The Time Warrior

Region 1
Region 2
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 70, starring Jon Pertwee)
  • written by Robert Holmes
  • produced by Barry Letts
  • directed by Alan Bromly
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: Investigating the mysterious disappearances of leading scientists, the Doctor teams up with reporter Sarah Jane Smith and travels back to medieval England to confront a stranded alien warrior who has no qualms about making deals with unscrupulous local barons or causing widespread destruction in his wake. Sarah and the Sontarans make their Doctor Who debuts.

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), producer Barry Letts, and script editor Terrance Dicks.
  • "Beginning the End" making-of documentary (30 min.), adding Donald Pelmear (Professor Rubeish),
    Jeremy Bulloch (Hal the Archer), and designer Keith Cheetham.
  • Optional new CGI effects
  • Hidden Easter Egg Trivia & Anecdotes (2 min.)
  • Photo Gallery sound effects & title music montage (9 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Doctor Who 1974 Annual (DVD ROM PC/MAC)

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Robert Holmes gives us another wonderfully written classic to open Season Eleven. Displeasure at being asked to set a story in the past didn't stop Holmes from writing something he and everyone else could enjoy, for the BBC can do medieval stories and castle settings very well and believably, and the addition of just one hostile alien and his small spacecraft can shift the genre into a wonderful culture-clashing sci-fi story. Characters like Irongron, Bloodaxe, and Rubeish bring a lot of humour to the adventure, while the Sontaran Linx, who remains "straight", benefits from the contrast and appears even more threatening than he would have on his own.

I have very few criticisms of this script, but they appear to be habitual flaws for Holmes. The lack of TARDIS interior scenes is inexcusable in my view, as we are introducing Sarah to the show and bringing her on board for the first time, not to mention possible new viewers at the start of the season. Jon Pertwee isn't as involved with most of the characters during episode two as would be ideal, but it is important to note that many of the versions syndicated on television have had at least one scene missing here, which is restored to its proper place on the DVD release. Thankfully the Doctor is quite busy from then onwards. Sarah is pretty touchy about women's rights, but Holmes makes most scenes of Sarah's fighting for equality work well enough as long as she brings the issue on herself by virtue of it being her own pet peeve. The worst bit occurs when the Doctor dredges up a silly comment about the fair sex - its motivation seems to be only a means for Holmes to provoke Sarah, and doesn't seem to be anything that the Doctor would otherwise normally say.

Of course, I will save discussion of the ending for the in-depth analysis version of this review.

Elisabeth Sladen makes her entrance in this story as journalist Sarah Jane Smith, who has probably garnered more votes for best Dr. Who companion of all time than anyone else. Sladen's acting is top notch throughout her long Dr. Who career, always seeming to emote the right response believably for Sarah. There are a few moments where her eyes glaze over slightly and her lines or responses come out a little slower than usual, as though she's taking a few milliseconds to remember them, but these are hardly noticeable and few and far between, and disappear after her earliest stories when she becomes literally capable of living her role.

Both Jon Pertwee and Nicholas Courtney make their roles fun and enjoyable as usual as well. Kevin Lindsay makes a great Sontaran too, defining for them the generally calm and calculated but occasionally explosive ruthlessness that defines their race. This version of Sontaran make-up may have been hell for the actor, but it looks wonderful on screen, particularly previous to the TV era of Michael Westmore of modern Star Trek fame.

I was disappointed to hear Jeremy Bulloch say, in a recent DVD interview, that playing Boba Fett in Star Wars was the first real science fiction that he'd done. Obviously he didn't remember, or think very much of, the role he'd played in "Doctor Who: The Space Museum" (story no. 15), or his stint as Hal the Archer in this story. A pity, since Bulloch makes a good swashbuckling character, and gets to show his face in the story as well. Thankfully, Bulloch comes back for this DVD's documentary, and more than makes amends.

For a director relatively obscure to the Doctor Who world, Alan Bromly seems to do top notch work here. Again, only a few complaints: Sarah's slipping past the Brigadier and the Doctor to get into the TARDIS is not too believable. A bit more planning with designing the sets and blocking out the actors and props might have helped. Also, a visual TARDIS materialization would have been more satisfying than just Hal's confused face and the sound effect. But otherwise, Bromly gets good performances out of the whole cast, and gets the cameras to where they need to be to capture everything with clarity and the right mood and energy. One of Linx's more physical scenes is refreshingly believable and energetic, an achievement considering the difficulties of working in the Sontaran costume and make-up. To my knowledge, Bromly's only other Doctor Who credit is the season seventeen adventure "The Nightmare of Eden" (story no. 107).

Dudley Simpson clearly makes an attempt at some interesting music for this story, notably a deep and bombastic sound for the heavily built Sontaran alien, but doesn't introduce this well, playing instead a lame high-pitched and tired fanfare when the Sontaran first appears and claims the planet. Uggh! It makes one pine profusely for Peter Howell's far superior 1984 Sontaran Anthem from "The Two Doctors" (story no. 141). Even after that, it seems that Simpson hides his best bits under the dialogue, and plays less important, more random music when he has the sound space more to himself. Go figure.

Thankfully, this is a case where the additional CGI effects on the DVD make good improvements over the original, adding the visual laser beams that were so badly missing from the original story. Good job! The re-working of the climactic shot is not as good, making essentially the same mistake as that at the end of "The Ark in Space" (story no. 76).

In the end, "The Time Warrior" gets my nod of approval as the best Sontaran story in Doctor Who. Since the Sontaran race is new to the series here, Holmes is interested in them, giving their representative Linx solid lengths of screen time and an undisputed role as lead villain. The story has a great balance of humour and seriousness, and maintains a tasteful angle on the violent subjects it dives into. The Doctor's peaceful restraint is, in fact, nicely highlighted in the script. "The Time Warrior" is a fun romp, and Robert Holmes finally gets one of his stories chosen as my season favourite. Walt Disney's "Unidentified Flying Oddball" movie (also known as "Spaceman in King Arthur's Court") can eat its heart out.

This story is now available on DVD and VHS video.
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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "Invasion of the Dinosaurs"

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