Doctor Who: Myths and Legends (I) (UK - DVD R2)
Does time stand still for the Wilson Bros as they watch The Time Monster...?
This is part of the Doctor Who: Myths and Legends box-set
Coming with an execrable reputation, one of the least-liked of Pertwee stories starts with the rare sight of the Doctor experiencing a nightmare. He’s haunted by the image of the Master and a mysterious crystal, lording his triumph over everyone’s favourite Time Lord. Yep, the Master is cooking up a scheme more ambitious than ever before, and is using a new time-travel device to bring warring hoards to achieve victory.
Reluctantly called to a demonstration of TOMTIT at the Newton Institute, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has little patience for scientists dabbling in the concept of interstitial time, but when the head of research is revealed to be one Professor Tassels (Greek for ‘Master’), the Doctor and Jo Grant accompany the Brig to leafy Wooton in an attempt to find out what’s going on. Together with Dr Ruth Ingram and hippie researcher Stuart Hyde, the Master’s plan is revealed: to unleash Kronos the Chronovore from the lost civilisation of Atlantis and wreak catastrophic damage to the very fabric of time. UNIT are armed and ready, but are bullets and brawn enough when time can be warped at will and The Master can conjure armies from thin air?
We’ll come straight out of the trap (one) here and state that we’re not huge fan of the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who. About five or six years ago, we had the chance to catch up with all of the stories from the Pertwee and Tom Baker series on satellite television, as they were screening them in an omnibus form, one story a week. There were a few Baker stories that we hadn’t seen but there were many Pertwee ones which were a new experience. The result was us having to force-feed ourselves a stodgy diet of over-padded six-part Third Doctor stories that were hard enough to choke down to begin with, let alone in large portions all at once. It might have been a case of familiarity breeding contempt, but we ended up with a deep dislike of the Pertwee era and if we had to cite two examples of the worst of his stories, we would choose The Mutants and The Time Monster.
In spite of the numerous problems with the clichéd story elements, the saving graces come in the form of interplay between characters. The early scene where Jo Grant surprises the Doctor by accurately accessing the function of his ‘time sensor’ is a great example, with the start of the progression of an originally dumb assistant into a useful companion.
The inclusion of a brother and sister-like paring of the scientific team brings some welcome substance to the peripheral characters, something which is often lacking in other Doctor Who stories. They work well together, and even out the strident personality traits which both are saddled with. Dr Ruth Ingram is an ardent feminist, which echoes the post-60s mood of the time, and thickly ladles her politics over anyone possessed of opposing chromosomes. Stuart Hyde is the exact opposite, laid back to the point of falling over, and armed with endless supply of glibness. He really takes the edge off of her bra-burning mumbo-jumbo, and is a pity he is incapacitated so early on, providing proof that women age men prematurely. The Doctor only had to look at the height of Dr Hyde’s waistband for proof that time his personal time had been accelerated. Who would have thought that someone called ‘Hyde’ would be the subject of a dramatic transformation?
The playful nature of the structure is another example of the tongue-in-cheek approach to the story. There are numerous times when a line or theme from one scene is used as linking material into another, often with humorous results. Our favourite comes at the end of the flashback in Atlantis, when loyal acolyte Krasis declares that he is waiting for the call from Kronos. Cut to: a shot of a telephone ringing on a desk.
We have always liked the character of Sgt Benton, and he’s given a nice few bits to do this time. He refuses to be fooled by The Master impersonating Lethbridge-Stewart to lure him into a trap, pulling a gun on the renegade Time Lord. As is symptomatic of the story as a whole, for every rather cool thing it manages, something really dumb comes along to wipe out the kudos it built up. Benton draws a gun and is in a position where he can save the day, but falls for (as even pointed out in the script) the oldest trick in the book. Believe it or not, this happens to him twice! Further humiliation awaits our man in the uniform when he’s reduced to an ickle bubby, with Levene even dressed in a big nappy for his final shot—though tastefully kept out of shot.
The bringing of armies through time to fight a present-day battle is a concept with has been used before and would so used again. Terry Gilliam memorably employed it at the climax of Time Bandits, with our plucky ‘little people’ pillaging history for troops to wage war in the battle between good and evil. Here, The Master brings jousting knights and period rockets into the lush, green countryside to defeat The Doctor and UNIT, and the results are rather a mixed bag.
To any young, hip kids reading this, it should be pointed out that Tom-Tit is slang for something, and doesn’t take much in the way of imagination to work out what. There are many who would say that it’s appropriate, as although The Time Monster is a fun romp, it makes not a lick of sense, even on its own terms. Mystical science, a fanciful premise and too much comic relief all add up to something tom-tit, indeed.
The pace of the six-part story is more consistent than most others, with the first four parts zipping along quite nicely, which is probably the result of the lighter tone and aforementioned linking material between scenes. The tradition of the format is that the fifth episode is the one bogged-down with expository dialogue which sets up the finale, and while it is somewhat the case with The Time Monster, this particular part is where it takes a distinct left-turn. Where the previous episodes were all set on modern-day Earth, part five whips us off to Atlantis where it all goes flying up into the air, but still remains entertaining. Some six-parters are like pulling teeth, but in spite of its’ lack of appreciation or adulation, The Time Monster passes the time nicely.
Once we get to Atlantis, the sequence in the lair of the Minator is an example of pulling off something aesthetically pleasing with a low budget, but we have to side with Pertwee, who wasn’t happy with it degenerating into a comedic bullfight. He wanted it to be a triumph of brain over brawn, and the results are a bit forced. Tom Baker could have really sold it, and gotten the laughs it needs, in spite the almost forgotten element of the Minator being killed for the sake of a chuckle. Dave Prowse had previously appeared as Patrick McGee’s companion in A Clockwork Orange and as a jailer in Carry on Henry, but here he gets to do something much more physical, chasing Pertwee around the maze, and all without the opportunity to say the words ‘Fook it, oi’ve driod’.
Much has been said of the way in which Kronos was realised, and in spite of the elaborate plans to bring it to life, they opted to stick a guy in a suit flapping his arms wildly. It should have been a recipe for disaster, but the florescent, reflective costume and camera tricks employed turn it into a credible experience from a hallucinogenic point of view. It’s just so surreal that it transcends the limitations dealt the effects department, and the kind of thing which would end up on a loop on You Tube to some pulsing dance track.
But while The Time Monster is hardly a classic, there are elements to it that make it at the very least watchable. Roger Delgado gives what it probably is most amusing performance as the Master. A prime example comes in a scene when he finally thinks that he has vanquished is mortal enemy, the Doctor. Does he come out with a victorious monologue, sneering at the death of his nemesis? No. With all the satisfaction of having a very good cigar, he exclaims: ‘I really enjoyed that’, before continuing with his nefarious plans. Priceless! Delgado always had a wry sense of humour, but played it absolutely straight and never resorted to the kind of pantomime villainy in the manner that his eventual successor, Anthony Ainley, frequently did.
While Susan Penhaligon is an undoubtedly a real corker, and does a lovely job as Lakis, handmaiden to Galleia, it’s a real shame that the originally-cast Ann Michelle was discarded through her own silly fault. It’s well known throughout the industry that they will forgive many shortcomings, but the one thing they will not tolerate is a lax attitude to punctuality—and showing up late a number of times was enough to get her fired. We’ve always liked Michelle, as Psychomania is a sentimental favourite of ours, and if you have ever seen The Virgin Witch, you’ll understand just why we like her so much. Oh, and John Levene was in it, too—as a police officer who gets killed by her motorbike gang.
Hammer actress Ingrid Pitt makes a welcome appearance as Galleia, bringing a touch of genuine glamour which is unexpected for Doctor Who. Her seduction scene with Delgado is priceless, as she manages to bring out a dimension to ol’ Rog neither seen before nor witnessed again. Pitt doesn’t have too much luck when it comes to picking her Who projects, as not content to appear in one of the most disliked of Pertwee’s efforts, she went on star in the less-than-stellar Warriors of the Deep a decade later. We’ve run into Pitt a couple of times, and the experiences were memorable, but let’s leave it at that…
One thing which particularly irritated us about the Pertwee years was the use of all things Venusian as examples of ‘good local colour’, trotted out to establish the Doctor’s cosmopolitan nature and extra-terrestrial credentials. There are a couple of examples in The Time Monster, and they induce the same groans as the rest, but not quite as much as every example of Pertwee’s Venusian Aikido, with the Glittering Light-Bulb’s squawking histrionics coming off as really rather embarrassing.
The ‘redecoration’ of the TARDIS console room was an interesting one, but to our collective eyes, it was a little too distracting to last all that long on the show. Your gaze is drawn to it too much, causing you to miss the kind of technical dialogue which usually accompanies such a scene. It has gone through worse looks, but it’s a shame that it didn’t stick around for a little longer. It gets more screen time than the lovely design for Paul McGann’s console room in the TV movie, and it just shows that there was no justice for Doctor Who in the 90s.
One element which bothers us is that of ‘time-ram’. Whilst it is just a fancy name for two TARDIS’ occupying the same time and space, there is a little too much emphasis put on it, and is only instigated as the solution to problem. This comes across as being of the same ilk as the latest gadget installed onboard KITT in an episode of Knight Rider, where it’s untested—possibly dangerous—but you know from the earlier setup that it’ll be used at a crucial point in the story. It put us in mind of the movie Starcrash, which was also another dramatic name for something pretty basic in concept. The Italian Star Wars rip-off even went so far as to employ the name of the manoeuvre in its title.
In spite of the aggrandising name, we have to give credit for the deeply cool concept of the two TARDIS’ parked inside each other, the result of the Doctor’s attempts to stop the Master from getting away. It’s fitting that the last time something as mind-scrambling was done with a time machine was back in The Time Meddler, when the dimensions of the Meddling Monk was reduced in size. As we all know, the persistent rumour is that the baddie in the robes was an early incarnation of The Master, so it’s fitting for one character to be involved in something so cool twice.
At the time of this piece of blunt science, the Master exacts revenge on the Doctor by zapping him into the time vortex, sending him in ‘no-where’, leaving Pertwee absent for a couple of minutes before being brought back. Wanna bet that if this was in Hartnell’s day, he would have used the opportunity to be written out of the entire episode and have the week off!
Coming in complete contrast to the above is the most blatant examples of Deus Ex Machina. OK, the day has been saved by a wild-card element before (K9, anyone?) but in this case, the meaning is plain as you can get. A god appears and takes care of the monumental peril about to hit the universe, making Rose Tyler’s eradication of Daleks pale in comparison. It is a plot device tempered at the end of the scene, but doesn’t do the story’s reputation any favours, as many regard it as a parody of Doctor Who.
OK, it’s dumb but kind of fun—rather like a blonde MILF after a number of tequila slammers, The Time Monster arrives to DVD for the delectation of a waiting audience. But how does this look, given the shocking NTSC mistreatment most of the Pertwee era endured?
Let’s say this right up front: there has been a lot of major restoration work carried out by the team, including their miraculous ‘unpicking’ process. All of the original tapes were erased, with the story existing through awful Canadian NTSC run-offs made by the BBC at the time. A low-grade copy of the final episode was found some time later as a training aid for technicians, sporting very weak colour and almost as flawed as the untouched NTSC tapes. The first five parts are tribute to the dedication of the Restoration Team, looking really damn nice and making Pertwee-era Who more accessible to casual viewers. For the sixth episode, they separated the colour elements from the unpicked NTSC copy and combined it with the training-tape, leaving a finale which looks lovely. Their efforts are just terrific, and no more needs to be said.
Being all from video copies, there wasn’t going to be much in the way of a problem on the sound front, and it’s not a surprise to report that the sound is as it should be.
Audio Commentary: This features cast members John Levene and Susan Penhaligon, along with late producer Barry Letts and production assistant Marion McDougall. TV writers Phil Ford, Joe Lidster, James Moran and Graham Duff also contribute and the group episodes are moderated by stand-up comedian Toby Hadoke. Letts and McDougall appear on episodes one and five, Levene gets solo tracks (as usual) for episodes two and four, Ford, Lidster, Moran and Duff pop up (with Hadoke moderating) for episode three. Penhaligon joins Letts and McDougall for episode five. Got all that? OK. There is a nice feeling throughout the track, which you tend to get more with the older stories, as with age comes sentimentality and less need to snipe. The age old criticism of ‘wobbly sets’ is brought up during the running time, particularly irritating Barry Letts, who points out: ‘…that was Crossroads!’ Penhaligon relates the details of her losing out to Elizabeth Sladen in the companion stakes. Levene is very easy to listen to, and is always full in amusing tales from the production—especially nice is him revealing the method Pertwee used give his character fluid movement.
Between Now…and Now!: This is one of the lesser efforts from 2Entertain, but this is probably a reflection of the general opinion of the story itself, so they didn’t feel the urge to inject that much energy. It’s all framed around the musings of Professor Jim Al Khalli (Physics, University of Surrey) of the science featured in The Time Monster and its basis in reality. Robert Sloman’s fanciful writings come off a poor second, but our man with the title goes out of his way to explain away some of the more plausible examples of pseudo-science. In between all of this are welcome contributions from Richard Franklin, Barry Letts and a rather surprised-looking Katie Manning. Letts imparts that the theory of interstitial time comes from Buddhist philosophy, and makes the notion in the story seem much more level-headed than it comes across without the back story. Letts is quite charming, with his softy-spoken intelligence making him easy to listen to, without the glib manner others favour. Manning is equally engaging, with a nice attitude towards the show and life in general, and not the ditzy figure she has been seen as in the past. There is little real information about the filming of the show, but it’s all nicely presented, all the same.
Photo Gallery: Set to atmospheric music from the show, there are some beautiful stills and behind-the-scenes picture to be found here, coming in both colour and black and white.
Info Text: Another sterling information track is to be found, and is nice contrast of trivia and humour. One of our favourite details has to be the mysterious disappearance of Ingrid Pitt’s cat, quickly being shoved out the door through scratching Pitt and hissing at Delgado and generally disrupting a key scene. With not being credited for our stint on Shaun of the Dead, we are very appreciative of the trivia track going out of its’ way to mention all of those who didn’t make the roster of names at the end.
Restoration Comparison: These are always welcome, and this is no exception. Two sequences—representing the differing state of materials used—are played over and over to display their gradual improvement through the Restoration Team’s processes. It really helps you appreciate just what these guys do.
PDF Materials: If you stick this into your PC or laptop, you will be able to access all six Radio Times listings the episodes—a nice little feature is that with each episode listing, there is a small drawn image to accompany it. Cute.
Coming Soon: Yeah, it’s Creature from the Pit. You can make a decent trailer out of anything, these days.
The Time Monster is one of the ultimate ‘stick your brain in neutral’ Doctor Who stories, a tale so flamboyant and light-hearted that it teeters on the edge of parody like a depressed teenager at Beachy Head. We didn’t even mention how the Doctor’s ‘Tardis-sniffer-outer’ looks like a penis and two testicles—surely inviting derision that the concept is a load of old cock. Still, the restoration work is excellent, Delgado is wonderful, it’s a lot of fun and is a perfect addition to the Myths and Legends box set.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 29th March 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Aspect: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Between Now... And Now! Featurette, Photo Gallifrey, Restoration Comparison, Info Text, PDF Materials, Coming Soon
Easter Egg: No
Director: Paul Bernard
Cast: Jon Pertwee, Roger Delgado, Katy Manning, Ingrid Shitt
Length: 150 minutes
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