Monday, May 10, 2010

The Time Monster

2/5/10 “The Time Monster
The Doctor: “You’re mad.”
The Master: “Who isn’t?”

Just when I have reached the maturity level of a Who fan to not automatically assume I’m not going to enjoy a Pertwee story because I dislike the Earth-bound setting, something like “The Time Monster” comes along and smashes my confidence. At six parts, it’s way too long and manages to be both incomprehensible and dull. None of the actors seem particularly invested in it, and it’s only the final two episodes that manages to grip me at all. It’s not equal to the sum of its parts—at pitch level, it sounds a decent story for sure, but in actual execution I found it one of the least enjoyable Doctor Who stories I have ever watched (except for the purely camp factor, which you will have to read about in Back2theWhoture in The Terrible Zodin 7).

I always automatically peg Malcolm Clarke whenever there is dodgy synthesizer music but this time the culprit is Dudley Simpson; unfortunately this kind of music persists throughout the story. I wonder what difference atmospheric music could have made to the Atlantean scenes in episode 6? The first episode actually opens in a highly unusual way which is probably the strongest part of the episode: the Doctor has a prophetic dream. It’s quite freaky and rather like the fight between the Doctor and Omega’s Champion the next season. For all that’s wrong with “The Time Monster,” I’ve found few stories that highlight the effects of a good cup of tea so much. After the Doctor’s nightmare, Jo offers him a cup of tea. “Yes, I enjoyed that,” he concludes, though apparently he just enjoyed the smell because he didn’t drink any. The Doctor dreamed of volcanic eruptions and quizzes Jo on recent volcanic activity. She maneuvers through this as best she can in her tiny skirt and huge yellow go-go boots (which match Bessie’s paint job). “I know I’m exceedingly dim, Doctor, but can you explain . . .” In any case, they eventually realize that the Doctor has been dreaming about Santorini in Greece, and Jo is somehow aware of “all that Cretan jazz”—ie, Atlantis. Jo and Mike Yates have a bit of a moment.

Meanwhile, in Wootton outside Cambridge, Professor Thascals (ie the Master!) is in charge of this Newton Institute-funded project alarmingly named TOMTIT—Transmission of Matter Through Interstitial Time. This is only the second story I’ve ever seen with the Delgado Master, and sadly it’s not instilling in me a lot of confidence (though to be fair, in the other story, “Frontier in Space,” he was quite good). “Please do not call me Prof,” he mutters at Dr Ruth Ingram and Stuart Hyde, the TOMTIT scientists (shades of “Kindly refrain from addressing me as Doc”?). Interestingly, the Master here gives great precedent for the way the Simm Master behaved at the end of series 3. The restrained suit with blue tie was very Harold Saxon, as well as the fact the brainwashed Proctor is annoyed that “there is no trace of your academic career”—the Master makes use of hypnotism a lot in this story. He makes a curious statement when he tries to get Ruth to take his place at an official lunch with UNIT; he calls himself “a lifelong pacifist” and that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with the military.

His scientists come off a lot more dated. Ruth is the painfully obvious harbinger of women’s lib, quite awhile before Sarah mentioned it to the Queen of Peladon or Ms Winters in “Robot.” For awhile I couldn’t figure out if her partner Stuart was a lover or her brother! While she wears a costume similar to what my mom was wearing in 1972 (if the photos can be believed) he looks like he got facial hair from BBC Rent-a-Moustache. Both of them are irritating rather than interesting; I believe Chris Boucher got this kind of banter right in “Image of the Fendahl,” proving it can be done well. Stu tries for some depth when it seems he gets aged 60 years in four seconds, but because the effects are only temporary, our sympathy similarly peters out. What they’re trying to do exactly eluded me for quite awhile. It’s not until the head of the Newton Institute comes by to inspect the project (“well, it is public money”) that Ruth and Stuart try to explain what’s going on, and it’s actually Sergeant Benton who supplies the unlikely explanation. “The crack between now and now.” They’re trying to send matter through the space between “temporal atoms.” The episode ends with the “impossible situation” coming to light and the Master shouting “Come!” exultantly up at the sky.

Actually, he was shouting, “Come, Kronos, come!”, but because he was wearing a radiation suit at the time, you couldn’t be expected to understand that at original broadcast! In any case, the Doctor determines that the Master is using the legendary Crystal of Kronos from Atlantis to capture the Chronovore. “It’s just like old times,” the Master says happily. From then on, it is pure formula UNIT story, with the Brigadier sending ammunition at the Master once he believes what the Doctor’s saying. Benton nearly gets the upper hand on the Master—“you didn’t really think you could fool me”—before the Master escapes and reactivates TOMTIT, bringing from Atlantis Krasis. Krasis thinks the Master’s plan isn’t a very good one. “No one rules Kronos!”

In Atlantis, things are looking up. The sets and costumes, by Martin Gleeson and Barbara Lane respectively, are at least making the wholehearted attempt to look Minoan—there are reproductions of the famous paintings at the palace of Knossos on the walls, and though Dalios the King of Atlantis also shops for beards where Stuart got his moustache and has taken his costume from a nativity play, the rest of the temple/labyrinth looks pretty good. A little help from lighting and presto, there is almost a believable version of Atlantis. Certainly a different direction from the far-out creations of “The Underwater Menace,” but even there, Krasis’ costume resembles Professor Zaroff’s. The actors playing Krasis and later Hippias do want to be onstage in something Shakespearean, but it’s not translating well to studio Doctor Who.

The Doctor tries to jam the Master’s “radio signal” with TOMTIT using a strange array of household items. “Another nutcase,” says Ruth. “Fruitcake standard!” agrees Stu. “Have a cup of tea and drown your sorrows,” Stu advises the Doctor, who meanwhile uses the tea leaves at the bottom of the cup to complete his machine that, for awhile, succeeds in doing whatever it’s supposed to be doing. Piqued, the Master uses time distortions caused by Kronos (or the TOMTIT, I wasn’t quite sure) to impeded UNIT’s progress. He decides to do this by sending down various historical obstacles such as a knight with a lance, a regiment of Cromwell’s soldiers (the local Civil War re-enactors, no doubt!), and a V1 plane with bomb. He is clearly getting a kick out of it.

The Brigadier leaves Benton with Ruth and Stu as he and the Doctor leave to help Yates and the UNIT people who are carrying the TARDIS across country (presumably so the Master can’t get to it). “You’re paid to the do the James Bond thing, I’m just a scientist,” says Stu, despite Ruth’s desire to join in the fray. Eventually Stu gives in, and they return to TOMTIT, but the consequence of the “interstitial time” whatever is that Benton gets turned back into a baby! In the TARDIS, Jo and the Doctor try to prevent the Master from using a “time ram,” and the infinite recursion of TARDIS-within-a-TARDIS predates “Logopolis.” Sadly, the new TARDIS interiors as designed by Martin Gleeson look a bit like a dentist’s office. The Doctor tries to talk the Master out of his plan to go back to Atlantis and harness Kronos’ power for himself using the physical crystal—“oh dear, what a bore that man is,” the Master says in response to the Doctor’s endless moralizing. The Master insists the Doctor engage in the time ram—“all or nothing!” The Doctor is sent into the Time Vortex, and poor Jo gets nauseous as the Master sends the Doctor’s TARDIS spinning out of control with her in it.

Meanwhile in Atlantis, I wonder why they spent so much of the story in Wootton when they had use of the gorgeous and more-or-less-historically-accurate Minoan set. Barbara Lane has made a real effort with the majority of the costumes, making the women’s skirts, aprons, and bodices very much resemble the Cretan statues and paintings from Knossos (not accurate to the point of having the bodies open at the front, but this was Saturday tea time!). Even the majority of the men’s costumes resemble that of the bull jumping youths’ from the paintings: the kilts and the intricate, dramatic hairdos (though the eye makeup reminds us we’re in 1972 not 1500 BC). Much has been made of the fact that Poseidon ruled Atlantis, as the guards in the employ of King Dalios and Queen Galleia carry tridents.

When the Master walks into this environment, Dalios quickly sees through his disguise as an emissary of the gods—he calls the Master’s hypnotism “a very elemental technique.” There’s a bit of Donald Cotton running through Dalios’ speech as he teases the Master for not knowing the latest Olympian gossip. Having caught a ride by latching onto the Master’s TARDIS, the Doctor and Jo shortly arrive in Atlantis where they are saved from execution by Hippias. They are taken to see the King and Queen. The Queen has rather taken a shine to the Master, recognizing in him power and ability. Despite her sci fi makeup, the Queen seems like she’d be right at home with the Julii from Rome. Hers and the Master’s is not a romantic relationship but Galleia puts her foot down when it comes to ousting Dalios. In the palace, Jo is put into an Atlantean lady’s outfit, which is a great, “groovy” tie dye/plaid version of the Minoan bodice, apron, and skirt and includes a Meg from Hercules-style wig. Captured when the Master takes over Atlantis, Jo is thrown down the labyrinth where we expect she is going to meet the Minotaur.

She does, indeed, and it’s the Doctor’s toreador skills (and the fact his coat has a red lining) that saves her. The Minotaur sequence is surprisingly effective. Despite being recaptured, they realize they have to stop the Master from release Kronos—“all order and all structure will be swept away.” It will, indeed, be chaos. With King Dalios dying at their feet, the Doctor and Jo are able to egg Galleia on to defying the Master. He escapes, but Atlantis is (obviously) destroyed by Kronos. I have thus far refrained from talking about Kronos. What is there to say? There was obviously a gap between the script and what the effects department could produce. What we get is a squawking white bird-man on a wire that doesn’t really convey the sense of dread that an agent of chaos should, no matter how fearfully the cast reacts to it.

Jo, displaying surprising bravery, throws herself onto the fleeing Master in an attempt to stop him. She only succeeds in getting handcuffed to the console, but the Doctor quickly catches up with them and wants to make the Master “see reason.” Jo then gets the chance to say something intelligent and the Master interrupts her! The Doctor threatens to time ram, but is stopped his compassion for Jo. Jo, however, bravely sacrifices herself and throws the switch. Instead of being blown up, though, she and the Doctor see another manifestation of Kronos, ie, as a big female face. “I can be all things.” The Doctor’s compassion is still not used up; he pleads for the Master’s life. “Let us deal with him in our own way.” The Doctor’s intention is to take the Master as prisoner aboard the TARDIS, much like it was (or will be?) in “The Last of the Time Lords,” but this time the Master escapes (again).

Back in Wootton, with the Master defeated and destruction in Atlantis, the scientists are pleased to have time back to normal. Benton arises, back to normal, with what could be the tagline for the entire story, “Would someone please tell me what’s happening around here?”

Jo has some good moments in the last episode, as does the Doctor with his famous “daisest daisy” speech. The Master seemed quite petty and small-minded for a Time Lord. The Brigadier was similarly quite one-dimensional, and the scientists were about as irritating as Petra and Greg in “Inferno.” The Atlanteans were either overacted or underused, and what can be said about Kronos? Well, actually, what hasn’t been said about Kronos?

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