“The Time Meddler” begins as it should, with the Doctor and Vicki still feeling the lost of Barbara and Ian, who returned home using the Dalek time machine at the end of “The Chase.” It is the first episode of Doctor Who to not feature Barbara and Ian, making William Hartnell the only remaining original cast member. Vicki is still traveling with him, and this episode is the first story to feature Steven as a companion, although he was introduced in the final section of “The Chase.” It was the last story of season 2 (ninth for the year, seventeenth overall).
The story begins with the Doctor and Vicki on the TARDIS. They soon discover that they are not alone. Steven, who they met at the end of their previous adventure managed to escape the destroyed Mechanoid city and make his way to the TARDIS before they took off, so the Doctor now has a new companion. Steven did not see much about the “ship” he escaped into, so he does not believe that he is traveling through time, as well as space.
The TARDIS finally materializes on a beach near some cliffs. When they leave the TARDIS, they find a Viking helmet on the beach, which leads the Doctor to believe that they are in the tenth or eleventh century. Steven remains skeptical, however, leading the Doctor to reply sarcastically something to the effect of: What do you think it is, a space helmet for a cow? I have to admit, that thanks to that description, I may never look at a Viking helmet the same way again!
A mysterious monk is seen taking great interest in the TARDIS. He even attempts to open the doors, only to find them locked. There are also some locals who have noticed the box, but by the time they return high tide has come and hidden the TARDIS from view.
The Doctor goes off to explore having told Vicki and Steven to remain with the TARDIS (and we all know how well that usually works out). He finds a village and learns that it is 1066, right before the Viking invasion and the Battle of Hastings. Steven and Vicki soon leave the TARDIS to follow the Doctor and much of the story revolves around the two companions and the Doctor just missing each other at the monastery.
It soon becomes clear from the anachronistic items that keep turning up (like wristwatches and gramophones) that something is not quite right. Eventually, it is revealed that the Monk is a Time Lord (although the name Time Lord wouldn’t be used until the end of Patrick Troughton’s era), just like the Doctor; he even has his own Mark IV TARDIS, a newer model than the Doctors and one with a working chameleon circuit.
The Monk’s plan is to use his atomic cannons to destroy the Viking Fleet, thus allowing King Harold to have the troops he needs to defeat William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings. Since this goes against the Time Lords non-interference policy, the Doctor puts a stop to his plan and maroons him in 1066.
“The Time Meddler” is the first story to establish what would eventually become the format for the Doctor’s historical adventures: a settling in the past with an alien life form causing a problem. This was a departure from the traditional historical episodes, in which the travelers simply traveled to a particular time and experience what life was like (and of course, always ended up in some kind of trouble). Due to the historical setting, I also thought it was a nice touch to have the Doctor remark on how he wished Barbara were there to fill him in on the time period, since she was, seemingly ,the world’s most knowledgeable history teacher.
My thoughts on Steven as a companion are mixed. I have always found Steven to be a companion without a lot of personality, but that’s not really the case in this story. I think he was much better when paired with Vicki, than later in the series when he is traveling with Dodo. I enjoyed his interactions with Vicki. Steven very clearly wanted to believe that he knew more that her, but he ends up doing what she says just about every time. It was also interesting to see a companion who had such a difficult time believing in the concept of time travel. He is wrong so often because he can’t believe that they are, in fact, in 1066. Still, the way that Peter Purves plays Steven, he doesn’t come across as arrogant or obnoxious, he just isn’t as experienced at traveling with the Doctor as Vicki.
Overall, I felt that this was one of the best of the first Doctor stories. Maybe it’s partially due to the different approach, but it felt like it had more energy than some of the other stories from this era. The Monk was an interesting villain and this episode really gave William Hartnell a chance to shine. There is also a nice comedic touch to this story, but it doesn’t get quite as farcical as “The Romans,” which was another of Dennis Spooner’s stories. Hartnell wasn’t always given the opportunity to play comedy, but he does it well. As much as he knows he must stop the Monk, he seems a bit amused by the Monk’s efforts and enjoys outwitting him. With Barbara and Ian gone, the Doctor has to be more of a leader than he was in the past, and this leads to one of the best adventures of William Hartnell’s Doctor.