The Time Warrior, by Matthew Kilburn (and Terrance Dicks)

When I first watched The Time Warrior in 2007, I wrote:

The Time Warrior was the first story in the eleventh season of Doctor Who, over December 1973/January 1974. More significantly, it was the first outing for Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, a role she played until October 1976, the longest continuous run of any companion (and longer than some Doctors had on screen). (Reprised, of course, in 1981 in K9 and Company, 1983 in The Five Doctors, in various Big Finish and other spinoffs, and last year in School Reunion; now getting her own TV series at long last.)

She gets a good introduction, stowing away in the Tardis to investigate the disappearance of scientists, who as it turns out are being kidnapped by time machine by an alien Sontaran who needs them to repair his spaceship which has crashed on Earth in the Middle Ages. (Of course, when they meet again in School Reunion, the Doctor is once again pretending to be Dr John Smith; not, as we now know, for the last time either.) I felt she was a bit screamy compared with the Sarah Jane Smith we came to know and love later on, but in contrast with the awful Jo who came before she is a vast improvement.

There’s also an interesting conversation in Episode 2 between the Doctor and the Sontaran commander Lynx with significant continuity implications. Apparently this was the first time that the Doctor’s home planet had been named. But it’s also interesting that the Sontarans have been considering it as a military target, a plan which comes to fruition in The Invasion of Time in 1978.

Anyway, not one of the great Robert Holmes stories, but not bad at all.

Coming back to it in 2010 for my Great Rewatch, I wrote:

The Time Warrior has the difficult task of introducing the first new companion for three years. But it is also the first story with a historical setting since The Highlanders, which incidentally was also the introductory story for a long-lasting companion (Jamie), which in itself is rather a good signal that the show is still capable of pulling surprises (which is just as well, considering the disappointments in store later in the season). The medieval stuff – Dot Cotton and Boba Fett in alliance against the bad guys – is actually rather well done, to the point that you don’t realise that there is only one castle playing two roles. The Sontarans are off to a good start, and there’s a satisfying bang at the end as the castle blows up.

It’s interesting to note that Sarah actually looks rather boyish here – pageboy haircut, understated bust, wearing trousers rather than skirt – which reinforces the point that the companion is meant to be the audience identification figure, and perhaps makes her easier for small boys to relate to than the much more girly Jo would have been. One can’t take this too far – she is certainly femme rather than butch – but it strikes me that after the first seven seasons of regular characters who just happen to be hanging around the Tardis and the Doctor, we have here the consolidation and further development of the Jo Grant dynamic.

One further character note about the Doctor – we have a bit of a reshaping of the role of the Time Lords here, as galactic ticket-inspectors; and this is also the story where the Doctor says he is serious about what he does, but not necessarily the way he does it. Unmoored from the UNIT setting, this is a new Pertwee in some ways, and we are allowed to sympathise with Sarah to a certain extent when she mistakes him for the villain rather than the hero of the story.

Rewatching once more, a couple of points struck me. First, immediately after the rather drab location shooting of The Curse of Fenric, here things seem much better co-ordinated and coherent. Alan Bromly is not at the top of many people’s list of favourite Doctor Who directors, but (unlike Matthew Kilburn, but we’ll get there) I think he delivers the goods.

Second, the script is neutral but heading towards positive on Sarah’s feminism. The Doctor looks like an ass in the first scene with her when he tells her to make the coffee. There’s a funny moment when she tells the kitchen wenches that they should not be living in the middle ages, just before realising that they have no choice. But to have a character articulating these views at all is (sadly) a step forward. (I also wonder if the wenches had been hiding or hidden when Lynx arrived; it’s clear that Sarah is the first woman he has seen.)

Third, Elisabeth Sladen is really nervous in her first scene as Sarah. We know now that Pertwee had been awful to her in rehearsal, saying how sorry he was that Katy Manning had left, almost as awful as the Doctor is to her in the script. The scene gives context for Sarah thinking the Doctor must be the villain, but one can also sympathise with the jitters of an actor who had just been given her breakthrough role, but with a star who had already had one potential candidate sacked and had made it clear he wished she was someone else. (Pertwee came round in the end, but the production team had already decided to dump him and keep her.)

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Terrance Dicks’ novelisation is:

Linx went to the cellar door. It was closed and locked but he made no attempt to open it. ‘Linx!’ bellowed a hoarse voice from the other side. ‘My lord Linx, will you open the door?’

When I last read it in 2008, I wrote:

Somehow despite the apparently favourable conjunction of DW’s most prolific TV script writer (Holmes) and the most prolific novelisation writer (Dicks), it rarely seems to gel, and this is a typical example: an unexceptional Dicks novelisation of a decent Holmes script, supposedly in this case with Holmesian participation. The Sontaran commander Linx (rather than Lynx) and the myopic Professor Rubeish both get a little more characterisation, but it’s otherwise standard stuff.

It is interesting that both this and the next story are about the bad guys shunting people between the present and the past.

I now accept that this was unfair of me. There are a lot of nice little moments in the novelisation that were missed from the TV show, including Mary, Hal the archer’s girlfriend, whose lines were completely cut from the screen. After a marathon of Pertwee novelisations in 2008, I think I may have been getting a bit fed up with Dicks’ prose, but in isolation it reads much better. You can get it here.

As with the author of the last Black Archive that I wrote up, Matthew Kilburn is a friend, amd as with Una McCormack on The Curse of Fenric, this monograph has made me reassess several aspects of the story positively, though starting from a higher base in that I liked it more to start with.

An introduction points out the rarity of stories set in the historical past at that time of Doctor Who, the most recent having been The Evil of the Daleks, six years before, and also discusses the uninventive style of director Alan Bromly (where as mentioned above I think there is a decent case for the defence).

The first chapter looks at The Time Warrior as a war story, reflecting on Holmes’career both as s soldier in Burma and as a writer for the patriotic boys’ magazine John Bull, but also considering the Vietnam War which was raging at the time.

The second chapter looks at the story’s aesthetic, coming down firmly on the Gothic side of the fence, considering also The Castle of Otranto, Ivanhoe, Frankenstein and the TV series Arthur of the Britons.

The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

The above paragraph offers a brief description of a character who could be either the Doctor or Linx. The parallels are obvious, especially with Spearhead from Space; but so are the objections. While Irongron and his men saw Linx’s vessel cross the sky and fall to Earth, the UNIT officer and her technician saw Nestene energy units, not the TARDIS. The UNIT personnel identified an enemy, while it’s Irongron who finds an ally. However, this latter statement is open to challenge, and it’s part of the Doctor’s function in this story to point out why.

The chapter looks at how Lynx and the Doctor parallel each other, alien wizard/scientists working with local Earth military/political leaders, but also looks at how Lynx portrays racism and colonialism.

The fourth and final chapter looks at Sarah as a character, and the way in which she is both a new and a traditional companion figure for Doctor Who. Her feminism is a character trait; it’s not funny, but it’s not shared by others either. The chapter looks at the story of Elisabeth Sladen’s casting, and also at the changes between script and screen which slightly eased the gendered elements of the story.

A conclusion reflects again on The Time Warrior as a post-imperial story, and how its themes are reflect in other Who stories which Holmes had a hand in.

The whole thing is well worth getting here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)

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