The Time Warrior

Written by:
Robert Holmes
Directed by: Alan Bromly
Starring: Jon Pertwee
Year: 1973/4
Video Availability (NTSC Version): Try Amazon

Last time on Who we were faced with the old title sequence, displayed upside-down on the episode six Green Death credits. Here, it's a new season, a new companion, and we get all-new theme titles. Let's make no bones about this - they rock! Continuing Who's ability to mimic culture several years after the event (like Jamie and Pat's Beatles haircuts after the actual Beatles had stopped wearing them) it homages 2001: A Space Odyssey half a decade later. No matter, though, cos you don't have to be tapped into the cultural zeitgeist to love this one - it just rocks, plain and simple. Like a Daddy, in fact. I even prefer it to the Tom Baker version, which had a silly big light on the Tardis which always bothered me for some reason. And I'm not a massive fan of the diamond logo (my favourite is the one they just ditched) largely because it's not a diamond, it's a square on its side. Pedantic but true.

Anyway, what of the story? Well, I'm not a blind fan of Robert Holmes like some fans who think he could have stood in for Shakespeare, Coward and Wilde in one package. He's almost always overrated, and his scripts are so self-conscious if he was the only writer on Who it would quickly annoy. But this is one of his greatest achievements, a hilarious cod-Shakespearean piss-take played to the hilt by a brilliantly hammy David Daker. There's never the feeling that this is anything other than a production shot on videotape in a studio, but here it doesn't really seem to matter. As a season opener then it's nondescript, but as a story in itself then it's very funny.

It's over six minutes before Jon appears in the episode, and while he makes a fair effort for the new girl, Nick is back to his OTT "comedy" Brigadier shtick. To be honest, I don't really regard the Pertwee era from seasons 8-11 as pure "Doctor Who". In most senses it's like a low-brow variety show, and even though Katy Manning is a much better actress than she gets credit, I don't miss her or her era. Elisabeth Sladen isn't the world's best actress, but she has character, and, when Tom Baker arrives, rapport. Her emergence here is like a breath of the proverbial, largely because she doesn't spend all her time fanning Petwee's ego. Only sore point is Donald Pelmear as Professor Rubeish, who chews up and mauls so many gags it's staggering.
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Not really a lot to say about this one, except that it's more of the same good stuff. There's perhaps a lack of dramatic urgency, not helped by the general absence of incidental music, but it's all still fine. This instalment is probably most famous for the way the Doctor casually names his home planet after eleven years. Other items of interest are Jon wearing the Tardis key like a crystal necklace - will he soon start talking about Chakras and auras? And it's interesting that even in their very first story, four years before The Invasion of Time, a Sontaran observes that Gallifrey is "lacking the morale to withstand a determined assault."
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Some of my favourite lines in this one, delivered full throttle by a totally on-form David Daker: "By the stars, Bloodaxe, I swear I'll chop him up so fine not even a sparrow will fill its beak at one peck." And naturally I love the bit where Irongron exclaims "Is this Doctor a long shank rascal with a mighty nose?" An interesting reply to this one is Linx (well realised by Kevin Stoney by the way) proclaiming that that is how the Doctor would appear "to human eyes".

This is actually the last Pertwee story that Jon could pronounce, and you do get the feeling that the production team were being unkind to him in his last year. Sontarans, Dinosaurs, Daleks on Exxilon, Ice Warriors and Monsters in Peladon, topped off by the Spiders of Metabelis. His speech therapist must have been on overtime, poor sod. My heart actually went out to Jon when I had to hear him struggle through "Thisss isss my own ssssspecial sssssssssmoking mixxxxxxxture, consssssisssting of ssssssalt peter, sssssssssulphur and fat. With a few little extrasssssss thrown in."

Concept-wise, this is essentially The Time Meddler revisited, but it's all good fun. I can't imagine this is anyone's favourite Doctor Who story, but there's an joviality from Jon that hasn't been witnessed for some time. There's a surfeit of false beards and wigs in this one, which would normally annoy me, but then as this could be classified as a comedy story it doesn't really seem to matter.
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"Fetch me that scabby-faced stoat from his burrow!" People always rave about the Sontarans, but I've never really thought they were anything special. Yet watching The Time Warrior again I can see that in their debut (and I keepi saying "their", but there's only one of them in it) we learn all about their vision, their muscle structure, their reproductive cycle - an extraordinary amount of information when you think about it, and all delivered casually, just like the name of the Doctor's home planet.

This final episode is the best since the first, a pacy and entertaining resolution, with Jon practically breaking the fourth wall by dodging bullets. Yet despite the fact that it's engaging and charming, you're ultimately left with a hollow superficial feeling. Like Sarah's remark about "You're still living in the middle ages!" it's funny, but ultimately operates only on a surface level.
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A likeable if inessential Doctor Who story, The Time Warrior is ultimately shallow but amusing.
PMS: 2.
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