Doctor Who has long been my favorite show, but in recent years rewatchings of old episodes have been few and far between. But lately I decided to spend both some of my birthday spending money and my Christmas spending money on some of these adventures, and enjoy them with one or two of my nerdier daughters.
(Daily Doctor Who #353)
Starring Colin Baker as the Fourth Doctor
Companion: Nicola Bryant as Peri Brown
Written by Glen McCoy. Directed by Pennant Roberts. Produced by John Nathan-Turner. Script Edited by Eric Saward.
Format: 2 episodes, each about 45 minutes long
Originally Aired: March 1985 (Episodes 10-11 of Season 22)
Timelash was not one of the Doctor Who stories that was high on my list to own…but neither was Time and the Rani. Yet both came in a package on iTunes with several others, and so here , we are. The payoff, I suppose, was getting Vengeance on Varos. All three were packaged as “The Best of Colin Baker” which I think would be hard to justify.
So yes, Timelash does not have a good reputation, and for the most part, it doesn’t deserve one. Like many Sixth Doctor adventures the script takes quite getting the Doctor and Peri into the action, with the TARDIS not arriving on Karfel until about halfway through the first episode. Before that we waste a lot of time with a trio of rebels who turn out to be completely unimportant to the story, presumably just so we can see that the society is bad (something that is repeated later), that the Borad is creepy and powerful and bad (something that is repeated later) and that the Timelash is scary and bad (something that is repeated later). However the main thing we learn when all three of those characters wind up killed off so quickly is that the writing is bad.
As always once the Doctor is actually fully participating in the story things pick up a bit, but sadly there is plenty of other problems to drag it back down. One obviously thing is the hopelessly inadequate effects and design. Karfel is supposed to be a drab and dreary place, so I guess that’s okay, and though we do have the usual sub-par monster, that is just a standard procedure for the show. No, the real problem is the Timelash itself.
This is obviously the centrepiece of the production, but exterior just looks like a prop door with tinsel hanging from it (as one might find on the stage of a middle school play, for example), and the interior looks like a wobbly climbing wall at a kid’s gymnasium.
No part of the design doesn’t give the slightest illusion of what the whole thing is supposed to represent, and the fact that people fall into it so undramatically doesn’t help at all.
Slightly better is the visualization of the Borad himself–the disturbed hybrid of a mad scientist. His twisted face doesn’t look realistic exactly, but it is disturbing and works in the context of the show.
And I like the idea of him communicating to his people via an illusion of a kindly old man. The scene where both the real Borad and the illusion are both talking to the Doctor contains one of the story’s few clever touches.
Unfortunately all this is let down by the characterization of the Borad. He’s an ugly mad scientist who falls in love with Peri because she’s pretty? And he’s banned all mirrors because he’s sad he’s ugly? He’s so insecure that the very sight of himself causes him to scream uncontrollably? And he’s made a clone of himself to sit around in a chair and dramatically reveal himself to people just before he kills them…why? Ugh, it’s so frustrating!
The most noted guest star in this mess is of course Paul Darrow as Tekker, who is best known as the cold-hearted revolutionary Avon from Blake’s 7.
Avon is one of the great science fiction characters of the age, but Tekker is an over-the-top madman who takes a peculiar relish in everything he does, whether it’s betraying his fellow counselors, threatening Peri’s life, being either passive aggressive or openly aggressive to the Doctor, or anything else. His only moment of real interest comes as he seems to finally realize how bad the Borad really is, but at this point he seems to lose all his intelligence and just basically invites the Borad to kill him in the same way he has a bunch of other characters…a way that Tekker is fully familiar with.
Maybe if Tekker’s “rebellion” had been more story time it would have improved the climax of the story slightly.
Instead, the episode was badly under-time, leading to script editor Eric Saward to write a couple of atrocious and horribly out-of-place scenes featuring the Doctor first with Peri and then with Herbert in the TARDIS, where for several minutes he tells first one and then the other that if he keeps wasting time the whole world might be destroyed. I understand of course that at this point in the production it was probably not possible to rework the showdown between the Doctor, the Borad (the clone, anyway), and Tekker, but the result is a sequence whose “padding” nature is so painfully obvious.
More than obvious–these are clearly time-wasting scenes in which the Doctor wastes time by yelling at his companions that they are wasting his time. The whole exercise is laughable.
Is there anything good about Timelash? Well, I’ve mentioned the design of the Borad’s face, and I think both Robert Ashby (the Borad) and Denis Carey (the illusory Borad) give it their all being different levels of villainous. And Colin Baker is solid as the Doctor. Peri’s role is particularly unappealing (she’s tied up and victimized for much of the time) but Nicola Bryant is still charming–and at least in this story she is wearing less plungy/revealing clothing than normal, which is a plus.
One-off companion fill-in character Herbert (David Chandler) is a bit annoying but also likable and a kind of funny. The android being set on fire and sent back in time is kind of clever. And it’s nice to see the visual references to the Third Doctor and Jo Grant. It makes me think they should have just set the story on Peladon instead. And you know, completely re-written it.