(With “The Time Meddler”, we reach Part 17 of our Name Dropping journey through the First Doctor’s character arc as it moves seamlessly from analysis of his changing ways of addressing Ian to that of addressing Steven Taylor: in which we rage at the BBC’s junking policy and speculate on what sort of companions other Blue Peter presenters might have made.)
In “The Time Meddler” we have a regrettably rare complete Steven story. Of the 25 episodes between this and the next complete story, only 4 are extant in the BBC’s archives. This is the worst thing about “The Time Meddler”. It’s the gleaming shop window behind which are displayed the prospect of goodies, while we are the poor street urchins with our noses pressed to that window, knowing that we’ll be denied an opportunity to feast on them. We may have “The Arc” and “The Gunfighters” waiting complete for us on the other side of the abyss but by then we’ll be into the era of Dodo (nowhere near as extinct as her name suggests and her character deserves). By then, the great days will be behind us because not only does Peter Purves’s first full story hold the promise that Steven is going to be a truly belting companion, his rapport with Vicky hits the ground running and they play off each other splendidly. They have a much more vibrant and equal relationship than Susan had with her companions who never entirely lost the teacher-pupil relationship. Had the Doctor, Ian or Barbara suggested going to a monastery, Susan’s reaction would most likely have been to complain that it was scary or that she had a headache. Vicky will quite readily argue that they should go to the beach instead. This isn’t her being argumentative but just having an opinion and standing up for it. I hope this continues in what little time Vicky and Steven have left together.
Because, thanks to the criminal lunacy of the BBC’s policy of junking tapes (their choice of tapes to junk is almost more painful than the policy itself), this story is our only chance to see these two together.
For those of my generation, who missed Peter Purves’s time on Doctor Who but experienced him as the sensible one on Blue Peter who we’d never seen acting, it’s initially difficult to take Steven entirely on face value. That face and that voice are so inescapably wedded to the world of “here’s one I made earlier” that at first you expect that you’re going to have to sit through a season concentrating hard in an attempt to pretend that a Blue Peter presenter isn’t travelling in the TARDIS. But before you know it, the world of milk bottle tops and toilet roll inners have vanished and he’s 100% Steven Taylor.
Which leads us to imagine what might have been had fate landed us with another Blue Peter presenter as the new companion. Just imagine John Noakes joining the TARDIS crew. I suspect he’d have been the Mickey of the 1960s, the comic relief foil for the Doctor. John’s Blue Peter adventures up Nelson’s Column and on the Cresta Run suggest that he’d be brave enough to be the action man figure but I’m not sure how Mary Whitehouse would have reacted to him flaunting his buttock bruises on Doctor Who. As for the other candidate, Valerie Singleton, she always came across as a sort of Verity Lambert with less vinegar so maybe she’d have been better suited to the production office.
No, I think Peter Purves was the man for the job. Where the villager Eldred (Must Live?) says that he doesn’t trust our heroes, Steven replies “Well, I’m not mad about you either!” Had this been Ian’s line, he would probably have delivered it under his breath or once the other guy had moved away. Not out of cowardice of course but because Ian was the quintessence of cool unflappability. Steven, however, gets right in Eldred’s face to say it. Yes, I think we’ll be seeing great things from Mr Taylor. Or rather hearing great things.
Knowing someone for something else can’t always be overcome. As good as the monk is, I was never able to get the Peter Butterworth of the Carry On films out of my mind. I realise that we’re yet to get a glimpse of Time Lord society but, when you’re irretrievably associated with lines like “Dan Dan, the lavatory man”, then robed and statuesque majesty burning at the centre of Time rather goes out of the window.
“The Time Meddler” is certainly a milestone but not a game changer. Time Lords are still a thing of the future and won’t even be encountered again until the end of the Second Doctor’s era. But it’s still a shock to hear a supposedly medieval monk say, on seeing the TARDIS materialise: “I wonder”. It’s a pity that the main impression of the Doctor’s race we’re left with is that they must be compulsive gigglers but never mind that. The idea is worth it for the reveal of the Monk’s TARDIS. As far as jaw-dropping cliffhangers go, that has to be up there with the Dalek emerging from the Thames in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” and young River Song beginning to regenerate at the end of “Day of the Moon”. I think that I’ll keep a note of belting cliffhangers as I blog my through the run of Doctor Who and collect them in order of wowness at the end. If it’s made me drop my delicate crystal glass of dry sherry in an age when we’ve seen umpteen Time Lords wandering around in their own TARDISes, imagine how it must have appeared to kids at the time when there was still a general notion that the TARDIS was a machine that the Doctor had built himself.
A few final points. As silly as it is, “A space helmet for a cow?” is a genuinely laugh out loud line. And we get the first example of faces appearing in the credits, albeit the closing ones
Now for our new record of how the First Doctor addresses Steven. Let’s see if it differs much from Ian’s treatment. Steven gets: dear boy x 2, my dear boy x 1, my boy x 1, young man x 4 and even a Mr Taylor x 1. If Ian wanted a “Mr Chesterton”, he had to turn to Susan.
(select NAME DROPPING from the list of Categories in the left hand menu to catch the rest of this series)