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9x05. The Time Monster
Writer: Robert Sloman
Director: Paul Bernard
Script Editor: Terrance Dicks
Producer: Barry Letts

Synopsis: The Master, posing as "Professor Thascales," is running an experiment called Transmission Of Matter Through Interstitial Time (TOMTIT) at the Newton Institute designed to summon Kronos, an ancient Chronavore with the power to consume time itself, in the hopes of using the entity to control the universe. The Doctor pursues him through time to Atlantis, where they both try to gain possession of a crystal needed to complete the Master's plan.

Review: There's simply no nice way to say this: "The Time Monster" is a big pile of garbage. Despite a few redeeming facets here and there, the serial is mostly a mess of incomprehensible plotting, bad special effects, and corny dialogue, all with a tone that is often jarringly childish. In fact, I've found this review surprisingly difficult to write. I generally prefer to explain what I see as a serial's merits and faults by singling out specific scenes as examples, but the scenes in "The Time Monster" are frequently bad on so many levels at once that it's hard to decide how to categorize all the badness.

The concept behind "The Time Monster" is that the Master is able to access a realm outside time through, as Sergeant Benton puts it, the space "between now and now," and thereby summon Kronos, as well as create other manipulations of time. As a concept, there's nothing particularly wrong with this, but it quickly descends into endless technobabble and random silliness. There are numerous scenes of people shouting fictional jargon about some weird temporal thingy or other while frantically pushing buttons on consoles, but the script fails to create suspense because there's no logic we can follow and no choices that actually mean anything. Instead we just get completely arbitrary developments (Kronos has arrived in the form of a big shrieking bird with a helmet! A German bomb from World War II is going to fall on the UNIT soldiers! The Brigadier is stuck in time outside the building! Benton has turned into a baby!), most of which are resolved when the script decides it's time for another weird temporal thingy. The Brigadier is portrayed as a buffon for his failure to understand what's happening and his impatience when the Doctor tells him they have to wait to take action because of all the weird temporal thingies, but personally I'm with him: none of this makes any sense at all, and the characters are little more than pieces in a board game where no one seems to know the rules. It's something of a cliché to suggest that a six-part Doctor Who serial could have been shorter, but it's hard to avoid in this case: "The Time Monster" could have been cut by at least an episode simply by removing all the absurd pseudoscience.

I complained in my review of "The Sea Devils" that the Master seems to do the same thing every time he shows up, i.e. latch onto an in-progress invasion or otherwise try to harness an already extant alien power source. At first, I thought maybe "The Time Monster" was going to take a different approach, in that he's actually doing something on his own when we first see him. Instead, he ends up diving head-first into the pit of muwahahahaha-ing camp villainy. For one thing, no matter how hard Roger Delgado tries to make it seem intimidating, his "I am the Master, and YOU WILL O-BEY ME" hypnosis routine has just gotten old, and at this point I end up laughing every time he tries it. More to the point, his scheming turns out not to be very smart or competent after all. He has constructed TOMTIT on his own and is capable of using it to manipulate time in a way that could conceivably subdue all of Earth -- after all, if he can let loose bombs and soldiers from past wars in Britain when he tries to attack the UNIT convoy, imagine if he did that all over the world. Instead he goes for "all or nothing," as he puts it, and tries to control Kronos so as to rule the entire universe. After the Autons, the Keller Machine, the Axons, the Doomsday Weapon, Azal, and the Sea Devils, you'd think he might know better than to attempt something like this, but apparently not. Of course, you'd also think he'd be too busy to engage in what amounts to a hi-tech version of "I can't hear you!" with the Doctor, especially if, as he claims, he could simply banish the Doctor into a time vortex whenever he wants. But you'd be wrong about that too, because this supposedly dangerous arch-villain with a diabolical plan to take over the universe does indeed find the time to "pick up the Doctor's words ahead of time, then feed them back through the TARDIS' telepathic circuits" in order to . . . make the Doctor talk backwards. Oooh, scary.

The backwards-talk scene, incidentally, is a prime example of a scene that manages to be bad in almost every conceivable aspect. Not only does it make the Master look like an idiot for wasting time when he could easily kill or at least neutralize the Doctor, and not only does it resort to ridiculous technobabble to justify itself, but it also portrays the Doctor/Master rivalry at about the level of two schoolchildren bickering in the sandbox. This is just one of many elements I have in mind when I say that "The Time Monster" is often surprisingly childish, other examples being the cartoonish sound effect when Yates throws a grenade, corny jokes like "You can say that again!" "Why would I say it again?",  and Benton being turned into an infant as a side effect of the TOMTIT experiments. In fact, while watching this, I was uncomfortably reminded of the Doctor Who stories I would make up when I was seven years old. Of course, a seven-year-old mentality is still somewhat less annoying than the Beavis-and-Butthead mentality that would invent a piece of technology with the acronym TOMTIT in the first place. I'd ignore this as accidental cluelessness, but the script itself seems to be making an issue of it, given that the characters themselves snicker at the title. In fact, the way it keeps coming up in the first couple of episodes, without anyone acknowledging exactly why they're snickering, almost makes me think the production team were just trying to see how many times they could get away with saying it on television.

The final two episodes, in which the action shifts to Atlantis, are a little more tolerable simply because there isn't so much absurd pseudoscience. Still, if "The Time Monster" in general plays like a bad re-hash of "The Daemons," with the Master summoning an ancient force that has influenced Earth's history, then the final two episodes are a bad re-hash of "The Curse of Peladon." The costuming and aesthetics are similar, and once again there are rumors of a terrible monster that must be confronted (the Minotaur), but without the subtext about international alliances and societal progress. Instead, we are given little more than stock "palace intrigue" situations. King Dalios and Queen Galleia are mildly engaging characters, and I suppose the script may be trying to get some sort of message across about the Master's manipulation of Atlantean religion, but at this point the serial had just lost my interest, and there certainly isn't anything interesting enough to merit the forty minutes spent in Atlantis. The inclusion of the Minotaur is especially perfunctory, given that the Doctor is able to defeat it with an old bull-fighting routine.

The last episode of "The Time Monster" does at least give the Doctor and Jo some decent scenes. When they're imprisoned in Atlantis, the Doctor tells a story about how, at a time in his life when he'd lost all hope, a strange old hermit who lived near his home helped him to see the good things in the universe and how a decaying old flower suddenly seemed like "the daisiest daisy ever" to him. This doesn't amount to much more than a "glass half full" philosophy, but it fits with the Doctor's generally optimistic outlook, and it's intriguing to hear him allude to his past (especially since he refuses to tell Jo exactly why he was so despondent at the time). We also see that, despite his capacity for self-sacrifice, the Doctor has trouble making the decision to sacrifice Jo's life: it is she, and not the Doctor, who decides to stop the Master by executing a "time-ram" that could kill all three of them. And while the Doctor's rivalry with the Master mostly plays as a bad joke, it takes an interesting turn at the end. When Kronos prepares to sentence the Master to an eternity of torment, the Master demonstrates that his inflated sense of pride does have some limits, committing the ultimate self-humiliation by throwing himself at the Doctor's feet and begging for forgiveness. The Doctor, of course, can't help but plead for the Master's freedom to Kronos, reasoning that even the Master doesn't deserve such a horrible punishment.

These few good moments, however, can't compensate for all the nonsense we have to sit through, and "The Time Monster" pulls off the curious feat of somehow being both completely absurd and utterly dull. The Pertwee era got off to a fantastic start with Season 7, stumbled a bit in Season 8, and seemed to be making a partial return to form in Season 9. I think that verdict still stands on the basis of the previous four installments, but Season 9 certainly ends with a resounding thud and what might be the low point of all the perserved serials to date.

Other notes:

- The scene in which the Master summons various soldiers and vehicles to attack the UNIT squadron is another one that's bad on numerous levels at once. It relies on bogus science, it's generally cartoonish, and it manages to make the Brigadier look like an idiot for accusing Yates of "hallucinating." I'm not usually a big fan of Yates' backtalk, but I must admit I chuckled when the Brigadier asks over the radio about the source of the gunfire and Yates replies, "Another hallucination, sir."

- On a related note, it's a telling sign that Benton, who turns into a baby and ends up standing naked in the laboratory when he's restored to his normal age, receives the kindest treatment of any UNIT character in "The Time Monster." He has a good moment when he sees through the Master's impersonation of the Brigadier and designs a ruse to trap him (though it's partially undermined when he subsequently falls for a simplistic "look out behind you!" trick).

- I'm kind of surprised that the BBC allowed the whole "TOMTIT" thing at all, really. I certainly don't think you could say that over and over again on American network television today, especially in the post-wardrobe-malfunction era.

Rating: * (out of four)

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