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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 October 2015
Saxons, Vikings, a mysterious Monk, a blue Police Box on the beach and “a space helmet for a cow”. 1066 and all that – just like they *didn’t* teach it in school… 5*

‘The Time Meddler’ is the first of its kind. Dennis Spooner invented the ‘history-meets-the-alien’ genre of ‘Doctor Who’ right here, in a story where wit and comedy are at least as important as the historical background. It’s a style that would later be used many times from ‘The Time Warrior’ onwards, sometimes played for comedy, sometimes for drama and usually producing memorable results.

I enjoyed this story very much; it’s not the most action-packed adventure but then, it was never intended to be. It’s a character piece and an ingenious mystery story, mostly played for laughs and played brilliantly too. And on top of that, this is the story where the Doctor’s own back-story suddenly changed and expanded; the massive episode 3 cliff-hanger is a classic moment, it’s still great now and must have caused a lot of excited comment back in 1965.

On the wild Northumbrian coast in 1066, the Saxon villagers live in constant fear of Viking raids or even full-scale invasion. The Norse marauders have already ransacked the local monastery and driven out its inhabitants, but now the monks seem to have returned. Their chanting can be heard from the village and one Monk is occasionally seen wandering about the cliff-tops, gazing out to sea as if waiting for something he expects…

The adventure looks and sounds great, all studio-based but with superb interiors and ‘exteriors’ by Barry Newbery, well-chosen stock film footage and moving sky backcloths, it looks a much bigger scale. Douglas Camfield’s direction is (as always) excellent, making the very most of the sets and available shots. The only lacklustre part of the whole production is the fight scene between Vikings and Saxons – partly because of the limited studio space and time and what could be shown on the BBC at teatime, but also because (and the script does make this clear later), the Vikings are drunk on stolen mead and can’t fight properly.

This may be mostly a comedy, but there is a final death scene which sounds gruesome (an audio recording is in the Special Features) and must have looked too gruesome for the (Australian?) censors because it was cut from the film version that is the surviving copy of this story. And if we read between the scenes, it’s strongly implied that the Vikings are again behaving with all the appalling brutality that history records.

This restored DVD edition looks very much better than the old version that I saw when it was televised again in (I think) the early 1990s. The quality could not be brought up to the highest restoration standards of ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ etc. presumably because of the surviving materials, but a lot of work has obviously been done (as explained by a short Special Feature) and the results are very good indeed.

The Doctor and Vicki arrive with an unexpected new companion, Steven Taylor, who sought refuge in the TARDIS at the end of the previous Dalek story, ‘The Chase’, in which original companions Ian and Barbara were finally able to return home to Earth, 1963. The relationship between the Doctor, Vicki and Steven makes a big part of this story and it’s very well written and played perfectly.

William Hartnell is quite simply brilliant; I do wish there wasn’t always so much comment about his ‘fluffed lines’. Yes, there’s one in this story, but so what? He was recording TV almost ‘as live’, when a line is dropped he tries to pick it up and carries on performing. And what a great performance it is. At first he’s a quieter, more vulnerable Doctor than before; in a gentle, contemplative scene with Vicki he’s obviously distressed that Ian and Barbara have gone home (and what a change that is from their first meeting!)

Then Steven unexpectedly appears and the Doctor flips into comedy mode, evidently pleased to have an unexpected extra companion and sparkling with good humour. “Sheer poetry” (as he tells Steven) as he chortles about the space-pilot’s disbelief that he’s hitched a lift on a time machine – surely such things don’t exist? Oh yes they do Steven, and more of them than you (or the viewers) think.

Maureen O’Brien and Peter Purves are excellent as the newly teamed-up companions. They spend a lot of the story together, usually skulking around trying to keep out of trouble or get the Doctor out of it. Steven is the tough, self-assertive space guy and thinks he can handle anything; Vicki has much more time travel experience and knows exactly what she’s doing, thank you! Their friendly, sometimes slightly exasperated relationship works very well as Steven gradually accepts he really *has* travelled in Time – that certainly looks a very convincing Saxon village – but in that case, where did the Saxon villager get his wristwatch…?

The Doctor is of course ahead of them, finding a clue over a drinking-horn of mead in the village before heading off to the monastery to investigate. He knows there’s something very odd going on and it’s obvious from the subtle performance that the Doctor thinks he knows what that is. But he’s expected at the monastery, because while it may be short on monks, The Monk isn’t short on intelligence or cunning - in fact, he’s remarkably similar to the Doctor…

Peter Butterworth was a fantastic choice to guest star as The Monk and he and William Hartnell play off each other brilliantly in a funny, quite gentle but very determined battle of wits and rival moralities. The Monk is up to something the Doctor simply can’t allow, because “you can’t rewrite history”, can you? Says who?! Given that the story is called ‘The Time Meddler’ it’s not a spoiler to say that rewriting our history is exactly the Monk’s intention.

The Monk isn’t a real villain, but nor is he doing it just for fun (as I’ve sometimes heard it said). Like the Doctor, he wants to make things better, but his methods are very different. Listen for the speech here where he tells the Doctor his motives – to prevent wars, save lives, help the development of humanity. They’re noble aims but it’s obvious that though he’s a well-meaning time meddler, you can’t mess with history without probably causing unforeseen disasters along the timelines – so the Doctor must stop him! And the way he stops him (both clever and a great visual moment) shows the First Doctor may seem more genial to his friends, but he still has that old ruthless core. You have to feel a little sorry for the Monk!

I think this story is a great example of the best of the Hartnell era, and definitely worth five stars. 5*

Thanks for reading.

*** SPOILER PARAGRAPH! *** The episode 3 cliff-hanger doesn’t have a Viking in sight and it doesn’t need one, because it’s one of the all-time greats as Vicki says: “The Monk’s got a TARDIS!” Not just a time machine but another TARDIS! In that single moment viewers at last knew for certain that the Doctor wasn’t just some solitary genius who’d built his own time machine. He and the Monk must both be from an advanced alien people with a planet out there somewhere, where they roll TARDISes off an unimaginably sophisticated production line. So, without naming them for several years yet, Gallifrey and the Time Lords were born. It’s quite a moment.
***

DVD Special Features:
The commentary is really excellent. Original Producer Verity Lambert (this was her final story in charge), Peter Purves, Story Editor Donald Tosh and Designer Barry Newbery share their memories in a lively and fascinating discussion about not only this story, but their experiences of the whole Hartnell era and working at the BBC at that time. It’s a superb commentary, made poignant by the fact that Verity Lambert sadly died a few weeks later. A written obituary and a photo gallery paying tribute to her are on this DVD. And the greatest tribute of all is that the wonderful show she started in 1963 is still going strong and even these earliest stories still appeal today.

‘The Lost Twelve Seconds’ – the Viking raiders get their comeuppance, but not on screen as the scene was cut from the recovered film print. This audio reconstruction sounds suitably dramatic.
‘Stripped For Action – The First Doctor’ (16 min) – the First Doctor’s era in the comic strips, which will be very nostalgic for original fans and is interesting to anyone who likes the show and its history.
‘Restoration’ (5 min) – showing the considerable effort that went into making this DVD release look as good as possible.
There’s also a Photo Gallery (3 min) and Radio Times listings in PDF format.
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on 31 December 2011
1965's The Time Meddler is a strange addition to the Hartnell era, its neither here nor there, a mixture between historical fact and futuristic humour. By the end of the second production block, the producers were keen to inject new life in to Doctor Who, Dennis Spooner, since taking up the reign as script editor was keen to experiment with the programme and so we have The Time Meddler, a story that would not be misplaced in the late Jon Pertwee era next to the Time Warrior. In fact, the similarities between these two serials is quite something. We have an alien {Peter Butterworth's "Monk"}, a historical setting {1066} and the Doctor {Billy} trying to end the tampering with time. I have always felt that "The Time Warrior" was a sequel or remake of this story as they are very similar. Nevertheless the two stories are classics {well in my opinion anyway} and they certainly deserve recognition for daring to step out of the norm.

The Time Meddler is short, at 4 episodes, instead of the usual 6 it is not the standard length of any pre season 3 adventure, its length is a good thing mainly because there is not enough going on to keep it alive after the 4 episodes, if it was a 6 parter then I would have knocked it down to 4 stars. I have never been a fan of the 6 parters, they always drag in the middle {Reign of Terror} and you can lose track of the real plot. However, as stated above this story is a nice 100 min breeze and keeps my attention all the way through.

There is great casting in this story by director Douglas Camfield, Doctor Who's greatest director, here we have great comedian Peter Butterworth and familiar face Alethea Charlton {who appered in the first ever serial}. The only thing that would have been a nice touch would have to be Dudley Simpson on incidental music duty, but owing to the ever widening dispute between him and Dougie Camfield, that was never really going to happen, shame.

The BBC DVD release of this classic story from 1965 was handled beautifully by the Restoration Team, the remastering has come a long way since the good old days of VHS, it is a shame however that the Vidfire process could not be applied to this story as the recordings were not of good enough quality. Nevertheless, thats not to say the picture and sound on this 46 year old production was not up to scratch, because it really is, the DVD is presented very well and the Team have done a great job in putting it all together. Comiserations.

All in all then, this is a great Hartnell story that is more suited in the 70's than the mid 60's, but that does not but add to the enjoyment of this BBC DVD of The Time Meddler.

Serial - 9/10
DVD - 10/10
Overall - Great buy and well worth it.
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on 25 November 2013
You can tell someone has been messing about with time - there's a fake Viking helmet in 1066, and you can tell it's fake cos it's got horns on it, that the Victorians added, but real Vikings never had; you'd think the Dr would have spotted that long before the other anachronisms that the naughty Monk has been leaving lying around the abbey.

It is fun this; an important quality if you're going to send up history. Peter Butterworth gets on admirably well with William Hartnell, and they are very funny together.

There's stock footage for the Viking longships, and the Viking/Saxon conflict is suitably violent and hairy. This is clearly an C11 runaround, but none the worse for that - and a very good introduction to the idea that the Dr's own people are out there, and not all of them are above the most condemnable chicanery.
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on 31 January 2015
'The Time Meddler' is a thoroughly enjoyable story which features an amusing and imaginative plot, a great villain and a fabulous TARDIS crew.

At the centre of the story is a fabulous comic performance from Peter Butterworth as the Monk. The Monk, like the Doctor, is a Time Lord, but he likes to travel through time changing history seemingly just for his own amusement. The Doctor finds this deplorable. Refreshingly the Monk is not portrayed as evil and he doesn't want to conquer the universe, he just wants to have a bit of fun. William Hartnell is also on splendid form here and he and Butterworth work brilliantly together, the Doctor and the Monk's interaction is the best aspect of the story.

The story is set in 1066 England and like a lot of early Doctor Who it tries to educate the viewer about history. The events of the Battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings are explained. It also gives a small indication of what life was like in 1066 England. The story is slow paced like a lot of Hartnell era stories but this isn't necessarily a bad thing, the more relaxed pace can be a nice change from the frenetic pace of some stories later in the show's run.

Anachronisms are used to good effect in this story, with the Monk using a gramophone, frying pan, spatula and futuristic weaponry among other things. The Monk mentioning Penicillin and blood transfusions to the befuddled 11th century English raises a laugh. There are also amusing references made to the previous instances in which the Monk has interfered with time, such as helping the ancient Britons build Stonehenge.

After appearing briefly in 'The Chase' the character of Steven Taylor, played very well by Peter Purves, makes his debut here as a proper companion and Maureen O'Brien impresses in the role of Vicki. They are two sometimes undervalued companions.

All in all 'The Time Meddler' is one of the best Hartnell stories and a demonstration of the potential of the historical Doctor Who format.

The extras are fairly basic really. There is a very nice written obituary to Doctor Who's first producer Verity Lambert. It is on several screens which you can cycle through. There is also a nice slideshow of photos of Lambert.

'The Lost Twelve Seconds' is a brief feature which explains about the small amount of missing footage from the final episode where two Vikings are killed. It plays the audio from the scene and explains what is happening.

'Stripped For Action The First Doctor' is a 16 minute documentary about the Hartnell Doctor's comic strips. In all likelihood this will either interest you a lot or not at all hinging entirely on whether or not you have any interest in comic strips.

'Restoration' features before and after comparisons, showing exactly what improvements were made to the picture quality during the restoration process.
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VINE VOICEon 29 July 2008
Season Two.
Another amusing gem from the prolific Dennis Spooner. This is regarded as the first of the Pseudo-Historicals, and is one of my favourite season two stories.
I can never feel anything but sorrow for the Monk at the end of this story. I know he was a rogue, as witnessed by his Tardis full of stolen art treasures, but he did help the ancient Britons build Stonehenge with the aid of his anti-gravitational lift, after all.
"Carry on" film star Peter Butterworth plays the part of the monk with amusing relish. I would have loved to have seen him as a regular recurring.....I hesitate to use the word villain, so I'll say character instead.
And by being "shades of grey" in temperament, as opposed to the "black and white" pantomine personality of another Time Lord renegade from the seventies and eighties, makes the Monk a far more interesting and entertaining character in the process.
Here's an example, when the Doctor asks him why he behaves the way he does, the Monk replies with glee,
"Doctor it's more fun my way...". No heavy intellectual reasoning, just, it's more fun. That made a refreshing change from the pretentious reasons of some other sci-fi shows.
The Monk is the kind of character that would go back in time just for fun, and etch some contemporary comment on some ancient artifact just to give future archaeologists headaches.
Not an evil character as such, just extremely naughty.
Although there's no worlds to save, (just a particular time-line) and no companions die this is still an enjoyable slice of early Who.
From the season with the highest overall ratings ever.
~~~~
DVD extras.
Commentary:~ Verity Lambert, Peter Purves, Donald Tosh, Barry Newbury.
Verity Lambert Obituary.
Photo Gallery Subtitle Production Notes.
English subtitles.
pdf files of Radio Times billings.
"The Lost Twelve Seconds" - 12 lost seconds recreated using off-air audio recording and the script.
Stripped for action - a look at the first Doctor's comic strip adventures.
Restoration featurette.
Coming soon trailer.
Originally aired:~3 july - 24 july 1965.
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on 10 August 2014
When I came around to watching The Time Meddler, I had seen a fair quantity of classic Doctor Who and this stood out to me for a number of reasons. In 1974, a story broadcasted named The Time Warrior; a Jon Pertwee story. This is often credited by fans as the first Doctor Who story as the first pseudo-historical story (, a historical story with science fiction elements). However, many years before in 1965 The Time Meddler aired.
The similar names are not the only thing these two stories have in common. A historical story about the Saxons and Vikings with another Time Lord to cause havoc with history; truly the first historical story to include sci-fi elements.
As for the story itself I found it very entertaining. Even fans who usually struggle with black and white Doctor Who will enjoy this 4-part story. We learn more about the Doctor's past with multiple Tardises and a meddling Time Lord as the title suggests. Quite a romp with no real consequence, it is easy to watch and avoids too much repetition where some other classic stories fail (*cough* The Trial of a Time Lord *cough*).
4/5 stars, a fun story for even a casual viewer, and any more Hartnell to add to my shelf must be a good thing.
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on 29 January 2008
Yep, this was the first time we learned that the Doctor was not alone! And what a great story it is too. I first saw this as an adult a few years ago and enjoyed its atmosphere and the understatement that runs through it. A nicely plotted yarn with a denouement which could have been so OTT but is just simply restrained - notice the lack of histrionics on discovering the Monk's Tardis. The Doctor's so matter of fact about it that it just adds to his sense of authority and mystery. Five stars because no present day producer would have the brass neck to commission a story set in a Medieval church with a Gregorian chant as a soundtrack and a monk running round as a foil to the hero! Bravos all round!
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on 16 February 2008
I'm 15 years old, and I have to say that this story really is awesome, even by today's standards.

It's certainly one of Hartnell's best, with Hartnell's Doctor really getting into the role brilliantly. Here, we see the bully in him, and the very funny/calm side too. Place him with the Monk, and we have a fantastic combination.

I watched this in one sitting (something I find hard to do with Hartnell/Troughton) and absolutely loved it. I would recommend it for people of all ages because it's a huge lump of fun and a great story!
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VINE VOICEon 2 February 2008
Let's face it, THE TIME MEDDLER from 1965 is not going to make most people's top 10 list of favourite DR WHO stories. By today's standards it's very slow-paced and cheap-looking. The script is by no means terrible, although the plans of Peter Butterworth's Meddling Monk to alter history seem ill-conceived and there are lots of dull sections mostly containing beardy Saxons and Vikings (with names like Wulnoth and Sven) arguing in a way that will make you want to spool forward to the next scene.

If all of that makes it look like I'm going to be wholly negative about this release, then I should also say that actually I quite like it. And that's rather the point. I like it because I'm a fan and because I have a certain mindset. One of the reasons I love watching old episodes of DR WHO is to imagine myself back into the mind and feelings of a first time viewer at the time of original transmission. I can see just how exciting and gripping this serial might have been for viewers in 1965. After all if you didn't know about the Doctor's back story(more or less set in stone since 1969's THE WAR GAMES) then the revelation of the Monk's identity must have come as a real surprise to an audience of that time. With the advantage of hindsight this is less exciting now, as since then we've met a veritable host of time travelling renegades (the War Chief, the Master, the Rani, Drax, etc).

However, I do not imagine that most "normal" people will share my enthusiasm and the serial may well come across as tedious, especially if the only contact you've had with DR WHO is the revived Russell T.Davies version. Although maybe fans of the Carry On... films might find something to love in Peter Butterworth's cheeky performance - even if he's not playing a lecherous old man here.

Talking of Butterworth, he and William Hartnell look like they really enjoy their scenes together - apparently much of their dialogue was improvised - and these scenes have an energy and sense of fun absent from a lot of the rest of the tale. Director Douglas Camfield shoots and lights Barry Newbery's effective sets with as much style as he can muster considering the low budget and occasionally turgid pacing of the script. New companion, Steven played by Mr Blue Peter himself, Peter Purves, makes a good start even if I wince at the incongruously US-sounding dialogue he's sometimes given ("Quite a ship you've got here,Doc...").

For those of you who are hardcore fans then I would suggest the best reason to buy is actually the commentary. It's one of the best I can remember. Moderator Clayton Hickman does a good job of teasing interesting answers out of the panel and by the end I felt I had gained a new appreciation for the earliest days of the programme. Peter Purves, especially is excellent, and I look forward to the release of THE ARK and THE GUNFIGHTERS so we can have more of this gentleman. But the commentary is also effective because the mix of people they use: producer Verity Lambert, script editor Donald Tosh, designer Barry Newbery and Peter Purves is so unusual, not to say unique as Verity Lambert died only a few weeks after recording it. Knowing this makes the last few minutes especially moving as the other commentary guests celebrate her achievement as first producer of the series. Her love for her period of DR WHO is still touchingly in evidence right to the end and as fans we're the poorer for her loss.

The other extras are a little thin on the ground. The only feature of any significant length is STRIPPED FOR ACTION, a piece on the 1960's DR WHO comic strips starring William Hartnell. This is full of enthusiastic interviewees and professionally done, but I confess to a lack of interest for this aspect of DR WHO fiction. However, if you are a fan of the comics then maybe this will be a treat.

Sadly, the film print of THE TIME MEDDLER is not considered strong enough to undergo the vidFIRE process that has thus far sharpened up the picture quality of many of the black and white 1960's stories. Nevertheless the Restoration Team have done a good job in cleaning it up and it's certainly a vast improvement on my grainy VHS copy.
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VINE VOICEon 18 February 2008
This is an important story in the programme's history - it is the first example of a story mixing history with science fiction, i.e. someone attempting to change the course of history, it is the first time that we see that the TARDIS is not unique, and we meet another of the Doctor's race.

The storyline is quite simple: the TARDIS lands in Saxon Northumbria and the Doctor discovers a Monk who is not what he appears to be, as evidenced by the gramophone he is using. The Doctor foils his plan to alter history by indirectly helping King Harold win at Hastings.

The pace is fairly slow and the action is limited - there are a couple of rather poorly staged fight scenes. However, despite that it actually is better than you might think. The dialogue is pretty good, with some sharp wit. The backdrop is basic but surprisingly convincing for all that. In fact I was impressed with the clever way that stalwart Who director, Douglas Camfield, shot the story, using low mounted cameras so that a lot of the time the scenery behind the characters was sky with very convincing moving clouds. This means that you are spared the usual obviously painted backgrounds. It works very well. It is not the greatest quality picture to look at - apparently the Restoration Team did not have a negative to work from and this limited how much they could improve the picture.

So overall this a nice little story, which whilst not being a classic, is nonetheless well worth watching in the context of the series as a whole.
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