The Time Meddler

Cover of Doctor Who: The Time Meddler DVD release


  • 4 February 2008 (UK)
  • 5 August 2008 (US)




The Time Meddler is a pleasant but meaningless piece of fluff. Nothing happens, with the exception of repeated attempts at deception and subterfuge and a lot of searching and walking, and the story carries absolutely no weight. The serial is saved from complete senselessness by entertaining performances on the parts of the regulars.

The Time Meddler - 4 episodes

The Time Meddler is in many ways a significant story. It is the first story, excepting An Unearthly Child, to offer any real insight into the Doctor's background and motivations. The audience even learns a bit more about the TARDIS. One might think, then, that The Time Meddler is an exciting story that breaks new ground.

One would be wrong. Rather than focusing on the new and unique elements that are presented in the story, the plot of this serial is intimately tied to its historical setting, which itself isn't even fully exploited or made particularly interesting.

The Doctor and friends arrive in England in 1066, the year of the Battle of Hastings, the decisive battle won by William the Conqueror which led to the Normal conquest of England, a pivotal event in English history. However, the Doctor and his companions find several bizarre anachronisms in 11th Century England, include a gramophone and a wristwatch. They conclude that some force is attempting to interfere with history at this important juncture.

So far it all sounds good. A viewer who had seen The Azetcs or The Romans might expect the TARIDS crew to end up mired in plots and counterplots while trying to survive and solve the mystery. The same viewer might expect to see important historical figures, such as William the Conqueror and the English King Harold, expertly portrayed, presented in historical context, and maybe even occasionally interacting with members of the TARDIS crew. That would make for interesting viewing.

What the viewer gets, however, is far less interesting. Instead of taking place during the Battle of Hastings, all of the action occurs about a month earlier, around the time of a Viking invasion which historians believe weakened English forces such that William the Conqueror was able to defeat them at the Battle of Hastings. However, the action doesn't even take place at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, the pivotal battle in this Viking invasion, but rather before the battle when Viking scouting parties are performing reconnaissance. Moreover, no significant historical figures are presented in the story. By setting the action long before and far away from the Battle of Hastings, the story loses a great deal of tension and viewer interest. Furthermore, by excluding historical figures, the drama and the educational/intellectual aspects to the story are muted. Overall, the decision to create a historical serial with so little actual history taking place in it does the story a great deal of harm.

What is left, however, is the story that actually does take place, if not the story one would like to take place. And what does take place, if pretty much meaningless, is fun and entertaining enough. The Doctor spends most of his time going head-to-head with a mischievous monk played by Peter Butterworth. The audience spends a lot of time following Butterworth's monk around when he's alone or in between interacting with characters. Butterworth does a pretty good job of conveying the monk's character without words, which is a pretty impressive feat at times. The monk's exasperation at the continual interference in his work by various characters in the story and the seemingly endless arrival of group after group at his monastery at inopportune times is also quite entertaining. Another entertaining element to the story is the way that anachronisms keep popping up. First there's gramophone, then a watch, then an electric toaster (!), a compass, etc. The absurdity of it all is pretty amusing.

A separate part of the story involves the wanderings of Vikki and new companion Stephen. This is Vikki's first time interacting at length with someone other than Doctor since joining the TARDIS, and her time with the Doctor previously was mostly confined to serving as his muse and lackey. She and Stephen end up arguing a great deal, during which she generally wins and ends up looking more intelligent, even if she comes across more child-like in this serial than before. Stephen, meanwhile, appears quite irritable and bone-headed for most of the serial, but demonstrates occasional wit and is played with just enough finesse and charm to remain a sympathetic character. As the actor who plays Stephen says in the commentaries, the scenes with Stephen and Vikki away from the Doctor play out like scenes of lost children tying to figure out what to do, which is a bit bizarre considering the age of the actors but ends up being passable enough given that they're played pretty well. These scenes might be better if they actually contributed to the plot, but they seem to have been inserted just to take up time.

With the exception of Peter Butterworth, the guest actors in this serial don't contribute a great deal. The Viking scouts are stock characters, as are most of the Saxons. One Saxon couple, Edith and Wulnoth, are particularly sympathetic, but not very much is done with them that doesn't simply serve to advance the plot. One of the more bizarre element of the serial is that in the episode directly after the implied rape of Edith by the Vikings, Edith appears acting just fine in order to provide some information to the Doctor to advance the plot. While the anachronisms of the story are enchanting incongruities, this abrupt change in the portrayal of Edith is a disconcerting incongruity.

In the end, one of the greatest problems with this serial is that it is not fully realized. The Doctor contends with a force that interferes in history and, as in The Aztecs declares that history cannot and should not be changed, even by those with the knowledge and capacity to change it benevolently. Such a position was tenable at the time of The Aztecs, as the Doctor had previously advocated remaining uninvolved in all conflicts (cf. The Daleks). But since then the Doctor has repeatedly influenced events in a meaningful and intentional way, often proving the deciding factor in major conflicts (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Web Planet). It seems, then, that the Doctor's position is that interfering in Earth's history before the 1960s is not allowed, while interfering in other planets' histories (The Web Planet) and even in Earth events after the 1960s (The Dalek Invasion of Earth) is perfectly acceptable. Such a position is inconsistent with the Doctor's character. Why should a being not from Earth who has the capacity to travel through time make such a distinction between Earth's past and all other events. From the Doctor's perspective, either all events at all places should be considered history or none should. The distinction he is forced to make in this episode rings false and clearly reflects the period and context of the show. What's worse, this false distinction lies at the heart of the conflict between the Doctor and the main villain in this serial, so impetus for all the action in the story loses another layer of meaning. What's left then, is a story with no meaningful conflict, taking place too long before and far from any significant historical event, in which characters run around a lot and occasionally try to thwart each other. It's not offensively bad or horrendously paced, and good acting from the major players holds the viewer's interest, but ultimately there just isn't very much there.


Special features

The special features include decent commentaries about the episodes which are mainly valuable for illuminating issues related to lighting (ha ha) and set design. It's also interesting to hear reflections about the program from actors and producers. The special features are extraordinarily light. There's some information about the recently deceased producer Verity Lambert, a few minor or irrelevant features, and information about the restoration of the serial. The restoration feature is the only particularly relevant one, and it's rather short itself. Overall, this is not one of the best releases in terms of special features.