The Time Monster, as it appeared on-screen, is a story which embodies both the ambition of early 1970s, UNIT-based Doctor Who, and the failure of that ambition to be adequately supported either by the effects budget or the scripting clarity it needed.
Along with The Mind of Evil, it has always felt like one of the least effective “The Master in disguise” stories, and the central MacGuffin, the Great Chrystal of Kronos, has never really worked as a bridge between the UNIT storyline and the Atlantis storyline. It has always felt a bit like a cut-and-shunt affair, a bunch of fairly standard UNIT running around, a surprisingly small section of Atlantean frolic, despite Dave “Darth Vader” Prowse as a Minotaur, Ingrid Pitt as Galleia, Queen of Atlantis, and Roger Delgado’s Master shamelessly making use of his suave good looks to simply seduce people – because let’s face it, he could have.
A Symphony of Meh – On-Screen
The whole shebang is stitched a little crazily together by the idea of Kronos the chronovore being a source of unimaginable power if you can get it to do your bidding – and… it being rather inexplicably rendered as a bloke in a helmet and a Kate Bush outfit, flapping manically at the screen, trying to look like the ultimate menace and only managing to look like an avant garde bit of nonsense in interpretative dance.
The combination of scripting inconsistency, the overall ordinariness of the UNIT sections, the lack of clear connections to the Atlantean sections (which have a tendency to feel like filler on-screen), and the dire rendering of Kronos all make The Time Monster, as a TV story, a symphony of “Meh.”
Which means the briskness, clarity and freedom to imagine Kronos, unbound by early Seventies BBC budgets, in the novelization by Terrance Dicks is both a great delight, and a great relief.
Here, the Master is lightly but effectively drawn, and his mesmeric influence over people who are world-class scientists in their own right acts to show us his contempt for our whole species.
The whole point of his plan involving Kronos comes through a lot more clearly here, and the parasitical, destructive influence of his simple presence in Atlantis is delivered without any qualms or distraction.
There’s a lot more in the book from the points of view of the Master’s tame scientists, which rounds out the rush of the TV version into something that takes breaths and beats and lets you understand the significance of what’s on the page.
The Culshaw Touch
And what’s on the page, in the best way, is a simple case of the Master among cattle, both in Atlantis and in the Earth of UNIT’s time. The whole thing works to show his supreme willingness to feed the whole species into a meat-grinder without a second thought, despite the charm and insouciance of Roger Delgado’s incarnation of the arch-villain.
Of course, it always helps these things along in audio if you have a skilled actor and mimic to deliver you the characters. This audiobook is read by Jon Culshaw.
He’s the actor to whom Big Finish turns when it needs a Delgado Master, and a Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and while Culshaw came to some of his early fame for a gloriously believable Fourth Doctor impression, he has an analytical ear, and his precise Third Doctor has been evident since he read another – and perhaps the most challenging – Terrance Dicks audio novelization, The Five Doctors.
If you’ve never heard that, by all means go and get it, it’s a thing of wonders. But here, Culshaw does much more than earn his salary. He earns at least three or four with both the joyful recreation of the characters’ voices, and his own warm, mellifluous voice as narrator.
The Time Monster emerges from this audiobook making more sense than it’s ever done before, and a handful of heartbeats in Culshaw’s company as he evokes the UNIT family of the day – and brings out the individuality that Dicks writes into the scientists, soldiers, and Atlanteans – is time that’s both wisely and warmly spent.