Doctor Who episode 80: A Battle of Wits (17/7/1965)

I love how bossy Vicki is, telling Steven not to just sit there but to help her look for a secret passage. She combines intelligence (usually on the same page as the Doctor – for example, when they’re operating the Space-Time Visualiser), adventurousness, feistiness and a healthy disrespect for authority. In short, all the hallmarks that are usually associated with lazy press stories about “the new companion”. Every decent future companion follows the template of Vicki. And Maureen O’Brien is absolutely brilliant too.

Hartnell’s back off holiday this week, and finally gets to share some screen time with Peter Butterworth. Perhaps determined not to be upstaged, he’s on top form, particularly when he breaks into the monastery by pretending to threaten the Monk with a Winchester (actually a stick), before donning a monk’s habit, confronting some Vikings, and warning the Monk, ‘No more monkery!’

The parallels between the Monk and the Doctor are even more obvious when both of them are onscreen. They have a habit of talking to themselves about history, both wear ornate rings, and both end up bashing Vikings over the head. They also both try to outsmart each other with clever fast-talking: theirs truly is the battle of wits.

In among all of this, Steven is almost lost as the new companion. His stolid, matter of fact delivery and presence are quite reassuring, though. And he makes a good foil for Vicki. So far, he hasn’t done anything especially interesting though.

What is interesting is the direction. There’s a scene, set at night, on the clifftop, where Vicki and Steven search for the TARDIS. The backdrop is a beautiful, cloudy sky, and the lighting is amazing – it looks like a movie. And elsewhere, Camfield uses the camera to emphasise the big reveals in a way that makes me gladder than ever that this episode was saved. The Monk’s history-changing checklist is a brilliant visual gag that also tells the story without a lot of expository dialogue. And my god, the cliffhanger is incredible. ‘The Monk has a TARDIS,’ says Vicki, incredulously. Given the audience had previously been led to believe the Doctor had built it and Susan had named it, maybe we’re meant to think it’s actually the TARDIS given we’ve been reminded of it’s chameleonic powers two weeks ago. Either way, probably the twistiest story yet just got a whole lot twistier.

 

Next episode: Checkmate

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 79: The Meddling Monk (10/7/1965) | Lie Down To Reason

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