Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Doctor Who: The Time Machine

I actually wasn't going to post about this Doctor Who adventure at all. I got out the Myths and Legends box set because I had only watched one out of the three adventures and felt like some Who. It's a funny thing about this set - it reminds me of how Dr Who started off life as an improving educational show in the more worthy BBC mould than the more entertaining ITV mould of much of the TV I write about here. All three of the adventures in the bexed set draw on ancient mythologies - The Horns of Nimon draws on the mythology of Theseus and the Minotaur, Underworld references Jason and the Golden Fleece, and Time Monster is all about Atlantis.
I knew that there was a great fad for all things Atlantean around this time, but didn't know until I looked it up for the purposes of this post how ancient the myth of Atlantis is. It is found in Plato's works Timaeus and Critias, where it is the antithesis of Athens, Platos' perfect state, and ultimately sinks into the sea as a result of losing the favour of the gods. There is a sense in which Atlantis is natural fodder for a Doctor Who adventure, since it is the concept of a highly developed, but vanished, civilisation which has grabbed people's imaginations for centuries. It is of course natural that such a civilisation should appear in these adventures. In fact it appears several times in different adventures, with different details. My own humble opinion is both that there is no point trying to find the location of Atlantis (because it never existed outside of Plato's imagination) and that there is no point trying to make the Whovian mythology of Atlantis hang together, because it never will. One of the popular works on Atlantis around this time was written by Charles Berlitz (of the famous family of language teachers), who published The Mystery of Atlantis in 1969 (before going on to write about the Bermuda Triangle and the Philadelphia invisibility experiment - he really was one of the pivotal figures of the alternative thinking of the time. His writings have been heavily criticised for ignoring real science and preferring mythology.
One thing he was dead right about, though, was the canard that Chronos/Kronos was the last king of Atlantis. In fact he was the Greek personification of Time in pre-socratic philosophy. Chronos is a suitable character to feature in Dr Who as he governs linear time. The other word for time in Greek, kairos, indicates a definite time at which something occurs.
Another element of the various Atlantis myths which this show draws on is the idea that Atlantis was Minoan. Visually the decorations etc are vert reminiscent of anciet Minoan patterns.
This adventure is not a favourite with the fans in any shape or form. The reviews on the internet are downright awful, and I think in many ways I would have to concede they are right. Nonetheless this show is appearing on this blog, which is an indicator that I don't think it is a complete dud and can be watched, with a few provisos.
The key thing which is wrong with it is the obvious one that it is too long. The plot could have been better done in four episodes maximum. Possibly even three. Master, Doctor, conflict, TARDISES, they end up inAtlantis and some cod Greek mythology is mixed in... how is it even possible to spin this out for six episodes. It means that by the time you get to the end you can easily have forgotten what the point of it is. By the final episode you can easily have forgotten that the adventure started off in Cambridge, and could think it is about one hell of a row in yet another fictional world.
On another level the plot works very well. I like all of these Whos which have the Master in, because he provides an interesting counterpoint to the doctor's personality. In this as in all the adventures he appears in, he uses other people and uses other people's weaknesses and preoccupations to try to get what he wants. His presence makes (it is an unfortunate phrase, but I don't have another) an interesting human story. Well, not exactly human, but you know what I mean. He adds whole levels of characterisation and personality to a story which the doctor just can't do alone, and the rest of the cast never can because they are always too much in awe of the Doctor. This is also the Who which has first made me wonder why nobody ever asks why the Doctor is intruding into their time from elsewhere. Well, I don't doubt they ask it frequently, but this is the one which has made me notice that he is himself an anachronism, and somehow intrudes into different ages without bothering to fit in. Not a mistake that Sapphire and Steel ever make!
I'm afraid I'm going to lower the tone with this next criticism but surely it was unfortunate to use the phrase Tom Tit for the time machine. Surely as native speakers (although possibly having spent their lives in more refained circles than what I have) the writers, production staff and cast would know that tom tit is Cockney rhyming slang for something rather unfortunate!
While Tom Baker is 'my' doctor, being the first I remember, Jon Pertwee is my favourite of the TV doctors, simply because I love the personality he gives to the doctor. He is what makes the good side of this adventure for me. I have been wanting to see Pertwee a film called Death at the Windmill for yonks, but have never managed to find a copy of it which was PAL compatible. Perhaps saying this is the most damning thing I could ever say about this show, that the doctor himself is the best thing about it! That said I find the first few episodes are the best for the Whovian atmosphere of the time, and it is once they go to Atlantis it all rather starts to go to pieces. Perhaps I had better note that as so often happens I'm going out on a limb here, and a lot of reviews put that the other way around, actually preferring the scenes set in Atlantis. Oh - I think my absolutely favourite plot device in this one is the way both the Master and the Doctor have an identical TARDIS each.
How could it have been better done? I feel personally there are two different adventures here, one with the Master intruding at a Cambridge college (possibly with the contact with an extraterrestrial power is you must) and the other of a conflict in Atlantis. Possibly Atlantis could have been kept in the story by referring to the events there as something happening outside of the actual plot of this one.
So to summarise, this adventure isn't a complete dud in my own opinion. I have a feeling that most people will either prefer the Cambridge segment or prefer the Atlantis segment. The plot won't stand up to mch in the way of examination, and I have a feeling that it is probably best avoided by people who may be overly critical of the quality of the TV they watch.

No comments: