Doctor Who: The Time Monster
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // $24.98 // July 6, 2010
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted August 18, 2010
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A six-episode story from the Jon Pertwee years, Doctor Who - The Time Monster (1972) is a decidedly lesser adventure. It is extraordinarily stagnant and talky when not downright silly for its first four half-hours, and then suddenly comes to life when its narrative abruptly shifts to the lost continent of Atlantis for some hoary but lively and unexpectedly extravagant serial-style fun. Overall though, it's mediocre and no surprise that series fans rank it 216th out of Doctor Who's 231 adventures to date.

It is, however, notable for its cast. Ingrid Pitt (best known for her vampire films for Hammer), David "Darth Vader" Prowse, and Susan Penhaligon (The Land That Time Forgot, the BBC's Dracula) are among those well known to genre fans.

The BBC-2|entertain DVD, distributed by Warner Bros., is packed with the usual assortment of illustrative, entertaining extra features, and the show itself has been carefully restored coupling surviving video elements with new enhancement technologies.

The (third) Doctor (Jon Pertwee, following William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton) and his latest companion, Jo Grant (Katy Manning), discover that the Greek professor spearheading time experiments at Cambridge University in fact is none other than the Doctor's old nemesis, The Master (Roger Delgado), a wayward Time Lord. Unwittingly assisted by academics Ruth Ingram (Wanda Moore) and Stuart Hyde (Ian Collier), the Master plans to use his TOMTIT (Transmission of Matter Through Interstitial Time) machine to beckon Kronos, a time-eating creature that previously threatened Atlantis. The Doctor is concerned that if the Master is successful in pulling Kronos out of the vortex, the entire universe may cease to exist.

The first several episodes play up Kronos's awesome power and terrifying presence, but when the creature finally appears, well, to say that he's disappointing would be an understatement. The writers (Robert Sloman and producer Barry Letts, uncredited) seemed to have envisioned something like a graceful, man-sized hawk with Trojan-style headgear, its entire body burning white hot like a star. But despite the best efforts of director Paul Bernard and the technical crew, the creature onscreen laughably suggests a man in a chicken suit madly flapping its rubbery wings, swinging out-of control like Peter Pan in an amateur stage production. The costume closely resembles the big bird that flirts with comedian Shemp Howard in Cuckoo on a Choo-Choo (see below). Needless to say, it doesn't exactly evoke the intended reaction.

The larger problem is the story's poor structure, with most of the cast standing around the TOMTIT, adjusting its control levers, or the Master in his TARDIS (the time machine/spaceships used by Time Lords such as the Doctor and the Master) adjusting its control levers or the Doctor in his TARDIS adjusting it. The fifth episode suddenly shifts to Atlantis, leaving behind not only Ingram and Hyde but also series regulars Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin), and Sgt. Benton (John Levene), the latter having been transformed into an infant in a silly and completely unaccountable subplot.

In Atlantis it becomes clear where the budget went; there are several elaborate sets and lavishly costumed extras - it's reminiscent of early glories from the Hartnell period, particularly the much-superior "The Aztecs." Ingrid Pitt plays Galleia, the glamorous Queen of Atlantis, George Cromack is very good as the old but wise King Dalios, and David Prowse turns up briefly as a Minotaur. The Doctor shares a refreshingly quiet, philosophical scene with Jo, delivering a monologue about a childhood memory of admiring the "daisiest daisy" he had ever seen. But most of the last two episodes consist of the usual lost-world palace intrigue already old hat when Johnny Weissmuller was tooling around Africa as Jungle Jim.

The teleplay's concepts about time travel and manipulation are better than average, sounding plausible and reasonable much of the time, but that's undermined by frequent appearances of that ridiculous chicken suit.

Video & Audio

The Time Monster is presented on a single dual-layered disc, running a grand total of 147 minutes plus all the extra features and commentary tracks. The show was rescued by TV Ontario, which retained an NTSC copy long after the BBC foolishly wiped their PAL master. (A flawed PAL master of episode six, used for training BBC studio personnel, was later recovered and it looks better than the other five.) Modern technology has helped make the show look quite good. To this reviewer's naked eyes it looks about par with other Pertwee-era episodes. Optional English subtitles are available, including on all the extra features.

Extra Features

As usual, 2|entertain and BBC Video have crammed this release with lots of entertaining and highly informative supplements. A story-long commentary track features actors John Levene and Susan Penhaligon, producer Barry Letts, production assistant Marlon McDougall, television writers Graham Duff, Phil Ford, Joe Lidster, and James Moran, and the whole shebang is moderated by Toby Hadoke.

"Between Now...and Now!" pulls double-duty: it's a featurette both about the making of the story and the science of time. Co-stars Richard Franklin and Katy Manning are featured. Also included is an extensive photo gallery, a restoration comparison, and PDF materials.

Parting Thoughts

The Time Monster has many interesting components that, thanks to a disjointed structure and an ultimately ludicrous title character, don't come together very successfully. It's static, even boring during its first two-thirds then races too quickly to the finish line. If you are a classic Doctor Who fan you might enjoy this, but more casual fans can easily skip it. Overall, a Rent It.

  Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's books include The Toho Studios Story, on sale now.

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