Friday, February 20, 2009

Random Who Report: The Time Warrior (1973/4)

Link to the Time Warrior on
A couple of installments ago, you may recall I looked at THE GREEN DEATH, last story of the tenth season and the farewell to companion Jo Grant. Without realizing it I recently rented the very next story in the series; THE TIME WARRIOR begins Jon Pertwee’s final year as the Doctor and has the distinction of introducing us to Elisabeth Sladen as the ever-popular Sarah Jane Smith. More than anything, though, it’s a cheery romp through the grimy and violent world of medieval England, with the added bonus of an alien soldier who looks like a potato. God, I love this show.

The story starts at the castle of Irongron (David Daker), a brutal robber baron who’s been threatening the local nobility, all of whom have sent most of their soldiers off with the king fighting the Crusades or the French or whatever (Middle English history is not my strong suit.) A spaceship crash-lands next to his castle, and its occupant, Sontaran lieutenant Jingo Linx (Kevin Lindsay), trades Irongron higher-tech weapons (breech-loading rifles at first, then a robot) in exchange for shelter. But he needs technicians to repair his ship, so he uses what technology he has to propel himself forward in time and start stealing scientists from a conference in the 20th century. This catches the attention of UNIT, and so the Doctor joins the conference, tracking the disappearances to their source and taking the TARDIS back in time to Irongron’s castle. Unbeknownst to him, intrepid reporter Sarah Jane Smith has stowed along for the ride.

THE TIME WARRIOR was actually one of the first stories in years set in Earth’s past; the pure historical episodes of the Hartnell and Troughton years were never big ratings successes, so this one throws in aliens. The way the sci-fi and medieval material interact is actually kind of clever. Irongron’s men see the crashing spaceship as a falling star, and appropriately enough it’s a tessellated sphere. Linx’s armor is weird and exotic but something like a warrior’s plates, and his appearance, while appropriate for an alien from a high-gravity planet, makes him look a bit like a troll. The Doctor, of course, instantly gets pegged as a wizard.

The medieval setting is also an opportunity for just plain fun; Robert Holmes has written a wonderfully funny script full of brilliant old-timey insults and threats, such as, “I’ll chop him so fine not even a sparrow will fill its beak at one peck!” As Irongron, David Daker roars and tears across the set with wonderful gusto, and is given a clever counterpoint in John J. Carney as the worshipful Bloodaxe. Much of the story hangs on the interaction between Linx and Irongron, which is well-played on both sides. Director Alan Bromly keeps the energy high, and the production values are unusually high.

The story marks the introduction both of the Sontarans, who have popped up now and again on into the new series, and Sarah Jane, of whose wonderfulness I have already written. Here, Sarah has yet to take on that favorite-aunt cuddliness, but she’s still smart and brave and charming, and the early “Women’s Lib” aspect of her character (presumably meant as a contrast to the fluffy Jo) isn’t treated with the typical reactionary disdain of the time. Donald Pelmear is also entertaining as Professor Rubeish, a nearsighted scientist who wanders around the proceedings with varying levels of usefulness. (One of the nicer bits in the story is the fact that Irongron’s band is a disorganized gang of thugs, which means it’s not really implausible that the heroes can wander in and out of the castle without much supervision.) Also, watch for Jeremy Bulloch, later to become Boba Fett, as Hal the Archer.

THE TIME WARRIOR isn’t the show at its best- the ending is a bit abrupt- but it’s the show at its most consistent. The story makes sense, the pace is right, the characters are developed as much as they need to be and the atmosphere is light and welcoming, with only a couple of naff effects, which by WHO standards means this is a technical triumph. Definitely one worth watching, and if you’re interested in getting into the old series, this could be a story to start with.

Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by Alan Bromly
Grade: B+

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