The Time Monster

Written by:
Robert Sloman
Directed by: Paul Bernard
Starring: Jon Pertwee
Year: 1972
Video Availability: Try

Okay, here's the opening confession: I love The Time Monster. Sorry, but I do. Admittedly, it's too silly to be watched as a "real" story, and it's not clever enough to be considered postmodern, but there's something about its whacked-out hit and miss fun that I really, really enjoy.

One thing I've never noticed before (probably because I've never had a decent quality copy until now) is that the opening dream sequence - a first for Doctor Who - is treated so that it has the flashes and lines of old film. So the Doctor dreams in corroded cinema?

Stuart and Ruth never really gel, to be fair, and the women's lib rhetoric seems silly and forced. Not only that, but they're not exactly the world's best actors, are they? What is it with season nine and poor supporting cast members? Jon's actually on fairly decent form for season nine here though, even if his voice isn't really being picked up that well. (Which is surprising, considering all the boom mike shadows). Sadly, Roger Delgado is now a spent force, and his would-be ironic later hammery jars badly. He's amusing, as he would later be in Frontier In Space, but it's more the sort of amusement you get from a bumbling, half-drunk uncle at a wedding reception, rather than a vicious/callous criminal genius.

The Brigadier's mocking of the Doctor with "entrails of a sheep" perhaps illustrates why this story is superior to The Three Doctors. While they both utilise self-parody, here the Brigadier's jokes don't make himself the butt of the humour and don't operate outside the credibility of the narrative. Not that there's not plenty of self-commentating lines, such as Jo's "Look, I know I'm exceedingly dim, but would you mind explaining?" The Brigadier also does a similar thing, asking for plot exposition "in terms of one syllable." Even though this is the sort of nonsense that vexes me no end when they do it in The Three Doctors, there's a sense of earnestness that takes this one above somehow. What also helps is the developing plot - The Three Doctors didn't have the luxury of one.

Dudley Simpson's impossibly inappropriate score jars yet again. I have to say that, even though he was used more than any other musician, that I really dislike Dudley's work. Heresy, maybe, but for every hit like City of Death he seems to have ten misses. Just the egg whisk and kettle racket he makes here is enough to put anyone off, and act in twee detriment to the rest of the story.

However, having said all this, the fun of the Time Monster - linked Tardises, gratuitous explosions and Ingrid Pitt's cleavage - haven't yet emerged. So this one gets an average:
* * *

One of the most enjoyable - if not actually credible - elements of The Time Monster is that instead of a six parter, it's constructed of a 3-1-2 format. Probably my favourite is the middle bit with the two linked ships, but that's all to come.

The bit where time is slowed (though doesn't stop Jo's hair blowing in the wind at real speed) is appealing but reminds me of a Benny Hill sketch for some reason. And the scene where Jo has to explain the Master's new alias for the viewers is pretty painful. Why have a codename at all if you can't explain it naturally within the plot?

There are problems with this messy episode, not least Paul Bernard's underwhelming direction. While occasionally there are unusual variations on the Mise-en-Scene - such as the Master in long shot - they are ultimately meaningless and without context. This is the third time I've seen the story, and I used to think stuff like the Master camply lipsynching to Courtney's voice was almost a commentary on the period's own obsession with ludicrously fake disguises. Yet seen again and without the benefit of plot surprise, who's to say it's not just silly in itself? There are some clankingly bad lines here, from the Doctor's "fur and all" speech to Benton's "in the soup without a ladle". Like Jo's suggestion that the Master cry out "Curses! Foiled again!" in episode five, I once took this as an ironic self-reflexive discourse. Yet they're all played so straight and without a hint of tongue in cheek that you can't shake the feeling it's just tat. Bernard seems uncertain of which way to take things, and so The Time Monster remains a story torn up by two conventions, and satisfying neither.

Anyway, I'm tired tonight so I'm going to bed before I tackle the rest of this story. I hope I have some nice dreams - real pippins of dreams, in fact.
* * *

The much-derided "budgie with wires" appears here, though as people who say things like that think Azal and the Gel Guards are sophisticated Pertwee villains then what do they know? Okay, it is crap, but this is a story that needs no more slating, coupling with The Mutants to make twelve weeks of panned Doctor Who.

These three opening episodes haven't stood up as well as I'd hoped. The first viewing of any Doctor Who story is usually accompanied by a thrill to discover "what happens next", meaning any plot shortcomings are overlooked until a second glance. Well, this is more than my second glance and the novelty of interstitial time and aged camp scientists is no longer enough to satisfy my viewing needs. A mismatched hybrid of traditional Pertwee adventure and self-deriding comedy, I'm beginning to think the standard fan opinion of this story (basically, it's crap) has some merit.

When Jon makes that prop with all the car keys and wine bottles you can see everyone looking on anxiously as they think it's about to collapse any minute. Or maybe they were just hoping to play "spin the bottle" and "swap the car keys". A night in with the staid third Doctor is never very racy, even with a Perigosto Stick. The conclusion, with the Master throwing everything history has to offer at UNIT, always struck me as quite exciting. And it does end with a genuinely impressive explosion, even if Nick's acting fails to ignite.
* * ˝

"They must have copped it!" "is this a private fight or can anyone join in?" "wants to nobble the Master" "you're paid to play James Bond" "registered card-carrying, paid up coward!" "that'll keep them unoccupied for the time being". My God, the dialogue really is abominal in this one. I'd always seen it before as satirical, but it really is just dire. I'm not even going to mention one in a long line of county stereotypes that infects this episode.

The Doctor's Tardis gets a new interior here, which, by a staggering coincidence, also happens to be the new interior of the Master's, too. It's sort of nice in a curio kind of way, much like the alternate, abandoned season ten theme tune. Like that, it was discarded, only seeing the light of day in this one. While some may see it as an attack on Pertwee by making him pronounce "Tardises", the merging of the Doctor's and the Master's ships is a touch of genius and would make fans wet when they ripped it off for Logopolis.

Despite all the flaws of this one - Delgado's Pertwee-like lack of interest, the criminal dialogue - this is my favourite episode of the serial. The UNIT sequences have already overstayed their welcome, and are now discarded for fun in the Tardis. However, the Master and the Doctor's banter has now descended to schoolboyish taunts, while a bald spot is clearly noticeable on the back of Delgado's head. The Master saying "but oh dear, what a bore the fellow is!" used to strike me a devastating swipe at the era's failings, yet it's ill placed in a story that is full of them. How was The Sea Devils so much fun and yet this one so dreary? Even though this is my favourite instalment of the story its entire construction is just padding. And Jon's Venusian shtick is just interminable here.

For once, the Master discards his usual "I shall kill you later" routine and does make a genuine effort to destroy both Jo and the Doctor. For all intents and purposes, particularly as far as he's concerned, they are dead at the end of this one. It's just a shame that his Master is now past his sell-by date and wouldn't redeem himself the following year, with an equally hammy, cosy display in Frontier in Space.
* * *

Does anyone actually know what Jon's "subconscious thoughts" are saying? It'd be interesting to find out.
BWith the scenes of Atlantis, this completes The Time Monster's status as the worst-acted Pertwee story. Given that this is an era that contains not just Rick James but also Jenny Laird, this is no mean feat. The sets for such a place are never convincing, and no attempt is made for them to be. It's amusing seeing Delgado trying not look down Ingrid Pitt's cleavage, but there are more boom mike shots in this one than in most other colour episodes. There's even a bit during the Master's speech to the Queen (right after "rich, powerful, magnificent among the nations of the world…") where an off-camera crew member coughs loudly and they didn't bother to retake.

The cliffhanger to this one sees Jo thrown through a door so hard she falls through video and into film. For such a bimboid companion then she wasn't used that highly for sex appeal. We get some leg and bum shots, of course (and a knicker flash in Day of the Daleks) but this is the only story where we're led to focus on her modest yet perky boobs. But even such titillating pleasures (I would, but only if she asked nicely) can't take this one above two-and-a-half stars:
* * ˝

I used to think the Doctor taunting the minotaur with a red cape was quite witty, but it's really just tedious and quite puerile. Tom Baker could pull of this kind of silliness, but the rigid karate-chopping of Jon makes it about as comedically serviceable as a Police Academy sequel. In fact, if you regard this story as a comedy, then its gag hit-rate is alarmingly low.

The most regarded scene of the story is here, with Jon's anecdote about a rosiest rose or summat. To be honest, it's yet more of his parochial, patronising guff and really not worth any attention. The fact that this event was born out of his "blackest day" should fill you with mystery and awe. But the fact that Jon's Doctor is so shallow means it fails to be enticing. His question of "are you still frightened, Jo?" after his story would have amused more if she'd answered "no, just bored shitless."

Just as I chart the Pertwee Mouth Strokes (though in this story I should have gone for neck scratches) here I could almost do the same with the Master's habit of slamming his fist into his other hand. After such a bravura display in The Sea Devils, here his booming, panto villain is even out-acted by Jon Pertwee. While this kind of silliness is merely bored in Frontier, here it's so full on that it makes The Time Monster easily the weakest of his performances. As for Jon, he gives another of his pious speeches at the end of this one ("Mighty Kronossssssssss…") in what is rapidly becoming a regular feature of his era. The scene where the Doctor meets Kronos reminds me of Buddha confronting the naivety of Monkey in that series, while Delgado's oft-criticised "begging" acting is clearly a ploy.

Pretty soon the cosiest UNIT story in an era of cosy UNIT stories ends with the cast laughing at the size of Benton's nob.
* * ˝

I still have enough affection for this story not to give it a below-average score, but it's arguably the worst Pertwee story to this date, with only Colony in Space giving it serious rivalry. All the things I like about the story are flaws, not plusses, and its mismatched attempts to amuse sit uneasily with the deeply silly plot. I don't hate it as much as most, but the humour is extremely unsophisticated and the performances lacklustre from all concerned. I got lots of fun out of this one the first couple of times, largely as a reaction to its hostile reputation, but I have to admit on reflection that it is a very weak story.
PMS: 2.
* * *