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2x09. The Time Meddler
Writer: Dennis Spooner
Director: Douglas Camfield
Script Editor: Donald Tosh
Producer: Verity Lambert

Synopsis: The TARDIS materializes in Northumbria just before the Viking attack and Norman invasion of 1066. While attempting to prove to Steven, who stowed away before the crew escaped from Mechanus, that the TARDIS really is a time machine, the Doctor discovers that a member of his own race is posing as a monk and attempting to alter English history.

Review: "The Time Meddler" is a decent serial, though it probably would have been better as three episodes instead of four. Stylistically, it reflects the transition the series was undergoing at the time, towards a greater emphasis on the science fiction format and with the companions assuming an increasingly secondary role to the Doctor.

The serial is probably best remembered for being the first to introduce another member of the Doctor's race, in the character of the Meddling Monk. Of course, this doesn't have quite the same impact now, especially for the great many of us who originally started watching Doctor Who long after the mythos of the Time Lords and Gallifrey (neither of which are actually mentioned in "The Time Meddler") had been established. For viewers at the time, however, the revelation of the Monk's TARDIS at the end of Episode 3 must have been a real surprise, and it's an effective first step towards fleshing out the series' fictional universe a little more.

The Monk has his moments of silliness -- at one point we see his entire plan written out on a board, for no conceivable purpose other than as a lazy piece of exposition -- but he still makes for an effective villain, partly because he seems sincere in his good intentions. He honestly believes that he can improve history by destroying the Vikings and giving the English a better chance against the Normans, but he hasn't considered what unintended consequences might result from altering the timeline. It's also nice to see that the first Doctor, who can sometimes be rather arrogant and condescending, realizes that he and others like him don't have all the answers and that the most responsible thing to do is to leave history alone.

(On the other hand, this raises a question that I'm not sure the series will ever resolve satisfactorily. How does the Doctor, as a time traveler, distinguish between established history and open-ended future? That is to say, suppose he had previously traveled to the 30th century and witnessed Earth destroyed as a result of the Daleks' invasion in the 22nd century. Would he then have insisted, in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," that aiding the rebels was an irresponsible alteration of history? The only answer I can think of right now is that the Doctor left Gallifrey sometime just prior to 1963 according to Earth's calendar, that his "future" is therefore roughly the same as the audience's, and that he avoids knowing any more about it than is absolutely necessary.)

"The Time Meddler" is also the first serial to feature none of the original companions, with Ian and Barbara having departed at the end of "The Chase." Steven Taylor, having stowed away on the TARDIS at the end of the last adventure, now joins the crew, startling the Doctor and Vicki with his presence at the beginning of Episode 1. Steven's initial skepticism that the TARDIS really is a time machine makes for some amusing conflict (especially when modern technology keeps turning up, thanks to the Monk), and the readiness with which the Doctor accepts him shows how his attitude towards the idea of humans traveling in the TARDIS has changed since we first met him in "100,000 B.C." Still, Steven isn't quite as smart and competent as Ian or Barbara, and neither he nor Vicki is really capable of driving a story on their own the way their predecessors might have. Instead, the Doctor assumes center stage as the character driving the story, despite his minimal role in the events of Episode 2.

As I said at the beginning, the biggest drawback to the serial is that it feels padded. The script does a decent job setting up the mystery at the beginning as to what the Monk is planning and where the anachronistic technology comes from, but that doesn't change the fact that the first two episodes mostly consist of people wandering through the woods, and none of the English or Viking characters are really all that compelling. That said, "The Time Meddler" still represents an important expansion of the Doctor Who universe, and it's a decent finish to a second season that overall proved disappointingly uneven.

Rating: *** (out of four)

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