In many ways, I have come to think of this serial as the end of the Hartnell era as we know it. Yes we have The Ark, The Gunfighters, and the truly enjoyable The War Machines … but Season 3 feels so disconnected from the (relatively) full picture we enjoy in Seasons 1 and 2, while the Tenth Planet enjoys status all of its own as the first regeneration story.
But, unless our dear friend Mr Morris has found more of Season 3, we can only speculate what it would be like to experience that season as originally intended. Instead, we get to enjoy this traditional four part adventure, noteworthy for a number of reasons. First of all, it is the first story to follow the truly groundbreaking departure of Ian and Barbara in the preceding serial, The Chase. Into their shoes steps futuristic space pilot Steven Taylor – a companion I sincerely lament not having more stories to enjoy. This story is a prime example of he and Vicki working together, and as with The War Machines, it rather makes one nostalgic for the lost material.
Secondly, and perhaps most significantly, it is the first time we meet a Timelord besides the Doctor, in the form of the titular Meddling Monk. While neither Gallifrey (first mentioned in The Time Warrior) not the Timelords (first mentioned in The War Games) crop up, the part played by Peter Butterworth is a fascinating insight into what the Doctor would be like if he ignored the maxim stated in The Aztecs … “You cannot change history! Not a single line!” Unlike later villainous Timelords the Master and the Rani, the Monk is not motivated by evidently selfish motives, instead entranced by the idea of a mankind able to enjoy Shakespeare on television. His plan is to ensure the Norman invasion failed, by preventing the Viking landing in the north of England that weakened King Harold’s forces.
When the Doctor and his companions arrive in 1066 they predictably get drawn into this adventure despite their intentions, but doubtless because of their curiosity! It makes for a largely light hearted and enjoyable adventure, that gets better with each subsequent watch. This adventure is an understated little gem … it is only the greatest pity that so much of Steven’s subsequent adventures are lost, and that we can’t get to see Vicki at all save for one orphaned episode of Galaxy 4. It puts a sad taint on what ought to be an undimmed enjoyment.