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The Time Monster

story 64 | season 9 | serial ooo
Sarah Tarrant

In a ninth season proliferated by such memorable monstrous creations as the Daleks (‘Day of the Daleks’), Ice Warriors (‘Curse of Peladon’ which also added with lesser threatening impact Aggedor and Alpha Centauri to the list), Sea Devils (‘The Sea Devils’) and Mutts (‘The Mutants’) one could be forgiven for denigrating the closing story entitled ‘The Time Monster’ for arguably not offering up another memorable alien foe to live on in the viewing public’s collective memories. I personally would like to offer up my support of this particular story which despite running to almost two and half hours always manages to enchant and delight me whenever I return to watch it making it an entirely pleasant complete viewing experience where its six episodes pass by relatively quickly.

Right from the opening scenes with the Doctor waking up from a nightmare vision of the Master succeeding in some diabolical scheme involving a trident shaped crystal you are immediately aware that our hero’s arch enemy will be the main protagonist of this particular story. Whilst Jo (wearing another groovy seventies outfit (grey short skirted dress and knee length high heeled bright yellow boots)) mentions about recent volcanic action on the island of Thera I take a moment to glance around the light airy lab surroundings and ponder if it might be in a similar waterfront building to that which was used during ‘Terror of the Autons’. Returning to Jo’s volcano newspaper article and the Doctor’s subsequent supposition that it might be linked to some scheme involving both the Master and Atlantis this is indeed prophetic reasoning despite the inconclusive verbal input from both Captain Yates and the Brigadier.

Nestling in the English countryside we find in the grand period setting of the Newton Institute the instantly recognisable features of the soberly dressed Master involved in highly scientific and undoubtedly costly research. So as to avoid detection whist at the Institute he goes by the Latin Professor nodeplume of Thascales, which to anyone with a classical education would have realised translates to Master. With the intention of making him the intellectual superior most viewers don’t gain a favourable opinion of his two assistants however when you have scientists of the calibre of both the Master and the Doctor you really don’t want humans to either equal or even outshine them thereby upsetting the balance between reality and fantasy. Having said that I personally feel that although undoubtedly ‘out of her depth’ regarding the Professor’s experiments Wanda Moore’s seemingly resolute and determined character of Doctor Ruth Ingram acquitted herself commendably, if not entirely memorably during her scenes in the Institute lab. The same really can’t be said regarding her colleague Stuart Hyde (played by Ian Collier) whom, with possibly the worst line of the story (‘May God bless the good ship women’s lib and all who sail in her’) is really, for the most part only on hand to offer comic relief to this story. The main scientific aspect of the story has the amusing acronym of TOM-TIT but it’s actual meaning, that of Transmission of Matter Through Interstitial Time is a fascinating concept rendered believable through clever camera trickery and convincing performances by the Master and his colleagues whilst manipulating their experimental equipment. Of all people it is Sergeant Benton whom grasps the concept of TOM-TIT and through a child like amusing but essentially accurate way infers that with the equipment the Professor and his team have found a way to move an object ‘through the gap between now and now’. Unfortunately there are advanced and reduced time side effects to the procedure as both Stuart (whom ages to a wrinkled old man) and Sergeant Benton (reverts to a naked baby leading to the humorous ‘reverting to normal size and age’ sequence at the stories conclusion) discover. Using the equipment also apparently causes time dilation in the immediate vicinity of the Institute building as experienced by a window cleaner, the Brigadier and a platoon of UNIT troops to name a few whom are frozen in time as a result. Time is very much on the Doctor’s mind and, in keeping with this third incarnation’s predilection for speed his modifications to his yellow roadster, charmingly called ‘Bessie’ now feature a ‘super drive’ device, pulling said lever dramatically (and it has to be said, rather comically) increases this vintage motorcar to unbelievable speeds particularly when journeying towards the Newton Institute. Having established through his time sensor device that the Institute is the origin of the disturbances in the time field the Doctor is anxious to put an end as soon as possible to any further effects generated from the scientific activities occurring at the rural research facility.

With the use of the TIM-TIT equipment, the Master acquires the powerful multifaceted trident crystal from the fabled city of Atlantis. Through this haloed jewel he gains control of the feared time eating creature Kronos whom appears in the Institute lab as a brilliant white-attired humanoid figured entity with a vast feathered wingspan. In my opinion, with sparing use here and there towards the end of Atlantis itself this alien life form is effective albeit in a rather blurred brief fashion. As we have seen so many times before Roger Delgado’s Master seeks out those weak willed individuals whom hold a position of authority and in ‘The Time Monster’ actor John Wyse renders a timid easily led character in Newton Institute director, Doctor Charles Percival whom is a rather short lived cast member ultimately devoured by the initially uncontrollable Kronos. Now not only does the TOM-TIT apparatus transport the entire crystal structure from Atlantis to the Institute but surprisingly the Master also gains a new weak willed servant in the form of the wide eyed High Priest Krasis (Donald Eccles). Now presumably by drawing power from the crystal the Master is able to draw other people and objects from the past to combat the advancing UNIT forces. On the one hand you have the Master clearly enjoying showing off to his new and rather backward lackey and on the other you gotta feel sorry for poor old Captain Yates out there in the rural countryside where he and his armed forces are faced with a myriad of increasingly dangerous obstructions to their route. First up he faces a knight in full armour, whom on horseback raises his lance and charges towards them forcing the convoy off the road to let the medieval figure pass. Personally I found this highly amusing as indeed were the detachment of Roundhead soldiers whose armoury and experience were clearly no match for the modern armed forces of UNIT. Far more serious however is the Master bringing forth a World War II flying bomb which indeed made for a very tense and exciting episode cliffhanger ending.

We then have the brief rather intriguing premise of an interconnection of the Doctor and the Master’s TARDIS the Doctor speaking backwards (which we now know is nothing of the kind!) and Kronos devouring the Doctor. However as this happened in his TARDIS, the Doctor, as a Time Lord existed as an ethereal being, his voice and that of his other thoughts being heard by Jo (and the viewers) before his assistant pulled the ‘fast return’ lever on the console to bring him back.

Although briefly seen whilst the Master is attempting to obtain the crystal it is the last two episodes of ‘The Time Monster’ that are firmly located in the confines of Atlantis. Now even on the meagre budgets available to the production team in 1972 you cannot expect miracles from a studio bound set especially for a story which concludes the five story ninth season of the show. In fact many a fan will I’m sure too easily denigrate the recreation of Atlantis when compared with the perceived reality of the mythical city. Admittedly the starkness and simplicity of the surroundings feel to be in direct contrast to the location and studio work of the ‘present day’ Newton Institute. However for me it is the period specific performances on offer that aid the effective shift in location in this stories closing stages. No more so is this apparent than with Ingrid Pitt’s majestic regal performance as Galleia, Queen of Atlantis. Here we clearly have a ruler steeped in power and influence who does not suffer fools gladly and you almost get the feeling that Roger Delgado has to significantly raise his performance in scenes with Pitt making them feel rather atypical for Doctor Who. George Cormack endearingly portrays the wise white haired elderly King Dalios, a figure whom takes great amusement in rebuffing the Master’s attempts at mind control. In amongst the Master’s plotting in Atlantis we have the inexplicable sequence of the Doctor acting as a ‘Spanish matador’ when faced with the mythical Minotaur beast in passageways under the city. Admittedly it’s difficult to support this clear bit of script padding, no matter how pleasing it may appear. However continuity-wise it links nicely with the Doctor’s ability to subdue Aggedor in the citadel of Peladon with similar skill earlier this season. Again echoing a similar dungeon scene (to be found in Sir Reginald Styles house (‘Day of the Daleks’) we again find the Doctor and Jo imprisoned, this time leading to a rather endearing conversation about how the Doctor learnt the secret of life from a hermit whom lived close to the house where he grew up. Lastly Jo’s trip to Atlantis finds her getting rather pally with Galleia’s handmaiden Lakis (Susan Penhaligon) and acquiring a rather opulent Atlantean gown and ringletted hairstyle leading to the Brigadier’s incredulous comment on seeing her when she returns to the Newton Institute at the end of the story.

Jon Pertwee as the charismatic third incarnation is always a joy to watch however his performance in this story in my opinion seems a tad muted compared with other entries during his tenure as the Doctor. For me his most memorable scene in this story would have to be his constructing a ‘time-flow analogue’ device from a Moroccan burgundy bottle, spoons, forks, corks, key rings, tea leaves and a mug much to the incredulous observations of Stuart, Ruth, Sergeant Benton and Jo. I certainly struggle to recall anything particularly memorable regarding Katy Manning’s scatterbrained but well-meaning character apart from her elaborate Atlantean gown which she gains in the stories latter stages. From the surroundings of the Newton Institute, travelling in his TARDIS through to the time he spends in Atlantis, Roger Delgado renders his usual distinguished scheming portrayal of the Master, each performance cherished all the more due to his untimely death in 1973. Of the remaining cast although the UNIT regulars (the Brigadier, Sergeant Benton, Captain Yates) contribute admirably to the continued ‘family’ feel of the series only the aforementioned Ingrid Pitt and George Cormack are of particular note their characters adding a level of believability and charm to the ruling structure of mythical Atlantis.

In the final analysis I view ‘The Time Monster’ very much an ensemble piece in which each member of the leading cast contributes their own element to the overall feel of an enjoyable, engaging story which although not worthy of classic status is certainly not deserving of its perceived lack lustre reputation. I personally am able to overlook this stories shortcomings (the Master on his knees at the end pleading for his life and some of the truly cringe worthy lines expressed early on between Ruth and Stuart) and just ‘sit back and enjoy the ride’ as the Doctor attempts to foil another devilish and ingenious scheme of the cool, calculating Master.

Robert Tymec

This, along with "Claws of Axos", is one of the most re-watched stories I pop into my VCR from Seasons 8 to 11! I know that makes little sense to the Pertwee fans since both those stories are considered two of the worst from those seasons, so I'll explain why:

Doctor Who in season seven was great stuff. Even some of the blatantly-padded seven-episode material was, overall, largely enjoyable. In fact, having such long stories really allowed the show to explore some neat directions that it would normally never have the time to go in (except, possibly, in the case of "Ambassadors of Death" which resorted a bit too much to endless captures and escapes). This was very creative and inventive Who. And I liked what Pertwee was doing with his character.

But then, along came Season Eight. And with it, came what I feel is some of the most formulae-driven storytelling the show has ever produced. Some of these tales are so paint-by-numbers that you can start making bets on the predictability (ie: "Ten bucks says Mike Yates is going to walk into the scene in a second and say something cheeky" or "Twenty bucks says the last ten minutes of the story will be spent with UNIT fighting the aliens to little or no effect while the Doctor does something scientific to save the day").

So now, here's why I like these two supposed "clunkers". Although they don't stray too much from this formulae I'm bemoaning, they use it more effectively than most.

While I won't go into "Claws of Axos" here, I will say that part of what makes "Monster" so effective is that it uses the concept of the "UNIT family" very comfortably. It knows we're familiar with Benton, Yates and the Brig and gives each of them a nice bit of attention without creating too great of a detriment to the plot. In fact, unlike a lot of other UNIT adventures where these characters just get a bunch superficial scenes glossed on to the story (ie: endless scenes of the Doctor stopping in at UNIT headquarters for a few minutes merely to have a quick little chat with Mike or Benton or get in an argument with the Brig and then roaring off again in Bessie) each character is given something functional to do. Some members of the family get more attention and functionalism than others. But that, to me, is actually good writing. Each member of UNIT getting perfectly equal screen time smacks a bit too much of cheesy American sitcom. I like that Mike is used somewhat sparingly while Benton is virtually the hero of the day (even if he does fall for the worst trick in the book!).

Another strongpoint to this tale, I feel, is that it is a story that deals quite heavilly in the abstract. Though some of those abstracts are a tad gimmicky or not particularly well-explained. It is still nice to have something a bit more high-browed than the usual "evil aliens and/or homegrown baddies are here to take over the world" plotline that we get through most of these years. We don't understand much about Kronos but we can see that he's dangerous. That if he's released into our dimension, with or without the Master able to control him, he's going to make some trouble. The very fact that he's linked to Atlantis gives us a clue of his might. That, more than likely, he's the key reason the place was destroyed (even if Azal boasted the way he did about it just a season ago!). Like the Mandrigora Helix a few seasons later, I like a good conceptual monster. One that doesn't just sneak up behind you and maul you to death with claws and teeth or lasers it can shoot from its horns. But rather, does something wierd and abstract to you that ends up terminating or, at least, ruining your life. And Kronos, overall, is well-achieved in that respect. Even the visual aspects of him/her aren't all that horrible as far as I'm concerned. In fact, I felt that the production team knew that they only had so good of a budget to realise the creature and were smart to shoot it the way they did with overexposure and tight angles. Yes, it still looks cheap. But "Who" was a cheap show back then. I'm sure the new series would realise Kronos with some amazing CGI. But they didn't have that back then. And I think they did well with what they did have.

The various notions put forward regarding the nature of time in this story are a blend of clever and hoaky. The time-scoop stuff to stop Yates' convoy being, of course, the hoakiest. While both the timeflow analogue and the TARDIS-within-a-TARDIS battle seeming quite clever to me. Even the emergency switch on the Doctor's console makes sense. Obviously, the Doctor understood the dangers of being in a vehicle that travelled through the Time/Space Vortex and set up some sort of device that would enable the TARDIS to home in on him and bring him back to the console room if ever he accidentally spilled out into the fourth dimension. It's not entirely a dumb idea and only smacks so much of "deus ex machinae" in my book. But then, maybe that's just me.

Yes, there's some blatant padding here. But welcome to most six-parters of the 70s. Only as we move into the Tom Baker era does the plotting for this format improve. Most of Pertwee's stuff has this kind of thing in it. And I do feel that some of the material is better written than some of the more blatant padding we've seen in other stories. Particularly, of course, the Doctor recalling his old friend, the Hermit. A good example of filling time with something meaningful.

I also actually enjoyed the change of emphasis in the plotting as things shift to Atlantis. It does slow down the momentum the story has built up considerably, I'll agree. But I actually think such a move also has its merits. The attempt to creat a more "classical" feel to the series is done somewhat admirably and adds a touch of sophistication to the whole production. Better than just a bunch of running around in corridors more intensely than the characters did in the first four episodes cause we're nearing the story's climax. Something that is strong evidence in the story just before this one. So, although the move to Atlantis had detrimental effects to the plot - it also enhanced it in some ways too. So my feelings are mixed on this point. Rather than just hating it outright as many of you did.

Do I have some very definite complaints? Oh yes. Jo (my all-time least-favourite companion) and Ruth's mustachioed assistant whose name currently eludes me seem to be having a "dorky dialogue" competition. And, though the ending with Kronos in the limbo dimension is real cool, Delgado's performance as he begs for his life is far too out-of-character in my book. These are some of the bigger complaints I have. But none of them are quite big enough for me to put this story in the category most of fandomn does. In fact, I'll take this story over "Terror of the Autons", "Sea Devils" or "The Daemons" any day. Those are far "clunkier" than this tale.

In my book, at least.

Adam Kintopf

Oh my, oh me, ‘The Time Monster.’ I’m definitely going to need to get a cup of coffee before starting to talk about this one – a moment please.

[time lapse]

There we go – thanks. ‘The Time Monster’ has to be one of the most fan-whipped stories in this series’ history. Surely it could compete respectably with ‘The Underwater Menace,’ ‘The Creature from the Pit,’ ‘The Chase,’ and others in a contest to find the classic serial that has been the butt of the most fan jokes.

And while I am not here to praise the story, exactly, I’m not here to bury it either. It is not an especially good story, and certainly not a great one, but newcomers approaching it on its reputation alone may be shocked by how un-awful it actually is. Indeed, most of the problems are simply ones common to the Pertwee/Letts era as a whole rather than unique to this poor story itself. Things like the comic scenes with the UNIT ‘family,’ the set pieces with the knight and the Roundheads, the fact that Benton lets the Master get away multiple times, and a generally silly and confused script are frequent targets of fan complaints . . . but we can certainly find equally silly things in better regarded Third Doctor stories, even ‘The Green Death’ (‘Doris’ scene, anyone?). And frankly, I would rather have facetiousness in the context of a none-too-ambitious story like this one than in a one where the goofiness distracts from genuinely original sci-fi. You know, like it does in ‘City of Death.’ (Yes, in some respects I prefer ‘The Time Monster’ to ‘City of Death’; thank you in advance for your e-mails and letters.)

In fact, judged on its own merits rather than as a scapegoat for the age, the biggest problem this story has is structural – like some other Pertwee six-parters, it really feels more like two stories instead of one, and once the action makes the full jump to Atlantis in Episode Five, the viewer may experience an unpleasant ‘What the hell is going on here?’ effect. But up to that point there’s actually been much to like about it – Roger Delgado gives one of his wittiest performances (I don’t even mind the accent), and Nicholas Courtney gets some his best-ever reactions to the Doctor’s problem-solving approach (“You astound me”). It has the look and all the expected trappings of an iconic UNIT story (I personally like the Doctor’s tea-leaf-and-cork thingummy), and all the business with the transplanted Roundheads, etc., is at worst harmless, and actually can be rather amusing if you’re in the right spirit for it. (Alcohol helps.) The Chronovore is transparently a man in a white chicken suit hanging from a wire, yes, but the production team *almost* pull it off – the creature is shown only fleetingly (always a mercy on Doctor Who), and the screeching sound effect is surprisingly convincing.

Now, it is true that once the action jumps to Atlantis things begin to go pear-shaped, as we are given painfully mannered dialogue, a minotaur that can be killed simply by jumping out of its way (nobody ever tried that before?), and, strangest of all, a soap-opera plotline that seems to have the Master having, erm, ‘relations’ with Ingrid Pitt. (Delgado’s idea, perhaps?) George Cormack’s acting is good, but it can only carry the production so far, and things do invariably begin to feel tedious. But surprisingly, it’s almost redeemed by Katy Manning’s bravery at the end (“Goodbye Doctor!”) – this is actually one of my favorite Jo Grant stories – and the strange, otherworldly ‘Kronos Transformed’ scene has a kind of serenity that anticipates the Guardian stories in later years.

All in all, this one’s undeniably a mess, like many stories of the era. But fans should probably see it for themselves before assuming it’s totally without entertainment value.

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.