Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Time Warrior written by Robert Holmes and directed by Alan Bromley


The story in a nutshell: A man from the future drops in on the past and offers them breach-loading guns that could change the future of mankind...

The Mighty Nose: The very story that this category gets its name from! I recall Uncle Terry once mentioning that Pertwee liked Robert Holmes scripts because he allowed him his ‘moments of charm’. Moments? This is possibly (with Carnival of Monsters) is possibly the Doctor's most disarming charm offensive; he’s like a rapier of witty lines, fantastic ideas and a wealth of sparkling scenes. People often cite Tom Baker as the Doctor who changed the most during his tenure, natural since he was in the hands of three different producers. But if you look closely you can see a definite progression of character and performance in Pertwee's time, and I don't think it is simply that he became indifferent in the role as others have claimed. When I think of the third Doctor I conjure both the acerbic poison tongue of season seven, the fun Nazi of seasons eight and nine, the excited adventurer of season ten and the bewitching gentler version he became after Jo left the series. Katy Manning made such a huge impact on Pertwee you might think it impossible for Barry Letts to find a replacement with equally bewitching powers but Pertwee's chemistry with Sladen is instantaneous, and develops over a much shorter period of time. It is a very different pairing because Sarah is a much more independent woman, she doesn't want to pass him his test tubes or make the tea, she's her own woman and yet despite her best efforts she is still charmed by him. As are we all. Instead of shopping her out to the Brigadier straight away, the Doctor cheekily puts his feet and up tries to decide what to do with this journalist spy that has fallen into his lap. As soon as he spots the guns in the Middle Ages he declares the whole scheme absolute lunacy. He’s just a tourist but he likes it on Earth. Finally we get to see where the Doctor gets his marvellous bouffant done, at Linx the barbershop – he looks quite hilarious with that volumiser atop his white curls! Watch the Doctor being chased around the courtyard and imagine it played at double speed with the Benny Hill theme tune. It is pretty comical but I do love the fact that he was a man of action right up until his demise. A long shank rascal with a mighty nose who works for UNIT in an advisory capacity, that is how he is described in this story. He’s a courtly rogue and charms his captors and gets appointed as Lord Wessex’s warlock once he brews a magic potion to slay the dog. The Doctor’s idea of a playful counter attack consists of stink bombs and dummies, he's more of a strategist than a murderer despite what Sarah might think. He’s serious about what he does but not necessarily how he does it and gleefully describes his people as galactic ticket inspectors, stamping out unlicensed time travel. Always a man of impeccable social graces, the Doctor hilariously copies Edward's food tossing at his table much to Sarah's amusement. He cannot stand on the sidelines as Linx tortures the scientists, even at the cost of his own life. Now he’s over 200 it's not as if he was a lad anymore although watching this story it is clear he still likes behaving like one. The third Doctor with his charming manners fits into this period of history effortlessly and it is a pity that we didn't get to experience more stories where he skipped back in time and ingratiated himself in the past. It is a pity that this is the last combination of Pertwee and Holmes because they bring the best out in each other.

Sumptuous Sarah: Sarah's introduction is a world away from Jo's and that is both deliberate and necessary. Instead of losing her head, attempting to blow UNIT HQ sky high and working as a pawn for the villain (as her predecessor did), she is introduced as a thinker from the off. An ambitious career woman who has already earned something of a reputation but hasn't quite reached the upper echelons of journalism and is waiting for her big story that will set her career on fire. She forces herself into the story, pretending to be her he aunt to get a good story for her paper. Rather than falling into the trap of being the one who asks all the questions because she is a dumb assistant, Sarah has a built in reason to do so, because she is a journalist and asking questions is what they do. We've not had a stowaway in the TARDIS for a while and she is probably (to my mind) the most welcome of the lot. Sarah being accosted by a peasant is hilarious – she really gives as good as she gets (‘If this is a rag day joke it isn’t funny!’). Go and watch the scene where she mouths off to Irongron and tries to figure out where she is; she manages to be bolshie (‘Get lost!’), cute, funny, annoying and perfectly plausible in her investigation of her setting. She’s not uncomely (raises eyebrows) according to the King and that never hurts your chances of sticking with the series for a lengthly period of time. Sarah as military advisor to Lord Wessex is quite brilliant, she's so feisty he declares that if he had an army of Sarah’s he could take the kingdom in record time. You wouldn't want to to get on this woman's bad side if her lack of intimidation before the gentry are anything to go by. In a marvelous set piece she takes great delight in informing the Doctor that she hasn't rescued him but captured him. Sarah manages to convince as both an insulting ‘Lady’ (‘Stand aside or I shall have you flogged!’) and a starving serving wench ('Look at that great spider!'). You could say that her reactionary character spec is occasionally mishandled (The Monster of Peladon) but in Holmes' hands an advocate of womans lib was never going to be allowed to lecture and he builds this side to the character into the story with his trademark wit - ‘What subservient poppycock! You’re still living in the Middle Ages!’ By the time they have disaptched of Linx and she has been able to see him in action, Sarah is perfectly convinced that he is a good guy (and rather a charming one at that) but she’s not so sure that the he isn't a magician.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘All my eggs in one basket’ ‘That’s fine so long as no one steals the basket…’
‘A straight line might be the most direct route between two points but it’s by no means the most interesting.’
‘Why don’t you take off that ridiculous gear and go home to your butchers shop!’
‘Are you wearing a hat?’
‘Young girl? I would have thought he was a bit old for that sort of thing?’
‘I’ll chop him up so fine that not even a sparrow will fill its beak!’
‘He’s just like a little boy stirring up and red ants and the black ants…’
‘Isn’t that a bit unsporting old chap? I mean sitting ducks and all that?’
‘I’m in no great hurry I assure you!’
‘He is a toad! Who knows what a toad thinks?’

The Good Stuff: Holmes has always found that the most effective way to bring the best out in his characters is to highlight one against another - hence the Holmesian double act as it has become known. Irongron and Bloodaxe are fairly strong characters (they are certainly strong personalities) in their own right but when the iron fisted approach of one is complimented by the dim witted indolence of the other you have comedy gold.  David Daker and John Carney make a superb duo from their first scene, the two actors clearly egging each other on to see who can take their part the furthest. I could hang about with these Medieval coves all day. How refreshing it is to step back into history after being trapped in the present for so many years (with the odd excursion into the future and the occasion leap to a parallel universe). To walk into the past once more and let the BBC do what it does best, brew up an atmospheric historical drama, is the ultimate refreshment at this stage. Enduring Doctor Who monsters have to score on two fronts, impressive writing and memorable design. The design of the Sontaran ship is blissfully simple and yet elegant and plausible and the way his helmet matches the shape of domed head was a unique selling point at the time (later monsters like the Judoon steal this approach). It is fortunate that the production secured the talents of Kevin Lindsey to play Linx because he is throwing himself at the part without any hint that he is playing an alien character, it is a straight up performance of an intriguing character laced with subtle nuances. Holmes was the ultimate anarchist when it came to Doctor Who writers and I bet the idea of supplying contemporary weapons to characters in the Middle Ages appealed to him greatly, his revenge against Dicks for giving him an assignment he initially didn't have much interest in. Ruebish is one of those characters that is completel peripheral to the plot and just turns up to comment wryly on the action and to give the scientists a face. Holmes ensures his presence is a delight, however, with some very witty lines (‘I haven’t seen my wife and family for three days now. Just goes to show there’s always a silver lining!’). Whilst Alan Rowe remains quite forgettable in the role of the fey King, June Brown makes her presence felt as his slightly sinister wife - ‘Does he walk so high that an arrow cannot reach him?’ I always enjoy seeing the TARDIS in unusual places, it is a prop that seems to transplant into any location and look as if it belongs there and certainly looks magnificent atop a leafy hill in the Middle Ages. It baffles me that the Sontaran make up would never be quite as good as it was here again. If they managed to achieve perfection in their initial appearance why did they devolve into dried up husks after each consecutive appearance? Friedlander remembers that this is a living, breathing induvidual and goes to the lengths to ensure that its skin glistens as though perspiring. In the Sontaran military academy they have hatchlings of over a million cadets and thus they can sustain massive causalities – it is clear that this race has been thoroughly thought through by Holmes (indeed when he came to hand his creations over to Bob Baker and Dave Martin in their sophomore outing they were more than a little perturbed to learn every little detail about the species from their creator, right down to their sexual habits!). All the sequences with the robot knight are a delight, especially the bizarre sight of the creature decapitated and with a chest full of arrows and still marching forward to attack. The production has clearly been given some consideration; the sets are mossy, straw laden and dripping with lichen and filth and they match the stylish location work (of which there is a generous amount) filmed around the castle. Doctor Who has often been known to call upon the atmosphere of verdant British forestry (some of my favourite examples are Image of the Fendhal, State of Decay, Castrovalva and The Visitation) and The Time Warrior always feels like it has been given an extra polish when they are larking about in the woods. In a story full of great set pieces,  the noisy, stinking, smoky attack on Lord Wessex’s castle comes out on top. Holmes might not have got his legions of soldiers bearing arms on the castle but this still looks quite impressive for a TV production of the time. To give the Sontarans such an obvious flaw (the probic vent) is an inpsired move on Holmes' part and he explains away their pride of the weakness that ensures they must always face their enemies (a shame we never seem plug into their ships though). Thanks to this story I have had many a happy moment screaming 'Look at that great spider!' and enjoying the emotional carnage afterwards. After such an impressive debut it is a shame that Linx has to die but the idea that this is a cloned species means that we can always catch up with another version of his character at a later date.

The Bad Stuff: Whoever fitted Pertwee into the robot costume didn't dp a particularly good job of disguising him. The result is that Irongron looks a fool for not realising there is a Time Lord snuck away inside. The only part of the production that I can fault visually is the stock footage deployed to represent the castle being destroyed. It fails to convince on any level. Mind the CGI version on the DVD is one of the few times when the effects team have somehow done an even worse job.

Result: I can remember pouring over the Howe, Stammers and Walker handbooks when I was a young lad, taking in every detail of their thoroughly researched and polished efforts. The facts that they revealed about so many Doctor Who stories that I hadn't seen yet were essential. However, in retrospect there was one area where I felt that these mini bibles on the series let themselves down and that was the capsule reviews of each story. Perhaps I was too young to realise how subjective they are but I took every word of their opinion on each story as law and I have noticed that in and around that period (1990s) generally speaking their opinion on certain stories was absorbed by fandom and as a result periods of the show were neglected or ill considered as a result. Certain stories suffered greatly in this respect (The Romans, The Gunfighters), certain eras were heavily criticised (the 80s) and certain seasons went down as having relatively little merit. What's fascinating since then with the rise of the internet and plenty of discussion between regular Joe's of the merits of every and all aspect of Doctor Who is that many of these fan myths have been challenged and practically all of the stories/eras/season that were muddied have been re-evaluated and in some places elevated considerably. Season eleven is one such blighted season, one I was certain was going to be apalling based on Howe, Stammers & Walker's persuasive arguments against it. When I finally got around to watching all five adventures (it took me ages because I was so determined to avoid this obviously appalling year) I began my love affair with the tail end of the Pertwee era, a period of some shocking depreciation. So sit back and read as I take through one of my personal favourite years of the era and explore why I think it is so misrepresented. It all kicks off with The Time Warrior; a witty, characterful, pacy adventure that has no interest but to keep a giddy smile on your face for four episodes and succeeds in spades. Perhaps it came a little late in the day but it is wonderful to see the third Doctor enjoying a historical adventure and especially one so packed with action and great characters as this one. The effervescent script has great lines for every character and as a result each performance is lifted with Pertwee, Sladen, Daker and Lindsey in particular make the most of the opportunities that Holmes has presented them with. Behind the scenes talk may bemoan Alan Bromely's outdated approach to directing but you cannot fault much of what made it to the screen with the location work as polished as it gets for the era and some lively action and dialogue scenes keeping the story ticking over nicely. Holmes could happily tip his hand to most genres and like his earlier Carnival of Monsters he seems determined to make this tale as funny as possible and as a result it is one of my most re-watched stories. All eyes are on Sarah who is written with the sort of independence she wouldn't show again until her own series kick started in the noughties, and her feisty, no-nonsense attitude sets her apart from Jo immediately. It is clear that by the end of this story that Sladen and Pertwee are going to make one hell of a team. The Sontarans haven't been as precisely written since this adventure and Linx still stands proud as the definitive article when it comes to this popular race. The Time Warrior destroys the lie that the Pertwee era got worse as it went along, and remains one of the series' most entertaining serials: 9/10

1 comment:

dark said...

I have to say I agree. It's odd, I loved this one as a teenager, just from the huge over the top acting and shear balls of the hole thingg from Sarah's outrage to Ironcgron's take on villainy. Then however I got myself into a position of thinking "hay what was so great about it?" Maybe it was me wondering why a Sontaran scout ship could snatch scientists from several centuries in the future but couldn't take off, maybe it was me wondering how The Doctor actually managed to defend a castle with stink bombs, maybe it was me thinking "hold on, sleeping potion? really, sleeping potion?" Indeed there are so many aspects of the story that if I think about them they make me go whaaaa?
This feeling was only reinforced when I read the novelization, which made the hole thing sound more like blue peter than a jaunt to the gritty world of the middle ages.

Rewatching now however I really! loved this one. The sontarans have never been so menacing, and Linx and Irongron's alliance is awesome!
it's one of the few instances in who when I can just turn off crytical faculties and go "well rule of cool!", and accept all the rather crazy hyjinks and obvious ploys because they're just so dam well acted!

It's odd, Moffat gets up my nose for exactly this sort of cliche hurling. Maybe it's that this is presented as a comedy? so the lines are a little more relaxed. maybe it's that Moffat does it every week, where Doctor who is pretty rational much of the time, (well as rational as a story about a time travelling alien in a police phone box can be).
maybe it's just that the lapses into comedy are so obviously meant to be there, and that the elements that hold the story together, the characters, the Sontaran culture are just more fully developed and solid so that the craziness exists as craziness.

Either way, I'm glad to say that I enjoyed this now just as much as I did when I was a teenager, despite a previous change in viewpoint.