Let me begin by saying that I have never understood why so many fans dislike ‘Timelash’. Personally, I really like it. Sure, it is undoubtedly the worst story of the otherwise excellent Season 22, but who cares’
Boasting a superb Doctor, an easily followed plot, a wonderfully hammy performance from Paul Darrow, an android that’s sucked in too much helium, and a quite ridiculous script, it is, in short, ninety minutes of great fun. Not a morbid classic like ‘Revelation of the Daleks’, nor a breathtaking epic like ‘The Two Doctors’, ‘Timelash’ is a disposable little story with a fair amount going for it.
Before I go any further though, I shall briefly outline the plot:
The TARDIS lands on Karfel, a planet ruled by an evil tyrant called the Borad. Now, although a hideously deformed mutant (half Karfelon/half Morlox), he’s also a bit of a randy nirk and soon decides to take Peri for his mate. Not only that, but the Borad also plans to destroy all Karfelons by provoking a war with their neighbours, the Bandrils. The Doctor, however, foils these plans, saves Peri and makes peace.
Colin Baker (my favourite Doctor) is, as always, absolutely excellent. By the time of ‘Timelash’ (the fifth story of Season 22), the Doctor’s personality is fully stabilised and he really does come across as an articulate, exuberant, slightly bombastic, if rather fallible, eccentrically endearing character, roaming the galaxy doing good and righting wrongs. His performance is faultless, and you certainly get the impression that Baker is an actor whom relishes his role. Nicola Bryant is also quite good as Peri. Although she’s the sort of actress that one can always tell is acting, she imbues Peri with a bubbly enthusiasm which constantly entertains. Not only that, but her little jibes at the Doctor are also amusing - usually serving to prick the characters pomposity and bring him back to reality. Overall, the Doctor and companion team operating in ‘Timelash’ are never less than a pleasure to watch, blending perfectly into the story.
The other characters are a fairly two dimensional bunch. Paul Darrow delivers an amusing performance as Tekker - wringing every ounce of ham from the cheesy and silly script: ‘Save your breath for the Timelash, Doctor - most people depart with a scream.’ David Chandler is also good as a young H G Wells: he is suitably enthusiastic and jolly, if not a tad irritating. Clearly, the Doctor finds him annoying, and the banter between the two provides many a smile. Robert Ashby is fine as the Borad, although I shouldn’t imagine that sitting in a rubber costume looking angry requires much acting skill anyway.
When it comes to special effects, ‘Timelash’ is a mixed bag. The rapid ageing of Renis in episode 1 is actually rather impressive, and the way his brittle body crumples onto ground is really quite disturbing. On the other hand, the Bandrils and Morlox simply look absurd - pathetic puppet creations that, quite honestly, look like something out of ‘Splitting Image’. Mind you, ‘Doctor Who’ has never been a show brimming with fantastic special effects, and cacky ones should not be allowed to detract from the viewer’s overall enjoyment. If anything, I would suggest that the odd crappy effect adds tremendously to the programmes charm.
Pennant Roberts’ direction is certainly nothing special - but, thankfully, does not detract from the story. In fact, he brings some of the sequences to life really rather well; for example, there is a very effective (if not slightly grotesque) scene in episode 1 in which an old man that is meant to be the Borad turns around to revel a head crammed with wires. Some of the shots are a bit clumsy, however: do we really need long drawn-out shots on a completely unconvincing looking Morlox’
I also like Liz Parker’s incidental music - flippantly eerie, it’s perfectly suited to the story.
In conclusion, ‘Timelash’ has it all: silly plot, ridiculous dialogue, absurd villains, tinsel sets - the lot! However, the central performances of Baker and Bryant are excellent and the story zips along, delivering many an unintentional smirk as it goes. This is not serious ‘Doctor Who’. To watch this story and enjoy it, you do need a sense of humour. And, as long as your humour is on stand-by, the much criticised ‘Timelash’ could well turn out to be a pleasant surprise.
It wouldn't be very original of me to point out that 'Timelash' is an anagram of "lame shit", but I'm going to do it anyway. 'Timelash' is not merely bad; it is so very, very bad that I can't help wondering if writer Glen McCoy was taking the piss. Certainly Eric Saward must have been when he commissioned it.
So is there anything good at all about 'Timelash'? Erm… well Robert Ashby is admirably restrained as the Borad, and delivers a coldly malevolent performance, which is something of a minor miracle considering the dross that he has to work with. And Colin Baker is as entertaining as ever as the Doctor, especially when he's displaying his exasperation with Herbert. Oh, and the incidental score by Liz Parker is quite good. I also like the much-derided Karfelon androids, whose purple faces, jerky movements and high-pitched voices manage to be quite eerie. And that's about it.
Anyway, lets be brutally honest; the plot of 'Timelash' stinks. I say plot, but the festering morass of tedious and unbelievable events on offer barely qualifies. The basics of the plot are that the Borad, a nutter, rules the planet Karfel with a grip of iron, randomly turning off the power to hospitals and such like when the fancy takes him. His androids allow him to enforce his will. His eventual aim is to wipe out everything on Karfel aside from himself and the Morloxes, large reptilian monsters one of which he became fused with whilst experimenting with technobabble. Sorry, Mustakozene 80. His intention is to provoke the neighbouring Sock-Puppets into launching a Bendalypse warhead at Karfel in order to achieve this genocidal aim, after which he will repopulate the planet by shagging Peri, whom he intends to similarly transform into a mutant such as himself. The first obvious flaw in this boring and flimsy plot is that two people cannot repopulate a planet, which raises the question of why he doesn't just transform other Karfelons into half-Morlox mutants. Furthermore, he shows no inclination to take a mate from the native population at any point, so it is rather fortunate that the Doctor unexpectedly arrives with Peri in tow at an opportune moment. He clearly hasn't thought this through, and obviously neither has Glen McCoy. He also doesn't seem to have any sort of plan for dealing with the Bandril invasion force that will presumably arrive after they deliver their rocket, in order to harvest the grain that they desperately need.
In case it hasn't become clear already, the characterisation of the Borad is horrendously bad. He's simply "Mad" in a generic way that makes even the Master's most loony plans seem well-thought out and sensibly motivated. He sits in a chair in a dark room with one big hand (leave it…) and sort of gloats at how evil he is. Oh, and he also clones himself in case anyone actually makes it to his inner sanctum and happens to have a means of dealing with his time weapon, a reasonably convincing special effect that ages people to death. Where the real Borad actually lurks in case he needs to make an unexpected dramatic appearance to make up unused plot time is not disclosed. Indeed, the sudden "resurrection" of the Borad with the crass revelation that the Borad killed previously was a clone is so incredibly bad that I can barely find adequate words to be sufficiently sarcastic about it. It would be the apex of the mountain of shite that is 'Timelash', were it not for the Doctor's unexplained trick with the TARDIS to deflect the Bandril's missile. There is a throwaway line in Episode One about the TARDIS being indestructible for the benefit of casual viewers, but given that the Doctor throws Peri out of the TARDIS because he thinks he's going to die, this isn't very convincing. All we actually get by way of explanation is a line to Peri, which amounts to "I'll explain later" and thus probably provided inspiration for 'The Curse of Fatal Death'.
As though all of this codswallop were not bad enough, 'Timelash' also has the audacity to be immensely dull. There is considerable padding in Episode One, perhaps best summed up by the embarrassing scene in which the Doctor straps himself and Peri to the TARDIS console. There is also an incredibly tedious scene in which the Doctor arses about inside the Timelash in search of Kontron crystals, which might be slightly more exciting than it actually is if he wasn't surrounded by tinsel. It doesn't help that there is no sense of danger, given that the script gives the impression that Karfel is a planet of about a dozen people, all of whom live in the same small citadel.
Then there are the characters. 'Timelash' is the only story in which I find Peri to be genuinely annoying, as she moans at the slightest provocation. The initial bickering scene in the TARDIS is actually quite good, as she accuses the Doctor of "aimless wandering", and he responds with indignation; her desire to stay when he offers to take her home is a reminder that however much they argue they remain friends, but this is pretty much the only decent piece of characterisation in the entire story. And whilst I'm on the subject of the Doctor and Peri, it's fortunate that he's had the albums out, since her ability to recognise Jo Grant saves her life. This is so contrived that it speaks for itself and therefore obviates the need for me to use the word "cack".
Of the supporting characters, only two stand out aside from the Borad, and neither in a good way. Herbert is so irritating that I find myself happily imaging him being dismembered and eaten by a Morlox in order to occupy myself during the ninety minutes of my life that watching 'Timelash' obliterates, and he's clearly only present so that McCoy can nick ideas from H. G. Wells and then try to create the idea that he's being clever. Herbert is also used as an opportunity for some appalling vacuous wit in Episode Two, as he blathers on about dying heroically. David Chandler's performance is noteworthy only for the fact that it makes me want to punch him. Equally dreadful is Paul Darrow as Maylin Tekker. Much as I like Darrow's performance as Avon in Blake's 7, he is incredibly bad here as he hams it up allegedly in revenge for Colin Baker's over-the-top performance as Bayban the Butcher in the rather poor Blake's 7 episode 'City at the Edge of the World'. Given what he is given to work with, I can sympathize with his desire to muck about; Tekker is just as badly characterised as the Borad, and seems to be evil simply because he can. He smirks a lot and says nasty things and has no character motivation whatsoever beyond this.
'Timelash' also suffers from a script that rivals 'The Twin Dilemma' for atrocious dialogue. Gems on offer include "Avaunt thee, foul fanged fiend!", "microcephalic apostate!", "He's dangling on the edge of oblivion!", and "Soon our planet will rule this corner of the universe with the power of a giant ocean!". The Bandrils, apparently popular with fandom in what I fervently hope is a sort of knowing post-modern ironic way, look like what they are; sock-puppets. They are also supposedly peaceful, although their solution to ending the Borad's refusal to send them grain is to commit genocide. I know they're desperate, but it seems a bit extreme…
In summary, 'Timelash' is indeed, lame shit. And that's my final word on the matter.
SPOILER ALERT!!!!!! Oh, whatever.
Oh dearie dearie me. They really made a mess of this story, didn't they?
What could have been a great addition to the Doctor Who universe (the insane Borad, the kinda-cool-but-not-really-seen Bandrils, the Karfelons in their citadel) was reduced to mush by a lousy script, terrible sets and lousy special effects.
The story in itself is really rather good: The Doctor and Peri return to a planet which the Doctor has visited before, and get mixed up in the local politics. A common enough premise, certainly, but it had promise: The manipulative and secretive Borad, dictator of Karfelon; the rebels in every corner, trying to free their people; the powerless leaders; the sheer political intrigue which comes with such a situation. Add an unexpected almost-companion in the form of H.G. Wells (I'm serious), and you have a recipe for one memorable story.
Then why does it suck so much? I'll explain.
First off, the sets and costumes. Why, why, WHY did they make everything bright and sunny? It's a dark season, no doubts about it... so this story stands out simply for that. Add the fact that nothing shines (admittedly a story point, but hell on the eyes) and you're wanting to scream. The costumes are honestly terrible, which makes Peri, the Doctor, Vina and Herbert (Wells, yeah?) stand out even more. You can tell someone's political affiliation simply by the color of their clothes!!! Shoot me!
Next, script. My god, what an utter dud. What a total let-down. This could have been saved. But nope - it got sent out without proper revision, which shows. All the best lines go to Colin Baker, who performs admirably considering the utter crap he is given, and John Chandler, who simply makes Herbert shine. The single best scene in this story, the one part which I watch over and over again, is in the final episode, with an absolutely sterling scene in the TARDIS which lasts for almost 8 minutes, where Herbert drives the Doctor to the edge of violence. I get the impression that the entire story was just an excuse for this ONE SCENE. God......
Acting...... a mixed bag here... As I've said, Baker and Chandler give amazing performances, and Bryant is nicely grumpy in this one... much of the supporting cast is wooden, forgettable or both... but my utter loathing is aimed at Vina, (Jeananne Cassidy) who delivers each and every SINGLE LINE like someone in High School who got roped in because nobody else could remember the lines. Yuck. Shoot me now.
Much of the remainder is marred by simple lack of detail... but still, this story borders on forgettable.
But watch it anyway. Just to see Colin Baker look like he's about to punch out John Chandler. Classic!