Friday, 23 January 2015

The Real Hereward

The Real Hereward stands out from previous Journey through TIME stories because it has no aliens, no monsters, no silly sci-fi exposition; it is a pure historical story, of the kind that was common when William Hartnell played the Doctor on TV.

The story begins from the point of view of some Saxon mannys, some small number of years after they lost the battle of Hastings against Norman's army. They visit the house of an old manny and find that the Doctor and Peri are also visiting, and so we are introduced to them from the Saxons' point of view, as outsiders.

"One calls himself a doctor," said the old man. "The other is some sort of companion to him - maybe an apprentice, I don't know. They sound like a couple of half-wits to me - the girl kept muttering about some sort of transport they had."

The Doctor explains that they have lost their "vehicle" in a marsh and arrived at the cottage looking for help. They are believed by the Saxon leader, who in turn says that he and his mannys want
"Food and a good night's rest, old man, and we'll leave you in peace. We're peaceful Saxons - not the murdering savages the Normans call us."

While the Saxons have their noms, the Doctor tells Peri - and the readers - about Hereward the Wake:
Hereward the Wake was the foremost of the Saxon outlaws who led a guerilla campaign against the Normans after the battle of Hastings. He tended to concentrate on the fen country, where we are now."
"Did he win?" asked Peri.
"Don't be silly," the Doctor said acidly. "How could he have won with the Normans safely on the throne for the next dozen or so generations? No, after a while he just vanished into the mist, never to be seen again. They still think he's alive in some parts of twentieth century England, you know."

This is a big dump of exposition but it is educational, being about history. They overhear the Saxons planning to make an alliance with some Danes and "march on London", as well as them letting slip that their leader is called "my lord" even though he doesn't want to be. This moves the plot on efficiently and cleverly.

The Doctor advises the Saxons against trying to go to London, leading on to the best part of the story which is a lengthy exchange of dialogue in which first one of the Saxons lets slip that they know King Harold is still alive, leading to the Doctor realising that their leader is King Harold, who faked his death at the battle and is now pretending to be Hereward the Wake.

This scene is followed by a change of pace - the Doctor heard mannys moving outside, and it turns out that it is Normans. Harold and his mannys prepare to go out to fight them with swords, but the Doctor has a better idea - he has something in his pocket to scare Normans away.

The Doctor drew something out of his pocket, and Peri almost laughed aloud as she saw what it was - one of those battery-driven robots that were so popular with children in her own time. When you pushed the button, its eyes flashed and rolled, it began to walk stiffly forward and spoke in a guttural, stilted, mechanised American accent.

The Doctor's plan works perfectly.

There was a terrified scream, then another, and a third and the sound of running footsteps growing fainter in the distance, while outside a metallic voice was saying repeatedly.: "I am Martin, the Metal Marvel. I can do all sorts of things. I am pleased that we are friends. I am Martin . . ."

Aww, Martin sounds friendly and not scary at all, silly Normans. With the story's main source of peril dealt with and still a whole page to go, there is time for a lengthier last scene than we normally see in these stories.The Doctor and King Harold are now friends, Harold takes the Doctor's advice not to go to London, and his mannys support him. They offer to help the Doctor and Peri recover their "transport" but the Doctor says that is not necessary - which implies that they may have come here deliberately to meet Hereward, rather than by accident.

And finally there is the usual comic moment to end the story on:
As they walked back to the Tardis through the early morning sun-light, she became puzzled. "Doctor."
"Why did you have a toy robot in your pocket?"
The Doctor turned and stared at her. "My dear girl! What do you keep in your pockets?"

This is a short (at 5 pages) but satisfactory tale, with silly moments that fit with the overall serious tone so do not feel out of place. The history/educational moments are brief and do not feel forced, even if the main point of the story may be to deliver them. The Doctor and Peri feel more like a generic Doctor and Companion than their own characters, but that is very much preferable to them feeling out of character as is so often the case.

Overall this is one of the better stories in Journey through TIME.

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