The Speed of Flight
45 minutes each
|Dates||Mar. 9, 1985-
Mar. 16, 1985
With Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant.
Written by Glen McCoy. Script-edited by Eric Saward.
Directed by Pennant Roberts. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
|Synopsis: The Doctor and Peri land amidst a repressive society run by a mutant from the Doctor's past.|
Definitely Second Rate by Dennis McDermott 25/2/97
Timelash has to be one of the more disappointing moments in Doctor Who lore. Not a terribly original story to begin with, it becomes a bad joke with its poorly conceived "plot twists" towards the end. How many people can come back from the dead in one episode anyway?
When you think about it, was there any element to this story, from the time tunnel to the Borad's "aging weapon", that wasn't done better elsewhere? I'm not sure the writer had a rationale for anything he put into the story. (Exception: the Doctor's time delay gadget. That was original.) On the upside, the acting was tolerable, with the exception of the Doctor and Peri sniping at each other as usual and the overwrought performance of Tekker. The actor who played the Borad did a particularly nice job. It's too bad the material just wasn't there.
A Case for the Defence by Tom May Updated 9/6/03 (originally 7/5/98)
Peri: "Is that bad?"Strangely enough, I like Timelash. Despite the unmitigated scorn directed at it in the eighteen years since its inception, and the justified criticism of the general style and realisation, I find it a fun runaround. It is definately the story many fans may well secretly enjoy but profoundly rail against in public. Which is all perfectly understandable; as many of us have been bothered about how Dr Who is perceived, visually, by the wider public. The indubitably tacky and tired production make it an embarrasment, indeed in any sense of 'crediblity'. "Waiting for Godot" this is not... but is an insipid soap opera really more 'credible' and worthwhile than this silly fun? I should say not.
The Doctor: "Bad? No... It's disastrous!"
It all looks decidedly camp; possibly a rarity perhaps in a Season which aimed to instill a bit of the gruesome and generally deploy much rougher edges than did the Davison years. One could say the production is so inept because it drew a short straw... the money presumably going to sanction filming in Spain for The Two Doctors and the visual triumph that is Revelation of the Daleks. The overall camp style, encouraged by certain actors is not necessarily a bad thing in relation to the script. There always has been a place for over-acting and absurd visuals and costumes in Doctor Who; in Timelash, the production and direction positively egg it on it seems. The story is surely not one to be taken entirely seriously, and to get any enjoyment out of Timelash it's better to laugh at the whole ludicrous spectacle.
One of the great follies in JNT Era Doctor Who was the often fractious nature of the Doctor's relationships with his companions, particularly the Fifth Doctor - though to be fair it's really the irritating Adrics and Tegans who are to blame, and they frankly get off too lightly with mild-mannered gent Davison! But with the Sixth Doctor, a turbulent relationship with assistant Peri really worked rather well on the whole. Yes, the bitching can seem excessive; but their arguments make the tender moments all the lovelier. I would admit that this story is not really an example of their pairing at its best; the script doles out some dire dialogue, and it credits Bryant and Baker that they just about sustain their performances. The arguments early on - with an extended TARDIS scene and some farcical 'seatbelts'! - play like caricature versions of the duo's fine exchanges in stories like Mark of the Rani, The Two Doctors and Vengeance on Varos. Having said that, Colin Baker on occasion positively shines in Timelash, gleefully sailing over-the-top on many occasions; the coat taking on its proper dimensions as symbolic of this charismatic, pompous, abrasive yet loveable Doctor. Nicola Bryant is less chance to display much good acting, as writer Glen McCoy seems to want to ignore her character, and just make her a screaming archetype. It's truly pathetic that McCoy/Saward (invariably, if not completely, a bad influence on Dr Who's direction in the 1980s) couldn't think of anything better to do with Peri than chain her up in a dungeon with a derisory monster, and get her to whine continously. A bit of very token botany seems tacked-on, and does little good; truly highlighting how much little effort is generally being put into writing her character.
Better elements in my opinion, are the portrayals of Tekker, Herbert and the Borad. This motely threesome stand head and shoulders above the rest of the rather wooden cast. Paul Darrow relishes his role as Tekker, and delivers an amusingly incongrous mock-Shakesperean performance. His over-played pomposity is quelled by his straight-man, the malignant Borad. The Borad is well-voiced and quite threatening, and is a worthy adversary for the Doctor. H.G Wells, or Herbert as he is always referred to here, is well played and sadly more effective than Peri it has to be said. It is a bit absurd that the regular companion is so neglected, and more so that something of a buffoonish portrayal of H.G. Wells actually works as something of a surrogate! His pairing with the Sixth Doctor is close to inspired, and while he may seem a little stupid for the academic Wells, his influence is for the better of the story. On a very incidental and invariably silly note, the Androids are distinctly an oddity in their bizarre blue-skinned, bleached-blonde hair look and syncopated speech, which is lilting and very nearly jolly in timbre. No need to mention any of the lamentable performances of 'the rebels' (horrid Dr Who stereotypical group given yet another airing) and the ending is pretty cringeworthy in its utter lack of storytelling gumption.
Timelash is a marvellously enjoyable yet shallow showing; it is one of Dr Who's best examples of the unintentionally hilarious, and is thus not too far from the Whovian equivalent of Edward D. Wood Jr.'s 1958 science fiction 'epic' "Plan 9 from Outer Space". It is therefore an under-endorsed adventure; why ever cannot people let go of the need for Dr Who always to be respectable, and just damn well enjoy a jovial viewing of a story such as this? Attend yourself with claret, compelling pizza takeaways and good company, and just enjoy the ride of a seatbelted Dr Who story!
Inconsequential by Daniel Callahan 27/11/98
Vena: "He's dangling on the edge of oblivion!"
Like most fans, I avoid watching what I consider to be Doctor Who's worst. However, as it had been years since I had seen any of my votes for the Top Three Stinkers, I thought it would make an interesting project to watch and review each in turn.
Number three on my list: Timelash.
I remember detesting this one when I first saw it, and I expected to again. I didn't, partly because in order to properly detest something, there must be significant content to dislike. Timelash simply doesn't offer anything substantial except in brief, bite-sized chunks. In truth, it's a hopeless rip-off of The Macra Terror, even though I'd bet neither Glen McCoy or Eric Saward knew of that classic Troughton adventure. That's just how derivitive Timelash is: it's a Xerox of a fax of a good idea.
So what besides the script fails? The sets, especially the inside of the Timelash itself. No real thought could have gone into either that sequence (what a cheap way out for McCoy to locate the 'device of the week' inside the Timelash) or that set (pantomime quality at best). The inside of Wells' cottage is wonderful, but the rest belongs either to antiquated (the caves) or the mundane (the Citadel).
Most of the performances aren't bad, although JeanAnne Crowley (Vera) is far too wooden. Paul Darrow (Tekker) really enjoys himself in the role, although his last minute conversion to the good guy side is mere writer's fabrication. David Chandler (H.G. Wells) acts exactly like a twenty-three year old wanna-be, and he succeeded in entertaining me with his performance. Eric Deacon (Mykros) steals the show, acting up to par with the great Colin Baker, turning in a brilliant performance in a bad story. Nicola Bryant suffers from the Carole Ann Ford effect: she may be doing a good job, but her part is so rotten, who can tell? Finally, that deep baritone, Robert Ashby, offers a threatening villian without going OTT, playing the Borad's underwritten part with skill.
On the mediocre track, Peri is threatened by rubber worms with teeth. Screech. Also, sock-puppet cobras threaten troubled Karfel. Hmmmm. The writer and script-editor couldn't figure out how the Doctor destroyed the missle and survived, so the Doctor never explains. OK.... The Borad had a convenient clone standing by. Yup. H.G. Wells at first wants to stay on Karfel, then inexplicably changes his mind. Huh. And this story is a sequal to a story that never existed. Whatever. By the end, I just couldn't find it in me to bother.
But Timelash offers surprises: given the sets and the budget limitations, Pennant Roberts offers excellent direction, keeping the camera in just the right position to make the fights look passable and the action look interesting. Tracy Louise Ward does a fine job and enters high in the list of most attractive Who actresses. And Colin Baker! Watching for his acting technique was a big pay-off. Why couldn't the BBC have allowed him to continue after season 23?
So Timelash doesn't remain engraved in my Top Three Stinkers list for two reasons: enough good surprises and because it's so inconsequential, at best.
On to the number two in the infamous list: The Twin Dilemma.
Hit and myth by Robert Smith? 28/5/00
Timelash is a bizarre story in many ways; it's trying to be traditional as all get-out, but it doesn't seem to understand all the things about the series it's trying to emulate.
It really feels like it should be Doctor Who painting by numbers. Peri gets to put her botany skills to good (well, some) use for a change, but you get the sense that she only gets to do this because the writer saw Peri's biog and went "Ah-ha, botany! Yes, I think I can slip that in there somewhere..." All the time travel stuff with the burning android is actually quite clever and very Who-ish, but it seems to get shunted into an irrelevant sub-plot and mostly forgotten.
But for every clever bit, the production team do something just so fundamentally dumb that you have to wonder what they were thinking. Pennant Roberts deliberately recast male characters with female actors - which is very commendable indeed in a show that was always so Boys Own and sexist - yet the actual actors he does pick are either incredibly wooden (eg Vena) or so over the top that it isn't funny (or very nearly is; the Doctor-Tekker scene where Colin Baker and Paul Darrow try to out-act each other is almost as funny as the Doctor-Soldeed scene in The Horns of Nimon).
The plot-and-counter-plot of the Borad's is quite good, with Professor Chronotis on the screen covering for the lurking Borad, almost exactly the way the Controller in The Macra Terror covers for the underground crabs... yet by the time we've unmasked not one but two clones (and the novelisation is worse, with a whole regression of fake Borads), the whole thing just seems a bit silly, really. The Borad looks like a classic DW villain: he's a mad scientist, turned ugly monster who has designs on the Doctor's companion. He should be a great villain - after all, he's really not a million miles from Sharaz Jek. Okay, so he is Sharaz Jek. But Jek got away with nifty mask design, a clear-cut ruthlessness of purpose, menacing acting and the frightening sense that he really would rape Peri. The Borad's eyes aren't aligned properly, his plans seem to change on a whim and he wants to, er, marry Peri. But not until she's as ugly as he is. Um.
Yet, like so many of the sixth Doctor's enemies, the Borad is very clearly alive at the end of the story. He's feeding myth again, of course, as he always was. Sadly, as fans we already have that particular myth taken care of. In a story that's desperate to appeal to tradition and fan sensibilities it's just one more frustration that causes us to sigh and say "Seen it before", but not in a good way. The entire story in a nutshell, really.
The set design shows some real thought and style... Herbert's cabin is great and the sort of thing eighties Doctor Who should have been doing far more often. The dullness of the sets is quite consistent and remarkably well taken from the script (in an era when the designers rarely seemed to bother with more than a glance at the script). Yet, although we can appreciate the reason for the lack of shiny surfaces, the whole thing just looks so drab and boring. The designer blamed Colin's coat for forcing him to shift the colour scale to the brighter end. We probably don't know how lucky we are.
Or maybe not. If everything had been really toned down, with some dim lighting (in exactly the way Warriors of the Deep wasn't) then it might have worked. The effects would be better hidden, there'd be more of a contrast with the colourful Doctor and the whole thing wouldn't appear so bloody boring.
What's painful is that you can actually see the cogs turning in the writer's mind. "We've got a whole society that's deliberately founded on the clever SciFi idea that nobody has anything shiny... so we'll liven it up with something bright and outrageous when the Doctor actually goes into the Timelash itself." And every rational thought process tells you this should work a treat... but the tinselly glitter of the Timelash interior is so lame it's laughable.
Frustratingly, of course, the androids are simply exquisite.
The whole climax is avoided with a "Remind me to tell you about that amazing and impossible escape someday" non-explanation. With a bit more class, or in a story high on either comedy value or replete with style and flair, they might have been able to get away with it.
The Doctor gets to dispose of the villain in classic Doctor Who style: he talks the monster into disposing of himself. Except that it just feels wrong, somehow. Instead of defeating the monster by showing him the appalling error of his ways or an appeal to the inner humanity, it takes the opposite approach. The Doctor essentially screams "You're a loser, no one ever liked you and your mother wears army boots!" at the Borad.
Timelash is trying to push all our buttons at once. It desperately wants us - as fans, specifically - to like it. It's showing us Doctor Who's roots with all the H.G. Wells plotting. If this had been a Hinchcliffe story, with some decent design and lighting, we'd be hailing it as a literate classic for all time. Just about every popular H.G. Wells book is referenced somewhere in the story and it all makes such perfect sense on paper for Herbert to show up, feeding the 'present' of the twenty-second season into the 'past' of the show's roots.
All the traditionality is very appropriate indeed for this. We're seeing just how far the show hasn't come in 22 years. If anything, it's regressed from the very different early days into a semi-formulaic runaround. The entire Wells stuff should be a fascinating comment on the nature of the show, but it can't quite seem to figure out where it wants to go with this.
It's practically screaming "Love me!" by giving us a sequel to a Pertwee story that never was, complete with fan paintings (no less!) of the Doctor and Jo. Yet for every attempt at likability it makes, it turns around and laughs cruelly at us. It's trying to fulfill our fantasies by being archetypal Doctor Who, yet simultaneously undermine our expectations for no real reason at all. It's incredibly earnest and incredibly lazy. It's a glittering spectacle of tinsel and brightness, that also happens to be a careful examination of the show's very roots. It's a story trapped between wanting to give us our cake and trying to eat itself.
The whole of Timelash feels tired, as though we've seen it all before, a billion times, yet paradoxically there's no other story like it. It's tempting to say that's a good thing, but there's just (barely) enough good stuff to give us pause on this opinion. Frustrating, indeed.
Poor story or misconceived ideas? by Alan Thomas 19/5/01
Timelash is a story that frequently comes in for a critical slamming. Well, I admit that some aspects of the story are poorly realised, but underneath the surface, Timelash holds some quite entertaining ideas: an oppressive society, ruled over by a being known as The Borad. The Borad appears to be a wise old man, but turns out to be hideously deformed. Fear is in the hearts of all the inhabitants (the Karfelons). The Doctor and Peri arrive and try to help.
These are the ingredients of a run-of-the-mill Doctor Who story - fight the baddie, save the planet. The sad thing is that Timelash had the potential to be much, much more. There are plenty of opportunities for good characterisation in this story, but a lot of the Karfelons are poorly acted and very bland. If the script was adjusted to include less characters, I believe that the serial could have worked better. Colin Baker puts in a trusty performance, although he is more stubborn in this story, whilst Nicola Bryant does her best with a script that gives Peri a very poor amount to do except scream.
Paul Darrow's performance is pretty good. It is a bit OTT, but he delivers rather well. The worst and most improbable idea about this story is the inclusion of Herbert. Why have a young HG Wells in this story? The actor is very poor quality, and I cringe at his every scene. If Wells was an older man, it might have worked. We never seem to have old people as companions or stand-in companions. We should have.
On the whole, Timelash is a story that does many things well, but many things less well. The only thing that seperates it from the other season 22 stories is the lack of violence. Okay, it's a bit childish, but if it's approached in that spirit, it's much more enjoyable.
Time to play devil's advocate by Mike Jenkins 21/11/01
This story is just as much of an underated classic as Revelation of the Daleks or Vengence on Varos (What? Fifty Timelashes with a wet noodle!). The childlike plot and change of locations make this story reminiscent of the Hartnell era. I have always found Colin Baker's Doctor to be a possible projection on what the first Doctor was like when he was younger. The makeup is cheap but what else is new. Critizing special effects and make up in Doctor Who is basically just a cover for the fact that a story isn't your cup of tea.
This is Nicola Bryant's best performance in the series. While she gives a good performance in The Twin Dillema, it's somewhat hindered by the fact that that story is so fundementally unlikeable. Here she's given a good story to shine in. The plot is only critized because we have been used to stories before it such as Mark of the Rani, which require little to no thinking. If it was not for this story firing up the fans brians, Revelation of the Daleks would not be as fondly remembered as it is.
Another good aspect is Paul Darrow. While I'm not a particularly big fan of Blake's 7, he was the undisputed highlight of that show and he is the undisputed highlight here as well, even stealing thunder from Colin Baker, who is usually stealing it from everyone else. The pseudo science is also done just as well here as in any of the Davison stories.
Let's do the Time Lash again! by Steve Scott 9/3/02
So, why is Timelash so awful? Well actually, it isn't. Had Glen McCoy produced Timelash as a school essay he would have undoubtedly received a grade C+ with the comment "must try harder".
It's refreshing to read here a far more balanced selection of reviews for this little run-around than the sheer venom printed in other sources. It's probably because Season 22 may now be viewed without fear of GLE ("Grade Limitation Effect"). I was far too young to experience this, but many fans in 1985 must have been mightily upset when, knowing that their favourite show was (apparently) about to bite the dust in a matter of weeks, they were served up with something that's a little below par. Timelash also hits a raw nerve (or whacks it with a wet pineapple covered in salt), because stylistically it's a throwback to 60s panto Who, thus serving up an uncomfortable reminder to the many twenty-something fans of the day that they're getting all worked up over a children's programme.
Let us then put the soggy pineapple away and look at Timelash from today's perspective. You have to admit that not only is it C+ as opposed to E-, it's also got a lot going for it. Colin Baker's performance is very strong and it's obvious that the actor is doing his up most to enliven a weak script. Paul Darrow as Tekker is clearly auditioning for Iago, with plenty of succulent ham on display. Robert Ashby's Borad is excellently realised with a splendidly rich, villainous voice that probably shook the cardboard citadel to its foundations. Mwah-hah-hah-hah-hah!
To be fair, there's much in this story that can be criticised. "Tacky" is one word that may be used in abundance when discussing this serial (the Doctor's frightened expression as he's about to be thrown into Santa's grotto always raises a smile). Some of the acting is about as riveting as a cheeseboard and poor old Peri gets a really bum deal. The level of padding in the script is astronomical, an amount not seen since Padding of the Spiders over 10 years ago.
Timelash does score bonus points though for its treatment of the Sixth Doctor. Anyone who still believes the myth that the Sixth Doctor in Season 22 is unsympathetic and selfish need only look here. M'lud, I present as evidence for the Defense Exhibit A: the Doctor's mournful reaction as the Borad is dispatched first time around. Exhibit B: the Doc's willingness to position the TARDIS in front of the Bandril missile. I believe they call that "self-sacrifice". Mind you, the Doctor's goading of the real Borad ("your real mother abandoned you when you were a puppy", etc.) is a little off-key.
Must try harder, Mr. McCoy. Pineapple chunks, anyone?
Borad Silly by Andrew Wixon 2/7/02
One summer's evening in the late 80s my parents and I were on a long car journey home when my mother said, 'Andrew, what do you think of Timelash?'
Warning bells rang at once. My mother does not know individual DW story titles (with the possible exception of the classic 'Thingummy of the Daleks'). 'I've seen better,' I replied cautiously, truthful but understated.
'Oh,' said my father, sounding vaguely disappointed. From somewhere he produced a piece of card. On it was Glen McCoy's autograph, with the message 'Best wishes from the creator of the Timelash!' They'd met him at some corporate function or other he'd been speaking at and had selflessly got him to sign their invitation. Well, I have to confess that that autograph was for many years the least prized one in my collection. Yes, less prized than Lee Sullivan's. Less prized, even, than Judith Hibbert's. Because - as we all know - Timelash is a terrible story, one of the show's ultimate nadirs.
And so, despite taping it off-air back in 1985 it must be well over ten years since I bothered to actually watch it. Until now, when my odyssey through the series has reached season 22. This voyage has led me to reappraise so many tales in one way or another. Could even Timelash be rehabilitated?
Er, well, no. Timelash is stunningly, operatically bad. Bad DW is normally painful to watch but Timelash breaks so far free of the shackles of logic and sanity that it really does enter that mythical realm of 'So bad It's Entertaining'. It has virtually no plot. It makes virtually no sense. Trying to review it conventionally is like using a nuclear weapon to knock down a shed. In the end I just sat back and roared with laughter all the way through. I recommend you do the same:
Chortle! as Colin Baker is reduced to shouting his dialogue in an effort to disguise how naff it is. Snigger! at Sparky the Magic Android. Guffaw! at the revisionist presentation of HG Wells, not as a visionary intellectual but an irritating moron. Shriek with mirth! as the Morlock goes 'Ow!' when the rebels shoot it. Ponder! how the Timelash control panel still works after having been gutted at the top of episode two. Be startled! as a decent makeup job and Eric Deacon's performance appear to wander in from a different, better story. And yawn! as for the third time this season a supporting villain gets a faceful of acid.
Everyone involved is clearly enjoying themselves so much it's almost impossible to dislike it. And of no-one is this more true than Paul Darrow, who splices the mainbrace, unfurls the sails and sets out to deliver the single most OTT performance of (at least) the 1980s. He is really quite breathtakingly awful - the man is a priceless national treasure and I am nominating him for a knighthood forthwith. The same goes for the rest of the story - Timelash, OBE anyone?
Seriously, after so many stories in season 22 that leave a nasty taste in the mouth, it's a relief to find, in Timelash, a story that delivers so much simple entertainment - even if not in the way originally envisaged by the writer and director. But pay this no heed - Glen, I salute you.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 31/3/03
When Timelash was first shown back in 1985, I thought it was a pretty good story. I have just watched it recently, and it is still a pretty good story. I have never been able to figure out why so many fans dislike it so much, and it has stood the test of time better than most.
Fans quote the silly android, the bad acting (the "over the top" performance of Paul Darrow being the most quoted, but Herbert gets a fair amount of stick too), a poor Doctor and moaning Companion, the bland sets, the poor set pieces (Doctor and Peri belting up in the console room), pointless references to the past, the poor story and bad monsters. Yet I can think of dozens of Doctor Who stories that contain these things. They are put to one aside on most occasions and the pluses of a particular story are emphasized.
The case for the defence then:-
Silly android? I admit that the Blue Humanoid Android with Blonde Hair is a bit silly, but at least you knew it was an android. Bad Acting? I admit that Paul Darrow's performance is a bit theatrical, but it's always entertaining. As for the rest of the actors, they are not that bad, and Herbert is actually a very likeable chap. The bland sets? I can think of many far more blander, and the main room with the Timelash is actually quite stylish. Poor set-pieces? I have to admit the TARDIS belt scene was stupid, but this is one scene amongst many. Look at the scene in Herbert's country retreat - excellent! The scene where the Doctor goes into the Timelash. Heroic! Poor Doctor and Companion? Colin Baker was always a great Doctor, even if his stories were quite average at times. Peri was moany quite a lot of the time, she isn't worse here, and it is also nice to see her wearing something stylish and more suitable too - she looks better this way. Pointless References to the Past? At least it's not a sequel like so many were in the mid 80s. It actually is quite nice to show the Doctor and companions having extra adventures between TV stories - it's why the best MA's can be so good. Poor story? I quite like it. I like the way HG Wells' Time Machine ties in, something that I noticed on first viewing before any spoilers came out (a rare occurrence this, I hardly ever pick up on things like that, watching the story for what it is, and not what inspiration it came from. That comes later). Even though the Scientist-gone-mad story is hardly original, it's done quite well here. It is stretched out, I'll admit. Probably would have worked better as a 3-parter, there's a number of superfluous scenes that could be deleted. Bad monsters? The Borad is an excellent creation. Brought to life magnificently by Robert Ashby. The look is horrific, surely the intention. The voice is wonderful. The Morlox and Bandrills aren't up to much though, I must admit to that.
Doctor Who fans can be harsh critics at times. This is a story that quite a few have labelled terrible, and it has become fashionable to attack. Everyone has their opinion, it's why reviews are so interesting to read. I must put forward the case for the defence for Timelash though. It isn't a classic, but it isn't a really bad story either - it occupies that ground in the middle. The kind of ground that makes me like Doctor Who so much - a good traditional tale. 7/10
A nice fun entertaining story by Tim Roll-Pickering 11/6/03
Cast your mind back in time...
The time: Early March 1985.
The place: Britain.
The event: The 'Cancellation Crisis'
Doctor Who apparently totters on the brink of being cancelled and fans rush desperately to save it. They set out to prove the series' values and look to the next story as a great symbol of just why the programme is so good.
The next story is... Timelash.
Few stories can have had a first transmission in such ominous circumstances as this one. Many fans were busy disputing the attacks on the series but a traditional simple tale that is at times a deliberate send-up was not what they needed to back up their arguments. Is it any wonder that Timelash has been criticised to the point that it is rare to find a 'Bottom Ten Stories' list that doesn't include this tale? This is a terrible shame as there is so much going for this story.
As one reviewer once said, this tale is almost like Doctor Who's equivalent of The Rocky Horror Show. In many ways it is a parody of the traditional science-fiction genre in which unlikely heroes are transported to distant worlds to fight strange monsters, rescue screaming heroines and overthrow tyrants before returning home. Numerous clich? are wheeled out in this story, ranging from the clone of the Borad, the attempt to explain a legend (in this case the Loch Ness Monster again), the vision of a devastating war that will wipe out all intelligent life, the tacked on ending, the rampaging monsters, the androids, the alien society where we only see a few individuals, the rebel groups, explanations being ducked and so on. Add to that a non-sparkling production and it would be extremely tempting to write this story off as a great mistake and an embarrassment to Doctor Who fans everywhere in their time of need.
And yet Timelash is so much more than this. Its roots are all too clear and indeed it is prepared to trumpet its debt to the works of H.G. Wells by featuring the man himself, showing him the inspiration for many of his works. Herbert is a typical young Victorian gentleman bound by the era's notions about the role of women and superstitions whilst eager to explore new lands and escape the confines of his home society. At times Herbert gets in the way but he behaves very much the way any ordinary person might behave if transported to a strange new world, clinging to the familiar and determined not to lose his only chance of getting home. Timelash may not be the most original of stories, but it does try to entertain, whilst at the same time makes an effort to develop some ideas, such as the Doctor's use of the kontron crystals. Glen McCoy's script may not sparkle but it does at least try.
Of the cast only Paul Darrow really stands out, delivering a very full of life performance as Tekker whilst the rest give straightforward performances that don't stand out at all. The production of Timelash is cheap, with the Timelash itself being extremely glittery, but there is at least an attempt to explain it in terms of the script through the Borad's inability to look at his own reflection, whilst the Borad and the Bandril ambassador are both realised exceptionally well. The music and direction of Timelash do help the story no end though, and the result is that this is in fact a highly watchable story that can bring great enjoyment. The best way to watch it is to treat it as a send-up of the series rather than a serious story and try to join in the spirit of things. 8/10
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 7/7/04
It's no big secret that Timelash isn`t the greatest Doctor Who story of all time; although depending on your mood it can be great fun. More often than not Timelash can be viewed as a story that is so bad it's good. The plot is very traditional - the Doctor helps a planet overcome its tyrannical leader; so far so good - however its not enough to sustain the episode lengths.
The acting is variable, Paul Darrow deliberately hams up the part of Tekker for all it's worth, and is actually the most watchable part of the story. Similarly Colin Baker makes the most of a bad situation; his exasperation with David Chandler`s Herbert being the most obvious case in point. (Indeed Colin Baker often looks as if he wants to punch him.) The only other noteworthy performance comes from Robert Ashby as the Borad, being coldly malevolant throughout. Unfortunately the rest of the cast are terrible. Nicola Bryant delivers her worst perfomance and in doing so makes Peri genuinely irritating, although this isn`t helped by the fact that she spends the majority of the story being molested by a rubber monster.
The effects are also notably poor for this story; the Timelash itself looks cheap thanks to the tinsel that adorns it, and the Bandrils whilst cute in a sock puppet kinda way do little for the story. That said, the androids and indeed the Borad do actually look quite visually striking, but this isn`t enough to save the story. If you want to show someone an example of every cliche that has ever been levelled at Doctor Who, then show them Timelash - and you won`t go far wrong.
We are not worthy... by Joe Ford 17/12/04
I had to prepare myself for this one folks. The last time I watched Timelash I fell into an undead coma, lost nineteen years of life and awoke to find the Labour Party in charge of running the country (Gah!), Marathons had changed their name to Snickers (shrug) and that some mad Scottish ferret stuffer managed to dwindle away the population of Doctor Who viewers by playing the lead role so ineptly it led to the series cancellation (this was enough to force me into an uncontrollable rage and track down Mr McCoy strangle him. He did the OTT eye-popping, gagging thing). You have to understand my reaction to Timelash was due to its astonishing production values, Shakespearean acting and challenging script. My coma was self-induced, due to keep me out until the show could offer me something THIS good again and my subconscious self, fully aware that the series would return next year, saw this as the ideal time.
The word masterpiece is used far too regularly (especially by me) but in a case like Timelash words fail me to how wonderful it is and the label is well earned. Its usual place in the Doctor Who polls backs up my statement completely, following in the tradition that any Doctor Who story with the word time in it will be an absolute classic (other sterling examples include The Invasion of Time, Time-Flight and Time and the Rani). And the fact that you can have some fun with the title, wobble the words around a bit and re-arrange to the words Lame Shit is entirely co-incidental.
Go and read the various probing essays written on this very website on this drama and you will understand why it is held in such high esteem, wedged between The Snowman and Only Fools and Horses (Geriatric special) every Christmas. It is the subtlety of the story (especially from its lead actor, Colin Baker, popular big screen entertainer and never ending Oscar winner) that gives it its charm and the cutting edge special effects that verge on Matrix quality (the astonishingly realistic Bandril! You'd swear it was real!) that knocks spots of its contempories (such as the overrated Vengeance on Varos and the abysmal Revelation of the Daleks).
The relationship between Colin Baker's Doctor and Nicola Bryant's Peri has always been held in high regard by Doctor Who fans and Timelash must surely see them at their peak. How they expertly argue and bicker and row on and on without it ever seeming tiresome or time wasting is a constant amazement, their dialogue is groundbreakingly dramatic for Doctor Who (the "bad! Bad! BAD!" moment is so realistic it is worthy of Eastenders!). Indeed you will be astonished to discover a scene was inserted into episode two with the Doctor and Peri shouting at each other but such is the power of the scene and the strength of the acting that nobody has ever spotted it. That Eric Saward... the best script editor Doctor ever had, he is so good at this invisible padding... who would have guessed that the similarly gut wrenching scene between the gorgeous Adric and my personal favourite companion Tegan in Kinda was also padding? Not I!).
This story sees Colin at his most triumphant, crossing verbal swords with the great Paul Darrow (another actor of great status) as the main baddie Tekker (who during his breathtaking Shakespearean speeches justly earns his position as BEST Doctor Who villain). He also gets the chance to show off his comic potential in a number of gut-splittingly hilarious comedy scenes with young Herbert Wells, how they timed Herbert slapsticking his way through his cottage trying to exorcise the Doctor brings tears to my eye right now. What's more he is given the opportunity to mingle with some more magnificent BBC special effects when he pops into the Timelash (how they managed to CGI in tinsel and Lego bricks is legendary and a clear prelude to similar effects in big budget films such as Matrix and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones). I hear it was Colin's subdued, controlled performance in the climax where the Doctor expertly defeats the evil Borad by tricking him into the Timelash (the way he expresses the line "NOBODY WANTS YOU!" so eloquently haunts me to this day) is the one that saw him headhunted for the James Bond films.
Nicola Bryant must have fainted when she got the script for the opportunities it afforded her. Whilst her fellow actresses of the time were wasted on roles that saw them giving emotional and affecting performances, Nicola was tied to a pole and allowed to scream for a year and a half. She also effectively blows a raspberry at a potted plant and gets to be the love interest for a mutated walrus. She must look back from her work on The Biz and cringe, this was surely the best piece of television she would ever perform in, she should have given up the profession and stuck to doing audio drama instead.
How the script effortlessly suggests a large population but only displays half a dozen citizens is masterly ("What? All five hundred of us?"). It is a script that is often held as an example to incoming writers to the BBC, how it breaks all the rules and offers something truly unique. Firstly there is the legendary dialogue ("Avant thee, foul fanged fiend!"), the delicious plotting (the story pulls of a spectacular coup at the climax by duping you into thinking the Borad has been defeated by the Doctor shooting him down! But by slipping in the clue with Agatha Christie precision that the Borad is a dab hand at cloning we are suddenly confronted with the knowledge that it was a clone all along! The real Borad is alive and holding Peri hostage! Gasp! Move over Sixth Sense! This is what I call a real surprise ending! And I didn't even notice the false ending was only two thirds through the episode such was its believability and climatic nature!) and the clever way the tale mimics all of HG Wells tales to suggest that this was the adventure that led him to writing The Time Machine and The Invisible Man and the others (and what a worthy adventure for those mediocre science fiction to be based on, far inferior to Timelash's quality).
You know in all those quality American sitcoms like Will and Grace and Friends (Timelash is the only story that dares to approach the quality of these two shows) when the regulars walk through a door and get a well deserved round of applause for three quarters of the episode (oh come on... coming through the door acting is bloody difficult!), well I do this every time Vena first appears in Timelash, Doctor Who's answer to Joan Collins turning up in Star Trek, Jeananne Crowley being the most prominent and proficient guest star in the show. Her ability is endless, how she manages to stare into middle distance throughout with a blank, expressionless look can only be the work of a seasoned actress and her monotonous dialogue delivery is brilliantly consistent. I see the character devised as some sort of robotic nomad who is so under the thrall of Karfelon oppression she cannot express a shred of emotion and Crowley does an outstanding job of reaching to the audience with her affecting portrayal.
Push off Dudley Simpson you talentless hack! Get stuffed Mark Ayres and your synthesised twaddle! For one hour and a half only you will be treated to Elizabeth Parker and her team (surely an entire band, the music is so orchestral!). Gasp at the drama as she punctuates every one of the androids footsteps with a sting and adds flavour to the action sequences with an 80's disco type beat. I almost play the Timelash soundtrack as often as my Mozart one.
You have to admire how Timelash pities stories of a less superior nature, allowing fans to at least have something nice to say about the lacklustre Caves of Androzani ("Cor! That's just like the burning android in Timelash!"), Revelation of the Daleks ("Wait a sec, guv'nor! That fake Davros is just like the Borad!") and 2001 ("Wow geezer, dontcha think that android talks like the theme music?"). Timelash is indeed a benevolent story.
Pennant Roberts certainly was lucky in the eighties, securing both Timelash and Warriors of the Deep (the second best Who story ever and popular with Michael Grade as to why it broke his heart to cancel the show in '89). After such disasters as The Sun Makers and The Pirate Planet he could finally show us what he was made of! The pace of the story has a deliberate sluggish feel, no doubt to emphasise the quality of the actors he has chosen. His camerawork expertly lingers over the detailed sets and costumes (who said the BBC designers only put effort into their historicals?) and how he handles his action scenes, so gobsmackingly slow only goes to highlight the detailed choreography.
The one aspect of the show that disappoints is the Borad's make up which fails to live up to the standards set by the rest of the production. Strange, since Roberts managed to so effectively shoot his monsters in Warriors of the Deep, giving them an organic feel that made Walking with Dinosaurs hide behind the sofa in embarrassment.
In all other areas though you are looking not a Doctor Who classic (stick that in your pipe and smoke it Keenan and Morris!) but THE Doctor Who classic! Alas I have just watched the thing again so I will see you in another nineteen years. Hopefully when I wake up the Monster Raving Loony Party will be in control and Gareth Gates WON'T have had a shot at playing the Doctor (come on they chose Sylvester McCoy, anything is possible!). I live in hope...
The Lash-Up of All Time-Lashups… by Keith Adams 15/1/06
It's very hard not to be critical of Timelash. It's a cheap story and it shows badly.
Firstly, take a look at the rest of Season Twenty Two. A lot of money was spent sending the cast and crew to Spain in The Two Doctors; money was spent getting guest cast such as Patrick Troughton, Kate O'Mara, Anthony Ainley and Frazer Hines; money was spent on Cybermen and Dalek armies. Timelash seems to be the cheapy of the season - it's entirely studio-bound and far, far too bright and colourful with tinsel and flashy things everywhere -it feels tacky. The Bandrils are poor hand puppets and the Morloks are very unmenacing. This is a shame, because I think that the actual story is rather good. Imagine how menacing this story would have been if the whole affair had been darkly lit, with the baddies lurking in the shadows. Imagine how much more impressive the Borad and the morloks would have been if they were virtually unseen...
Money aside, the story as I said, is fairly decent. It reminds me a lot of The Macra Terror, where an unseen evil presence is draining out the planet's resources, whilst the people live in fear; even down to the puppet controller who appears on the monitor screens. In this case, the Borad is a creature who fears it's own reflection and wants to eradicate beauty, leaving only himself and his mate (a disfigured Peri) to rule and populate the planet. Unfortunately, the actual plot doesn't fit into 2 45-minute episodes, it'd have worked better as 2 25 minute episodes. The scenes at the end of part 2 where the Doctor firstly argues with Peri and then with Herbert in the TARDIS feel horribly forced, serving as nothing more than padding for a story that ran out half way through the episode. Similarly, the re-appearance of the Borad at the end is a bit silly, as is his exile from Karfel. And this is where I point the plot holes: how many more Borads are there lurking on Karfel? The Borad looks nothing the Loch Ness Monster; What is to stop the Borad from trying to take over the Earth? How does Peri recognise a picture of Jo Grant? These fluffs could have been fixed during the script-editing stage.
Given the material they have to work with, the cast really don't do such a bad job. Colin Baker is the shining star in the piece, he always throws himself into any Doctor Who production with such vigour and boundless enthusiasm. He's a very big presence on the screen and it really is a shame that we didn't get more seasons from him. Nicola Bryant is thoroughly wasted in the story, having little to do other than being kidnapped and rescued a few times (and being shouted at). I found the Herbert Wells character to be very irritating, his following of the Doctor relentlessly and constantly complaining in that false accent became tiresome after a while - a better actor could have played this part much, much better. Paul Darrow's Tekker is a joy to watch - he's deliciously treacherous here. Extra praise goes to Dean Hollingsworth for his android acting - a superb job.
On the whole, the word that sums up Timelash is: CHEAP. The premise behind this story is decent, just lost under a pile of bad effects and poorly developed characters who have little to do. I'll watch it because I'm a huge fan of Colin Baker, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it to anyone who isn't a die-hard fan.
The Sting of the Lash by Greg Long 24/5/08
Fan wisdom has it that Timelash is bad. Fan wisdom has it right. The story has strengths as well as weaknesses, but in the end, the things that work are buried by the things that don't.
Let's start with the good. The idea of the Doctor returning to a planet that he has saved before in an untelecast adventure is a great one. The idea of introducing H.G. Wells into a Doctor Who story was way overdue. Robert Ashby gives a terrific performance as the Borad and his makeup is wonderful. The robots half worked, with fine acting and lovely vocal effects, though with an otherwise lousy costume. Some attempt is even made to give Peri a character, by making her interested in local plants. So much for the good. On to the bad.
Almost nothing in the plot makes sense. The Borad has somehow taken over an entire planet without anyone seeing him. He has successfully banned mirrors without people becoming obsessed over why he would do such a thing. He has also devised what must be the most insane method of execution ever. Instead of just shooting people, he expends an enormous amount of power to send them to a random destination in space and time, possibly to somewhere from where they will plot their revenge. That's just the setup. Once the story gets going, we get oddities like the Borad deciding to marry an alien without giving her a medical examination, the Borad leaving Peri alone with a monster in order to physically transform her rather than taking care of it in a lab under controlled conditions, the Borad allowing the Doctor into his presence without taking his McGuffins away first, and the Doctor knowing that smashing a portrait would reveal a mirror causing the Borad to be so horrified by his own reflection that he would instantly suffer an immediate psychological collapse. Sometimes the plot simply cheats, such as when the Borad survives through super-cloning powers that were never mentioned before and, most spectacularly, when the Doctor survives a missile attack by means that are never explained at all.
One particularly glaring problem is that, for a citadel that is the seat of government for an entire planet, the scale of this story is incredibly small. The ruling council has to share a room with the death chamber. This same room only ever has one guard at a time, allowing it to be easily taken over by a small group of rebels. The corridors leading off this room seem to be directly connected to a cave system in which both rebels and monsters can safely hide. In fact, the authorities don't even bother to lock the doors between the two areas. The dictator of the planet interviews criminals personally and without even the presence of a single guard, even when he knows full well that one of the criminals is a Time Lord. When that same dictator returns from the dead to confront our hero, he comes in person and on his own. Doesn't he have minions or something? Hilariously, the Doctor even tells Herbert at one point "if I'm not out in ten minutes, find Peri", knowing full well that Peri has been taken prisoner by the government. Just how easy does he expect finding Peri to be? Are there really only a few rooms to this civilization?
Characterization, frankly, is bad. The Doctor isn't simply acerbic, he is a bully. Peri is a simpering idiot prone both to pointlessly antagonizing her captors and pointlessly obstructing the Doctor when millions of lives are at stake. Maylin Tekker, as much as I worship Paul Darrow, is a cartoon villain right down to the evil laugh. He is supposed to be a cunning, scheming politician, yet shows neither charm nor guile, trying instead to make enemies of everyone he can, even when he needs their help. H.G. wells is simply inhuman, failing to get very excited when he thinks there are demons in the room and even looking forward to a heroic death.
We can forgive the cheap props but it is harder to forgive the clumsy lighting and editing that highlights their limitations. The worst offender here is the head of the Moloch that, while not so bad-looking in itself, spends about ten minutes just nodding up and down in front of Peri. The impression given is that the Moloch is, in fact, a friendly monster and is trying to convince her to pet it.
Timelash isn't the worst example of Doctor Who on offer and unlike horrors such as Delta and the Bannermen, Bad Wolf and Love & Monsters, there is nothing wrong with the ideas driving it. Rather, it gives the impression that they just didn't have time to get the script and performances right. This makes the title more than a little ironic.
A Review by Michael Herman 3/7/08
I am not going to kid myself here, Timelash is not the best Doctor Who story I have seen. With that said, let me let you in on my issues with this story, and then I'll go back and find what I like about it. Paul Darrow (some say he was worth watching) was a bit too over the top for me, and however was very unlikable, so I believe that could be what his aim was. I did not particularly like the monster that could not get to Peri due to either a chain, or the fact that it had run out of rubber neck before the whole machine was revealed beneath. Peri looks great in the show, but her voice and style were a bit more annoying in the first episode, especially ins cenes with the Doctor. Finally, the low quality of design/direction did not help the story.
However, I did watch this story as a younger kid, and as it was one of the first stories I had seen and remembered, I can recall pretending with my younger sister the whole "falling into the Timelash" routine. (I have also seen this story since then). I think the general concept and plot were actually well conceived. The Borad proved to be an excellent baddie, and I must admit it was nice to have a more suave and cold evil presence, as opposed to the loud pressence of some of the other foes we have faced. Likewise, Sezon proved to be a more interresting character, and I liked Colin's performance. The HG Wells idea was conceived nicely, and I liked the Colin Baker scenes with Herbert in the TARDIS as they prove to be funny, yet important as well. Peri improves in episode two and genuinely feels sorrow for the loss of the Doctor. The Kontron Crystal and time manipulation device the Doctor makes was nice, and the androids worked very well indeed.
So, for me, this story did hold some nostalgia, and some great concepts. However, the execution on all these concepts could not live up to the potential of the story itself.
A Review by Harry O'Driscoll 1/4/10
According to the 2009 DWM poll, Timelash has managed to go down as the second worst story in Doctor Who history, aAbove only The Twin Dilemma. However, I believe it deserves to go one place lower in the poll as the biggest piece of tripe ever in Doctor Who.
The plot, to put it frankly, stinks. It is nothing special and seems to be written down for the audience. The whole thing is contrived and written sloppily. The Borad plans to provoke a missile attack on the planet which, only the Morlox can survive which is convenient as he is half morlox now. He'll then breed with Peri who he didn't see until five minutes ago. He is aged to death by his own weapon. Oh wait! He had a clone hiding all along, so why did he want to breed with Peri in the first place?
The guest cast are made out of total cardboard and you couldn't care less if they get killed or not. The only character with only substance is Herbert, who is just irritating throughout. The whole idea of him being H.G. Wells has just spoilt the great idea of the Doctor meeting him. By finding out only at the end we are given no chance to bask in the Doctor meeting him. It's a good idea, terribly executed.
The subplot about the Doctor being here before in his third incarnation is not bad in theory. It's good to show that the Doctor has not been to everywhere just once. But from a narrative perspective all it does is alienate any casual viewers. The Borad is forgettable and cliched, giving tried and tested lines such as "Choose your words carefully Doctor, they could be your last." There is no menace in this so-called superior Borad with so much strength and intelligencer that we never see. All he does it sit in a chair, gunning people down. One final bone to pick is the ending, where the Doctor destroys the missile with the TARDIS, supposedly something he could never survive and he shall surely die. Oh wait! He survived. How did the Doctor survive that one? Oh, he doesn't want to tell us for some reason. The least Glen McCoy could have done is written in some technobabble.
So is Timelash the worst Doctor Who story ever? If you can think of a worse one let me know.
Beekeepers and Tinsel by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 17/7/12
So is Timelash long overdue for a critical re-evaluation? Well... probably not. I first saw Timelash about six years ago and I didn't instantly hate it. I've watched it several times since then and I still don't hate it despite its hideous reputation. I don't think we're looking at a rough diamond here. No amount of revisionist thinking is going to turn it into some kind of overlooked classic despite the fact that the passage of time seems to have resulted in a somewhat more favourable view of the Colin Baker era. It isn't what one would call a great story, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I genuinely believe that it is a perfectly enjoyable adventure for the time in which it was made. The simple fact is that Timelash is nowhere near as bad as its reputation would suggest but it doesn't matter, because it's a story which has always been crucified because of that reputation. In some ways, it's a more straightforward runaround than anything else in Season 22. It isn't a painfully self-aware conglomeration of fanwank like Attack of the Cybermen, it isn't a smart-arsey statement about television violence like Vengeance on Varos and it isn't oh-so-self-consciously trying to be some kind of classic and failing spectacularly like The Two Doctors.
Some of the acting comes across as a bit lame, but that isn't always the fault of the cast. The people behind the camera are supposed to lend support to those in front of the camera, but it doesn't always seem to be the case. The only irretrievably bad member of the cast is David Chandler as Herbert. If he had been portrayed by a better actor and the production team had been on the ball a bit more, then the standard of onscreen thespianism would probably be more appreciable. Revelation of the Daleks has always been one of the more popular Colin Baker stories and it's easy to see why, though in all honesty I'd probably rather watch Timelash. I was never a huge fan of Revelation of the Daleks anyway and I saw it many times as a child and as a result I'm somewhat fed up with it. A sign of insanity on my part? Who can say?
The less desirable aspects of Timelash are no more embarrassing than those found in most Colin Baker stories, The Twin Dilemma, The Two Doctors and Terror of the Vervoids all being prime examples. I have no wish to vilify Timelash above and beyond these stories; I just don't think it's fair and I certainly don't see how it's justified. It's true that I have no desire to watch Timelash with a non-fan, but then again I have no particular desire to watch any of the Colin Baker stories with a non-fan. As far I'm concerned, they're for private consumption. I don't want to come across as harsh, but quite frankly they're just too much of a liability. They're sitting ducks for the kind of criticism that has always been applied to Doctor Who and I have no desire to provide people with easy targets.
The endless bitching between the Doctor and Peri continues unabated. As tiresome as these scenes can get, they've become an intrinsic part of their repartee. It seems to be underpinned by a genuine fondness for one another; it isn't the constantly pissed off sniping of the Fifth Doctor and Tegan. That doesn't mean to say that I'm wild about it, oh no. The repetition of the word 'bad' in the early TARDIS scenes is more or less amusing but no more than that. I think the only time that the bitching between these two has been genuinely funny is in The Twin Dilemma and much of that was due to the rather extreme behaviour brought about by the Doctor's regeneration. It isn't a great story for Peri really. She's a bit pathetic and screamy when she's being menaced by the Morlox. Whereas you or I would have hotfooted it out of there, she simply stands around being helpless. And yet again somebody fancies her. Don't get me wrong, nobody is disputing Nicola Bryant's beauty and, like Mary Tamm, she seems to have gotten even more attractive as she's gotten older but come on... It seems she can't go anywhere in the universe without attracting attention. Not only does the Borad want to marry her, but it seems even the Android fancies her as well. Very realistic. Colin Baker is always on top form and this story is no different. He really doesn't deserve to take the flak for the faults of the show during this period; he was a wonderful Doctor through and through. His sparring with Tekker is fun to watch, especially when he very dismissively tells him to shut up and go away in the Borad's vault.
The script has its fair share of unwieldy pronouncements. The Doctor's description of Tekker as a "microcephalic apostate" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, nor does the Borad's "expedition into the realms of duplicity". The Borad also paraphrases Goldfinger. Tekker's "burnt out android" moment is hardly electric either. In defence of all this ripe dialogue, at least the actors seem to be having fun with their delivery of it. In terms of plotting, it does make a refreshing change for the Doctor to arrive on a planet and the population accept him for who he is rather than suspecting him of something terrible.
In production terms, Timelash is a bit of a mixed bag. The sets are functional and largely convincing, but on the whole they are bland. This may have been a deliberate move on the part of the production team to fit in with the idea of the Borad taking the woefully impractical measure of removing all reflective surfaces. The blandness of the citadel is mentioned in the script after all. The caves make a nice change from the turgid white corridors with their low lighting and griminess. The Board's vault marks the middle ground between these two extremes. It is suffused with a sickly greenish brown light, but I personally think that they should have opted for a lower level of lighting. The obvious flaw with regards to Karfel is that, when seen from the outside, the planet looks barren and airless, certainly not the sort of place that would support a flourishing civilisation. I think the problem with a lot of late Eighties Doctor Who is that it lets its stupid ideas get in the way of its clever ones and the really frustrating thing is that it would only have taken a bit more foresight on the part of the writers and script editors in order to remove those ideas in favour of something else. Having the Borad throwing his victims down the Timelash is all very well in itself, but having them all showing up in medieval Scotland is just daft in my book. Why there of all places? The Timelash as a concept is quite neat and I like the idea of all those crystals growing inside it like they're attached to some kind of temporal reef, but the realisation of it leaves a little to be desired. It's essentially a pyramid full of tinsel. Yes, that's right. A pyramid full of tinsel. Oh well.
The Morlox is not too bad to look at, but it loses most of its credibility when it starts moving and growling. It's a bit too feeble to be genuinely menacing. I've seen worse of course. Just take a look at Invasion of the Dinosaurs. In fact, you don't have to further than this very story. The Bandril makes the Morlox look worthy of a design Oscar by comparison. I'm sure the terms 'glove puppet' and 'sock puppet' have been aimed at it on many occasions, but they're absolutely spot on. Every time the Bandril Ambassador appears on that screen, it looks as thought the Karfelons are tuning in to watch television for toddlers. A much better example of make-up and menace is the Borad himself. He looks thoroughly unpleasant and keeping him unseen until near the end of the story was an inspired move. Robert Ashby gives a wonderful performance, mostly with his voice alone since we don't actually see much of him for the majority of the story. I thought the cloning idea was unnecessary and far too tacked-on to be convincing, but it's the only gripe I have with the character. It's a shame that such a great performance is to be found in a story which most people hate.
I do quite like the costumes for this story. They all have that wonderfully baggy look, though they are somewhat of the period in which this story was made, as exemplified by the Android's shoulder pads. Actually, the Android looks as though it's wearing the curtains. There isn't much sartorial variety going on apart from Vena, which is either an example of a lack of imagination or an exercise in creating a recognisable style for the people of Karfel. The Guardoliers are interesting as they appear to be dressed in the style of Beekeepers, complete with face nets.
The characters are variable in quality. Tekker is a horrendously OTT villain and all the more watchable for it. I adore Paul Darrow; I think his portrayal of Avon in Blake's 7 was nothing less then mesmerising making him one of the most interesting characters in British television history. It's fair to say that it's a very large performance. So large in fact that he's practically gorging himself on the scenery, but I don't think he's taking the piss either. He's playing it straight, but as someone who is clearly corrupted by power and has a fairly weak grip on reality. He's actually genuinely nasty, as demonstrated by his having Kendron killed just to stop the Borad hitting the roof and taking it out on him. However, I'm not entirely sure what to make of his defiance of the Borad at the end. It's been suggested that he has a change of heart, a repentance if you will. Or is he simply unimpressed at the prospect of being wiped out along with everyone else?
Neil Hallet gives a strangely dignified performance as Maylin Renis, although he doesn't last long enough to make a huge impression. Eric Deacon is firing on all cylinders as Mykros and, like Colin Baker, he's putting in a lot of effort and determination. Vena is charming but somewhat limp. She doesn't seem that horrified to learn that her father is dead and that line about "dangling on the edge of oblivion" isn't delivered in the most convincing manner either. It isn't a bad performance; it's just somewhat lifeless. David Chandler is easily the worst offender as Herbert. It's a performance of such irksomeness that it's frequently reminiscent of Adric. He isn't remotely convincing as somebody from 1885, exemplified in that scene when he helps to disable the security camera seemingly without having been told to do so. As if he'd know what a security camera is. He's extremely irritating and, quite simply, it's a very bad performance. Even the Android turns in a better performance than he does, silly voice and all.
I feel I should also mention Liz Parker's incidental music, which is mostly very effective. I think it's the only time she ever scored a Doctor Who story, which is a shame. They should have used her for more, maybe even kept her on for Seasons 24 and 25? I'm sure she'd have been a vast improvement on Keff McCulloch.
Timelash is one of those stories that you appreciate the more you watch. Well either that or you simply become desensitised to its awfulness. I can't give it a glowing recommendation - it just isn't that great - but I can say that it is enjoyable and that it certainly isn't the worst Colin Baker story.
"Fly in the ointment" by Thomas Cookson 13/3/19
Season 22 is often treated as the show's nadir. But was it really, or did it just get unfairly blighted by one nasty fly in the ointment? In hindsight, Attack of the Cybermen is a more entertaining season opener than its Davison predecessors, and were we to treat it as a bonfire purge of continuity fixation, arguably everything afterwards was all progress.
Vengeance on Varos wasn't interested in fanservice, having more important things to say. Mark of the Rani wouldn't particularly confuse non-fans. The Two Doctors only benefits from Troughton and Frazer's presence. Finally, Revelation made the show seem it had advanced by light years, reaching the cusp of a renaissance of clarity.
Unfortunately, the fact that Timelash immediately followed the suspension announcement made it easy to believe Grade's judgement was vindicated, and more comfortable to simply treat Colin's run as sour grapes that demonstrated the makers were running out of workable scripts anyway.
Timelash isn't 'irredeemable', so much as persistently unrewarding of redemptive readings. I understand why fans feel it sinks the season. Why Revelation's cutting-edge maturity feels already cancelled out by this sloppy pantomime.
The 1980's was a time when fandom had convinced itself of its own bullshit. Into believing even Warriors of the Deep was 'meaningful'. With Timelash, they couldn't anymore.
Arguably, the standard model for 1980's Who should've been The Five Doctors, which blended classic monsters with cheerful, broad appeal family roleplay adventure. It gave Davison his seal of respectability, making him finally seem more than the sum of his parts. It felt at last like the successful relaunch JNT should've started on, rather than taking three cumbersome seasons to reach.
Season 22 overtly adopts The Five Doctors' model. But with unpleasant fluctuations between more nasty adult sci-fi, and moments of moronic childish pantomime. All it really seems to have inspired is unimaginative TARDIS bickering over the now-tedious Eye of Orion destination and more unprecedented side-stepping into the nexus of past Doctors' ongoing business (Mondas, Karfel, Androgums).
Sometimes Who serials can deliver more than a given story. Pyramids of Mars gives us a thrilling onscreen adventure but also subtly conveys a wider unseen ancient story of Osiran mythology. Timelash, in nodding to an untelevised Pertwee adventure, sadly both fails as a story in its own right and makes the unseen Pertwee adventure feel just as calamitous and sloppy.
When Pertwee described once coming to Draconia's aid, you could imagine any indeterminate faceless Doctor fulfilling the role, making it feel mythic. Here the anal-retentive specifics constrain our imagination. We're told how to envision the story on specific, superficial details, rather than invited to.
Referring to a specific slot in series history, rather than conjuring the Doctor's ancient life. We know this past adventure doesn't exist, exposing how the writer's trying too hard to convince us of its authenticity. It feels contrived and rings false, spoiling the illusion. It's an unbelievable contrivance Peri happens to recognise Jo's photograph from memory at a crucial moment.
Timelash lacks Season 22's notorious video-nasty content but otherwise represents everything contentious about that season. Cheap production values (not particularly a Season 22 phenomenon), pointless bickering, Peri lusted after by the villain. It's endemic of those traits because the script's 50% Saward's. Its underrunning material necessitated Saward's extra padding.
Colin wanted to convey the Doctor's hidden depths, suggesting a greater cohesive whole, more than the sum of his parts. Something Davison failed to. But here his childish bickering with Peri is just ear-piercingly painful. Colin's unprovoked, volatile outbursts further giving their relationship abusive undertones.
Yes, this was a time when Dirty Den and Angie's onscreen acrimonious meltdown was gaining Eastenders record ratings. But those were well-crafted, complicated human characters drawn from life, with electric, combustible friction, saying something liberatingly cathartic. Colin's nastier characterisation was too relentlessly one-way, and really only contrived as JNT's response to Longleat attendees down-rating Davison as 'bland'. Colin's Doctor was intended as the loud, aggressive reductio ad absurdum of those fan wishes.
Some in the mood for something kitsch may enjoy Timelash, and be entertained, at least whilst Tekker's alive (his mocking the dayglo sock Ambassador is almost worth the DVD price alone). Its cheap production being almost reassuring. Were it better made, it'd have standards to fall depressingly short of.
It almost becomes momentarily comforting to accept Doctor Who being occasionally rubbish. But then follows the nasty aftertaste of wondering if therefore the writers who penned Genesis, City of Death, Enlightenment almost shouldn't have bothered.
A.D. Morrison highlighted how Snakedance and Enlightenment pushed early 80's Who into unprecedented meditative, philosophical terrain. From that angle, I understand how Timelash seemed a regressive betrayal. Tat Wood heeded caution over praising Timelash for merely trying to be humorously playful, after a long stretch of po-faced, excessively grim stories that had sacrificed entertainment value for incoherent, moribund moral lecturings.
But Timelash tries so outrageously heavy-handedly to raise laughs that you almost feel forced at gunpoint to laugh. There's no subtlety to the moronic humour. It's just nervous energy. So jolting and bombarding that you almost end up laughing nervously yourself to release the burden. I might watch this, be amusingly entertained, and afterwards be unable to remember why.
Unlike City of Death, where there's subtler reasons you forget it's best comedy moments, and rewatches reward you with jokes and deliveries you missed first time, there's no doubt where any comedy moments are here, given how brutally overstated they are.
Vengeance on Varos (which JNT disliked) and Revelation were Eric's attempts to commission something different and edgy. Timelash is unmistakably the product of JNT's sensibilities. His notional criteria of trademark Doctor Who that's like Doctor Who. Existing simply to be a pat, generic adventure with authenticating continuity references.
It lacks what made Genesis or City of Death potent. The sense of history in the making, human endeavour and brave, crucial decisions making a difference.
The Underwater Menace and Genesis of the Daleks' camp sensibilities (giant clams, "Excuse me, can you help me? I'm a spy!") were utilised as a tool for mocking the rigidity of authoritarian conformity.
Saward profoundly disliked that camp sensibility (his inclination being toward power-worship), without realizing it couldn't be exorcised completely. Like Warriors of the Deep, Timelash's camp moments had almost nothing triumphant about them. The mean-spirited writing reflected how Saward wanted this camp spirit to die. That's why Timelash's humour is so horrid. The comedy has nothing to attack. It's just slapped on inanely and belligerently.
Timelash isn't inspirational like Who at its best was, in ways that secured its lasting residual affection. Perhaps the rallying call against tyranny and not being cowed by fear, with Colin braving the Timelash to retrieve the crystals, might inspire elated feelings. Colin's invisibility demonstration might inspire kids to read The Invisible Man, but even that seems to belong in a better story.
In moments like "You gave me your word, you microsephalic apostate!" we briefly see the Sixth Doctor this nasty universe needs. The perfect 'underdog's snob' who turns his well-learned vicious tongue against the elitists in support of the downtrodden.
There's aspects reminiscent of Genesis. Two warring civilizations, quiet rebel conspiracies against the dictator. All of which part two throws away with a disposability that makes Timelash feel derivatively patched together from Doctor Who's arsenal of generic fodder (further cementing Season 22 as tired and uninspired).
Pennant Roberts repeats his mistake from The Pirate Planet's cliffhanger where Tom's forced to walk the plank. Shooting from a distant, unengaged angle, making it resemble a slapstick moment, rather than putting us with him on that mighty drop's edge. Likewise, Pennant films the march to the Timelash in flat, wide exposure, doing nothing to hide how easily Colin can dodge the entrance's narrow mouth. There's a problem when the story's central threat doesn't feel the least bit exciting or foreboding.
But the tide immediately turns too much in the Doctor's favour. It becomes impossible caring about the reduced stakes when victory keeps falling in his lap. Eventually, the story contrives a tacked-on doomsday missile strike, compelling the Doctor's equally ludicrous leap of willing martyrdom. Colin's compassion for Peri finally reveals itself, but his outright lifting her out the TARDIS is downright cringeworthy.
In Genesis, when Sarah urged Bettan not to detonate upon seeing the Doctor fleeing, it was poignant. But Peri begging him not to go feels uncomfortably like she's pathetically determined to preserve her abuser. Her pitiful deference, above all, is what makes their dynamic so unrelatable and unsettling to watch. Frankly I wish Colin would've dumped Peri, and travelled with earnest young Herbert instead.
Colin's old-fashioned, stoic heroism seems preferable to Tennant's spiteful rant at Wilf in The End of Time. Essentially, RTD's toxic sentimentality reaching its horrible conclusion, demanding we empathise with someone's contemptful behaviour because of their 'bad day', otherwise we're 'not fans'. If anything, Wilf should've earned from Tennant the same loyalty and respect Wilf demonstrated to him throughout.
But Colin's self-sacrifice is too flippantly done to feel heroic. It's merely childish machismo. We're never fooled he was in danger of dying. Colin's character is still a mess, distorted by the season's moral confusion.
Had the Doctor's crystal instantaneously refracted the Borad's lazer back at him, that'd be clear self-defence. Instead, Colin holds and aims it deliberately until it discharges at the helpless chairbound foe. How's that morally better than firing a gun at him? It's a moronic claim of a moral high-ground. The cheapness of Colin's gloating contempt for the Borad's deformity is depressingly ugly to sit through. The once enlightened, intelligent Doctor now defeating his enemy by telling him he's ugly and will never get a girlfriend. This isn't just cheap, tacky production, it has a thoroughly tacky spirit. I half-sense Timelash wanted to reflect how Stalin's childhood smallpox shaped his overcompensating vicious psychotic nature.
Despite initially promising to get away from Season 17 material, JNT had now come to think Doctor Who was about mandatory rubber monsters, female eye-candy and the Master's annual reappearance. The point of stories became irrelevant beyond a routine of tacky cliches JNT believed were now important traditions.
JNT insisted on making his Doctors fallible or unstable, yet, through the companion's subservience, staunchly maintaining he's the protagonist we're obligated to agree with, regardless how horribly or reprehensibly wrong he gets it. The era's sexism and skewed sense of justice went hand in hand, deriding any sense of equality and fairness and revelling in oppressive ignorance. Whilst previous companions followed the Doctor's lead because his cause was righteous, Tegan and Peri appeared brainwashed into following their dangerous liability of a Doctor.
Peri's treatment here is appallingly misogynistic and degrading. She's leashed like a dog, reduced to a peril monkey (even the resolution requires her screaming at the Borad's ugliness). I've argued old-fashioned heroes rescuing frantic damsels can have erotic frisson, but it's done to excesses that feel slimy and dirty.
Peri being constantly victimised renders this an ugly, unpleasantly masochistic experience. It's hard to imagine previous companions being treated so contemptfully, leaving viewers wondering if it's worth investing any sympathy in her the writers clearly didn't.
In 1985, Madonna's cheeky sexual confidence made many girls champion and emulate her. Likewise, Anime fangirls lapped up their voluptuous heroines. Peri looked transparently uncomfortable being a sex object. Few women envied her. They could only cringe for Peri. Furthermore her constant damselling, screaming at rubbish monsters/androids only reinforced how terrifying this era wasn't. If any story left Cornell ashamed of Classic Who's sexism, it's probably Timelash. Following the suspension announcement, Timelash confirmed how backwards the show's sexual politics had fallen post-Warrior's Gate.
Moffat's feminist critics argue objectionable messages/worldviews can emerge in storytelling despite a writer's better intentions (they're still a 'cultural conduit'). Here the sexism's so blatant it begs what anyone was thinking.
Timelash depicts masculine entitlement and brutal, cavalier animalistic mating rituals. But we're never fooled we're watching an intelligent rendering of that theme. If we were, Peri would've been allowed to be more than a victim here.
A Crushing Borad by Jason A. Miller 3/5/19
The great thing about the DVDs is that they can take a hopelessly misbegotten story, and make it interesting, simply by bombarding you with behind-the-scenes trivia about why a story turned out so bad. This can be embarrassing if the DVD winds up harshing on a story that's not actually that bad (witness Peter Davison, apologizing for perceived deficiencies in Black Orchid, by saying in the audio commentary, "We're sorry if you enjoyed it"), but in the case of Timelash it's a perfect antidote for a damn near unwatchable story. You'll sit there cold alone and shivering, but with the commentary track and the wicked DVD text captions in your corner, you'll have a virtual Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot helping you keep your sanity.
Timelash is just dreadful from start to finish.
Think about it. Nothing about it works. It's not just bad, it's actively boring, and in this case the boredom actually intrudes on the narrative. A six-minute padding sequence was belated added to a seriously-under-running Part Two, but comes in the middle of a no-time-to-waste life-or-death confrontation with a planet-destroying missile. I'll repeat: a dull TARDIS scene, featuring nothing but two prolonged arguments arguments, interrupts what should be a nail-biting countdown sequence. So not only is the story boring, it LITERALLY takes an even more boring six-minute detour and staples that INTO THE MIDDLE OF THE CLIMAX so that you feel as if you never reach the end.
(Pardon me for shouting.)
I once heard Nicola Bryant say, in the making-of feature for a Big Finish audio that she directed, that a large cast of characters was often a sign that the writer didn't know how to tell their story. I think that's certainly true of Timelash, and perhaps it's where Nicola first learned that lesson. This is an enormous guest cast. Seven counselors on the planet Karfel (two of whom die in the first 15 minutes), four rebels (two of whom also die in the first 15 minutes), two different actors to play the Borad, a fellow playing a wildly historically inaccurate H.G. Wells, an android and a security guard who play themselves multiple times, and a Muppet playing an alien ambassador. Many of these characters simply have nothing to do except stand around and act badly. One character (Brunner) is killed, but then a few minutes later, in yet another scene added to pad out Part Two, another character suggests that Brunner would make an excellent second-in-command. You know, as dead people often do.
I say Brunner was "killed", but he wasn't, actually. He was tossed into the Timelash, which, to be fair, is a neat word. Timelash. It doesn't sound like that title should be stapled to one of the worst stories of all time, right? So the Timelash is a pyramid-shaped time tunnel entrance. Disfavored citizens of Karfel are tossed by the Borad into the Timelash as punishment... but we're told over and over again that Karfel is a doomed, hostile planet, and the Timelash deposits its victims... in 12th-century Scotland. Never mind Karfel... I'd love to go to 12th-century Scotland! The Doctor presumably could have rescued Brunner and all the other Timelash "victims" in his TARDIS and brought them home at the end of the serial, but, honestly, all those "victims" were probably happier in medieval Scotland, with its gentle rolling hills and bagpipe music and everyone sounding like Uncle Scrooge or Groundskeeper Willie or Chibs from "Sons of Anarchy". Yeah. Timelash me up, baby!
Not only are there too many characters, preventing the story from having a real focus point, but the scripts just didn't work, ever, not in any of their myriad drafts. According to the DVD info text, Glen McCoy went through multiple failed drafts, and eventually Eric Saward had to rewrite the story himself, including the addition of those two very long padding sequences that I've already complained about. And most of the dialogue is functional and flat; this isn't a story you can walk around quoting.
"Another expedition into the realms of duplicity." -- Okay, that's not a bad line. Good vocabulary, poetic language.
"The waves of time wash us all clean." -- That's pretty good. I actually quoted that a few hours before watching Part Two, forgetting that it was a Timelash quote.
But, you also get:
"Don't tell me you've got a fat female Morlox with a slinky walk." -- That repugnant line, uttered by the Doctor, is about as Sawardian as a line of dialogue can get. Ugh. Atrocious and unforgivable.
And even if you break this story down into a series of isolated scenes, and watch it in two-minute chunks, it's still not enjoyable. Ignoring the limp plot, and with liberal suspension of disbelief over the now-dated 1984 fashions and effects, there's still very little to like, moment by moment. No good acting (with some exceptions; see below), no good dialogue, no unexpected twists. Even a "bad" story like The Horns of Nimon can still be supremely enjoyable, scene by scene, based on what's being said and how it's being said, but Timelash even at the most micro level has almost nothing going for it.
I've never been a fan of Colin Baker's portrayal of the Doctor in Season 22, but, credit where credit is due, what little life this story has, is all due to him. The only laugh-out-loud moment in the story is the Doctor dodging H.G. Wells' failed exorcism attempts in the 19th-century Scotland sequence; that's up to Colin (the sequence only takes up about two paragraphs in the novelization). In Part Two, when two rebels realize that they've already seen the end result of some temporal jiggery-pokery that the Doctor is up to, the novelization has the Doctor respond, "It's nice to know that my plan is going to work." On TV, the Doctor merely looks up, baffled at the rebels' yapping, and says, "What?" So that's actually a second laugh-out-loud moment. Again, that's all up to Colin Baker, finding grace notes in a script that had precious few.
And as for you, Paul Darrow. You know what, I don't hate his performance. Fine, he's going over the top and playing Richard the Third at a time when the rest of the cast is pretty much sleepwalking through their parts. Fine, he's not on the same page as anyone else dramatically and sticks out like a sore thumb. You know what? He works for me anyway. At least he's trying to do something. In Nimon, Soldeed and the co-pilot were also acting way over the top, but they were magnetic to watch. Darrow's not quite at their level. But the key to his performance is in Part One, his first scene, when he enters the Inner Sanctum, introduces the planet's leader, and ostentatiously applauds the man's entrance, with his hands held high at chest height. Before an audience of (excluding himself and the leader) just four other people. There's an actor trying to bring life, any sort of life, to a dull scene populated by dull people. So, yes. I think Darrow's much-maligned performance is a good thing for this story. One of the few.
H.G. Wells is less successful. Yes, it's great to put him in the story so that he can get the seed idea for all his most famous works, but he's played as a goofy teenager and constant irritant to the Doctor (he's also a snappy dresser, to be fair). The New Series later made a habit of placing historical figures into the narrative -- Dickens, Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, the Face of Boe -- but never as someone you were supposed to detest. I wanted to like Wells' contribution to the story, but he doesn't change the arc of the story or inspire any other characters or even serve as a love interest. You know what he is? More padding.
That's a lot of words trying to explain why a lousy story is so story. Never mind all of the above, then. Let's just banish this story, instead, with Colin Baker's Schwarzenegger-esque dialogue as he shoves the Borad into the Timelash at the end:
"Nobody wants you. Nobody needs you. Nobody cares."
For once, Timelash and I are in total agreement.