Thursday, May 22, 2008

view from the panopticon- the time meddler

2-12-08 "The Time Meddler"

"And remember, no more monkery! "--The Doctor

I really enjoyed this, too. First Doctor serials have a tendency to move slowly and are noticeable for their staginess, but as long as they’ve got a daring, creative story, I’ll take them over Pertwee Earth-bound days anytime. Has the Meddling Monk ever been re-introduced? A Time Lord before there were Time Lords—and apparently the Doctor leaves him "marooned in 1066." Maybe he ran into Captain Jack eventually.
There’s another great, rather modern teaser as we’re introduced to the monk—Who wears the same type of ring as the Doctor does. He’s also got a wristwatch, which Steven later finds as "proof" that they are not in 1066. In the TARDIS, Steven has somehow managed to get aboard. The Doctor and Vicki are quite happy to see him, though Vicki is given the task of going to find him "some clothes." Can I say that I love Steven? He has poufy hair that I want to touch, but that’s immaterial. He’s fun, he’s lively, he’s intelligent without Ian’s scrupulousness—and now he’s shaved. Vicki, Steven, and the Doctor exit the TARDIS looking very debonair in their cloaks. The Doctor’s assessment of the situation is, "Eleventh century—hmm—Earth." How does he know it’s Earth just by smelling? How can he determine it’s the 11th century before he knows what planet?

Steven is, of course, skeptical about traveling back in time, so when they find a Viking helmet, he suggests it’s a prop. "What else could it be, a space helmet for a cow?" the Doctor quips. Steven is somewhat disappointed to learn, "You can’t take me home?" "Not by any direct route." The Doctor is teased that the TARDIS doesn’t blend in—"Design is completely immaterial!" he grumbles. "If we had landed in the Mutiny it would have dematerialized as a howdah." "A how-what?" "A howdah!" I don’t know why, but the whole exchange is charming. The Doctor’s explanation for why he hasn’t fixed the chameleon circuit (they call it something else here, though) is, "Yes, yes, yes, you do go on!"

Despite actors and staging stuck in the theatre ("Do You Think I’m Saxon?"), there is, I find, great direction. One can’t imagine it in color; the brooding, unsettling atmosphere would be lessened somehow. Edith, the Saxon woman who gives the Doctor mead—"how nice of you!"—looks like she was captured out of "10,000 B.C." The Doctor is very excited to find himself on the eve of the Norman invasion, sighing "the balmy night!" (I thought at first he said "the barmy night!") "It’s a great pity Barbara isn’t here," he says. His trundle up to the monastery gives us one of THE best fake-outs ever, finding a Gramophone playing Gregorian chant. He’s found out by the Monk, however, who gleefully imprisons him (a bit Troughton-esque before Troughton was even in the part!). The Monk makes the Doctor breakfast using a toaster. Outstanding! Is the Monk also unable to leave behind his coke-snorting habits?!

Why does Steven throw himself on one of the Saxons? Is it a macho show intended for Vicki? In general (and this is surprising!) Vicki is the more practical and intelligent of the two. Why such hesitancy for Steven to say, "God be with you" when leaving the Saxons for the monastery? Is this a reference to whatever future he comes from—there’s no belief in religion? I found it quite odd. Meanwhile, after her husband returned to the village, I thought for sure Edith was dead. In fact, she seemed okay aside from some scratches on her forehead—quite un-traumatized. Was she raped? I kind of got that impression.

Wow, did Vikings really look like that? Admittedly my knowledge of the period is pretty poor, but Sven has both the Hapsburg lip and a hairdo I could have sworn had been picked up from Roman depictions of Gauls. No doubt it’s the level of accuracy of "The Aztecs," which is to say, pretty good. The painfully slow sword fight between the Viking scouts and the Saxons is made, perhaps, believable, by Sven and co’s drunkenness. Vicki utters the surprisingly perceptive, "I don’t think we’ve been as clever as we think we have," when the Monk lets slip he’s seen the Doctor. Turns out, of course, she’s right. As the wounded Saxons converge on the monastery, Steven and Vicki think they’re sneaking in, though Steven’s lock-picking skills are indeed helpful. They find the secret tunnel and escape just as the Doctor did (though surely the Monk would know about the tunnel?). The wounded Saxon gets paracetomol (or something) while the Monk goes over his Progress Chart (!).

The Doctor gets an outstanding shot back at the Monk when he holds him from behind claiming to carry "a Winchester ’73, right in the middle of your spinal cord." "A man of violence—I’m surprised at you." (Obviously the Monk hasn’t seen "10,000 B.C." or "Seeds of Doom.") After crawling through a really long tunnel (brings "10th Kingdom" to mind) Steven and Vicki are horrified to find that the tide has washed the TARDIS away. Oh, ye of little faith. They do discover the Monk’s cannon, his attempt to "make things better." Then they crawl back again. Oy. The villagers aren’t taking any more of the Monk’s crap, which at least proves they’re smarter than he gives them credit for. (All in all, they remind me a bit of the Sevateem in "Face of Evil"!)

It’s too bad the Monk’s TARDIS, although supposedly superior to the Doctor’s, doesn’t have the design flair of the Rani’s. There’s a room off to the side that contains "every period and every place" which sounds a bit like the McGann Control Room. Unfortunately all we really get to see of it is some statues. The Monk getting compound interest from a London bank seems a rather sensible option for someone with time-traveling capabilities. (Of course, his TARDIS works.) In something of an anti-climax, the villagers take down the Vikings and the Doctor outwits the Monk. The extras are somewhat less motivated than those in "Utopia."

The Doctor doesn’t seem to realize, in his harsh condemnation of the Monk, what a time meddler he is himself. Obviously the First Doctor has made it clear that the rule is not to try to change the course of history, but he never seems to stick to his intentions, especially later on. Martha seems more worried about it than he does—"What if I kill my grandfather?" "Are you planning on it?" "No." "Then don’t." Perhaps it’s merely that the First Doctor is a bit priggish and, nine regenerations later, he isn’t quite so fussed about it all (didn’t the Tenth Doctor in "Time Crash" say that he pretended to be old when he was young?). "Doctor, it’s more fun my way," announces the Monk, and it’s almost a bit of temptation. Though not nearly as malevolent as the Master, the Monk does demonstrate what the Doctor could easily be. Perhaps the reason the Doctor is so outraged with the Monk is because he sees how similar they are. "He’s utterly irresponsible!" It’s a touch of the Tenth Doctor’s claim "No second chances" (which still leaves me in doubt, seeing as how it was followed by "New Earth") when the Doctor does maroon the Monk, without apparently a second thought.

When Vicki and Steven contemplate a change in history, they summarize what seems to happen at the end of "Last of the Time Lords"—"our memories will change" even though they won’t even be aware of it. It’s a sobering thought. Finally, the tape ran out but at the very end there seemed to be a rather cool imposition of Steven, Vicki, and the Doctor’s faces against a starry background—just because it was the end of the second season or what?

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