Episodes 79, 80, 81 & 82: The Watcher, The Meddling Monk, A Battle of Wits, Checkmate

Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Douglas Camfield

The Normans really were a right bunch of cunts. There are no two ways about it. Echoes of the appalling apartheid totalitarian society they set up in England still exist today in their backwards class system almost a millennium later. Thanks to cunts like Walter Fucking Scott, their malign influence has even seeped over the border to here Scotland.

It is for that reason that I can never really get behind the Doctor in this story. The villain, if he can really be referred to in that way, simply wants to thwart an invading force, the Normans, from taking over England. Stopping an invading force is something that the Doctor does every other week nowadays, and has done since the 70s, the only difference being that this is an invasion by other humans. It is rather hypocritical of a man who meddles quite as much as the Doctor to take umbrage at the Monk’s scheme.

Actually, that may not be entirely fair. The Doctor is not, however many times he might claim to be, a man with a plan. He is the ultimate improviser, probably not even sure what he’s about to do himself until he’s actually done it. His meddling comes about because it seems like a good idea at the time, as opposed to the Monk’s who is going into it with a definitive plan – misusing his knowledge as a time lord to shape the universe as he sees fit. Perhaps it is better that the Doctor stopped him.

This, the  closing episode of Doctor Who’s second season, marks an interesting change in direction of the show. So far, ever historical episode had been reasonably accurate*, with the obvious exception of the TARDIS and crew running about the place. This story is the first of the ‘pseudo-historical’ stories, in which a historical story contains more sci-fi elements than the Doctor and his friends. In this case that extra sci-fi element is also a first – the first time an antagonist is a time lord**. In fact, its the first time we encounter a time lord who is not the Doctor or Susan. Unlike some of the later time lord antagonists, the War Chief, the Master, Omega or the Rani to name a few, the Monk is not overtly evil, just a bit mischievous. He shows us what the Doctor could become if he lacked restraint, or thought himself above other peoples. Also, he’s played by Peter Butterworth. I guess the British acting circle was quite small at the time, but a surprising number of Carry On folks ended up on Who, hell, Hartnell and Pertwee both played the main man, but Butterworth is the most Carry On of the lot of them, although in this, his first appearance, his performance is pretty straight ahead, playing it as a real character, not just comic relief as the character teetered the next time he turned up. Butterworth had not actually appeared in any of the Carry On flicks at this point though I believe, so although he was known for comedy, he was not yet as renown for it as he would become.

This story also marks the first time the Doctor is with an entirely new crew. Peter Purvis does a perfectly good job of playing dashing young space pilot Steven, but sadly can’t fill the shoes of both Ian and Barbara. Which is not to say that the story suffers from it, but I do miss the old companions. This one is too fucking handsome.

One last point about this story: did the makeup department have a Alethea-Charlton-covered-in-dirt fetish? She appeared in a couple of roles in Who, this being the last, and every time they covered her in mud. She wears it well, but still.

So, by the end of its second year the show had proven that it was in it for the long haul, though no one would have guessed at quite how long. Would the Doctor be able to hold onto these companions? Would he ever really learn to use the TARDIS? Would they ever be able to replace the Daleks?

No.

But that doesn’t mean you should stop watching.

*or at least tried to be. Don’t get me started on the cave of skulls, etc again.
**Not that they’ve been called time lords yet.

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