The Time MonsterBookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 March 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

It's hard to convey to someone who has never seen it just how truly dreadful 'The Time Monster' is. Its greatest flaw is that the plot and script are utterly appalling, and with this basis pedestrian direction, cheap set design and mediocre acting certainly cannot help it. 

So, the plot. Ironically, the plot doesn't actually contain any obvious holes per se, but somehow it manages to combine tedium and absurdity to plumb new depths. The idea of Kronos itself isn't bad, but the execution is terrible; this world-destroying threat to reality is realized as a large pigeon and is thoroughly unimpressive, combining a tacky costume with bad camera work that makes it plain that this is a man in a suit swinging backwards and forwards on a wire. The exact nature of the threat posed by Kronos is also glossed over, so that we never get anything other than a vague idea of what it is capable of; when Kronos appears in Atlantis in episode six, the set wobbles a bit and everybody falls over, whilst the Doctor and the Master dash into their TARDISes and safety. In addition, Kronos' ability to devour people is equally vague; it is said to devour people early on in the story, but this is changed to throwing them into the vortex instead in episodes four and five, for the truly ghastly deus ex machina resolution to the episode four cliff-hanger, with the Jo pulling a Big Red Switch to rescue the Doctor. Handy that such a function is on hand just in case… 

The lack of menace inherent in 'The Time Monster' is not solely due to the under whelming nature of Kronos, but also the reaction of the Doctor to it. Whilst I'm no fan of 'The Dæmons', at least in that story the Doctor conveys a true sense of urgency about the danger posed by Azal, a threat to the entire world. Forced to deal with Kronos, a threat to the entire universe, he makes glib remarks, seems generally relaxed, and messes around with his time flow analogue, a ludicrous plot device serving only as padding. And possibly humour, although not noticeably. Padding is painfully noticeable here, and it isn't very good padding; the scene in which the Doctor and the Master confront each other whilst their TARDISes are locked together is ludicrous for example. After several stories in which the Master has proved that he is unbalanced enough to toy with forces way beyond his ability to control properly, are we really expected to believe that the Doctor genuinely thinks that he can convince him of his folly by lecturing him from his own TARDIS? The only purpose served by this is to delay the Doctor actually leaving his TARDIS and facing the Master, so that the Master will summon Kronos to deal with him in time for the cliffhanger. 

The return of UNIT doesn't help the story and possibly contributes to the annoying cosy feeling that dispels any air of danger that could have been present otherwise. To be fair, Benton is quite good here, except when he falls the Master's "look behind you" trick. This not only detracts from his near outwitting of the Master just moments before, but also doesn't make sense, since he has his back to a closed door, which has just seen shut, and would clearly have heard if anyone had just opened it. The Brigadier is virtually useless here and I also can't help wondering why, if he's so sure that the Master will return to the TOMTIT lab, he doesn't search the research establishment, where he would soon have found the Master lurking in Percival's study. He knows the Master is dangerous, the Doctor has warned him that TOMTIT is dangerous, and yet he just shrugs and says that the Master will turn up, making no attempt to actually guard the lab. Yates also returns here, and whilst he is fortunately gets little to do, he is as annoying as ever, equipped as he is with his usually arsenal of cheeky comments to superior officers, a familiar strain on UNIT's credibility. He's also an excuse for more ridiculous padding; the Master seems to really want to stop the Doctor's TARDIS from reaching its destination, so why doesn't he just time-scoop the V1 bomb in the first place instead of messing about with knights on horseback and roundheads? And for that matter, if the Master time-scooped the V1 so that it exploded in the present, it can't have landed in the past, so the old local couldn't remember it doing so. Having said that, virtually no thought seems to have gone into the time-related technobabble whatsoever. The stuff about the Chronovores existing outside time works in the context of Doctor Who makes sense (the concept of things existing outside of time and space was touched on in 'The Mind Robber'), but the waffle about interstitial time isn't even remotely plausible technobabble, the line about time being made "up of little bits" a particularly dire example of the kind of gibberish on display here.

Once the story moves to Atlantis, things get even worse. Mercifully, all the actors make a real effort, and Ingrid Pitt as Galleia and George Cormack as Dalios both handle the diabolical cod-Shakespearian dialogue rather well, but the script is really cringe-worthy by this point. Delgado's portrayal as the Master is always worth watching, but here he struggles with some dreadful lines (calling Krasis a poltroon is a classic example) and generally ranting in a moustache-twirling fashion. I wouldn't mind so much if the Master was on his usual form, but he doesn't really seem to be trying here, just going through evil motions. Which also raises the question of why, since he seems genuinely annoyed here when UNIT and the Doctor track him down, he even bothers to establish TOMTIT in England in the first place. Sadly, during his final scene when the Master begs the Doctor to save him from Kronos, even Delgado seems to be hamming it up. He also adopts an unconvincing and extremely sporadic Greek accent. 

There's more. The Atlantean costumes look absurd. The Atlanteans, supposedly Greek, are clearly not (although I suppose I should be grateful that this spares us the uncomfortable sight of "blacked-up" actors). The Minotaur is crowbarred into the script in order to hammer home the fact that the Chronovores had an impact on mythology, and is the crowning turd. I don't even think the much-praised "daisiest daisy" scene is especially good, although this is of course down entirely to personal taste. Also how come the Doctor's TARDIS is suddenly working perfectly without outside intervention?

The two main regulars offer some solace. Pertwee, whilst not quite recovered from 'The Mutants', seems more interested in the script than he did in that story, although as noted above he's rather too laid back. Katy Manning is excellent, and Jo gets to play a key role, first rescuing the Doctor using the Big Red Switch, and later time-ramming the TARDISes to save the universe when the Doctor can't bring himself to do so. Sadly, it isn't enough; 'The Time Monster' is a shambles, and a dire end to a season that started so well. It is worth noting however, that if you are childish enough, there is one reason to watch 'The Time Monster'; I always thought that this was a fan myth, but I've listened to it carefully three times to be sure and in episode three, when the Doctor is supposed to say "Do buck up, Brigadier", Pertwee definitely says "Do f*ck up, Brigadier". Which is a lot more amusing than the thraskin/plinge conversation.