This story takes
THE TV STORY
AND THE NOVEL
(& BARRY LETTS,
'MYTHS AND LEGENDS'
DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD
2851) RELEASED IN
THE MASTER IS BACK!
ASSUMING THE ALIAS OF
HE HARBOURS A PLOT TO
SEIZE CONTROL OF TIME
ITSELF. CAN THE DOCTOR
AND JO THWART HIS
WHAT SECRETS DOES
CRYSTAL HOLD? WHY
IS THE ANCIENT CITY OF
ATLANTIS CENTRAL TO
THE MASTER'S PLAN?
AND WHAT MYTHICAL
TERROR LIES AT THE
HEART OF THE MAZE?
WITH TIME LITERALLY
AGAINST THEM, THE
ODDS MIGHT JUST BE
TOO GREAT FOR THE
The Time Monster
20TH MAY 1972 - 24TH JUNE 1972
Just like The Dæmons a year before, The Time Monster was penned by the team of Barry Letts and Robert Sloman (but this time credited to the latter, BBC rules once again preventing the producer from taking any on screen credit), and so as one would expect it echoes The Dæmons in a number of ways. However, The Time Monster is a much richer piece, fusing not only myths and legends with a panoply of pseudo-scientific elements, but Zen philosophy too. It is a story about “being but not becoming” in both the spiritual and the scientific sense; about the trap of greed, the virtues of self-sacrifice and the inconspicuous wonder of life, the universe and everything.
Given the superlative success of The Dæmons, it’s hard to be critical of Letts and Sloman borrowing many of that story’s building blocks here. At its most basic, The Dæmons was a story about the Master trying to harness the power of a being far more powerful than himself for his own sinister purposes, only to be hoist by his own petard; about a companion whose courage and decency is, in of itself, all that is required to save the world. The Time Monster is precisely that too - only the details of location and superbeing have changed. However, it is these “details” that give The Time Monster its uniqueness; these details that set it apart from the miscellany of UNIT adventures and outer-space escapades found either side of it.
Perhaps the serial’s most innovative
feature is its compartmentalisation.
Recognising that serials running for
longer than the popular four episodes
were in danger of burning themselves
out, the writers took the bold decision
to make The Time Monster a tale of
two halves in the truest sense. The
adventure begins in the present with
the Brigadier and Sergeant Benton
investigating the enigmatic Professor
Thascales and his hard-science Transmission of Matter through Interstitial Time (“TOMTIT”) machine, however as the plot unfurls and the masks drop, the action shifts back thousands
of years to the lost city of Atlantis - a world of Minotaurs, Queens, and Chronovores. Not only does this improve the pace of the story, but it lends it a sense of volatility befitting a season finale.
It also helps that the writers’ plot is both clever and gripping. The notion of “interstitial time”, with its sub-atomic-like gaps “between now and now”, is mind-bogglingly fascinating stuff, and as Professor Jim Al Khalili discusses in the DVD release’s Between Now… and Now! documentary, looking at time as something with essence is not so outlandish an idea as it first sounds. The idea of a race – the Chronovores – existing outside time, being but never becoming, is a more difficult conceit for the good Professor to swallow, however, but that doesn’t make it any less appealing – or any less unnerving. This story’s Chronovore may be largely portrayed by a man in a daft white suit squawking like a bird, but there is something unconscionably disquieting about it; something ethereal. And daft suit or not, director Paul Bernard has managed to shoot the eponymous time monster in such a way that even with the limitations of costume, Kronos still works effectively. This observation could be applied
to the whole, exquisitely-framed serial in macrocosm.
The Time Monster’s defining trait though is not its structure or even its pleasing juxtaposition of science and myth – it is its spirituality. Letts and Sloman gift Jon Pertwee with some of the finest scenes of his tenure; scenes that would make us look at the Doctor completely anew. The most patent example is the scene in which he and Jo are imprisoned, and in an effort
to raise his companion’s spirits the Doctor tells her a story about the blackest day of his life. This anecdote is effectively a retelling of a tale from The Mumonkan - the Doctor speaks of an old hermit who influenced him in his youth, and tells of how on a day when he hit absolute rock bottom, in a Mahakasyapa moment he learned to appreciate the simple, all-pervading beauty of life by regarding a simple flower. Such sentiments bleed beautifully into the story’s dénouement, which encapsulates perhaps better than any other the conceit that the Doctor’s simple respect for life and living things is, concurrently, both his utmost strength and his fatal flaw. How many future lives would have been saved had the Doctor left the Master to endure in perpetual torment here, a plaything of the creature that he sought to enslave? The answer is innumerable, yet the fact that the viewer is left in no doubt that the Doctor’s decision was the correct one sums up the writers’ brilliance perfectly.
But there is more to The Time Monster than metaphysical musings and Buddhist doctrine – it’s also an astonishingly impressive outing for Roger Delgado’s Master. His penultimate appearance in the series is tantamount to a ‘Master Greatest Hits’ compilation – you name it, if it’s in his repertoire then it’s in this story, and probably more exaggerated that it’s ever been before. His penchant for disguise? Meet Professor Thascales - Thascales being the Greek word for ‘Master’. Hypnosis? Not only does the Master use hypnosis in this story, but he actually uses it successfully - probably for the first time since Terror of the Autons! And how does Doctor Ingram so succinctly put it? A “dictatorial attitude combined with infernal courtesy” – well that’s here in profusion too. At one point the Master even unveils a brand new talent – the ability to mimic another’s speech. The poor Brig would never live that one down.
“It’s just like old times.”
The Time Monster is also littered with memorable
supporting turns. In the story’s present (whenever
that may be), brother and sister team Stuart Hyde
(played by Omega actor Ian Collier) and Dr Ruth
Ingram (Wanda Moore) carry much of the story on
their own, while in the past, the immeasurably old
Atlantian King’s gorgeous and treacherous wife
Galleia constantly threatens to steal the show with
her seductive evil. Hammer legend and Macros
scriptwriter Ingrid Pitt dominates every scene that
she’s in, particularly the love scenes she shares
with Roger Delgado. That’s right – love scenes.
The Sound of Drums wasn’t the first time that the
Master found himself a lady friend, the old dog.
If I had to pick fault with any aspect of The Time
Monster, I would just deduct a few marks for the
appalling stinginess of it. It’s one thing to re-dress
the TARDIS set to look like it’s full of incongruous
satellite dishes, but to flip the set around and have
it double up as the Master’s TARDIS is tightening
the purse strings just a little too enthusiastically for
my liking. Surely they could have at least painted
the set black? I suppose that we should be grateful
that this horrendous TARDIS set never appeared
again – apparently it was ‘accidentally’ damaged
shortly after filming. I wonder…
Above: Professor Jim Al Khalili peers into the gap Between Now... and Now!
Sadly the DVD’s bonus material is a little thin on the ground. Beyond Between Now… and Now!, the only features of note are a watch once and then discard restoration comparison, and a commentary moderated by range regular Toby Hadoke. The latter, as ever, is both edifying and entertaining, featuring some fascinating input from Mr Letts in particular, but it
is let down somewhat by the absence of the irreplaceable Katy Manning.
Nevertheless, The Time Monster brought another successful season of classic Doctor Who to a magnificent close and, much like The Dæmons, it served not only as a classy season finale but also as a wonderful showcase for the era. To this day, this serial remains one of my favourite third Doctor stories, and accordingly its DVD release comes recommended, irrespective of its special features’ deficiencies.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008, 2011
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Despite rampant rumours to the contrary, The Time Monster is the only Doctor Who story to have depicted something approaching the destruction of Atlantis. In The Dæmons the year before, Azal warned “remember Atlantis…”, suggesting that his species enforced some memorable disciplinary deterrents there, but there is nothing to prove that they did, or indeed that he was talking about the same Atlantis as the ones seen in this story. This brings us to the Atlantis that was destroyed in the second Doctor serial The Underwater Menace – a city that, given its existence in the late 20th century, must either be a different city to the one seen in The Time Monster, or the same one that had been long-since sunken but not destroyed (after all, we only see a single temple topple here).
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