Doctor Who #648: Timelash Part 2

"It's science... fiction."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.16 1985.

IN THIS ONE... With the help of H.G. Wells, the Doctor defeats the Borad, prevents a muppet invasion and defeats the Borad again.

REVIEW: Timelash continues to look like a rough draft with almost every element lacking polish at all steps from script to screen. There's definitely a potable story THERE, but it's completely smothered by incompetence at every level. Take, for example, what might have been a clever idea normally - celebrity historical character H.G. Wells getting inspired to write The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and The Island of Dr. Moreau all in a single adventure. If only they'd told the audience that's who he was before the final seconds. It's treated as a punchline, but we've had time to forget the elements of the joke, while Herbert was playing at being the "next companion", getting into trouble and asking stupid questions while Peri was relegated to damsel in distress and (once again) the object of the villain's lust.

Timelash seems to thrive on lack of clarity, in fact. I can see why the Borad hates mirrors, but why does it confuse the androids? No explanation. The Borad falls into the timelash and becomes the Loch Ness Monster, according to the Doctor, but it doesn't really make sense. Is he supposed to continue to mutate into a Morlox? Because if not, he's really nothing like the creature itself. And what about all the other people (and at least one android) who have fallen in and to 12th-century Earth? Aren't they a danger to the timeline? The suddenly appearing burning android from Part 1 is finally addressed, but because no one asked those questions IN Part 1, it just seemed like a weird mistake there. Here, well, it begs more questions, such as why the android appeared in another location. Things that could have been explained with a single line, surely, which is what makes Timelash such a mess. Structurally, we've got the villain being killed a good 17 minutes before the end of the program, leaving the Doctor to race against the clock to stop the slowest missile in spacetime from reaching Karfel, not that there's any tension in those scenes since the Doctor can apparently spend minutes on end bickering with Peri and then Herbert. (What is it about TARDIS scenes that instantly makes the occupants fight? A fault in the temporal grace circuit?). The Doctor's sacrifice goes nowhere of course, and we're never told HOW the TARDIS survives the explosion. The Borad then reappears, with the last minute revelation that what died was one of his clones. The production design is cheap and tatty, though the inside of the timelash is at least ambitious, but didn't they know spaceships that look like hairdryers are shorthand for "science fiction sketch"? Never mind the shape of the missile, or indeed, the cannon used to blow up the door by the "Guardoliers". And then there's the acting, which varies from absent (Vena) to so over the top Paul Darrow might just run out of air. The Borad himself looks asleep at the wheel most of the time.

So are there things I could recommend? Well, as a piece of camp Who for point-and-laugh viewings with like-minded friends, it certainly works. The effects, like the destruction of the door, or the mood lighting inside the timelash are pretty good. I like the Doctor making liberal use of time technology, creating a timeslip device that puts his actions on a 10-second delay to confuse his enemies. Tekker being turned into a skeleton that promptly falls over made me chuckle, though I doubt that was the intention. And for Who historians, it might be interesting to try and figure out what this story would have been like if the Daleks had been in it, as per the writer's original outline. Is the Borad in that chair because he was originally revealed to be Davros, for example?

VERSIONS: The Target novelization has a few small differences, such as the androids having black rather than blue skin, even though the cover image clearly has it blue. It does "reveal" the TARDIS has a pre-programmed circuit to take it straight to Earth and that the Doctor only pretends to set the controls for his companions' benefit. The Morlox is destroyed when it amalgamates with a wooden stake, and there's an extra subplot about 50 androids converging on the inner sanctum and the Doctor and Myrkos discovering the Borad's clone bank while going to deactivate them remotely. Oh, and the Doctor actually explains how he avoided being destroyed by the missile using yet another timeslip trick.

- Fails at almost every level.

- There isn't one aspect of the production we can't criticize, except perhaps Colin Baker's performance, but he's the only one who seems to care about the show as the 18-month hiatus looms.


snell said...

The slackness bugged me as well. The whole last "go into the TARDIS for a pointless argument" scene was pretty obvious padding, smelling like a "we're running short, so someone write a quick scene" situation. Yet despite that, they couldn't use that extra time to explain how the Doctor survives? Unforgivable.

karl said...

The worst Who story EVER wonder the BBC were poised to axe the show for 18 months if this was the 'standard' the programme had sunk to.
Only one thing of note...part one saw a brief cameo of one of Britain's best actors a young Steven Mackintosh in an early role.

Anonymous said...

"[Colin Baker] is the only one who seems to care about the show". I believe that's a true statement and it shows throughout Season 22. I sometimes think this story takes the penance for the sins of the whole year, but there's no denying it isn't very good.

One thing I think redeems this story somewhat (and I forget which episode it's in, I haven't watched it in over 10 years), and you did touch on it, is the return of the Doctor as scientist/engineer. IIRC, at one point he gets out of a scrape with Troughtonesque cobbling together of a life-saving device. Might have been the time-slipper you mentioned. That happened too rarely in the whole JNT era, sadly.

- Jason

Siskoid said...

Which is ironic because Colin is the most "liberal arts" Doctor we've ever gotten!

Anonymous said...

What if they had taken some of the edge off of the Sixth Doctor's temper a little, toned down the outbursts, and played up the "Doctor as Renaissance Man" angle? It might have been a unique take on the character in a positive way and made Colin's portrayal much more popular.

- Jason

Siskoid said...

And I think that's what they've done with the audio adventures, which are excellent.

Anonymous said...

For whatever it's worth, when I first watched "Timelash" I thought the "twist" of H. G. Wells was entirely telegraphed. So apparently they can't please everyone, or anyone, on that front.

Siskoid said...

It's hard to gauge, because I knew going in it was HG Wells. But even knowing, I didn't think it worked. What it needed, perhaps, were knowing smiles, a bit like in The Shakespeare Code or The Unicorn and the Wasp. Or maybe a recognizable portrayal of the author.

Anonymous said...

I heard the audios are very good, particularly the Sixth Doctor ones. They're pretty much cost-prohibitive for me, though. It would be nice if my library got them in, but probably not gonna happen.

- Jason

Siskoid said...

Check out Big Finish's site. Because of the cost, I like to buy them as cheaper mp3s, easily downloaded.

If you like what you see, let me know, I can recommend some of the best from the range.

Toby'c said...

I managed to get most of mine on CD through Fishpond, for what was, at the time, a cheaper price than downloading from the website. The One Doctor and Love and War are my favourites so far.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, guys.

So I was just poking around and I see that Big Finish just last month dropped the price of a download of their first 50 releases to $3 US. Now I'm intrigued.

The comic book completist in me would want to start from #1 and go forwards through the range. Is that a good idea because there is continuity between the releases that would make them easier to listen to that way? Or a bad idea because the quality is really variable and some of them aren't even worth 3 bucks?

- Jason

Siskoid said...

Well, the later releases have more continuity, often releasing in three-release arcs and such.

For older releases, the introduction of new companions is perhaps required listening, but these happen to be quite good! Evelyn in The Marian Conspiracy, Charlie in Storm Warning, and Erimem in The Eye of the Scorpion.

There's nothing wrong with listening in order (I mostly did), but yes, quality will vary, especially early on. And it's not a chronological experience at any rate, we jump between Doctors and between companion combinations. Still, at that price, why not start at the top of the range? I'm not a big fan of the first two, but Whispers of Terror is interesting use of the audio format.

I think the range gets more interesting (away from rather traditional stories) with Loups-Garoux onward, but there are good ones before this (The Spectre of Lanyon Moor, The Holy Terror, and others).


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