So at last we’re at the much-maligned “The Time Monster,” a story that fandom tends to dismiss, but there’s nothing in the first episode that warrants its low reputation. There very rarely is, of course. Most Doctor Who tends to start strong and peter out. This one starts with the Master up to no good at a research institute, under the guise of a Greek scientist called Professor Thascales, and he’s apparently working on a teleportation device – transmitting matter through “interstitial time” – but, in an admittedly poor cliffhanger, it seems he’s really doing this as a side to his real plan, which is contacting something called Kronos.
The story was written by Barry Letts and Roger Sloman, and directed by Paul Bernard, and is notably the last UNIT vs. the Master adventure, after the four in the previous season. The notable guest star in part one is John Wyse, who didn’t have a long career in TV or film. It looks like this may have been his second-to-last credited part. His final role was as Mr. Murbles, solicitor to the Wimsey family in the first of the BBC’s 1970s adaptations of Dorothy Sayers novels. I really like the guy.
Other than a general unease that the Master’s never up to any good, our son was neither really pleased nor displeased with this one. It’s really all setup, including the delightful and understated business about Professor Thascales’s credentials. Since he escaped from prison in “The Sea Devils” (perhaps three months previously?), he established the Thascales identity and got this position near Cambridge, but neglected to publish anything for peer review, which nearly trips him up.
(Actually, I’ll tell you the big thing they neglected. Since this is set near Cambridge, they really should have asked Caroline John to come back and play Liz Shaw as a member of the institute’s grants committee.)
Three months works within the best UNIT timeline, but it really is a heck of a rush for all the work that the Master needed to do. I like this idea: the Master escaped from prison, got in his TARDIS, figured out a new plan involving the Greek trident crystal, and started setting everything up years before he first showed up in “Terror of the Autons.” Over the same months that the earlier Master was dueling with UNIT and working with Autons, Axons, Daemons, and Sea Devils in Britain, “Professor Thascales” was in Greece, having obtained the crystal and finding an institute or university where he could get the necessary equipment and funding. Playing the long game’s easy when you’ve got a time machine, as long as you don’t meet yourself, I suppose.
Why not? After all, the most recent series of Doctor Who has shown us that at the precise time that the Doctor and the Master are having this adventure in Cambridge, a much later Doctor has been quietly teaching at St. Luke’s University in Bristol, with a much later Master locked in a vault under the college. I really love the idea that every few months in the 1970s, Nardole would get a morning paper with a story about, say, promotional plastic daffodils being recalled as a health hazard, and pop it on the Doctor’s desk, saying “This is you, isn’t it? Must be. You had something to do with this.”
And the Doctor, never wanting to talk much about the past, would say “That was three thousand years ago, Nardole. I really don’t remember…”