The Time Meddler *****

It's 1066 and Peter Butterworth guest-stars as the Meddling Monk, one of the Doctor's own race. An utter delight...

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Doctor Who story guide
Patrick Mulkern
Patrick Mulkern
The Time Meddler *****

Season 2 – Story 17


"What are we going to do with this fellow, hmm? He's utterly irresponsible. He wants to destroy the whole pattern of world history" - the Doctor

Storyline
The Doctor and Vicki discover that Steven has survived the collapse of the Mechonoid city and found refuge in the Tardis. Their next landing site is a beach in Northumbria in the year 1066 - or is it? A wristwatch, gramophone player and futuristic cannon are among the anachronistic items that have mysteriously found their way back to the 11th century. The answer lies with a Monk who's recently moved into a monastery near a Saxon settlement. The Doctor realises the Monk is a time-traveller - indeed one of his own people - and that he's planning to alter the course of Earth history by destroying the approaching Viking fleet. "He must be stopped!"

First transmissions
1. The Watcher - Saturday 3 July 1965
2. The Meddling Monk - Saturday 10 July 1965
3. A Battle of Wits - Saturday 17 July 1965
4. Checkmate - Saturday 24 July 1965

Production
Filming: May 1965 at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: June/July 1965 in TC4 (eps 1, 3 & 4) and TC3 (ep 2)

Cast
Doctor Who - William Hartnell
Vicki - Maureen O'Brien
Steven Taylor - Peter Purves
The Monk - Peter Butterworth
Edith - Alethea Charlton
Eldred - Peter Russell
Wulnoth - Michael Miller
Saxon hunter - Michael Guest
Ulf - Norman Hartley
Viking leader - Geoffrey Cheshire
Sven - David Anderson
Gunnar the Giant - Ronald Rich

Crew
Writer - Dennis Spooner
Incidental music - percussion by Charles Botterill; various library tracks
Story editor - Donald Tosh
Designer - Barry Newbery
Producer - Verity Lambert
Director - Douglas Camfield

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
The Time Meddler is utterly delightful. For me, it's the Doctor Who equivalent of comfort food. Innovation, wit and verve place the serial high above its contemporaries, making it feel in some respects almost modern. At the same time this is undeniably a slice of television antiquity - after all, it features Peter Butterworth before he'd shot a single frame for the Carry On film series and Peter Purves two years before he joined Blue Peter. That's a long time ago.

As new companion Steven Taylor, Purves arrived without any fanfare. His reappearance after The Chase, stumbling out of the Tardis living quarters, was intended as a surprise - one that Radio Times was complicit in. No mention of him was made in RT's introductory feature (see below); he even was cropped from the photo.

A mild irritation to the Doctor, Steven instantly engages the viewer by scoffing at the old man's claims about time travel. The concepts and acronym of the Tardis are explained fully for the first time since An Unearthly Child in 1963 - a welcome reminder but also a primer for revelations later in this adventure.

Steven's a likeable, inquisitive chap who quickly gels with Vicki; and she is at last allowed to blossom in the absence of Ian and Barbara. But there's no trace of the romance-on-hold we had with the two teachers; Vicki and Steven's relationship is more that of joshing, bickering siblings.

The freshness of the story comes from the blending of the programme's two early formats - history and sci-fi - and viewer expectations of the 1066 setting are confounded whenever various anachronistic items crop up. Our interest is piqued by the Monk, who doesn't bat an eyelid when he sees the Tardis materialising; he just rubs his chin and murmurs, "I wonder."

Peter Butterworth delivers a deliciously comedic performance as the Monk, not so much a villain but a mischief-maker whose aims are the antithesis of the Doctor's. Yes, we learn they're of the same mysterious race but this was years before the terms "Time Lord" and "Gallifrey" would be dreamt of.    Until now the Doctor has more than implied that the Tardis is his own unique invention but, shockingly, at the end of A Battle of Wits, Vicki and Steven stumble upon another one disguised as a sarcophagus. "The Monk's got a Tardis!" It's one of the series' top jaw-dropping cliffhangers.

The Time Meddler is to be treasured as the only complete surviving story from the 60s directed by Douglas Camfield. And it's fascinating to see how resourceful he is in overcoming budgetary limitations. Little filming is done at Ealing (just the Tardis landing). He uses library film of waves crashing and Vikings at sea.

Everything else is achieved in the electronic studios at Television Centre. Lots of tight shots. Clever angles on small but detailed sets. Excellent lighting in atmospheric black-and-white, especially a long spell under moonlight. The tiny cliff top areas seem to breathe - thanks to a wind machine and moodily effective back projection of scudding clouds. Library music, including Latin vespers, enhances the soundtrack.

In a final flourish to round off the second season - as the throbbing theme music begins but before the credits roll - Camfield treats us to bleached-out close-ups of Steven, Vicki, then the Doctor gazing in wonder at the cosmos… Magical.

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Radio Times archive material

Introductory feature This one was spoiler free, preserving the surprise of Steven's appearance in the Tardis at the start of the story.

RT billings
1. The Watcher
2. The Meddling Monk
3. A Battle of Wits
4. Checkmate

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[Available on BBC DVD]

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