Doctor Who: Revisiting THE TIME MEDDLER

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Vote Saxon! On its 50th Anniversary Christopher Morley revisits the pure historical(ish) Doctor Who story, The Time Meddler.

Doctor Who had delivered a handful of 'pure historical' stories (Marco Polo, The Aztecs, The Reign of Terror, The Romans, and The Crusade) before this historical curve-ball was thrown on July 3rd 1965! And the baseball metaphor is entirely apt - we move now from the 'first base' of the Doctor interacting with established history to 'second' by throwing a little more sci-fi into the mix.

The history is of course still around, but this is the first time we meet another renegade Time Lord - the Meddling Monk (or simply the Monk). You might remember rumours that Patrick Stewart had been approached to play a new incarnation of Gallifrey's only seemingly confirmed brother, devoted to God? This is his first (Peter Butterworth), to be followed by a second (Graeme Garden) opposite the Eighth Doctor in a run of audio stories (The Book Of Kells etc)..

A former friend of the Doctor's from their days at the Academy back on Gallifrey, where he went by the name of Mortimus, he decides to follow his old mucker's lead 50 years after the Doctor's initial departure - arriving at a Saxon monastery in Northumbria. The year, a notable one indeed, is 1066...

Welcome, then, to The Time Meddler! Steven Taylor's first full TARDIS trip (having joined the First & Vicki on their travels in the final act of The Chase) sees the new team attempting to prevent established history, including a certain famous Battle at Hastings, from taking a very different course.

Consider that the Monk's 'to do list' contains eight simple (to him, anyway) tasks. First is to arrive in Northumbria, easy enough. He's managed to snaffle himself the local monastery as a base of sorts, handily enough - bonus. Also it might explain just why he's sporting a tonsure & robes!

Taking holy orders just might be the last thing on his mind, though. Let's turn our attention for a second to the other points on his little list. 'Position atomic cannon'. Err, right you are then. 'Sight Vikings' is next, then 'Destroy Viking fleet'.

Now you might be beginning to see just why he's got a reputation as the titular meddler. If you paid even a smidgeon of attention in the process of learning your early British history, you'll know that King Harold got both one in the eye (an arrow) & a comprehensive defeat for his troubles in attempting to ward off William the Conqueror.

And the Viking invasion the Monk's so eager to prevent served as a key prelude to that struggle. Of course, he sees all this as something of a game - but the Doctor won't be too happy, at this stage still happy to stick to the non-intervention policy laid down by his & indeed Mortimus's kin back on Gallifrey. 

Looks like the final three points on his list might have to wait, then. 'Norman Landing', ' Battle Of Hastings' & 'Meet King Harold', just in case you were wondering.

The Doctor is doing his best to console a stubborn Vicki, clearly still struggling to come to terms with Ian & Barbara's earlier departure. Hearing a noise from the TARDIS' 'living quarters' they brace themselves for a Dalek attack! They find no such thing, though. 

That astronaut chappy from Mechanus has only gone & stowed away..while the machine the First still refuses to call 'Sexy' (at least in public) manages to find its way onto a rocky shore. Little do they know the Monk is watching them from on high.

How did Steven end up here? Simple - fleeing the destruction of the city of the Mechonoids who'd been holding him prisoner, he collapsed into the grand old police box. He doesn't believe Vicki's explanation that his new home is a time machine, but there's no time for any lingering doubt.

Finding a Viking helmet in the course of their exploration, the Doctor is able to calculate that he & his friends are in the 10th or 11th century. Young Taylor, though, is a little slow to catch on, thinking that it could simply be a child's toy. Get ready for one of the best 'grump' moments the Doctor will ever produce.

Exasperated, he asks his newest charge if he thinks it's a space helmet for a cow. Whether he's ever had any experience of handling would-be universal menaces that go 'moo' remains unrecorded though. Shame! Unwisely, the young old one makes the choice to go off exploring on his own, leaving Vicki & Steven to have a wander - leaving the Monk free to wander out of hiding behind a rock & take a closer look at 'Sexy'.

Football fans may also note Mortimus's slight resemblance to William 'Fatty' Foulke, the rather large goalkeeper who entered Sheffield United folklore at least in part due to his enormous frame - the 'who ate all the pies?' chant believed to have had its first outing at Bramall Lane in 1894 to serenade the big man.

If the Doctor was at the match that day, he might have joined in! But before he can remind the Monk of his past between the posts, maybe even going as far as a gentle knockabout with his foe (he's quite sure he's got a supply of balls in one of his cupboards back aboard the TARDIS) he has to find his way to the monastery & discern the source of a strange sort of singing, which appears to have rapidly distorted from its original fine voice.

A ramble in which he's aided by the meddlesome bowl-cut wearer, who's been expecting him & even been so kind as to leave the door unlocked for his former colleague. Following the sing-song, he finally works out where the noise is coming from. Is it some terrifying alien with a liking for music? Well, in short, no. It's a gramophone - attached to an amplifier.

Deciding he doesn't like the record, he goes to stop it & possibly pick out a new one. Big mistake! Some handily - placed bars help to render the Doctor a prisoner. Who's his captor? Why, none other than the Monk...though he does at least offer a breakfast service, using his futuristic (given the time period) toaster & griddle.

Considering the effort, you might be surprised to learn that the hospitality is rejected, killing any dreams Mortimus might have had of opening a nice B&B in time for Saxon season - no, not that one (in case you happen to be thinking of the Master's political alias). His gloom is short-lived once he spots a Viking longboat coming along. Could he possibly be about to put another nice big tick on his list?

Steven & Vicki are a bit waylaid on account of being prisoners of the Saxon villagers before being freed following initial suspicions that they could be spies for the Odin-worshippers & allowed to try & catch up with the Doctor, whom the nice monk they encounter once they reach their intended destination tells them he hasn't seen, not in the slightest.

His ruse is easily worked out, though, & plans are made to free the First from captivity & the threat of more awful breakfasts. They know he'll be alright on that score as he has cereal bars stowed in the pockets of his smoking jacket, at least. 

Conveniently for them if not the villagers, a Saxon-Viking skirmish provides the perfect cover for a daring raid to rescue..some blankets. Has their intended recovery mission been in vain?

Happily not - he's found & used a secret passage & is by now back in the village, where he'd made an earlier stop & is currently catching up on the local gossip - including learning of the Viking invasion. Most likely after fretting over whether they've bought any attack cows with them, fearful of the pronged assault of hoof & helmet, he makes his biggest discovery yet - the Monk's a major player in all of this & must be stopped, along with the dastardly Viking bovine force.

Achieving this aim with the aid of a stick (yes, really) which he pretends is a rifle, he manages to nullify the threat at least partially. What's happened to the atomic cannon? Steven & Vicki find it pointing in the direction of the Viking ships en route to find the Doctor & decide to make their way back to Northumbria's most dangerous religious building in order to put a stop to whatever its maddest Monk has planned.

And there's yet more drama, sparked by the First's desire to try out Mortimus's cool new look. Answering a knock at the door, he's taken hostage by the not very nice Vikings! In the process of searching for him, his companions stumble across a notable Who first - another TARDIS, in the guise of a sarcophagus/crypt - belonging to the Monk.

What's inside, you may well ask? Some weapons & a few curios - written records of his meeting with Leonardo Da Vinci, who the Doctor will of course meet four incarnations later (City Of Death) – among other notables. Before he can even think about 'that dreadful woman with no eyebrows who never smiled' though, he has to interrogate his old classmate. Why is he here & what does he want?

Could it be that in helping Harold seize the throne he simply wants to aid humanity as well as having fun & doing what he sees as good? It seems so. After comparing notes on their respective time machines, its back to cat & mouse. 

Blaming the Doctor, Vicki & Steven for the Viking predicament, he has a band of them tie up the thorns in the side of his brilliant plan. In a show of duplicity, he claims a horde of atomic bazookas are 'charms' which will help ensure smooth sailing for his beardy friends - but which he knows will actually help sink them.

Before he can retreat to the monastery & listen to some Amon Amarth (among the finest examples of 'Viking metal'- heavy musical sub-genre, not spears, the other kind of Viking metal) though, his attempt at escape when all goes wrong is foiled, the Doctor tampering with his TARDIS & joining the Saxons in a feat before departing for pastures new (Galaxy 4)...

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