Doctor Who: The Time Monster
(6 episodes, s09e21-e26, 1972)
The Doctor has some weird dreams.
Foreshadowing events to come over the next three hours, he has a nightmare about the Master and trident-shaped crystal, which is (1) a bit on the nose symbolically since it comes from Atlantis, and (2) exactly what the Master happens to be holding in his guise of a science professor. Of course, this is the third time Doctor Who has tapped on the Atlantis mythos, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
The Doctor is concerned about his nightmare, and he tells the Brigadier (who has been laying low since the Daleks waged gorilla on guerilla warfare) to alert UNIT to be on the lookout for the Master. The Brigadier does so sarcastically, and then reminds the Doctor that UNIT is obligated to attend the demonstration of TOMTIT – a project that demonstrates Transmission of Matter Through Interstitial Time and the Master’s desire to spell something silly – but since the Doctor and Jo are waiting for the Master to strike and Captain Yates has the duty, poor Sergeant Benton is ordered to cancel his leave and join the Brigadier at the Newton Institute.
What the Doctor doesn’t realize is that leave is one of the most precious commodities in the world to an enlisted man. I’m not saying that he should watch his back from this point forward, but maybe he should start carrying a rear-view mirror everywhere he goes.
Instead of requisitioning a rear-view mirror, the Doctor builds a time sensor – a TARDIS “sniffer-outer” – that starts going ballistic when the TOMTIT scientists start a rehearsal of the experiment. That Master gets angry that the team started early, but Dr. Ruth Ingram points out that the experiment overloaded its circuits during the teleportation, and the Master determines that the crystal is drawing energy from outside time itself. He decides to skip the traditional post-demonstration wine-and-dine when he sees UNIT arrive for the show.
The Doctor and Jo track the source of the temporal readings in Bessie, which now has a Super Pursuit Mode sans absurd transforming sentient Trans-Am, and we also start seeing the depths of the Doctor’s obsession with Venus. He has programmed the time sensor to read in Venusian miles, requiring a conversion table for each calculation. The sensor spikes as the Master, cleverly disguised in a radiation suit, begins the experiment which turns out to be a front to summon a being called Kronos.
The experiment creates bubbles of time dilation, and when the Doctor arrives, he is slowed down and Jo is frozen. Stuart, the research assistant, has aged sixty years due to radiation exposure as his own personal temporal reference has been accelerated. Dr. Ingram – call her Ruth – mentions Professor Thascalos, and the Doctor’s mastery of Greek uncovers the Master’s identity. The Brigadier orders support troops, the Doctor’s TARDIS, and an evacuation of non-essential personnel from the Institute, and the Doctor investigates the crystal at the heart of TOMTIT. Kronos is a fearsome member of the Chronovore race who live outside of and eat time, and the mythology is an interpretation of actual events. The crystal is the same one that summoned Kronos to Atlantis thousands of years ago, and the rest of it is located in the Vault of Poseidon, deep in the legendary city thousands of years in the past.
The Master’s TARDIS is disguised as a computer in the laboratory, and to get to it, he tricks Benton into leaving the laboratory. Benton sees through the ruse, but gets knocked out upon ambushing the Master. The Master summons an Atlantean priest named Krasis, and the priest possesses a holy seal that contains the secret of summoning Kronos. With all the keys in place, the Master summons Kronos. The mighty creature eats the institute’s director as Stuart de-ages and the Brigadier, Benton, and Ruth get trapped by the temporal field. Kronos proves to be uncontrollable, and the Master returns it to the crystal.
The Doctor makes a temporal jamming device, but it doesn’t last long. As Captain Yates and UNIT arrive, the Master summons opposition from the past in the form of a medieval knight, a squad of Roundheads, and a V1 bomb. The V1 takes out the convoy but everyone is okay, and as Ruth, Stuart, and Benton go to the lab to take on the Master, the Doctor and Jo take to the TARDIS.
The TARDIS has a new desktop – the wash basin roundels are a nice touch – and the Doctor develops a plan to materialize his TARDIS inside the Master’s TARDIS. This concept of a TARDIS inside a TARDIS boggles the mind, but it’s possible. Really tricky, but possible. If the calculations aren’t precise, a time ram will occur that will annihilate both of them.
Jo’s bravery and spunk motivate the Doctor, and the TARDIS lands. The two are linked as the Master’s TARDIS appears to materialize inside the Doctor’s. When he leaves, his TARDIS is inside the Master’s. They leave the Master’s and emerge into the Doctor’s. They are both inside each other, creating a time loop.
When the UNIT troops arrive – Krasis’s temporal ignorance is a fantastic alarm system – and the Master extends a time field to prevent them from interfering. The duo take off for Atlantis, and since the TARDISes are linked, the Doctor and Jo go with him. Meanwhile, Ruth, Stuart, and Benton are trapped in the lab, and they work to deactivate the time field and rescue the Brigadier’s squad. The plan backfires, and Benton gets turned into a baby.
After a sequence that helps develop the franchise’s basis for the TARDIS’s telepathy and language interpretation skills, the Doctor is forced to leave his TARDIS to confront the Master. The Master summons Kronos, which eats the Doctor (setting him adrift in the time vortex) before returning to the crystal. The Master then ejects the Doctor’s TARDIS into the time vortex. After the turbulence, Jo comes to and hears several whispers from the Doctor, but a single, strong voice comes through clearly via the TARDIS. The TARDIS and the Doctor work with Jo to rescue the Time Lord before setting course for Atlantis.
In the legendary lost city, King Dalios holds court, and rabble-rouser Hippias wishes for a return to the glory during the era of Kronos. Dalios attempts to dissuade them, but the Master interrupts him with a grand entry and claims to be an envoy of the gods. When Krasis claims to have seen Kronos, Dalios takes him and the Master into private conference. The Doctor arrives shortly thereafter, and Krasis attempts to kill him but Hippias intervenes. The Doctor and Jo are taken to Dalios instead.
The Master is dismissed after failing to place Dalios under his thrall, and he’s surprised to see the Doctor alive. The Doctor and “Jo Jo Grant” meet with Dalios, and the king sends Jo to meet with his queen, Galleia. Later on, Galleia meets with the Master, who offers him the crystal. Jo attempts to inform the king and the Doctor, but she is turned away. She pursues Hippias, who is tasked with retrieving the crystal for Galleia, but is captured by Krasis and locked in with the crystal’s guardian, the Minotaur.
The Doctor finds out about Jo and goes after her. Hippias tries to save Jo, but the Minotaur kills him, and the Doctor does his best olé by bullfighting the guardian into a wall. As the wall crumbles, the crystal chamber is exposed, and Krasis takes the Doctor and Jo to see the king. Unfortunately, the king has been deposed thanks to Galleia and replaced by the Master. He imprisons the Doctor and Jo, and after the Doctor relates a tale about the blackest day of his life. Behind his home on a mountain was a hermit (a monk, but not The Monk) who spent half his life under a tree. The hermit listened to the Doctor’s woes, and then pointed to a flower, which presented the Doctor a new perspective on life. Afterward, Dalios is imprisoned in the same cell, shares his vision of the Doctor saving Atlantis, and then dies.
Later on, Galleia addresses Atlantis and presents the Master as king, and he offers to summon Kronos. The Doctor reveals to Galleia that Dalios is dead, and she turns on the Master. Kronos is summoned and the Master orders it to destroy Atlantis. The Master escapes with the crystal, but Jo pursues him into his TARDIS. The Doctor chases after them in his TARDIS and threatens the Master with a time ram. The Master calls the Doctor’s bluff, and Jo initiates the time ram, catapulting both TARDISes into a featureless place. They are greeted by Kronos, who was released when the TARDISes collided. She grants the Doctor and Jo a reward for their assistance, and they ask to be returned home. She intends to keep the Master in torment and punishment, but the Doctor asks for leniency. Of course, the Master takes the opportunity to escape.
With the universe saved once again, the Doctor and Jo return to Cambridge as the time field is released and the TOMTIT device explodes. Everything is back to normal, the Brigadier acts as comic relief, and Benton returns to adult form in his vintage birthday suit.
The Doctor might really want to consider that rear view mirror.
This was a pretty good serial, but not quite up to the bar set by the rest of the season. It was certainly fun, but it’s kind of hard to follow The Mutants.
I appreciated that the writers hung a lampshade on the TOMTIT acronym: Almost every time it was mentioned, one of the companions would do a double take, and it’s understandable. The device looks nothing like a small bird or a biplane, and between this and the rather unfortunate shape of the time sensor, I think the creative team was having some fun with this one.
I also liked the symmetry of the Master and the Doctor simultaneously working the overload problem in separate locations. These frenemies (hey, the word’s been around since the 1950s) are really not that different if you strip away their motivations, and if the Master could get over his self-sabotaging need to have his plans overpower him, he’d be nearly unstoppable. I also liked how the Master didn’t engage the TARDIS’s chameleon circuit when he traveled to Atlantis. It added to the shock and awe of seeing a foreign object materialize from thin air.
I enjoyed the humor behind the Doctor showing up the Brigadier and his disdain of Bessie with the car’s super drive. I also liked seeing Dave “Darth Vader” Prowse in something other than Star Wars.
Overall, this was a great story that was perhaps a bit long, and even judged on its own merits is the weakest part of an otherwise spectacular season.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
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