February 9: "The Meddling Monk" / "A Battle of Wits"

(The Time Meddler episodes 2 & 3)

So William Hartnell's off for a week (other than some prerecorded lines), which means that it's the Monk's turn to take the spotlight.  And, having set up the mystery last time, the show proudly presents its anachronisms: the Monk uses a toaster and an electric griddle to make breakfast before perching on a cliff side, using binoculars to look for incoming ships (while trying to take a pinch of snuff).  It's clear the Monk isn't from 1066, and the question becomes, how is this possible?  And Peter Butterworth does a fantastic job as the Monk -- he doesn't seem to be particularly villainous, more just mischievous, which is far more interesting (and entertaining).

And Steven Taylor really shines as a new companion, doesn't he?  His continued skepticism starts to give way to the belief that they really are in 11th-century England ("I mean they'd hardly go to all this trouble for a fancy dress ball, now would they?" he remarks), but he doesn't let it worry him.  His somewhat shamefaced thanks to the Saxons is rather lovely, and his conversation with the Monk shows he has initiative -- even if it's not clear who's tricking who.  I think we're going to be all right with this new companion.

For much of the time, "The Meddling Monk" feels quite fun, which makes the moments with the Vikings more shocking -- there's a clear suggestion that they've raped the woman Edith, and the battle that ensues, although a bit more stagey than one might like, still is pretty intense, with Saxons brutally stabbing downward into what one presumes are fallen Vikings.  It's a somewhat striking juxtaposition, albeit one that the show has played with before (notably in Dennis Spooner's last contribution, The Romans), but it still works.

The Doctor gets the better of the Monk. ("A Battle of
Wits") ©BBC
"A Battle of Wits" features the return of William Hartnell, and we get to see the Doctor and the Monk engaged in a lovely little struggle as each tries to get the better of the other, with the Doctor usually coming out on top.  But we also learn the full extent of the Monk's plan: he's going to repel the Viking invasion at Stamford Bridge, thus leaving King Harold Godwinson fresh to repel William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings.  He is, in other words, going to change recorded history.  What's striking about this is how much of a sea change this represents for the programme: before it had been established that you couldn't rewrite history at all, and then that was stretched a little to suggest that time travellers could be the cause of established history (namely the Doctor giving Nero the idea for the Great Fire of Rome), but this seems to be a suggestion that history can in fact be altered -- the Monk's plan doesn't make any sense otherwise.  The history of Earth, it seems, is becoming no more inviolable than any other world.  And it's a great cliffhanger, too: the Monk has his own TARDIS!  Now that's a sea change.