I’ve reached “The Time Monster” in my ongoing Doctor Who marathon. Another “turkey”, so-called. We’ll see. This will be only the third time I’ve seen this story as far as I can remember. I saw it on PBS years ago, then a few years back when I bought the VHS, and now I’ll be watching it in the context of the series as a whole. I have to admit that I generally feel kindly disposed towards Doctor Who, and that it takes a lot to really turn me against a story. Consequently, when it comes to stories generally regarded as poor, I often find my opinion differing from the fan consensus. I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable “The Space Pirates” is. I enjoy most of “The Chase” and “The Web Planet”, and even enjoy “The Underwater Menace” to a large degree, mainly because it’s good for a laugh. In the whole series from “An Unearthly Child” up to this point, only “The Daemons” really has more negative than positive points in my view (though as we get into the 80s, the number of stories I dislike does increase). So the question is, where will “The Time Monster” fall?
Episode One starts well enough. We rarely see the Doctor sleeping or dreaming so the scene is unusual right off the bat. He’s having a nightmare about volcanic eruptions and the Master, along with a trident-shaped crystal. I have to admit that I’m getting a little bored with the Master at this point, as much as I enjoy Roger Delgado’s portrayal of the part. At least we’re getting a break from the character every few stories instead of the non-stop appearances of season eight. Here the Master is masquerading as a professor who is conducting research into time. Now I’m not quite sure why he needed help, or why he chose the early seventies in England to set up his plan, but there you are. More comments on that in a moment. And after a three story absence, the UNIT regulars are back. I enjoyed the break from UNIT scenarios, but I’m glad to see Yates, Benton and the Brigadier again.
Like others, I do have to ask: why has the Master set up shop in England, at the same time and place where the Doctor is exiled? As always, I suppose it’s a case of wanting to show up the Doctor, but it really is foolish to set up his project where the few people on Earth who know him and his methods are nearby. It really does complicate his scheme considerably. Especially when the people providing the grant money come along to inspect the project. Despite this, the episode itself is sound and serves to introduce TOMTIT, the time project with the silly name. Other silly and/or annoying instances are Stewart’s lines about “the good ship women’s lib”. The Master may be blatantly chauvanistic, but Stewart’s kissing-up to Doctor Ingram is just as irritating.
I love the overdrive on Bessie, and the brakes that work by absorbing inertia. That’s just good, fun, Doctorish gadgetry there.
Moving along, episode two provides a lot more information on the Master’s scheme and defines the threat as Kronos, a creature who lives outside time and space. There are a couple of really nice scenes in this episode as well. I really enjoyed the instance where the Doctor says that he has been outside time and space, and then describes it to Dr. Ingram. The incidental music and Pertwee’s acting really sell the idea of a mysterious and dangerous environment more than any visual effect could. Benton also gets a great moment where he rather easily sees through the Master’s fake telephone call, then turns the tables on him. It’s a pity he himself falls for the “there’s someone behind you” trick, but still… for the most part, nicely done Sgt. Benton. It’s no mean feat to pull one over on the Master.
Then the Atlantis elements are added, and I love the way the early scenes are filmed, with a glow around the edges. It really seperates them nicely from the modern day portions of the story and creates a feeling of distance. The Master manages to bring Krassis forward in time from ancient Atlantis while the hapless Dr. Percival tags along, generally doing little but suffering verbal abuse. I note with amusement that as soon as Krassis appears, Kronos promptly devours Dr. Percival since his plot function has been fulfilled by another character.
Episode three shows us Kronos, and while the Doctor has built him up as a threat to the entire universe, he’s cowed rather easily by the Master’s use of the priest’s pendant from Atlantis. Which really does call into question just how dangerous Kronos can actually be if he’s afraid of a bit of jewelry. Visually, the idea of a man in a white winged suit with a Greek-ish helmet isn’t terribly impressive, though I do like the way it’s often lit very brightly or kept slightly out of focus. And is it just me, or can the viewer easily draw a link between Kronos and the Reapers in “Father’s Day”? Each has a different visual appearance, but much the same concept behind them. I wonder if Paul Cornell had that in mind?
We’re halfway through, and I’m still enjoying the story. The attack by the various anachronistic soldiers and by the airplane against Captain Yates’ convoy is not terribly effective, but I get the idea that the Master is toying with Yates as much as anything. Particularly when he taunts Yates and then talks about just how much he enjoyed the attack. Good old Benton gets the drop on him again, but the capture is foiled by Stewart.
I think it’s rather clever how the limitations on the TARDIS are avoided this time around by the Doctor’s method of linking his TARDIS to the Master’s and essentially either hitching a ride or following him. I don’t much care for the design of the interior walls though, and I’m glad this is the only story to feature them. Whoever put a different central column on the Master’s TARDIS deserves some kudos though. The whole sequence where the Doctor attempts in vain to talk the Master out of his mad scheme is entertaining, even if the Doctor ought to know that his effort is bound to fail. It’s great fun to see the Master really enjoying himself, both here and later on at the end of episode six, taunting and ignoring the Doctor.
I happen to like the two Atlantis episodes. The story really does switch gears here and acquire a different feel entirely, but that’s one of Doctor Who’s nearly-unique attributes. You can spend half a story in a research facility in England, 1972, and the other half in Ancient Atlantis with Minotaurs and a 500 year old king, and it feels perfectly natural. The Atlantean characters that we’ve only glimpsed so far take center stage, and it’s rather interesting to see the Master acting as almost a pseudo-Doctor, landing and trying to get in good with the local authorities. His relationship with Queen Galliea is something quite different as well, and though it’s obvious that he’s just using her to get at the crystal, watching the Master put the moves on a lady is quite unique for the character. I can’t imagine Anthony Ainley or Eric Roberts working in this story, but Delgado has given the character enough range that it’s convincing. I said earlier that I was tired of seeing him so often, but I’ve found that I really enjoyed his performance as the story went on.
As for the other half of the tryst, Ingrid Pitt may be dreadful later on in “Warriors of the Deep”, but she’s quite good here as the proud Queen. King Dallios doesn’t know his wife as well as he thinks he does, and it costs him. She seems to have had a thing for Hippias in the past, and now for the Master as well, while her poor husband, for all his wisdom, apparently has no idea that she’s being unfaithful.
The Minotaur is introduced and dispatched rather quickly in a far-too-easy manner. The Master pulls off a palace coup behind the scenes and declares himself king of Atlantis. He then sets Kronos loose, apparently leading to the destruction of Atlantean civilization. If I’m not mistaken, the king mentions some islands sinking at some point, so perhaps those were the areas destroyed by Azal, then Kronos decimates what’s left, and then the Doctor lands there in 1972 to find Professor Zaroff working his mischief. Contrary to popular fan myth, there are not three seperate fates for Atlantis, thus supposedly proving that continuity in the classic series is a shambles. TUM takes place in the present day (relatively), the attack by Kronos takes place 3500 years ago, and Azal is very non-specific about what part he played in Atlantis’ fate.
The final scenes are good ones for Jo Grant, as she proves willing to give her life if it will save the universe. Katy Manning is very good, as indeed is Roger Delgado, who is positively bursting with bravado and scorn for the Doctor here, and is a joy to watch. “I’m not going to dance to the Doctor’s tune,” he tells Jo. “If you want to stop me, try!” The final exchange with Kronos in the void is surreal and visually well-handled. And of course, the Master escapes again, still having learned nothing by yet another failure to control something too powerful for him. First the mind parasite, then Azal and now Kronos. No wonder he settles down and for his next scheme, decides to just provoke a war. Must be child’s play after some of the stuff he’s attempted.
I honestly don’t get just what fans find so offensive about this story. I’ll agree there’s some scenes that don’t really advance the plot and just tread water, but for the most part none of them are less than interesting. Only the Doctor’s time disruptor thing made up of bottles and other household junk fails to convince. “The Time Monster” is worth watching for any number of reasons, not the least of which is one of the livelier performances Roger Delgado gave as the Master. And the Doctor’s story to Jo about the Monk he knew as a boy. And Ingrid Pitt’s good performance. Watch it, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it actually is.