The Time Warrior ★★★★

December 1973 marks Elisabeth Sladen's debut as Sarah Jane Smith in a classy first encounter with a Sontaran


Season 11 – Story 70


“This primitive planet and its affairs are of no importance. Only one thing matters – to complete the repairs to my ship and return to the glorious war that is my destiny” – Linx

After crash-landing in medieval Wessex, Sontaran Commander Linx forms an alliance with a robber baron, Irongron, then kidnaps scientists from the 20th century to carry out repairs on his ship. The Doctor follows Linx’s trail in the Tardis, inadvertently taking journalist Sarah Jane Smith back to the past, too. Initially, she distrusts the Doctor, but they unite with Edward of Wessex and Hal the archer to overcome Linx and Irongron, and return the scientists home.

First transmissions
Part 1 – Saturday 15 December 1973
Part 2 – Saturday 22 December 1973
Part 3 – Saturday 29 December 1973
Part 4 – Saturday 5 January 1974

Location filming: May 1973 at Peckforton Castle, Cheshire
Studio recording: May 1973 in TC6, June 1973 in TC1

Doctor Who – Jon Pertwee
Sarah Jane Smith – Elisabeth Sladen
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart – Nicholas Courtney
Linx – Kevin Lindsay
Irongron – David Daker
Bloodaxe – John J Carney
Professor Joseph Rubeish – Donald Pelmear
Lady Eleanor – June Brown
Sir Edward of Wessex – Alan Rowe
Hal – Jeremy Bulloch
Meg – Sheila Fay
Eric – Gordon Pitt
Sentry – Steve Brunswick

Writer – Robert Holmes
Incidental music – Dudley Simpson
Designer – Keith Cheetham
Script editor – Terrance Dicks
Producer – Barry Letts
Director – Alan Bromly

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
Is it a village postmistress? Is it someone’s granny? Is it Dame Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple? No, it’s the fabulous Pert with outré bouffant zooming up and down a brand-new space/time tunnel title sequence – just one of the innovations in the air in December 1973.

The kaleidoscopic graphics were previewed in the Radio Times Tenth Anniversary Special, a glossy magazine that instantly became a fan bible.

It quirkily summed up every story since 1963, gave a tantalising taste of adventures to come in 1974 and introduced the new companion (with a photoshoot at Peckforton Castle)…

But what would she be like? Jo Grant had been for me and many others the Doctor Who companion (Jamie, Zoe and Liz were distant memories). Katy Manning was the longest-serving female co-star and intrinsic to the series. And this newcomer – Sarah Jane Smith – is not immediately likeable. She’s pushy, she dresses butch, she snaps “Kindly don’t be so patronising!” at the Doctor, and for three weeks believes him to be the villain of the piece.

Jo may have been brave and often tomboyish, but Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks have now taken care to devise a more liberated woman: Sarah is independent, resourceful and, in episode four, twice saves the Doctor’s life. As he starts to warm to her, so do we. And Letts comes up trumps in the casting of Elisabeth Sladen. Her personable nature and conviction would quickly make Sarah a viewers’ favourite.

A plausible reason must be found for another very young woman to come into the Doctor’s orbit. Whereas Jo used nepotism to get into Unit, in The Time Warrior Sarah is a snooping journalist posing as her virologist aunt. And there’s humour in the situation. When the Doctor rushes off to rescue Sarah, saying, “I’ve got to go and find a young girl,” Professor Rubeish mutters, “I should have thought he was a bit old for that sort of thing.”

It’s unusual to see the third Doctor dipping into Earth’s past. The setting was imposed upon Robert Holmes, who was highly resistant to a sub-genre he termed “pseudo-history”. He deliberately leaves the period vague (the Doctor mentions “the early years of the Middle Ages”) and a dearth of historical detail robs the production of authenticity – as do the starkly lit interiors.

Holmes compensates with broad characters and ripe dialogue. Playing Irongron, David Daker relishes the extravagant threats and colourful insults: Linx is “little toad-face”, Lady Eleanor a “narrow-hipped vixen” and the Doctor a “long-shanked rascal with a mighty nose”. We meet the myopic, humorously named Rubeish; and looking back now, it’s eye-opening to see June Brown playing a demure aristo, a world and 12 years away from EastEnders’ Dot Cotton.

Holmes’s greatest success, though, is Linx. In his stocky silver armour, the commander of the Fifth Sontaran Army Space Fleet blends perfectly with the barbaric milieu. The cliffhanger reveal of Linx’s baked-potato bonce is one of those indelible Doctor Who moments. The tongue sticking out is the coup de grâce that brings the mask to life and makes you cringe and smile at the same time.

Holmes has given us masked horrors before (Autons) but here the obsession kicks in. Linx is the first of his six cowled fiends based in a dungeon: Sutekh, Morbius, the Master, Magnus Greel and Sharaz Jek would follow. Perhaps little Robert was traumatised by The Phantom of the Opera at an impressionable age.

Linx’s head, sculpted in fibreglass and latex by John Friedlander, allows ample scope for Kevin Lindsay’s performance. And he has lots of memorable lines. Meeting Sarah, he notes that her “thorax [is] of a different construction” and concludes that humans have “a primary and secondary reproductive cycle. It is an inefficient system. You should change it.”

Linx and Holmes also get credit for finally pinning the Doctor down about his origins. Linx: “What is your native planet?” The Doctor, proudly: “Gallifrey.” Marvellous name! Keen-eyed readers of the weekly comic TV Action may have spotted Gallifrey’s first mention in the 14 July 1973 edition, printed between the recording and screening of this story.

TVA Gallifrey (1)

Ten years into the series and seeds are still being sown that would have far-reaching consequences. Who would have imagined that some 35 years hence, long after Pertwee’s death, Sladen would star in her own highly successful spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures – saving Earth from a Sontaran? So The Time Warrior is undoubtedly seminal but, as a standalone piece of TV drama, there’s no denying its sheer entertainment value.

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Radio Times archive material

Doctor Who received its fifth annual RT cover (the last for many years) and the edition featured interviews with celebrity fans.

RT 1973 cover
RT 1973 feature trail

RT 1973 feature p1
RT 1973 feature p2

The RT Anniversary Special also spoke to graphics designer Bernard Lodge.

RT 1973 Bernard Lodge

RT billings and illustrations.

time warrior billings

[Available on BBC DVD]