Shiny Shelf

Doctor Who: The Time Meddler

By Eddie Robson on 12 February 2008

‘The Time Meddler’ acquired a slightly poor reputation among ‘Doctor Who’ fans in the early 1990s when it became BBC2’s slightly surprising choice to represent the William Hartnell era in what was the first run of ‘Who’ repeats on the BBC in almost a decade. At that time it was widely derided for being slow and dull, and the rest of that repeat season opted for more fondly-remembered serials such as ‘The Sea Devils’, ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ (again) and ‘The Caves of Androzani’.

This poor reaction was perhaps due to the story having been repeated one episode per week, whereas those members of the viewing audience who had watched any 1960s ‘Doctor Who’ recently had watched it at a much faster rate – usually the whole serial back to back. Watch ‘The Time Meddler’ in a single sitting and it slides down very easily – which perhaps accounts for why it is much better regarded today.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t work as it was originally intended, just that you have to come to it with 1960s expectations in mind. On the commentary track for this DVD release, the late Verity Lambert notes that there is little in the way of direct threat to the Doctor or his companions, and that the story is driven by the mystery of the Monk and the modern-day technology which he is merrily using in 1066.

It’s a different kind of ‘Doctor Who’ story, from the days before the idea of what a ‘Doctor Who’ story was like became so set in stone, and one which contains many great ideas, good jokes and fine performances, most notably from the leads (Hartnell, Maureen O’Brien and Peter Purves) and from one of the series’ first big guest stars, Peter Butterworth. In its low-key way it’s actually an incredibly important story – the Monk is revealed as one of the Doctor’s people, equipped with a TARDIS of his own, making the Doctor no longer unique – and is one of the highlights of the series.

This DVD is one of the cheaper ‘standard’ releases in the ‘Doctor Who’ range, but feels like a good package anyway. A featurette on the restoration of the story highlights the fact that, although the VidFIRE process hasn’t been applied due to the poor condition of the film prints, this is still a significant improvement upon any previous edition. The only surviving copy of the story was returned from an overseas broadcaster and was a little weathered: it was also missing twelve seconds which had been cut due to violence. This incomplete scene survives as a audio recording, and is presented here along with the original shooting script.

Also included is the first in a series of short documentaries about the ‘Doctor Who’ comic strips which have run almost continuously since 1964, this one focusing on the strips featuring Hartnell’s Doctor. This is slightly hampered by the fact that these early strips were not credited, and although the artists have been identified by their styles, we have no idea who wrote the things. Artist Bill Mevin, interviewed here, confirms that the scripts would simply turn up in the post and he would produce the artwork: even he never knew who was writing them. The documentary is nicely done, but should get more interesting when covering the strips from the 1970s and 1980s.

Finally, credit is due to the DVD’s producers for managing to add a last-minute obituary for Verity Lambert, who died in November and whose last story in full charge of ‘Doctor Who’ this was. Although her list of achievements is long and impressive, ‘Doctor Who’ was her first producing job and she was its first producer, so the two will always be associated. One incidental way in which this DVD is a tribute to Lambert is that it has been delayed for almost a year because the producers very much wanted her to contribute to the commentary track, but she was too busy working on other projects. The same energy which she brought to ‘Doctor Who’ as a young woman in 1963 stayed with her right to the end.

You can buy ‘The Time Meddler’ from Amazon.

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By Eddie Robson

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