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28 March 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day Eighty-Seven: Checkmate (The TIme Meddler, Episode Four)

Dear diary,

Ever since watching The Aztecs, I've made a lot of reference to a loose 'arc' that runs through these early stories, particularly in the historicals. For want of a better term, in my mind I've been calling it the 'altering history' arc. At various points since then, I've speculated that what we've been watching in these stories is the First Doctor learning about the way history works, shifting from a view that you cannot change it, to the dawning realisation that, actually, you can.

Where this episode is interesting, then, is in the way it gives a slightly different viewpoint to the whole thing. In The Aztecs, when Barbara tries to change sacrificial ways because she believes a more civilised society can be born, the Doctor is very blunt with her: 'You can't re-write history! Not one line!'. At the time, I said that during this stage, early on in his travels, that's what he believed. Across the following historical stories (and culminating in The Romans, in which he becomes the reason for the great fire of Rome), I've suggested that he's discovering for the first time that history is more malleable than he might have first thought.

Here, though, when talking to a member of his own race for the first time (or, at least, the first time that we have seen, and presumably the first time since he left home, Susan notwithstanding), he describes 'the golden rule of time/space travel' as being that you must 'never, never interfere with the course of history'. It would be far more in keeping with the early Doctor's personality for him to have known this all along, and to only be so blunt with Barbara because he didn't want her to mess around with established events.

Tell her that the rules say she can't alter history, and she may argue that rules are made to be broken. Tell her that she can't, or that it's impossible, and there's less of a debate to be had.

And yet, all of this still allows for a learning curve in the Doctor's case, albeit one which stretches far beyond these first two seasons of the show (but so broadly that it would be difficult to keep track of it after The Time Meddler). By the time that the Doctor reaches his Eighth incarnation in the Big Finish audios, he rips a hole in the Web of Time by saving his companion's life. By the time of The Waters of Mars and his Tenth incarnation, he's learnt that he can - or can at least try - to bend time to his own will.

Once he's regenerated into Matt Smith's incarnation, messing around with time to get the desired effect is all par-for-the-course. This little arc, which I've been following for a few months now, becomes a thread that links all of Doctor Who together, very loosely.

Quite apart from all this 'arc' stuff which I keep retro-actively shoe-horning into the early seasons, this has been another great episode. If anything, it all seemed to be over a little quick. The final confrontation between the Doctor and the Monk took place early on, and then the rest seems to fall to the Saxons and the Viking's battling it out, with the Monk caught in the middle.

That's not to say that there isn't still some good stuff involved - Steven is still proving to be a great companion, and I've taken to him in the way I loved Ian in the early days. I hope the quality of writing for the character stays this high outside of a Dennis Spooner script. He's got a thick vein of sarcasm running through him, which helps to make the character seem all the more real.

The Doctor's joy at having tricked the Monk is fab, and it's great to see the Doctor behaving in this way. Throughout the story, it's felt like the Doctor has finally struck the perfect balance between the dark, sinister character from early Season One and the giggling fool we've seen lot so f in Season Two. Crucially, we've had to say goodbye to Ian and Barbara, who the Doctor himself said were treating him like a doddery old man. Perhaps now we're back to seeing a more 'true' Doctor, though still softened by the time he spent with them?

On the whole, the second season has been a bit of a let down for me. While there were several stand-out episodes, there were far more that really didn't chime with me particularly well. I'm excited to be moving onto the show's third season, though, and seeing what it will bring. Of all the Hartnell seasons, the third is the one I have the least prior exposure to (mostly due to the high number of missing bits!), so there could be anything waiting for me just around the corner…

Next Episode: Four Hundred Dawns

Next Episode: Four Hundred Dawns 
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