First things first, "Time Warrior" is a story of many firsts. The Doctor identifies his home planet as "Gallifrey" for the first time, adding another fragment to the ever-developing mythos of the show's mysterious main character. One of the Doctor's most memorable human traveling companions, Sarah Jane Smith, makes her first appearance here, instantly adding a lively spark to the show and bringing the women's lib movement (still in its early stages as of 1973) into its overall equation with understated grace and a dash of wit. Next, the Doctor and Sarah Jane come up against the militaristic Sontarans for the first time in the person of Commander Linx. The Sontarans make for great villains, single-mindedly militant and delightfully arrogant, their sleek black-leather battle armor oddly juxtaposed with their almost humorously pudgy potato heads. It makes sense then that they've shown up in several stories over the years (and yet again soon this year), but arguably this their first appearance is also their best. Often they come across merely as cruel bully thugs, but the character of Linx, while including all of that in spades, is complicated just a bit by hints of a sincere code of honor and a sense of fair play, not to mention boyish curiosity. Then too, just in terms of make-up and costume, Linx wins out as the most visually convincing Sontaran so far, and Kevin Lindsay's performance enlivens the character perfectly. Finally, "Time Warrior" also sees the first appearance of the iconic opening sequence with the multi-colored time vortex that would continue to be used throughout most of the Tom Baker years and in many ways could be said to be the inspiration for the current version as well.
What's more, "Time Warrior" also presented viewers of the time with the first pseudo-historical tale in quite a while. That's bound to strike us as a bit odd today since this format, cleverly mixing historical settings with science fiction elements, seems quintessentially "Doctor Who" as nothing else. Typical, possibly even prototypical. And this is a fine example somewhat vaguely reminiscent of the first (Doctor Who - The Time Meddler (Episode 17) of 1965), taking place in medieval times and involving an alien arming the locals with technologically advanced weaponry, only in this case in exchange for shelter and materials with which to repair his damaged spacecraft and rejoin the ever ongoing war between the Sontarans and the Rutans. The tense and obviously temporary self-interested relationship between Linx and the robber-baron type Irongron is well depicted. Indeed, the story includes a few nods towards the colonialist repercussions of this kind of exchange, and the early scene where Linx steps out of his ship and plants a Sontaran flag in the soil, claiming the planet and its possessions for his empire right in front of the bewildered inhabitants is simply priceless.
And yet it wouldn't do to go reading too far into these sorts of things, for above all this story is an unabashedly lightweight adventure. A meandering one at that, escaping and infiltrating and generally hopping about back and forth from one castle to the other again and again--but in a way that never drags or gets old. A wonderfully crafted script by Robert Holmes continually keeps things fresh and entertaining, mixing humor and any number of classic little moments with lots of thrilling action sequences (by the standards of the day, certainly, and still holding up reasonably well). This one's a real showcase for Jon Pertwee, perhaps one of the more active and athletic actors to play the role of the Doctor, and here we have him sword-fighting and dodging arrows and repeatedly busting moves with his Venusian martial arts and swinging from chandeliers and so on and so forth--never a dull moment. Aye, verily, 'tis classic Doctor Who at its most merry and vigorous. Miss it not!