"I'm sorry about your coccyx, too, Miss Grant."

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We were distinctly nervous about The Time Monster, considering its reputation as the Worst of Pertwee. But to our surprise, we found it was a lot better than we expected.

Sure, it's got bad stuff. But there's a lot that's worthwhile too, and what's more, it's consistently entertaining, which is more than you can say for a lot of other stories.

While most six-parters divide themselves into two stories, Time Monster really has three - the laboratory stuff, the TARDIS stuff and Atlantis. Since six-parters (and even four-parters) dragging on and on in one location often make us feel like they've locked us up and thrown away the key, we think this is a good thing. And fortunately, they get better as they go on. While the lab stuff's pretty dire, the one-TARDIS-inside-another sequences are a brilliant idea (later revisited in Logopolis). And the Atlantis scenes, while they have their faults, are the pick of the lot, with some great character interaction.

That's not to say, of course, that it's all good. Not by a long shot. The scenes at Wooton, in particular, are a mish-mash of bad acting and pointless running around, spiked with moments so wince-inducing that all you can do is crawl behind the sofa and squeak for mercy. Ruth Ingram is the teeth-gritting kind of man-hater misogynists are so terrified of, despite the fact that they don't actually exist in real life, and Stu is so fantastically annoying that we're itching to smack him every time he appears on screen. If it isn't the high camp proto-acting, it's the patronising loveys and that's my girls. Grrrr. The scene where they do that little dance makes us want to shoot ourselves.

The regulars aren't much better, what with the Doctor in full tilt "Not now, Jo" mode and the Master in overdrive with the notorious "Nothing and nobody can stop me now". Spare us. UNIT aren't much use either, with Benton being pointlessly youthed and the rest of them being pushed hither and yon about the landscape to show off what a keen idea the writer thinks time slippages are.

And that's the main trouble with the first bit. There's a lot going on, but it's either stupid (Benton twice managing to let the Master get away), pointless (all those shots of people trotting about) or both (the Doctor's embarrassing cork-and-tealeaf contraption). It's a shame, because there are some good ideas here that are smothered by the rubbish. Sneaking things between the interstices of time's an intriguing idea, for a start. Stu's aging, too, is a profoundly terrifying concept, which the writer first throws away by offhandedly reversing then plays for laughs with the baby Benton bit. As for Kronos, a real entity made mythological is a classic Who idea, but the less said about the execution the better.

Things perk up a bit in the interlinked TARDISes, which is such a nice idea we wonder why nobody thought of it before. The scenes are marred, though, by stupidities like the supposedly backwards English and the Doctor leaving his TARDIS to reason with the Master, a plan even an Ogron could see was doomed to fail. There's also an annoying tendency for threats of death and destruction to be made and carried out, only for us to find that instead of killing all and sundry as promised, it merely makes them feel like a little lie down. How disappointing is that?

And so to Atlantis, and apart from the wooden and shouty Hippias some very nice character work indeed. George Cormack as King Dalios is particularly impressive, investing his part with an enjoyable wit and gravitas that makes us genuinely mourn him when he dies. (He did an equally impressive job as K'anpo in Planet of the Spiders.)

The relationship between the Queen and the Master is also very nicely done, showing us a side of the Master's character which, perhaps fortunately, we haven't seen before. We love his oily seduction routine, but we also love the way his profound lack of understanding trips him up when he starts ordering the Queen around. The Queen, too, whose overreaching brings down an entire civilisation, is a real and human character who draws our compassion despite her faults. We're not as thrilled as some, though, with the Doctor's famous "daisiest daisy" scene. Apart from being ripped off wholesale, to us it has a flavour of look-at-us-being-profound about it.

Although the character stuff in Atlantis is great, the rest doesn't have a lot to recommend it. The Minotaur scenes (what happened to the back end of the cow?) are frankly embarrassing, what with Jo standing there like a lemon and the Doctor flourishing his cape. Still, at least he didn't start singing to it. Jo redeems herself, though, when she forces the time ram, sacrificing herself (and the Doctor, but let's not mention that) for the good of the universe. It's probably her finest moment.

Overall, entertaining though it undoubtedly manages to be, the thing suffers from a lack of coherence. What's the Doctor's dream got to do with it? Or the aging? Where'd the Krystal of Kronos come from? Why doesn't the time ram kill 'em all?

Worse, when you look at it the Doctor doesn't actually have much to do that makes any impression on the story. He fails to stop the Master summoning Kronos, and he fails to persuade the Master not to go to Atlantis and start wreaking havoc. All he seems to do in Atlantis is get prodded by giant toasting forks and chat with the King. He fails to bluff the Master into letting Jo go: it's Jo's intervention, not the Doctor's, that throws the Master outside of time where Kronos can get her talons into him. And in the end, thanks to the Doctor's woolly-minded and misplaced compassion, the Master goes free. (Why didn't the Doctor ask Kronos to give the Master to the Time Lords? He already knew Earth couldn't hold him.) Things would have played out pretty much the same had the Doctor not stuck his oar in, with the exception that instead of going free the Master would even as we speak be being pierced with a thousand knitting needles, or whatever Kronos had up her sleeve. And, of course, if it hadn't been for Jo causing the time ram, the cosmos would be lying about in small pieces. Cheers, Doc.

It's not the finest moment of the Pertwee era, but it's not its worst either. Anything that keeps us watching instead of yawning over six episodes has definitely got something to recommend it.

MORAL: A Kronos is not just for Christmas.



The Master trips on "exp- change pleasantries", and the Doctor joins him in the slip department with "naynoseconds".


The shape of that time sensor's a bit dodgy, isn't it?


Why doesn't the Brigadier recognise the Master when he speaks?


Those bits where the Brigadier et al are running slowly on the spot while the Doctor rushes up to them are bit embarrassing, as are the Keystone Kops sequences of the speeded-up Bessie.


After the Master as the Brigadier finishes speaking to Benton on the phone, Benton looks into the phone before he puts it down. It's one of those things that's a television cliche but that you never ever see in real life. (The other one's where someone comes up behind you and you proceed to have a conversation with them while they stand behind your shoulder. Not very likely, unless you're in a lift.)


"Try not to be too bitter, Stu"? Easy for you to say, darling.


Stu makes a lot of fuss about producing a cork for the Doctor, eventually finding one on the corkscrew. So where'd the second cork come from?


Stu's clothes (fortunately) don't disappear when he's aged, so why do Benton's?


Jo flashes her knickers yet again as she falls to the floor in the TARDIS, but for once she's not alone. When he's fighting the Minotaur, Hippias discovers what every woman knows about wrap skirts and overhasty movements.


"Oh, I'm so happy!" Poor Katy, being lumbered with a line of such appalling clunkiness.


That's a very intriguing bit about the Doctor not being proud of some of his subconscious thoughts, isn't it? We've got a few theories, but this is a family show.


There's a nice moment when as the Master catches the Queen's eye and nods to her he appears to be staring down her prodigious cleavage. (Although given our theory about his passion for the Doctor he's unlikely to be interested in that sort of thing anyway.)

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