The Gallifreyan Time Lord known as The Doctor, as the currently on television Doctor Who season finale will attest, has many an enemy. There are the Cybermen and the Daleks and the Sontarans, to name a few. Perhaps though there is no enemy so equal to The Doctor as The Master.
A Time Lord himself, The Master is the yin to The Doctor’s yang (or yang to his yin if you prefer). Through the years of both the original and new Doctor Who series, The Doctor has run into this nemesis repeatedly – on different planets, in different incarnations, and in different time periods. The Master first puts in an appearance during the time of the Third Doctor’s exile on Earth (The Doctor ran afoul of his fellow Time Lords for interfering in the affairs of others), and it is as The Doctor’s exile is nearing an end that this particular battle with The Master takes place.
With Jon Pertwee’s portrayal of the Third Doctor and Roger Delgado as The Master (Delgado was the first to play the character) already well established, what one gets in “The Time Monster” is a tale that assumes that the audience has a decent amount of background. The plot for this particular confrontation between the two Time Lords involves The Master masquerading as a professor conducting a laboratory experiment with time in order to unleash a monster known as Kronos which was prayed to by the inhabitants of Atlantis.
Yes, it’s something of a foolish tale, and over the course of the six episodes “The Time Monster” runs, the story does do a fair amount of shifting in focus. It appears at first as though the entire story will take place in the present day before everyone takes a trip back to Atlantis in order to… well, by that point it is all about political intrigue in Atlantis and a very different story than the one the audience was initially served. That might be okay except that the original time travel theory stuff and the bringing of Kronos from the void into the world is far more interesting than the unnecessary Atlantis overlay.
The tale also, at least when looked at today, has an uneasy relationship with the women’s liberation movement. Early in the tale one character is positioned as being very vocal in her support for equality. As the story progresses there are repeated moments, particularly those that deal with the political machinations in Atlantis, where the notion of equality feels to be severely undercut. Intentional or not, it makes “The Time Monster” feel very dated (something that the effects are usually responsible for on Doctor Who).
Pertwee’s version of The Doctor, however, continues to be an excellent one. He manages to be weird, charming, and just slightly devilish every so often in a way that makes you stop and wonder if he really just said or did what you think he said or did. Delgado’s Master, far from the version recently seen by John Simm on the new Who, is cool, calm, and collected (mostly). He is an elegant, suave sort of villain, giving off the same sort of self-assured, evil, vibe one got from the bad guys in the early Bond films.
Back with The Doctor as companion this time out is Jo Grant (Katy Manning). She, in typical companion fashion, has moments of brilliance and moments that make one scratch one’s head. Her best use here, as is often the case with companions, is when she either deciphers what The Doctor is saying so we can all understand it or forces The Doctor to explain himself more clearly. Jo isn’t particularly my favorite companion, but the more episodes I see with her, the more she has grown on me.
The extras included with this release are not quite as good as what we’ve seen in other recent releases of the series. There is an audio commentary track with some of the actors and behind the scenes team, a featurette on the science that went into making the episode, a photo gallery, PDF material with original listings for the episodes, and a brief restoration comparison. With this last item other Who releases have done more full-fledged, and completely engrossing, featurettes on exactly how the restoration was completed. Perhaps they didn’t want to rehash old material here, so what is given instead are just a few short clips with some subtitles giving a very basic explanation of the restoration. It is, especially when compared to what has come before, disappointing even if the results of the restoration are excellent.
There is certainly nothing wrong with Doctor Who: The Time Monster. Pertwee is good, Delgado is good, and the storyline does feature some interesting ideas about the concept of time. The turns the plot takes though are not always satisfying – one could think that the producers simply didn’t fully know where they were going when they began and then didn’t change the opening once they figured it out. I wouldn’t put it on a list of the best episodes of Doctor Who, but it wouldn’t end up near the bottom either.