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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Is ‘Timelash’ a really bad ‘Doctor Who’ story?
Well, it depends how you look at it. Me personally, it’s okay. It’s just not great. ‘Timelash’ is the penultimate story in Colin Baker’s first season of ‘Doctor Who’. It was the fifth story of Season 22 in the TV series and it has the reputation of being one of the worst stories ever made. But is it really bad?
The story itself did have a lot going for it. There were some intriguing concepts by Glen McCoy, who made his contribution to ‘Doctor Who’ in this 2 x 45 minute episode story. Unfortunately due to budgetary reasons and the script being weakly handled, ‘Timelash’ did suffer in the eventual output.
How do I put this? Well, perhaps I better begin with where Glen McCoy got his inspiration for the story. He was inspired by the idea of H.G. Wells meeting the Doctor. Now that in itself is a wonderful premise. H.G. Wells could get his inspiration for writing science-fiction novels in meeting the Doctor.
From watching the story itself, there are some neat references to H.G. Wells’ works such as ‘The Time Machine’, ‘The Invisible Man’ and ‘War of the Worlds’. From that alone, you could argue that Glen McCoy had the makings of a decent ‘Doctor Who’ writer working with script editor Eric Saward.
However, other things get in the way as a result of that initial premise being presented. As well as the budgetary and script reasons, there were also issues with some of the characters and performances by the actors made in this story. Also the direction for this adventure wasn’t the best.
It would’ve been a good idea if the story started with H.G. Wells in his cottage in Scotland before getting embroiled with the Doctor and the adventure on the planet Karfel. But as the story starts on Karfel first, the H.G. Wells premise seems to be faded into the background and it does not stand out.
Another issue with ‘Timelash’ was that Glen McCoy originally had in mind to put the Daleks in this story. This is why the time corridor Timelash is present in the story. When asked to take out the Daleks from the original scripts, Glen obliged. However it made the story less interesting as a result.
Anyway, in the story itself, the Doctor and Peri are in the TARDIS when they get caught up in the Timelash. It takes the TARDIS back to Karfel where the Doctor has been to before. This is in reference to an unseen ‘Doctor Who’ adventure featuring the Third Doctor and Jo Grant apparently.
I found this unusual to discover as I wondered whether ‘Timelash’ was a sequel to another ‘Doctor Who’ story from the Jon Pertwee era. Apparently it wasn’t. There isn’t a ‘Doctor Who’ story in book or audio form featuring the Third Doctor and Jo’s visit to Karfel, but it gets referenced in some tales.
It seems that Karfel is a planet on the brink of war as the Karfelions are about to go to war with the Bandrils. This is all because Karfel is under the dictatorship of the evil Borad. Can the Doctor find out what’s going on with the Borad and can he save the day with Peri and H.G. Wells’ help to stop a war.
The story is directed by Pennant Roberts who did some fine work in the Tom Baker era with stories such as ‘The Face of Evil’, ‘The Sun Makers’, ‘The Pirate Planet’ and most of ‘Shada’. Unfortunately his work in the 1980s with stories such as ‘Warriors of the Deep’ and ‘Timelash’ aren’t his best here.
Most of the story’s set design feels flat and unimpressive, especially in the brightly-lit rooms of Karfel. However that could’ve been intentional as it was stated by Peri in the story. There were some set designs that were pretty impressive such as the darkly lit cave tunnels and the Borad’s chamber.
Despite that though, I didn’t feel the story was exciting enough and it lacked pace when action was needed. It didn’t have the style of ‘The Two Doctors’ and ‘Revelation of the Daleks’, to which ‘Timelash’ was sandwiched between in Season 22 of ‘Doctor Who’. ‘Timelash’ had a lot to live up to.
Colin Baker is very good as the Doctor in this adventure. I do find the Sixth Doctor’s character rather inconsistent at times in the TV series. He sometimes shifts from being rude and unfriendly to being kind and compassionate. Those inconsistencies got on my nerves as I watched the Colin Baker stories.
But that isn’t the fault of Colin Baker as an actor. It’s mostly to do with the writing and the not enough thought being put into the storytelling during Colin Baker’s first season as the Doctor. There were times when the Doctor argued with Peri a lot and this wasn’t always with a good reason either.
Nicola Bryant is equally very good as Peri in this adventure. I did feel Peri suffered a lot in this adventure, as she tended to be a damsel in distress especially by ‘Part Two’. She tended to scream a lot. Whilst Nicola is a good screamer, it did make her character less interesting when being helpless.
She did have her moments though, especially when she was with the Doctor in the TARDIS in some scene with badly-written dialogue between them. Peri gets chosen to be mated with the Borad against her wishes. It was tense when Peri was in the Borad’s clutches as the Doctor was saving her.
Paul Darrow stars as the villainous Tekker, who becomes the Maylin leader of Karfel as the previous one was killed by the Borad. Paul Darrow is well-known for playing Avon in the TV series, ‘Blake’s 7’. Unfortunately, Paul Darrow’s performance as Tekker is way over-the-top and it can be quite annoying.
In the story, Paul Darrow based his performance on Laurence Olivier as Richard III. He got into trouble with the producer John Nathan-Turner when he was told to tone his performance down. I don’t get why Tekker is being so mean and ruthless in the story and he comes across as being a jerk.
Robert Ashby stars as the Borad, who looks grotesque and creepy in the story. To be fair, the make-up for the Borad works reasonably well and the deep low voice provided by Robert Ashby works to its advantage. It was interesting how the Borad interacted with the Doctor and learning of his plans.
The Borad has a double identity with the people of Karfel. This is provided by Denis Carey as the old man clean figure for the Karfelons to see on a viewing screen. Denis Carey also appeared in the TV version of ‘Shada’ and ‘The Keeper of Traken’. The Borad is the Fuzor mix of a Karfelon and a Morlox.
David Chandler guest stars as Herbert, who would later become H.G. Wells in later life. I like how the story doesn’t reveal Herbert’s identity until the very end and it was interesting to see H.G. Wells as a younger man. I did think Herbert was a bit too enthusiastic but David Chandler plays the role so well.
The story also features Eric Deacon as Mykros; Neil Hallett as Maylin Renis who gets killed early and Jeanne Crowley as Vena, Maylin Renis’ daughter. There’s also David Ashton as Kendron and Peter Robert Scott as Brunner. And there’s also Tracy-Louise Ward as Katz and Dicken Ashworth as Sezon.
Dean Hollingsworth guest stars as the sing-song Android. The Android was another thing that got on my nerves. It tended to speak in a sing-song voice that was often grating. I couldn’t see why he needed to talk like that and he also didn’t do very much apart from look intimidating and being strong.
The story also features Christine Kavanagh as Aram; Martin Gower as Tyheer and Steven Mackintosh as Gazak, three rebels who try to stop the Borad early on. I’ve seen Steven Mackintosh in the 1998 BBC production of ‘Our Mutual Friend’. It was so amazing to see Steven appear so young.
There’s also the Bandril Ambassador performed by Martin Gower. And oh boy is that an embarrassment! The Bandril Ambassador that appears on the screen looks so pathetic and cheaply made. It also has this dreadful eerie voice that sounds so laughable that you cannot take it seriously.
The interior of the Timelash is also unimpressive. It’s all tinsel and foil paper and looks like it could’ve come out of a pantomime. The Doctor also seems easily able to get inside it. Couldn’t they have had the Doctor suffer in pain or be inside the Timelash with a haze on his features, look pretty distorted?
The DVD special features are as follows. There’s the making-of documentary, ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ with behind-the-scenes interviews and a photo gallery of the story. There’s also the ‘coming soon’ trailer for ‘Time-Flight’ and ‘Arc of Infinity’ with Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding. There’s also a ‘Radio Times Listings’ PDF of the story and an info-text commentary option.
There are audio options including a commentary with Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Paul Darrow on the story. There’s also an Easter Egg to look out for on the main menu of this DVD.
‘Timelash’ is okay as a ‘Doctor Who’ story, but it’s certainly not great. Things could’ve been better with the writing and the production as it clearly shows there were budgetary problems. It’s a pretty average tale in the Colin Baker era, despite some of the intriguing concepts and ideas thrown into it.
‘Timelash’ rating – 5/10
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