Written By: Nigel Robinson
Based on a TV story written by Dennis Spooner
Read By: Peter Purves
Published: 6th October 2016
Duration: 240 Minutes
1066, Planet Earth. The Doctor and Vicki must now move onto new journeys without the company of lively and brave Ian Chesterton, and wise, protective Barbara Wright. The two Coal Hill School teachers have finally made it back to their home time and place after the Doctor's team made a close escape from a Dalek execution squad.
To their surprise another has immediately joined their crew (in somewhat stowaway fashion): pilot Steven Taylor, who was a prisoner in the city of the Mechanoids, and had begun to lose his grasp of reality. As they explore their new surroundings in north-east England, the Doctor repeatedly is forced to convince Steven Taylor that he pilots a craft that is both capable of space flight, but also time travel.
What none of the new arrivals can anticipate is that a member of the Doctor's own race has landed sometime earlier in this pre-Renaissance era, and is posing as a native monk. And this individual is both scheming and manipulative, yet perfectly jovial and charming. He is also determined to use his awareness of future events to execute a scheme whereby the Viking invasion never went ahead. This would allow reigning King Harold to comfortably defeat William (of Normandy), and thus the whole course of future history both in England and the whole world changes irrevocably...
The Time Meddler has been something of an acquired taste for this reviewer. Soon after Doctor Who's cancellation, a repeat season on BBC 2 was commissioned, and this particular black and white story was chosen as the representative of the Hartnell years of 1963 - 1966. One reason was that no episodes were missing, and another was its relatively brief episode count. The copy shown on TV was serviceable for those fans used to the BBC Videos, but certainly would not stand up today on modern TV screens (many of which support high-definition).
To my (then nine-year-old) eyes, this was quite hard to watch for other reasons. The lack of frenetic music and the long, talky scenes meant I struggled to keep myself in the moment as I normally did. I would watch the episode once or twice and quickly move on. By contrast my viewings of the next couple of stories that followed in the season, saw me re-watch each and every episode many times on home cassette. The week long wait for the next repeat seemed an eternity.
Now however, watched in context of a marathon of the Hartnell era, or at least a number of consecutive stories, this serial is easily one of the more thoughtful, well-crafted and realistic (in terms of then-production facilities). The Time Meddler may be relatively small stakes compared to various other tales, but it still was at pains to show how dedicated the Doctor was in terms of protecting the web of time that was integral to planet Earth.
Many Classic Who fans cannot help liking The Chase despite all its problems, but only would one dare show the final episode (and possibly the opener for those that like Shakespeare or the Beatles) to a 'newbie'. By contrast this story had director Douglas Camfield who always throve on the pressures and made each and every cast and crew member feel part of a team.
Nigel Robinson was one of the better contributors to the TARGET novelisation range, and later went on to produce two very enjoyable early entries in the Virgin New Adventures book line (Timewyrm - Apocalypse and Birthright). Robinson understood what the essence of Doctor Who was, but also what material would be worthy of expansion and exploration in book form. A lot of the two-dimensional characters of the source material are given that bit more meat on their bones. I also appreciated the use of both a prologue and epilogue - the former to give a sense of Steven's terrifying ordeal escaping Mechanus and stumbling upon the TARDIS, the latter to fully portray the just desserts the Monk has been served by his fellow (but far more moral) time traveller.
One aspect of the story which really was unusual for 1960s Doctor Who was its exploring of adult themes. Yet - by contrast to the very first season of Hartnell - some stories in the 1964-1965 run had a rather more adult side to them: Susan's relationship with a human that made her leave the TARDIS and her grandfather, and the politics and morality aspects of Richard the Lionheart's campaigns in Palestine, were certainly more than mere teatime escapism.
One section of The Time Meddler saw a rather disturbing 'after-shock' scene of Edith conveying that she had been sexual assaulted, or raped, with the actual crime taking place off-screen. In the original story this was rather brushed under the carpet soon after and it appeared that all was more than well by the time the TARDIS crew have won their battle of wits with the Monk. In this book Robinson commendably tackles the topic in some detail, and was surely aware of portraying keystone morals for the youngster/child demographic that was essentially the target readership. The final violent end for the two Vikings who committed the despicable act feels justified. But there is that tinge of 'two wrongs do not make a right' which is part of the laudably strong characterisation at work by the adaptor.
Peter Purves once again shows his all round skills as a narrator and voice artist. I had the pleasure of reading his enthusiastic and detailed memoirs some years back. The former Blue Peter presenter had a varied and interesting career, with a lot of fast paced training/ performing in theatre in his formative years. Consequently the alter ego of Steven Taylor is able to handle both high pitched and bass voices with equal aplomb, and has the uncanny sense of when to speed up the tempo of his reading and when to allow some meaningful silences. Some of the music used is familiar from other BBC Audio releases, which is welcome, as so few TV Hartnell stories were linked to each other through recurring musical themes. Suspense and excitement are punctuated well, and the sound effects continue to be employed with good judgement.
So in short, this is yet another entertaining and atmospheric audio gem, and you could do far worse in choosing an item for the impending Yuletide gift list.