Doctor Who #647: Timelash Part 1

"Aimless? You see our time together as aimless?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.9 1985.

IN THIS ONE... At one end of the "timelash", a society dominated by the Borad. On the other, H.G. Wells' house on Loch Ness.

REVIEW: Welcome to Timelash, widely considered the worst Doctor Who has to offer, though it's certainly not as boring as Galaxy 4. What it amounts to is bad choices. Foremost among these bad choices is to do yet another alien planet/facility story after the money has obviously run out. The design team doesn't really seem to know how to get the most for its limited budget, and you get one of the cheapest, least convincing series of sets in the canon. Karfel's environment can't even be trusted to be consistent with the dialog, with Peri whining about there being no sparkle or reflections (meant to remind us mirrors have been banned on the planet), while still decorating the timelash door with a glittering tinsel curtain. Peri's meta-perceptive in this episode, correctly identifying this adventure as "dull", the sets as rubbish, and the acid-spewing flowers as a ridiculously dangerous item to put on display (a disappointing one too, as there's no special effect when she uses them against a guard; he just drops very quickly). The guards look like beekeepers, another bad choice, and while the blue androids are striking, they speak in squeaky sing-song voices that makes it impossible to take them seriously. Throw in the muppet Bandrils and the stiff Morlox (telegraphed to be yet another Loch Ness Monster, because somebody forgot about Terror of the Zygons, presumably), and it takes on an air of panto.

So can we really blame the guest cast for sending it up? Paul Darrow is particularly over-the-top and campy as Tekker, relishing his evil to the point of unbelievability. Herbert (H.G. Wells, though I'm told the portrayal is way off the historical man) is an enthusiastic pseudo-companion wearing a suit too large for him and at least committing to his slapstick comedy. He's not too bad (yet), trying to exorcise the Doctor out of his house and stowing away on the TARDIS to take notes, but it's not a terribly deep performance. The rest are non-entities, good enough in the case of the rebels, drying paint in the case of Vena. The villain, Borad, has a Big Brother face for the screens (and he looks just like Professor Chronotis), but is another disfigured creep with a face that makes the girls scream. How many is that in Colin Baker's stories? Three if I count Caves of Androzani? The regulars do have more personality, but unfortunately, the script keeps them in the TARDIS dealing with destination disputes, technical failures and temporal shenanigans (and they too have to suffer helium voices) for what seems like forever, bickering spewing technobabble.

For all that, the story has a pretty good set-up. A fascist (and almost objectionably sexist) society is seeing its leaders spend all their resources on time technology, and the expense of the people and peace in the sector. We've seen countless rebels vs. unjust regimes before, of course, but it doesn't mean it's a bad plot. There's a reason the show keeps using it. The Doctor has been to Karfel before, in his third incarnation, with Jo Grant no less, and while it's fun to see Jo's picture being revered (although... where did they get it? and how did Peri recognize her? does the Doctor have pictures of all his companions lying around or only very special ones?), I'm not a big fan of this type of continuity implant that makes a story hinge on something that we're told happened but was never seen. Sure, there are a couple of good lines, for example Tekker refering to Karfel's power as that of an ocean and Kendron remarking the ambitious new "Maylin" would be riding the crest of the wave. Mostly, it's ordinary, and not very well thought-out. Tekker being surprised that the Doctor is traveling with only one companion is a good example. If he's been brought up on stories of the third Doctor and Jo, then it should be no surprise. Apparently, it was originally going to be Hartnell and three companions who had landed on the planet long ago, and the script was never changed. Attention to detail is not a value showcased in Timelash. The same goes for Pennant Roberts' direction, which showcases a lot of tiny people lost on big gray sets and an inexplicable burning android moment where the sizzling character appears out of nowhere.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Look, it's an okay story to date, but the production values just aren't there, and some of the actors are consequently not taking it seriously.


CiB said...

JNT and Erci Saward at this point had realises they make more money from conventions than they do from their job, and so they just didn't care about this story. Nicola Bryant is putting more effort into the pantomine she's about to start rehearshing for, so she's not putting much effort in. This leaves just Colin Baker as the only regular cast member who actually gives a damn when this one was being made.

As for Paul Darrow, by this point he's probably wondering why the BBC weren't interested in a fifth series of Blakes 7, but are ok with Timelash. I think he turned up, realised how awful this was going to be and thought "well if I ham it up at least I'll enjoy making it". Basically what Raúl Juliá did with Street Fighter.

Craig Oxbrow said...

Based on the Third Doctor and Jo, I've always suspected Karfel was meant to be Peladon.

Siskoid said...

That would have made a lot more sense. Peladon in the far future. Alas... It was never the intention because the script originally featured the 1st Doc et al., and would have had the Daleks to boot!

But it's a nice theory based on what actually made it on screen. Places change names over time, don't they? Istambul was Constantinople. Even old New York was once New Amsterdam. Why they changed it I can't say. People just liked it better that wayyyyyyyyyyy.

Craig Oxbrow said...

First and Daleks? I didn't know that...

And I never understood why that song didn't have a verse about Byzantium.

Siskoid said...

First: That's why Tekker is surprised to see the Doctor is traveling with a single companion.

Daleks: Saward was writing his own Dalek story so asked the writer to resubmit his story without them in it. Would they have been the Bandril? The Borad? I really don't know what role they played.

Byzantium: Why did Constantinople get the works? That's nobody's business but the Turks.

LiamKav said...

I wonder if it's this period in the show's history that led to Steve Moffat's stated preference to "get characters out of the Tardis as soon as possible and get a story going."

Siskoid said...

Probably has something to do with it, though the shorter story structure (45 minutes to classics' 100 minute tally) makes it a pretty obvious choice.


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