Doctor Who (Classic): S02E09 “The Time Meddler”

Season 2
Directed by Douglas Camfield
Written by Dennis Spooner

When Season 2 started, we had four leads in The Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara but with the season coming to a close, only The Doctor remains with Vicki and now Stephen Taylor taking their place. As a stowaway on the TARDIS Stephen acts as a sort of inversion to how Ian and Barbara joined the cast with The Doctor being the unwilling party (not that Stephen particularly knew what he was doing either). Also unlike those two, Stephen settles into the group pretty quickly as the show adjusts to its new normal of having only two companions which it had only done in one serial before (the Vicki introducing “The Rescue”). The show was frequently unable to handle the strain of having four leads which frequently left one person (usually Ian) stranded in a tangentially related C or D-plot so while it is a big change, it is not an unwelcome one.

This serial also marked the beginning of a number of other changes for the show with John Wiles starting to take over for original producer Verity Lambert (though Lambert is still the credited producer), new script editor Donald Tosh, and while it wouldn’t make a large impact for a while, the introduction of the first Time Lord (though not named as such yet) aside from The Doctor and Susan. The Monk may have only appeared in one future serial (“The Dalek’s Master Plan”) but his significance can’t be ignored.

Beyond his historical significance, The Monk is also one of the most interesting villains to watch so far especially from the sci-fi side of Doctor Who. The serial as a whole might be a historical but the presence of The Monk sets the stage for Doctor Who’s typical approach to serials set in the past post-The First Doctor’s era where aliens involve themselves in some prominent historical event/historical figure’s life. The Monk works as an Anti-Doctor seeking to use the ability to time travel to change as opposed to preserve history. He’s not even malicious and seems to be mostly doing it to amuse himself and out of a desire to improve things. His plan actually makes a certain amount of sense. Removing a vicious warmongering king and bringing advanced medicine and technology to the past where people live without it would theoretically make for a better world though of course the ultimate consequences of that are impossible to see. Even at this early date, it reminds you of just how powerful The Doctor could be if he wasn’t so adverse to changing history and especially if he actually knew how to properly operate The TARDIS (or had a properly working one depending on who you believe at this point).

The serial as a whole is surprisingly rather simple with much of The Monks actions happening before it even begins (both earlier mucking about in history and the first few steps in his plan) and the action as a whole being near nonexistent. That’s not to say it is slow or uninteresting though as it may be one of the quickest feeling serials yet to the point that when it had ended, I realized I had written very little about it to that point. The Monk’s plan is to defeat the Viking invading fleet with bazookas and as a result shore up the present Anglo-Saxon regime in England and he would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for that meddling Doctor. The Monk may be who the title was referring to with his more intentional attempts at meddling, but The Doctor does more than his fair share both intentionally and more frequently unintentionally (remember when The Doctor inspired the Great Fire of Rome?). The Doctor is actually able to foil The Monk’s plan by turning the populace against the man who was going to save them and having them attack the two Vikings unknowingly working to sabotage their own invasion making The Doctor the villain from a certain point of view. The Doctor may have preserved history and potentially a worse future from happening (you really can’t tell with time consequences), but he toppled a government and who knows how many of those local people we got to know (well we didn’t get to know them that well) will die who might have lived had the invasion been stopped. Despite all these serious consequences though, “The Time Meddler” is a light, fun serial to close out the season.

Grade: B
Season Grade: B-

Season 2 Rankings:

The Crusade: B+
The Dalek Invasion of Earth: B+
The Time Meddler: B
The Romans: B-
The Space Museum: B-
The Chase: C+
The Rescue: C
The Web Planet: C-
Planet of Giants: C-

Stray Observations

– Writer Dennis Spooner also wrote the Season 1 finale “The Reign of Terror” as well as “The Romans” and served as script editor from “The Rescue” through the last serial, “The Chase”.
– The Doctor still seems disappointed Ian and Barbara would leave him behind.
– The Doctor’s glee as he holds The Monk at “gunpoint” with the stick is infectious.
– The Doctor’s warnings about changing history date back to “The Aztecs” when Barbara tried to change history and despite her best efforts completely failed. Back then it was more of an implied you can’t as in it is not possible, but here that can’t has become one of it’s too dangerous.
– Stephen and Vicki have an interesting conversation about what happens if history is changed. Of course the books wouldn’t change since they haven’t been written yet (though presumably The Doctor has a few on his TARDIS left in limbo).
– In his first serial, Stephen doesn’t get to do much or even given us much of an insight in to his character aside from being skeptical the TARDIS could time travel but he does build a nice chemistry with Vicki right off the bat.
– This Week in Cliffhangers: Closest thing we have to one is the monk being stranded in 1066.

Next Up: Season 3 beings with mostly missing “Galaxy 4” on next Monday 2/15. Season 3 is where the quantity of missing episodes truly starts being felt.
“Mission to the Unknown” – 2/19
“The Myth Makers” – 2/22
“The Daleks’ Master Plan” – 2/29