Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Time Warrior

Nowadays, by which I mean 1974, it strikes me as slightly odd that I used to remark so much on the bad-tempered old Third Doctor. I remember a lot of people in Jon Pertwee’s second season getting the sharp edge of his tongue, and then some hard words for Day of the Daleks’ Controller, as well as bureaucrats fighting The Sea Devils and experimenting on The Mutants. But as if mellowed by the charm of Jo Grant, or perhaps the impervious Master (no use shouting at him), the Doctor’s been getting increasingly sweet-natured and tolerant.

I suppose it depends on who’s rubbing the nape of his velvet jacket the wrong way; any civil servant or wunderkind scientist with a jacked-up ego was ever liable to have the air taken out of their tyres. Perhaps it was the frustration of memory loss, or the thought that he'd never see Jamie McCrimmon's hairy knees again. In this story you might expect him to be more irritable once more, given the big events of The Green Death: strange to find him on Earth at all, really.

And to be so tolerant of the Brigadier, going through one of his bumptious phases, and Professor Rubeish’s  fiddle-faddling, not to mention an investigative reporter smuggling herself into a 'top secret' government think tank as if it was a tupperware party. She's only there because scientists working on government related research are mysteriously going missing! But then that's suddenly the key to Pertwee's Doctor: suave and cool and jokey when everyone else is getting aerated.

That's the delight of the Doctor's scenes with our two testosterone-tastic warriors, Lynx and Irongron, and particularly the latter, who bellows and stomps about and swings his sword in all directions. When the Doctor's disguised as a robot and Irongron suggests chopping its head off, the Doctor suddenly becomes the unflappable upper class gent: 'Isn't that a bit unsporting, old man? I mean, sitting ducks and all that...' It's a playfulness I fondly remember from the days of his previous incarnation – although, catch this Doctor pretending to be a fool. He'd sooner drag up in a pair of old tights.

There's another rather Troughtonish moment when the Doctor is chucking stink bombs over his shoulder at Irongron's troops; not with the schoolboyish pleasure that the Second Doctor would have taken, but with quiet contentment all the same. He's almost whistling to himself as he dispatches an army – a very, very small army, yes, but it's the Doctor who really makes us see that. He's rather affronted when Sarah Jane implies he might have caused some permanent damage with his gas: he's not a soldier. He's just having fun.

Taken entire, this rather muted performance sometimes under-sells the drama of The Time Warrior. Even when he's not onscreen, we very rarely get a real sense of menace from Lynx the Sontaran – his 'ocular' hypnotism of Sarah Jane Smith notwithstanding. Lynx doesn't seem to pose a great threat to the world: we never get a real sense of what effect his 'time meddling' will be, nor does anybody really seem to care overly about the scientists he's abducted from the 20th century.

In fact, the story has a weird effect, like a rather crudely taken photograph. Everybody at the centre of the shot – essentially the Doctor, the villains, and the new girl in town – are acutely in focus, but the other elements of the composition range from slightly to extremely blurry. It's the Brigadier I feel sorry for. A few years ago, it felt as if he and the Doctor were co-stars of this series, and now he's basically required for thirty seconds in episode one, to set the scene and raise an eyebrow. Nick Courtney plays the scene with good grace, but the Brig in conversation with Lynx is a missed opportunity.

As would Lady Eleanor in conversation with Lynx. Or, indeed, with Bella Emberg. Lady Eleanor is just short of being one of the Pertwee era's great female characters – few and far between though they are. In Season 10, we had none at all in The Three Doctors, the lovable Shirna in Carnival of Monsters, the President of Earth (okay, I'll admit, that's not bad) in Frontier in Space, one rather soppy Thal in Planet of the Daleks and Nancy, the companion that never was, with her deadly mushroom bake and existential flute-playing (or whatever it is Clifford says she's doing with her instrument). Eleanor is strong, wise and charming; I could also wish for a bit more of the Mary Berry of her day, Meg, played by Sheila Feay and a really bizarre wig.

But the woman of the match is obviously and incomparably Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. Katy Manning is irreplaceable, and without an eye for Doctor Who history, you might worry about the show after her departure. Remember when they recast Jamie for an episode? Remember when Vicki's place in the Ship was taken by Katarina? But Sladen walks into the show and owns it, instantly. 'Oh, I could murder a cup of tea!'

It's funny, because Robert Holmes wastes no time on any of Sarah's background. It should be fairly pitiful that all we know about her is that she's a journalist with an aunt, and that she frequently says, 'Ooh, men!' like a character from Acorn Antiques. But he gives Sarah so much to do and say, that between Holmes and Sladen, Sarah Jane is vividly there, from the get go, and she's there by accident, as all the best companions are.

She took a chance, a wrong turning or a right one, and there it was – an unexpected new friend, unexpected new trouble, a man who looks like a currant bun with legs, and a man who takes it all in his stride.

Of course the Doctor doesn't get all grumpy with her. He knows a new best friend when he sees her...

Coming next, a story I've never seen... Apparently it's just 
called INVASION!! (Deja vu...?)

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