And against what, precisely, am I supposed to be warning the world?
One does not begrudge an artist returning to a favored, familiar theme. So the fact that Robert Sloman’s Season Nine finale, “The Time Monster” (Story Production Code OOO) reads almost identically to his (with Barry Letts) Season Eight finale, “The Daemons,” can be forgiven, if only because of the depth of world-building that occurs in this six part story. We learn much about the Doctor, the TARDIS, and the Doctor’s relationship with the Master, enough so that we can (mostly) overlook our realization that we’ve already seen this story play out.
Where, in “The Daemons,” the Master disguised himself as a vicar in order to use the occult altar beneath the vicarage to summon the Daemon Azal, here he puts on a professor’s tweeds and uses government grants to build a time manipulation device capable of summoning an extra-dimensional being of immense power: Chronos, the Chronovore, a time-eater that lives in the interstices between moments. Instead of Morris dancers and brainwashed villagers, his allies now include a graduate student, a doctoral candidate, and an Atlantean high priest accidentally brought forward almost four thousand years from the past. A step up, all things considered.
The story takes a while to get moving. Two episodes are devoted to establishing the Master’s device, the TOMTIT (Transmission of Matter through Interstitial Time), and bringing UNIT, which is inadvertently funding the Master’s research, onto the scene. Many loving close-ups of a teleporting tea saucer fill the opening scenes. Several bureaucrats are given a narrative build-up, only to be dismissed by the Brigadier with no further involvement in the story, and a window washer who looks in on the teleportation events falls from his ladder in shock, his near-death state essentially ignored.
“The Time Monster” shows all the hallmarks of a story stretched from four to six episodes to fill the schedule, and yet the slowness of pacing gets turned on its head in the final two episodes, such that when the Master’s erstwhile (and innocent) assistants try to free the Brigadier and a UNIT platoon from a time bubble and accidentally turn Sergeant Benton into a baby at the end of the fourth episode, this dramatic retrogression isn’t even brought back up until the very end of the last episode. Because the Doctor, Jo, and the Master have a date in Atlantis…
While the Master is able to summon Chronos using the one piece of the Crystal of Chronos in his possession, he needs the full Crystal in order to control it, to force it to his will. That Crystal remains locked in a secret labyrinth in Atlantis, guarded over by the fearsome Minotaur. The Master and the High Priest of Atlantis, Krasis, take off for Atlantis in the Master’s TARDIS to acquire the full Crystal of Chronos. (Notably, this Atlantis differs from that in “The Underwater Menace.” No fish people here.)
When the Doctor and Jo follow the Master, they do so initially by locking onto the Master’s TARDIS frequency, neatly avoiding the supposed Time Lord lock on the Doctor’s TARDIS (remember that?) and allowing Sloman the ability to introduce the TARDIS as a character in the story, in a way not seen since the earliest days of the show. The TARDIS is revealed to be telepathic, in order to communicate with other TARDISes and to transmit the Doctor’s thoughts when he is outside it to persons inside it. The latter ability comes in handy when the Doctor is floating outside of time and space and needs Jo to flip a particular switch on the TARDIS console to save him. Good thing he’s taken to labelling them…
This telepathic ability was first referenced back in “The Edge of Destruction,” where the TARDIS projected images into the minds of the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan to warn them of danger (averted by flipping a labeled switch). Here, the ability is made explicit, as is the Doctor’s fondness for his TARDIS, whom he’s anthropomorphized just slightly, using female pronouns when referring to it.
The interior of the TARDIS gets a makeover as well, with the circles on the walls concave rather than flat circles (and, occasionally, painted flats); the Doctor has had time to redecorate, apparently, and the only difference between his TARDIS and that of the Master, which has had a similar wall renovation, is the construction of the central rotor and some pieces of furniture. The Master’s rotor consists of a set of silver cylinders, of fairly sturdy make, while the Doctor’s remains a colorful assemblage of bits in a wobbly plastic container.
The Doctor lands his TARDIS inside that of the Master—and also, somehow, places the Master’s TARDIS inside his own, in order to follow it:
Jo: I still don’t get it.
Doctor: Well it’s perfectly simple, Jo. My TARDIS is inside the Master’s.
Jo: Yes, but his is inside yours.
Doctor: Exactly. They’re both inside each other.
In placing the TARDISes into conjunction, the Doctor risked “time ram,” a state where they occupy the same space at the same time, a catastrophic occurrence that would destroy both vehicles and, in Checkovian fashion, a useful gun above the proverbial fireplace in the first act.
After “feeding” the Doctor to Chronos (resulting in the Doctor being trapped in the Time Vortex and saved by the aforementioned TARDIS telepathy), the Master, with Krasis in tow, returns to the ancient, lost civilization to claim the full Crystal of Chronos. There he finds himself foiled by the wise and long-lived King Dalios, who shrugs off the Master’s hypnotic gaze with a laugh.
Centuries old, being possibly even older than the Master and Doctor themselves, Dalios knows the dangers inherent in summoning Chronos. He alone remembers the last time Chronos roamed free, and he helped trap the beast with the Crystal; he is determined that the Chronovore should remain locked away behind the power of the Crystal.
But with the connivance of the Queen of Atlantis, Galliea, who longs for the glory of the Atlantean past, the king is sidelined and the Master put in charge. For in that past, Chronos apparently ruled over Atlantis as though a god, granting boons and power, though with terrible costs, like massive crop yields one year followed by five of famine. Dalios knows Chronos to be capricious, dangerous, and even a bit mischievous. It was Chronos who created the Minotaur, giving a man who wished for the strength of a bull and the lifespan to use it the head of a bull and an eternal life.
The camera never quite settles on the Cronovore when it is summoned, moving in and out with quick movements and fast pans. The jerkiness of the scene, combined with strobe lighting, creates a disorienting effect, and it’s mostly successful in creating a sense of unease and uncontrollability. One wishes a clearer glimpse could be had of the monster, but it’s not to be, with only a few frames ever alighting on Chronos in anything approaching focus.
As with “The Daemons,” the titular monster doesn’t actually do much beside serve as a menacing macguffin. The Doctor and Jo struggle not so much against Chronos as against the Master, attempting to prevent him from unleashing the time monster on the universe, which would result in all order and structure dissolving.
After the Doctor dispatches the Minotaur to save Jo (thrown there by Krasis, who has caught her snooping), he has opened the way for the Master to claim the full Crystal of Chronos. Yet when the Master summons the beast to the Atlantean court, he finds, to his horror, that he cannot control it after all. Not, indeed, that any of his prior attempts at controlling super-beings summoned from beyond have ever worked. As Chronos begins to destroy Atlantis in revenge for having been sealed away for centuries, the Master grabs Jo and escapes with the Crystal, ostensibly to try controlling the Cronovore again.
This, the Doctor will not allow. Homing in once more on the Master’s TARDIS, he threatens the Master with “time ram,” asserting that he will kill himself, Jo, and the Master in order to destroy the Crystal and put an end to the threat of Chronos. The Master calls the Doctor’s bluff, daring him to kill Jo; the Doctor wavers, but Jo does not, lunging for the control switch that will converge the two time machines. And she reaches it, colliding the two TARDISes into one space.
Jo awakens and stumbles out of the Master’s TARDIS, where she finds the Doctor’s TARDIS floating alongside in a netherworld of sorts. She wakes the Doctor, and they are confronted by the giant visage of Chronos, who thanks them for rescuing it from eons of captivity by destroying the Crystal.
Chronos “caught” the two TARDISes on the threshold between realities and intends to set the Doctor and Jo free. Only the Doctor’s plea allows a craven, groveling Master to be saved from an eternity of torment at Chronos’ hands (er, gauzy wings?). Claiming to be “beyond good and evil,” Chronos allows the Master to then escape from the Doctor’s grasp, for did the Doctor not wish him to be free?
With only minutes left in the story, the Doctor and Jo return to find the Master’s former assistants finally setting time right, freeing the Brigadier and returning Sergeant Benton to adulthood, though only clad in nappies (thankfully just below screen) right as the Brigadier enters, a light note on which to end a story about the destruction of Atlantis and the near annihilation of the universe.
On the whole, “The Time Monster” takes risks, with a breadth of scenes—including location shooting (with a “colorful” rustic helping pull the TARDIS out of a ditch) and fairly elaborate Atlantean sets—and a large cast. They put some money on the screen, and it shows.
Yet, it never quite all holds together. The UNIT scenes feel unnecessary, as nice as it is to see the Brig, Benton, and Yates in action again; and the rather banal bantering in the university scenes, where the Doctor cobbles together a little device to annoy the Master like he used to do when they were school mates, strikes one as padding. They had all of Atlantis to play with, and the costumes and sets to make use of it, but instead we get the inside of a graduate student’s bachelor pad, complete with wine bottles on the floor and mod posters on the wall.
Both Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado are in fine form, the Doctor taking on a wistful mien at several points, particularly when recounting moments from his childhood (about a particular hermit/monk) to reassure Jo; and the Master throws himself fully into his plans for world domination, never missing a chance to cry out, “Come, Chronos, come!” It seems as though the Master has finally gotten over his remaining fondness for the Doctor, feeling quite pleased when he thinks that this time, the Doctor is really and truly dead. The Doctor, by contrast, remains incapable of following through with a threat that would mean the end of Jo, a “weakness” that the Master is happy to exploit.
Katy Manning again comes to the rescue, Jo Grant having a far more active role in the story than the Doctor, to be honest. She learns of the Master’s plan to steal the Crystal while in Atlantis, turns the queen’s handmaiden against her, and throws the switch that would save the universe even at the cost of her own, and the Doctor’s, life. Indeed, this time around, the term “companion” is used for the Doctor rather than Jo:
Galliea: You come from a far land?
Jo (Jo) Grant: It couldn’t be much further.
Hippias: She and her companion fell from the skies, as did the Master.
After two seasons as companion, Katy Manning has settled in more than nicely, and the writers have begun to mostly avoid the dim-witted characterization that haunted Jo Grant at the start.
“The Time Monster” shows us what Doctor Who can achieve—the sets are strong, the casting well done, and the ambition as powerful as ever. But rehashing the Master’s greatest hits does the show no favors and, indeed, does Roger Delgado and the character of the Master a disservice, especially since we only have one more story that will feature Delgado’s rendition of the renegade Time Lord. They’ve grown a bit comfortable right at the point where they could do so much more.
If Season Nine ends on a slightly discordant note, some six months later, at the start of Season Ten, the production team will serve up a story that only Doctor Who could tell, one that makes you forget all about ol’ Chronos the Chronovore.
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Post 66 of the Doctor Who Re-Watching Project