Rape, history and The Time Meddler (1965)

time meddler

Oh good, I thought. The Time Meddler! That’s a bit of fun. The first pseudo-historical. The first meeting with another time traveller. First outing for a new TARDIS crew. A few nice jokes, a few unconvincing wigs and a few verbal stuff ups from Hartnell. What a jolly old romp!

But I’d forgotten that in the second episode, a woman gets raped. Which makes this story a lot harder to like.

It happens like this: Saxon woman Edith (Anthea Charlton) is home alone when Viking raiders attack her. The next time we see her is when her husband Wulnoth returns home with fellow villager Eldred. Edith is so traumatised she can’t do anything but lie rigid, wide eyed and babbling. Eldred thinks it might be the newly arrived TARDIS crew, but Edith manages to spit out the word “Viking”. The Saxon men then attack the Vikings, killing all but two. Next episode, Edith is up and about and quite chatty with the Doctor, and although shaken, is almost fully recovered. By Episode Four, she’s cheering the Saxons on to raid the monastery and kill the remaining Vikings.

The strong inference – and as the DWM Fact of Fiction (issue 393) points out, it is only an inference – is that she was raped. Nigel Robinson’s novelisation hints at this too (“She recognised the mad lustful gleam in their eyes, and her screams died in her throat”, he luridly writes). As an admirer of this story’s other virtues, I’d like to believe that it’s not intended to be a rape… But I don’t think that stands up to any scrutiny.

What else could have put Edith in that babbling catatonic state? She could, I suppose, have been physically assaulted only. But the lack of any visible injuries does not indicate that. Could she simply be terrified? This doesn’t fit with her rousing calls to action to the Saxon men in episode four. So no, I think the inference rings true.

It’s unthinkable that a modern Doctor Who story would include a rape in its storyline, implied or explicit. In fact, it’s rare for any modern TV drama to cover a topic like rape (Downton Abbey is a notorious recent example) but when done, it is never the casual event shown in The Time Meddler. But 60s Doctor Who has form here; The Keys of Marinus from the show’s first season features an attempted assault on companion Barbara with clear sexual intent. It’s unpalatable but clear that Doctor Who’s early producers saw no problem in portraying rape as a moment of sideline jeopardy in a children’s adventure series. And as if its very inclusion is not distasteful enough, the way it’s dealt with is facile. It happens, it’s over, the woman recovers. We move on.

Let’s look at this problem in story terms. Imagine you’re the script editor and you want to avoid the rape. What are your choices here? In plot terms, the Viking raid on the Saxons’ hut is the catalyst for the fight in the second episode. It’s a husband’s rage for the attack on his wife which lights the spark. The fight is a bit of action in a Doctorless episode, so it’s useful to keep in it place. Plus the aftermath of it leads both Saxons and Vikings to the Monastery (the former with an injured Eldred, the latter seeking sanctuary), where their plot lines will intersect with the Monk’s and the TARDIS crew’s. So if we want to keep that structure in place, can we change the catalyst event – the assault on Edith – so that we lose the rape, but keep the rest intact? (And let’s set ourselves some typical Doctor Who production restrictions; we’re allowed no extra sets nor extra speaking roles.)

The answer is yes. It’s as easy as having Wulnoth interrupt the attack, and have he and Edith fight the Vikings off together. The next scene becomes about rejecting Eldred’s suspicions of the TARDIS crew, because Wulnoth and Edith have now seen the Vikings. Off to fight they go. That’s one solution – no doubt there are others. The point is that another way is easily found if one wanted to.

On to lighter topics, and to the Monk himself. Surely the only one of the Doctor’s enemies to cook him breakfast. He’s a jolly fellow and a creation of Dennis Spooner. He likes to meddle with time, and he’s brought lots of 1960s technology to 1066, like a gramophone and a pop up toaster (way out, man!). And time meddling, as the previous season’s The Aztecs famously tells us, is forbidden. For those who haven’t seen it (how on earth did you get here?), in that story the Doctor rails against Barbara who has plans on tempting some 16th century Mexicans away from human sacrifice, and thus ensuring the civilisation survives the Spanish invasion. “You can’t change history,” barks the Doctor. “Not one line!”

Except that you can, and Spooner himself told us so in his last story, The Romans. In it, the Doctor accidentally starts the great fire of Rome in 64AD. It’s little orphan Vicki who points out to him at the story’s end that he’s changed the course of history. At first, he rejects the assertion vehemently. Then he thinks about it… And laughs like a drain. The Romans says you can change history, and more than that, it’s a bit of a wheeze.

It’s like Spooner watched The Aztecs and said, “well that’s no fun”. Having contradicted its “history is sacrosanct” message in The Romans, he repeats his rejection of it in The Time Meddler by creating the Monk. He’s the first of a long line of characters to be presented as a mirror of the Doctor, and he wants to change established history as much as the Doctor wants to maintain it. He stands for everything the Doctor doesn’t, except perhaps having a good time. His eyes light up when he talks about his time-tastic plans, not with Who-standard maniacal gleam, but with utter joy. Time meddling isn’t just possible, it’s fun. We only need look to Steven Moffat’s series of Doctor Who to see how far that idea’s come.

LINKS to Army of Ghosts/Doomsday: Both have pivotal cliffhangers which are firsts for the series (the respective reveals of the Daleks and the Monk’s TARDIS). And both have the Doctor finding an unexpected guest in the TARDIS who’s destined to become a companion.

NEXT TIME: That was designated… a lie! Get ready for The Next Doctor.

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