The Time Monster
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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
iven that there was such a dearth of new Jon Pertwee releases over the last couple years, the classic “Doctor Who” DVD range has more than made up for the oversight this year. Between the outstanding “Dalek War” box set and the middling “Peladon” stories, it’s been quite the ride for fans of the Third Doctor (although there are numerous great Pertwee tales that have yet to make it to the silver platter). Somewhere in between the aforementioned concepts resides the final story of Season Nine, “The Time Monster,” which, for a series that so heavily relies on both time travel and monsters, is either a brilliant title or a stupid one.
The Master (Roger Delgado) is using the alias Professor Thascalos at the Newton Research Unit at Cambridge University. He’s experimenting with time via an ornate crystal and a machine called TOM-TIT (alright, have you got the giggles out of your system?). TOM-TIT stands for Transmission of Matter through Interstitial Time, which is more impressive than the acronym. What is Interstitial Time you ask? It’s the bit that comes between “now” and “now,” or so the story explains. Somewhere in this hazy netherworld exists creatures called Chronovores – time eaters, an idea which was years later explored by Paul Cornell in the new series episode “Father’s Day.” Apparently, the winged, starkly white Chronos is the strongest of them all, but what does any of this have to do with Atlantis? Quite a bit, or so it seems, since the last two episodes of this six-parter take place in the doomed, mythical city.
There’s an awful lot going on in “The Time Monster” (probably too much) and the entire Atlantean subplot should’ve been scrapped altogether, but then there wouldn’t have been enough story to fill all six installments. Regardless, take the mythical stuff out of the equation, and you end up with one of the series’ more complex meditations on time. Each episode offers up some new zinger or angle through which the ideas are explored. Granted, some of it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and the ride isn’t altogether cohesive, but it’s a ride nonetheless. The team of regulars seems to be having quite a bit of fun at this stage of the Pertwee game – sometimes maybe even too much, as this story has a few unnecessary comedic flourishes, and yet there’s nothing that ever really damages the overall integrity (such as it is) of the goings-on.
Not so fast! Back to Atlantis, a city made up of only two or three unimpressive sets, and a land of dime-store costumes and wigs that would be put to shame by whatever you can find at you local Spencer’s around Halloween. The awfulness of Donald Eccles’s performance as the Atlantean Krasis (who essentially amounts to a companion for the Master throughout the story) is offset by the splendor of Ingrid Pitt’s cleavage. So buxom is she that her tits (“The Time Monster” is udderly tit-tastic) deserved billing all their own. Chronos the creature has taking something of a beating over the years, and yet that’s a sentiment I don’t agree with. There’s a sort of crazed majesty about this being that’s really just a guy on strings in a white knight-like suit and platform heels. No, I can’t explain why it works for me; there is no reasonable explanation, and yet it does. Certainly Paul Bernard’s clever direction of the beast doesn’t hurt, though.
And how’s this for geeky? David Prowse, better known to genre fans as the man inside Darth Vader’s suit, plays a Minotaur late in the game, and for this story only, the TARDIS has a completely redesigned interior, which has a total ‘70s groove thang going on. Shame they didn’t stick with it for a while, as it’s rather fetching, and matches the kitsch that makes up so much of this tale. “The Time Monster” is far from perfect, but not necessarily an unwise purchase, especially given that for the price tag you get six episodes instead of the usual four, and we haven’t had one of those in a good long while.
Special Features: The revolving commentary track is a great deal of fun for a story like this, as it keeps the yakking from getting stale. Episodes One, Five and Six feature producer and co-writer Barry Letts and production assistant Marion McDougall, while Toby Hadoke moderates, and actress Susan Penhaligon joins in for the final two episodes. Letts passed away last October, and he’s sadly not in the best of health here, and yet he still gives it his all, proving that there are few men out there as devoted to this series as he was. John Levene speaks on Episodes Two and Four, while Episode Three features a group of new series writers including Phil Ford, Joe Lidster and James Moran.
A featurette titled “Between Now…and Now!” takes a look at the science of the story, and goes a ways towards justifying much of the technobabble. It’s hosted by Professor Jim Al-Khalili, which surely must amount to something. There’s also a look at the restoration work that went into this story, which appears to have been no mean feat, and frankly, the story does look pretty damn good, all obstacles considered. There’s also the usual photo gallery, production notes option, and PDF materials alongside a trailer for “The Creature from the Pit,” which is due out in September.