Home Featured TV Shows All TV Shows Movie Reviews Book Reviews Articles Frequently Asked Questions About Us

Doctor Who: The Time Meddler

Look, there's a cow missing their space helmet.
When is a historical not a historical?

Season Two, Serial S

Starring William Hartnell as the Doctor
With Maureen O'Brien (Vicki) and Peter Purves (Steven)
Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Douglas Camfield
Produced by Verity Lambert

Episode Titles and Broadcast Dates
  • The Watcher (3 July 1965)
  • The Meddling Monk (10 July 1965)
  • A Battle of Wits (17 July 1965)
  • Checkmate (24 July 1965) – some footage missing

How To Watch

Released on DVD in 2008, and on BluRay as part of the season two package. Available for streaming on demand on BritBox (subscription required), and currently in rotation (as of Feb 2023) on Pluto.tv.


The Doctor and Vicki are surprised to find Steven inside the TARDIS, having barely escaped the destruction of the Mechanoid city. They land on the coast of Northumbria, silently observed by a solitary monk. The Doctor meets the locals in a Saxon village and realizes it's 1066, not long before the Battle of Hastings. Steven is dubious, having found a modern wristwatch on the ground. The Doctor investigates a mysterious monastery, and discovers the sounds of the monks' chants are being played on a gramophone. The Monk traps the Doctor in a dungeon cell. A longship appears, and a small Viking raiding party causes havoc in the village. The Doctor escapes and corners the Monk, apparently recognizing him. Steven and Vicki investigate further, and discover that a sarcophagus in the monastery is actually another TARDIS! The Monk is also one of the Doctor's (as yet unnamed) race, and doesn't exactly observe the Doctor's principles of non-interference in history. He plans to arm the locals with atomic bazookas to change the outcome of the Battle of Hastings. The Monk's plans are foiled as the villagers are growing increasingly suspicious of him and the party of Vikings is defeated. Ultimately he attempts to cut his losses and flee, but the Doctor has sabotaged the Monk's TARDIS, leaving him stranded. He vows revenge.

Anaylsis and Stuff

It's clear that by this point, Sydney Newman's directive that the show be equally balanced between sci-fi adventures with bug-eyed monsters and purely historical adventures in the Earth's past was beginning to fray. Thus we have the show's first example of a hybrid, where yes, we are stuck in the past, yes, we are cut off from the TARDIS, yes, we have to mingle with the locals, not die, avoid changing history, and return to the TARDIS etc, but thrown into the mix is a mischievous fellow renegade Time Lord (though the term was still four years away from first being uttered) looking to stir some shit up.

So about the Monk.

Official Doctor Who 'canon' states that the Monk is not an incarnation of the Master/Missy, the Rani, the War Chief, K'anpo, or Chronotis – my goodness, Time Lord society produces a lot of renegades, doesn't it? We can't assume that they went around in a monk's cassock prior to arriving on the coast of England in 1066, but when we meet them later they're still dressed as a monk... who even are they anyway? The character pops up quite frequently in Big Finish and other beyond-television media in various incarnations, including one regeneration as "The Nun," hence the neutral pronouns, and in these stories the character is known as Mortimus.

Many people work best with a checklist.

At least as portrayed here, the Monk isn't evil, more amoral. In this case, he has decided that the Saxons should remain in power and repel the Normans, arguing that basically it would've kickstarted the Renaissance. Indeed, the Saxons are shown in a much more favorable light than the Norman Vikings, aka the ancestors of the current ruling class and many descendants of today's England. And he says that he's changed his mind about destroying the Viking ship, aiming to simply make sure the invasion force is repelled, though his sincerity is debatable. If the Doctor is The One Who Never Would (except when left alone too long), the Monk is The One Who Probably Would, Because Why Not?

The story then gives us the unusual position of rooting for the people who win today's battle but are ultimately going to lose the war, similar to "The Crusaders," and the Doctor goes so far as to lie to the Saxon villagers, saying they'll be fine when in all likelihood the men will likely be wiped out at Hastings and the women will get the same treatment as Edith. And the Monk's plan is upended mainly because the villagers incorrectly determine that he's a Viking spy, when he's actually setting the Vikings up to be destroyed. There is a tragic element to this story, but mainly for the audience who knows its own history.

There's a lot going on in this story and a lot at stake, but it doesn't always translate into a gripping on-screen experience for the viewer. The pace tends to be leisurely, especially in part two when Hartnell is absent, yet also skips a lot: we never see the scene where the Doctor first meets Edith, when we first encounter them she's already playing a perfect hostess. There is indeed a Battle of Wits, as Episode Three is titled, and it does unfold like a chess game resulting in the Monk's Checkmate.

It's worth noting, especially for those who might find it triggering, that it's very strongly implied that the two Vikings sexually assault Edith. This is easily one of the more chilling moments of the chaste black and white era, when the show was aimed explicitly toward children.

And this story does pay more attention to the concept of exactly what happens when history changes, especially for the descendants of those directly impacted? Especially when you consider that changing the outcome of one of the most pivotal moments in European history is a lot more impactful than the flap of a butterfly's wings. Would history books instantly change? Would Steven and Vicki ever have met? Would Shakespeare have premiered Hamlet on television as the Monk predicted? Some of these historical or pseudo-historical adventures tend to skip over this concept, enough so that it is notable when significant story time is invested in it.

It's difficult to call something an enjoyable romp when it features rape and murder, but Hartnell and Peter Butterworth seem to be enjoying themselves tremendously. Steven and Vicki are an underrated team, and indeed this is the only complete serial featuring their pairing. The supporting cast are well played, and the surprise reveal of the Monk's TARDIS must've been a shocker for the 1965 audience. If the pace is leisurely, it doesn't drag. It is well worth the time you invest in it.


3 out of 4 Space Helmets For A Cow.

Tidbits and Notes:

Hartnell is absent from episode two apart from a pre-recorded voiceover. The show was in production most of the year, so the lead actors frequently would be written out of the occasional episode to grant them a week's vacation.

Although this story is considered complete, there is some material missing from episode four. The climactic battle, as originally broadcast, would go on for a further twelve seconds and included the deaths of the Vikings at the hands of the villagers. The audio for that missing section still exists.

Won't I Have Seen You Somewhere In The Future?
  • Althea Charleton (Edith) played Hur in the very first serial, "An Unearthly Child."
  • Norman Hartley (Ulf) appeared as a missile technician in "The Invasion."
  • Geoffrey Chesire (Viking Leader) also appeared in "The Daleks' Master Plan" and "The Invasion."

In Summary

This is the last story of season two, and in place of the usual "Next Episode" caption, the faces of the Doctor, Vicki and Steven are projected over a field of stars. After a six-week break, the third season would begin. The first two seasons of Doctor Who were marketed and sold globally in far greater quantities than subsequent seasons, which is a principal reason they are far better represented in the BBC Archives than the next three. From here on, most of the stories we'll be reviewing are incomplete or missing altogether, which should present some interesting challenges for this reviewer!
John Geoffrion is a semi-retired semi-professional thespian, a professional data guy, and a Dad. He usually falls asleep to the Classic Doctor Who channel on Pluto.tv

1 comment:

  1. This is my favorite Hartnell story. The back and forth between the Doctor and the monk is absolutely brilliant, Vicki and Steven work so well together, the idea of another time lord was quite cool considering how far back this one was, and the plot and supporting characters are all great.

    The suggestion of sexual assault is the only real low point here for me. It's never a pleasant thing to have in a show, and reminds me of that scene with Barbara back in The Keys of Marinus; I'm surprised either made it to the actual broadcast of an early 60s kid show, and I'd have not minded had it been cut.

    The scene with them arguing over that helmet was pure gold. This one is highly recommended, but your trigger warning is appropriate for an otherwise very fun story.


We love comments! We moderate because of spam and trolls, but don't let that stop you! It’s never too late to comment on an old show, but please don’t spoil future episodes for newbies.