even thinking for a moment about saving the female servants. This would also have been a great response to the Doctor’s sexism earlier in the story, trying to send her off to make coffee as if she’s Jo Mark Two. What Holmes does instead is damaging to both characters: the Doctor, and the new companion. The man could write great stuff, but good grief was his work a product of its times.
Holmes of course is much more interested in creating comedy characters and then finding ways to combine comedy with danger. Irongron and Bloodaxe are the most useless tyrants ever. Holmes writes them like a pair of stupid teenagers, which is hilarious, but give funny incompetent people dangerous weapons and the motivation to use them and you get comedy tinged with fear. And the dialogue Holmes gives Irongron… well, it’s sublime.
- Is this Doctor a long-shank rascal with a mighty nose?
- I swear I’ll chop him up so fine not even a sparrow will fill its beak at one peck.
- Tis like a tin tadpole. You cut off its head and yet it wriggles.
Irongron is the kind of a character that is a gift for comedy writing, a boastful loser, which leads to some great moments where he tells anyone who will listen how wonderful his is, while making hollow threats that he cannot follow through with:
IRONGRON: Oh, I should have slain the filthy little toad there and then. I should have carved him up into callops on the spot.
BLOODAXE: Aye, master, it puzzles me as to why you did not .
IRONGRON: Aye, well, ’tis a matter of high policy, d’you see? Above your understanding. As yet, we still need Linx’s aid. Weapons he has promised me, and by the stars, weapons I shall have. Wonderful, magical weapons, that will crumble the castles of those that oppose me into dust. And then, and only then, shall Linx die by my hand.
BLOODAXE: Oh, ’tis a cunning plan, Captain.
IRONGRON: Aye, ’tis as well for you dolts that you have me to guide you. Ah, there’s more to war than hard strokes, my good Bloodaxe.
BLOODAXE: Aye, master, yours is indeed a towering intelligence.
This “towering intelligence” is a man who bangs down a full cup, which splashes everywhere, and complains about having only a few drops to drink. Magnificent.
Linx is another example of combining fear with comedy, but is a much more subtle example. He works well as a parallel character to Irongron. He is also a warrior who talks a good talk and fails to deliver. His crash landing already establishes him as a failure in his own war, and he spends most of the story promising great things to Irongron and then failing to deliver. He can’t even oversee an attack on an enemy castle in the middle ages, so how can he succeed in his own war? He promises amazing weapons, and then delivers a flimsy, tottering robot, when all Irongron really wants is a bazooka. Then we have that iconic moment where he lifts up his domed helmet to reveal a head that is an exact fit for the helmet and looks like a giant potato. It’s such a surprise that you forget to laugh.
So we have great dialogue and great design work, but most importantly this feels like an exciting fresh new start, with the most effective new alien race for a few years and a companion who seems to be genuinely different despite being written clumsily. After two years of seasons that debuted with very backward-looking stories, it’s about time we had a series that starts by looking forwards instead, and in an unprecedented fifth year of the same Doctor that’s important.
It’s time for this long-shank writer with a mighty nose to have a cup of tea. RP
The view from across the pond:
It’s funny that we happened to be reviewing our stories in the order in which we did coming off a week of Colin Baker stories. When I started watching Doctor Who after that initial run of Tom Baker stories, it was with Davison, culminating in his regeneration. But before the channel could air Colin’s stories, we went back to Pertwee. Dreadfully confused, I obtained an episode guide. By the time of The Time Warrior, I knew what to expect: Sarah Jane was coming. I was coming full circle having started the series with Sarah Jane. I was ill-prepared for the surprise in store for me during her first episode however. Like Sarah Jane, when she first sees Styre in The Sontaran Experiment and says “Linx!” in shock. When I saw The Time Warrior, I saw Linx and said “Styre?” That’s what you get for making a clone race, though, am I right? Oh, I admit that they each look suitably different from one another, but what with special effects being what they were, I just assumed it was the same character. At least I was in good company with Sarah Jane!
Pertwee’s era was chock full of over-long stories and his Doctor is frequently chauvinistic but The Time Warrior dialed that back. The four part format made for a tighter story and Sarah Jane’s own strength of character would force the Doctor to drop his pomposity rating down to a manageable level. Check, check – two things going for the story right off the bat. And it’s a good adventure. Linx, the titular Time Warrior, is pulling scientists from our era back to a medieval castle to work on and repair his ship. This sort of thing happens a lot in Earth history; ask the Terileptils. Needless to say, this attracts the Doctor’s attention and he does what he does best: he gets involved. There’s something to be said for a simple format. There’s also something to be said for having UNIT around without actually being part of the conflict. They are less of a paramilitary organization here, resorting to The Mind of Evil approach of being a regular military organization, but their inclusion in this story is nice on a level outside of the story. Think about this: the episode introduced the Sontarans. It was the first to name the Doctor’s homeworld: Gallifrey. It was the first story for Sarah Jane Smith. With so many firsts, it’s nice to know the Doctor’s dear friend, the Brigadier, was around for the story even if he plays a negligible role.
Of the Sontarans… who’da thunk it, huh? When we consider those races that made one appearance like, say, the Sensorites, you never know how they are going to be received, but just one season later, they’d be back. Cloned in batches of a million or more at a time, there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t return but no one could have expected it so soon. It’s not until far into the future of the series that we learn why they have that probic vent in the back of their necks: so they always face their enemy. As a warrior race who value battle above all things, it’s no surprise but it is a clever bit of writing. The scene that ends episode one, of Linx removing his helmet, is classic Doctor Who at its finest; a reveal that would live in our memories forever. (Though one wonders why the Sensorites didn’t have the same fortune as that scene of them creeping up the side of the ship is even more memorable to me!)
The supporting cast is fantastic. Rubeish is a marvelous character, sort of the first Doctor mixed with Mr. Magoo. Irongron is a pompous, bombastic oaf that is easy to dislike. Hal is possibly a precursor to Robin Hood taking a parting shot at Linx that is worthy of the Prince of Thieves himself. I don’t know that the robot knight is a selling point for the story, but one thing that is comes from a dialogue between Irongron and Linx:
Linx: Well? What is it you need to say to me? Didn’t I tell you you might not find my face pleasing?
Irongron: Aye. And never was truer word spoken. Are they all so fair of face beyond the stars?
Linx: The variety of sentient life forms is infinite. Do you think your primitive features are pleasing to me? Well, what is it you want?
Funny thing is that the Sontaran makes the point that we are all different and not to judge by looks. Funny because he hails from a race of clones but also because it’s against his mortal enemy, the Rutan Host, that the Doctor casts a slanderous remark about not liking “his face”. I give Linx credit for saying something the Doctor should have said, and I take credit from the future Doctor for passing such an offensive remark to a Rutan! But that was a line that stuck with me even when I was younger!
For me, Pertwee’s stories fell into the category of either “mostly rubbish with some redeeming qualities”, or “fun adventures with little meat on their bones”. I think the Time Warrior falls into the latter category as it is a tremendously enjoyable story helped by a bunch of scientists in pajamas. But you mustn’t expect the classics like Baker’s first season brought. At least we’re close to it! Still, this was where Sarah Jane has joined the series; it was just going to get better from there! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Invasion of the Dinosaurs