THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE BIG
FINISH AUDIO DRAMA
THE TV STORY
"REVELATION OF THE
RELEASED IN JULY 2007.
the Tardis GETS
CAUGHT IN THE
TIMELASH - A POWERFUL
TIME CORRIDOR THAT
BRINGS THE DOCTOR AND
PERI TO THE TROUBLED
PLANET OF KARFEL. THE
PLANET IS ON THE BRINK
OF WAR AND RULED BY
AN INSANE AND MUCH-
FEARED DICTATOR, WHO
THROWING THEM INTO
THE TIMELASH. BUT WHY
IS THEIR LEADER NEVER
SEEN IN PERSON? AND
WHAT LINKS KARFEL
SCOTLAND? THE DOCTOR
ARRIVES JUST IN TIME
TO FIND OUT...
9TH MARCH 1985 - 16TH MARCH 1985
(2 45-MINUTE EPISODES)
Over the last couple of years, the classic series DVDs all seem to have come out with a shiny sticker on the front proudly proclaiming this that or the other about each story. It is either Doctor Who’s “No. 1 Story EVER” or it is Doctor Who’s last classic story ever or it is Sarah Jane’s final adventure ever… and so what it the blue hell could they say about “Timelash”? I doubt Doctor Who’s “No. 156 Story EVER” would have had the masses rushing out to buy it. Thankfully, this DVD release has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek.
For someone like myself who has seen all the classic stories ad infinitum, the most exciting thing about the classic series DVDs are the top-notch special features. Of course it is fantastic to have the classic serials themselves digitally remastered and looking better than ever, but even so the first thing that gets watched in our house is always the showpiece documentary. And on this release, it is particularly memorable. The Restoration Team are not selling “Timelash” as anything that it is not; quite the opposite in fact. “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”, a twenty-five minute documentary narrated by Terry Molloy, has a refreshing candour about it. It is far from your typical ‘making of’ feature, it is more of a ‘what the bloody hell went wrong?’ style feature!
Pennant Roberts get a lot of stick from his cast and crew for his ‘laid back’ approach to the serial, but even he comes off lightly compared to John Nathan-Turner. Both Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant have a good-natured dig at their old producer for throwing them into such a hectic schedule – a US convention and a pantomime sandwiched in between rehearsals – but Eric Saward really goes to town on him. "Nathan-Turner had paid for “Timelash”, so “Timelash” got made regardless" just about sums up Saward’s opinion.
Surprisingly, writer Glen McCoy comes out of the documentary quite well. “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” paints the picture of a young, naïve and over-worked writer “trying to be intelligent and imaginative” which to be honest, does not feel like a million miles from the truth. “Timelash” may be universally loathed but in truth, I do not think that it is as bad as it is cracked up to be. Baker, admittedly not at his most fluent, puts it best – this story is “less worse than one remembers it”.
Well let us get it over with – the bad. “Timelash” is a resoundingly cheap and studio-bound serial, which visually is either bright white or dark brown. With the obvious exception of the Doctor’s coat, you have to look hard for any other colours. The Timelash itself is notorious
for its comically bad realisation; even in 1985 it was a joke. Yes, it is made of tinsel. And – despite what the writer would have you believe – people do not get thrown into it, they shuffle backwards up a ramp and then pretend to fall in. Badly.
And then there’s Paul Darrow, Doctor Who’s second Blake’s 7 coup of the season, although in my opinion Darrow was less of a coup and more of a catastrophe. The man who brought the delightfully evil Avon to life decided to use “Timelash” as an opportunity to prove that he can do ‘camped up’ acting. Not only does he play Tekker as a grotesque parody of Lawrence Olivier’s Richard III (no hump, though, mercifully) but he also hams it up big time. Some of his scenes are well and truly painful.
However, the serial’s greatest failing has to be in the writing. I agree with Paul Lang on the documentary when he says that the script was highly imaginative, but I would add that it has almost no structure. Part One, for example, is great. Okay so it is hardly BAFTA material,
but it does the job. But then we get to Part Two and everything falls apart. By all rights the story should have ended about halfway through this episode when the Borad is defeated,
but before the credits roll we have to endure a six-minute scene inside the TARDIS followed by the Doctor’s attempt to stop a Bandril missile and – shock horror – the return of the Borad. The plot is all over the place and the pace non-existent. There are even some howlers in there for the continuity nitpickers: how does Peri even know what Daleks are, let alone that they operate time corridors? And how does she know who Jo Grant is and what she looks like, hmm? And what about the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ bit? Surely McCoy could have at least done his homework…
On the other hand though, there is just enough good stuff here to save “Timelash” from scraping the bottom of the barrel along with the real clangers that often end up getting ranked higher than “Timelash” in the polls purely by default. The truly horrendous Doctor Who serials do not get half as slated as this story does because they are not interesting enough to warrant the attention. They are not memorable, full stop. They are just rubbish. “Timelash”, at least, is unforgettable!
Peri in bondage, for example. Who is gonna forget that?
An intriguing – if somewhat cliché – villain in the Borad. Brilliant!
Blue and yellow robots that ‘sing’ rather than speak. Erm… interesting!
And of course, the Doctor not only meets but fires the imagination of Herbert ‘HG’ Wells. Fantastic!
Say what you will about McCoy, you have to give him full marks for his unique approach towards plagiarism. Stick a famous author in your Doctor Who adventure, steal half of his ideas and then claim that he got his inspiration for the work that you have ripped off from the Doctor and his adventures! Of course it all falls down when someone like Darrow dryly
points out that Wells could not have been inspired by Doctor Who “…because he never saw it.” Baker and Bryant were right too boo him in the commentary.
And of course it helps that David Chandler is so impressive as Wells. A few of the minor details may have been wrong – his apparent Catholicism was a big no no, for example – but nevertheless the actor makes Wells really come alive. For the most part, he is a surprisingly slapstick character – his antics in Part Two almost make the infamous six-minute TARDIS scene compelling! But he is also good in other ways - I love how he carries around his notebook scribbling everything down; how he plays with ouija boards; how he tries to be a hero. It is charming stuff.
“You microcephalic apostate!”
On a final note, I have to recommend the commentary track on this DVD. Colin Baker is so clued-up about Doctor Who – and so proud of it - that he once again offers intelligent, witty and insightful observations. Oh yeah – and Paul Darrow gets himself in an Alan Partridge-style mess when he starts advertising cars. Brilliant fun.
All told then, is “Timelash” a ‘flyweight’ lost between two ‘heavyweights’? Or is it – as a
rather cruel anagram of the title suggests – lame shit? I think the answer may well be a bit of both.
But it’s still Doctor Who.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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