Defining the Doctor: The Time Warrior
Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull continues his monthly series looking at one key story from each Doctor.
Greed brings grief to the whole family, but those who hate bribes will live.
– Proverbs 15:27.
Sarah Jane Smith made her entrance into the world of Doctor Who rather understatedly, wandering into the residential suite (of a UNIT ‘safe house’) casually, perfectly at ease. For an impersonator surrounded by gun-toting soldiers ready to execute any trespassers, she was calm and relaxed: a young journalist with a sense of adventure. Unafraid of the danger that she had placed herself in, she accidently stumbled onboard the time machine of the aberrant Doctor John Smith, and after that her life was changed forever.
The consensus amongst fans of the show is that Sarah Jane is a superb companion and seldom few contest this. Her debut story, The Time Warrior was my first trip to the classic era of Doctor Who; I had never seen an older episode of the show and I started with this pseudo-historical episode. I hold it to my heart, for I think it well and truly, is one of Pertwee and Sladen’s best.
‘Pseudo-historical’ is a term that fans of the show have grown accustomed to. Robert Holmes’ The Time Warrior reintroduced the genre to Pertwee audiences in ’73 and it became an instant success. The combination of science-fiction pawns – Linx and his futuristic equipment – and a historical setting, the far-flung Middle Ages worked wonderfully and it felt right. It could have failed and we were left with a breed-confused farrago and poor introduction to Sarah Jane Smith. Holmes is at his best here delivering a script worthy of Dennis Potter; brimming with wit and creativeness, it started Season 11 off extremely well.
The thirteenth century dialogue is wonderfully well done (“narrow-hipped vixen”) and every aspect of the bygone is accurate. Holmes manages to create a perfect situation that would be suitable in the era shown onscreen, whilst the additional sci-fi elements do not detract from the genuineness of the historical backdrop. Linxs being in the Middle Ages is valid; a craft crashing on Earth has been a well-reprocessed plot strand but used in this case, to me has an unbacked originality. As he is the first Sontaran seen, he is the archetypical warrior the creatures are defined as. His callous attitude and demeanour are a blunt contrast with the asinine Strax of The Snowmen fame. One note-worthy part of Linx’s personality is his similarity to Irongron, the warmongering marauder that grants Linx shelter in his subjugated castle. Irongron is avaricious, greedy for power (see the top quote) and a man hell-bent on getting his heart’s desires. He will kill for what he wants, as will Linx and the pair end up deceiving each other at the same time. This then leads to both their demises.
The Third Doctor in this story is a laid-back and rather fun gentleman, assisting UNIT for pleasure and not for labour. Katy Manning who played his former companion, Jo Grant left in the very marvellous previous story, The Green Death and Jon decided that he would bow out of the role. The situation is a bit like the Eleventh Doctor after the Ponds’ leaving; he is sad and a bit more easygoing. Not exactly grieving but not quite his usual self. The Third Doctor is at his best: mellow and amiable without the stresses of an alien incursion. In his modern day Earth time-stream, not much happens and the events of The Time Warrior are an enjoyable romp as opposed to previous, more serious stories.
Sarah Jane Smith, who in The Time Warrior is a mere novice in the Doctor’s world, keeps her head on surprisingly well. When she first stumbles out of the TARDIS, she doesn’t faint nor panic but attempts to find logic in the impossible scenario she is in. It takes some time before she finally admits she has travelled in time, after accusing Irongron and his band of thugs of being in a village pageant.
In one particular scene, Sarah is disguised as a serving wench and when forced to work harder, rounds on the head and tries to talk feminism into her. It would have been a serious scene had Sarah not blurted out the line: “you’re still living in the Middle Ages”.
To summarize: The Time Warrior is a classic, brief but brilliant. It showcased (!) Jon’s talents as a comical Doctor yet capable of lapsing into a serious persona. If you haven’t seen The Time Warrior, do because if you don’t, you will regret it.