The Time Warrior is remarkably inauspicious given that its actually quite important, introducing as it does Sarah Jane Smith and the Sontarans. While Sarah in retrospect came out as probably the best companion ever (once the 1970s were out she hardly faced much competition), I sometimes wonder if the Sontarans deserved to become such comparatively big monsters. I know that the only reason they did was because Barry Letts was playing it safe and brought them back for the following season, thereby opening the floodgates, but even so: theyre not bad monsters, by any means, but I can think of better monsters that deserved more appearances (Zygons anyone?). That said, this is their best story, as all but one of the others didnt have Robert Holmes (also known by his nickname, Lord and Master) at the helm.
Immediately noticeable with this story is the new title sequence, which is fantastic; in fact, for my money its the best after the Hartnell original. I prefer it to the Tom Baker version that followed it closely its aesthetically more daring with its broken lines and swirls, and the way the picture of Jon Pertwee zooms out only to rush forward again and become a vortex is a killer. There are no cheesy two-dimensional TARDISes here, either.
David Daker cannot fail to make an impression early on: he is over-the-top to be sure, but not in a way that disrespects the audience like Anthony Ainleys master would do. Here his performance is loud and vibrant, but carefully and caringly matched up with the tone of the rest of the production. John J. Carney as Bloodaxe, by contrast, is completely swamped. He does his best and so I wont tear into him, but he simply doesnt have the energy of Dakers manic Irongron. However, his patronising and extremely obvious and clichéd characterisation as a West Country simpleton is very annoying, arr, so it be. The set of Irongrons castle is poor, which is a shame as when it came to period settings Doctor Who was usually on solid ground: its plastic props and painted-backdrop brickwork perhaps explaining why Sarah initially believes it to be a fairground mock-up. Still, barring comparatively short interludes in the past in Carnival Of Monsters and The Time Monster, this is the first story to really make an effort to create a period setting since The War Games in 1969 so I suppose I can forgive them being a bit rusty.
A small globe is a nice idea for a spaceship, especially two decades before Star Trek gave us the Borg Sphere (and the Borg had ripped off the Cybermen anyway). However, the design of their ships which have since passed into canonicity were initially conceived so that Irongron could believe it to be a star, while the only reason this monster is called a Sontaran is so that Holmes can make a cheap pun on Saracen. Bear that in mind when watching the deadly-serious The Two Doctors, which Holmes also wrote but under the thumb of Eric Saward (oh so easy an excuse for a Holmes fan, but there you are). One thing that annoys me though is fans who moan about subsequent plots involving Sontarans attempting to discover time-travel, when they had it all the way back in the 12th Century. The answer, Id have thought, is obvious: Linx is from the future, jackasses! I have to say that Linx is brilliant, with Kevin Lindsays brooding sadist portrayal stealing the acting crown from Daker; it is hard to believe that this is the same man who played the affable and somewhat effeminate Cho-je in Planet Of The Spiders. As I said, this is the Sontarans best story, with Holmes doing what David Whitaker did so successfully with the Daleks: keeping his monsters in the background, as part of a story rather than the be-all-and-end-all of it. Linx is so much more menacing through not being rubbed in our faces all the time.
Jumping to the future, and the Brigadiers line of most of their work's so secret, they don't know what they're doing themselves is a cunning way to avoid having to give a proper explanation why all these scientists are all bundled together for kidnapping. Its interesting to see that Pertwee is mucking about like Tom Baker did in his last few seasons, but he may be taking advantage of Holmess shamelessly boisterous dialogue.
Although Sarah would be brilliant, a lot of this would be down to the relationship she had with her co-stars. This has yet to develop at this point, and her one-dimensional crusading feminist characterisation sees Barry Lettss drive to be socially responsible misfire. I was going to do the old DONT ASK ME TO MAKE THE COFFEE! bit, but then she actually said that line or thereabouts (Id forgotten), which had me lost for words. Thankfully she became much more of a realistic character under Philip Hinchcliffe. Rubeish is also a very irritating character, Holmes tastelessly mocking his lack of vision and creating a character straight out of a dated 70s sitcom. He even mentions a scientist called Dingle, for crying out loud. It surprises me as well why he and the Doctor talk abut Sarah with raised voices even though shes only in one of those temporary cubicles.
The drama of Rubeishs disappearance is spoiled since we have already seen what happens to the kidnapped humans, but there is a great effect as the Doctor projects an image of Linx on the stairs (look closely and you can see his feet waiting on the landing beforehand). However, as with much of the season the characterisation of UNIT is dreadful, with the grunts living up to their nicknames and shooting at passing insects and the Brigadier uttering out-of-character lines like oh my giddy aunt!.
Its actually quite effective not letting us see Sarahs reaction to the TARDIS (doesnt the prop look tatty here?), instead just showing her wandering around. Her acting as she is captured is excellent, and it is easy to see why she would be so popular once the writers had got the hang of her.
There is some great location shooting (always a strength of the programme), which in part makes up for the tackiness of the studio sets. We see the Sontaran make-up for the first time, and its fantastic, much better than it would be in later years. I know it was uncomfortable and severely restricted Lindsays breathing, but even so I was sad to see it go in subsequent stories. However, my copy of The Time Warrior is the extremely old BBC video release from 1989 9still in good nick, mind) where the episodes are all edited together into one feature, and it becomes very obvious that Linx only removes his helmet to set up the cliffhanger. Its slightly strange and not very dramatically satisfying to see him take off his helmet, pose dramatically for a second, then replace his helmet and walk off.
You only get lines like narrow-hipped vixen! with Robert Holmes. Sarahs comment that the castle contains no lights or cameras could possibly be metafiction, but really its just Holmes having a massive laugh at everyone elses expense, taking his revenge when Terrance Dicks made him write a period piece against his will (in fairness he turned the tables later with Horror Of Fang Rock). Linxs comment about human reproduction is very funny, although his genuine interest in the more violent aspects of medieval society turns him into far more than just an average evil monster. The robot knight is quite creepy, with its zombie-like gait and distended, out-of-proportion features. The Doctor knocks Irongrons control unit out of his hand with a crack shot from a crossbow; Russell T. Davies wants a return to the non-gun bearing Doctor. All I can say is, he has a lot of contrary evidence to make up for.
Rubeish takes the idea of time-travel in his stride, babbling like an idiot; is he Holmess most annoying character ever? The music here is so rare that there isnt really a place to discuss it, so Ill just say quickly that Dudley Simpson, having passed his near-unlistenable electronic phase, is on good form.
Amazingly, Gallifrey is casually namedropped for the first time here as if its name had been known already (another important contribution Holmes (presumably) made to the show). Pertwees constant fighting with extras is getting tiresome at this stage, especially as it drives his character into the ground, although its not as annoying as him yelling hai! with every stuntman that goes down.
Linxs description of Pertwee as a longshanked rascal with a mighty nose is hilarious, but in fairness Holmes chose a description that could equally apply to himself. The plot here is simple without being patronising, allowing for Holmes to avoid clumsy exposition while still keeping the story going. There is a bit of padding, I should say, in part one where the Doctor doesnt arrive in medieval England until the very end.
The siege scene is fun, being nice and simple (which is not how Holmes had wanted it; his revenge again). The location scenes are very well directed by Alan Bromly, and even in the studio the very mobile cameras are nice to see. However, his handling of action scenes does tend to fall a bit flat. The castle sentry, I should add, is appalling.
The cliffhanger is spoiled by my clumsily-edited tape, which just shows Linx shooting the Doctor and his subsequent fall to be possibly the slowest action scene outside The Aztecs. In the fourth episode, the Doctor masquerading as Linx to fool Bloodaxe is silly and pantomimic, but by contrast Sarahs terrified bluff to the serving woman is excellently played. However, her feminist tirade is so clumsily written that I feel the need to point it out even though I went on about it earlier. There is a poor, shaky piece of action as the Doctor swings on a chandelier, and there is a horrible boom mike shadow on Linx at the end.
Holmess real weakness was his penchant for anticlimaxes; his endings range from deus ex machina overload (Spearhead From Space, Pyramids Of Mars) to the too lame for words (Terror Of The Autons). This isnt one of his worst, but writing his monsters to have inbuilt weaknesses like Power Rangers enemies makes me cringe a bit. The final explosion is also a bit too simple, although no one can claim its not within the shows limits.
Despite not being the best-realised period piece the show ever did, this is still a great fun story. Its no classic, but given how most non-classic Holmes scripts get unfairly ripped apart (The Krotons, The Power Of Kroll), this is a story that actually tends to get quite fairly treated maybe because Holmess unwillingness to write to specifications provides his advocates with a scapegoat. Im only giving this an average rating, which spells bad things as its probably the best story of the season, which wasnt Pertwees best. Taken story by story though, The Time Warrior is fairly representative: it has few pretensions (OK so its not representative of Planet Of The Spiders), but its just good clean fun.