So you’ll know from reading my review of it that the Twin Dilemma was voted the very worst Doctor Who story of all time.
In the Mighty 200 Rankings of all of the Doctor’s adventures broadcast to that point, it came in 200th.
And it arguably deserved that ranking.
But what came in at #199?
The answer to that question is Timelash, and it’s next up on my schedule.
Doctor Who – Timelash Review: What’s This One About?
On some planet where the Doctor apparently once visited, an ugly bloke rules in a reign of terror by pretending to be Dennis Carey.
And HG Wells is in it.
And so are sock puppets.
Thoughts – Three Cheers For The Borad
While there’s a fair amount to criticise Timelash for, it has at least one major thing going for it, and that’s the Borad.
Not only does he look very impressive – even by today’s standards, let alone those from 1985 – but the man behind the makeup acts the part exceptionally well.
Put simply, a poorer actor would play the part as a shouty or cackling villain, but Robert Ashby’s take on the character is to speak softly but firmly. It’s an interesting and far more effective way of doing it. As the old saying goes, people with real power don’t need to scream and shout to get things done.
So in that regard he’s similar to the likes of Gabriel Woolf as Sutekh.
Some of the dialogue the Borad comes out with like the line about how he is repulsive, or the one where the actor decides to replace the line “You’re lying” with “Another expedition into the realms of duplicity” are great.
In fact, almost everything about the character and the way it’s presented is worth commending. The effect of his death ray, the way he slides into shot on that chair, the way he used a robot Dennis Carey to talk to the people; it’s all very good.
And if the rest of the elements of the story were as sound as the Borad, Timelash would be a highly regarded affair.
But they aren’t, and it isn’t.
A Pantomime Affair
Unfortunately for Timelash, the rest of it mainly crap.
In some respects, the casting is good. You’ve got the aforementioned Robert Ashby supported by the likes of Dennis Carey, Paul Darrow and Neil Hallett, who are all worthy additions to the ensemble (well…I’ll get back to Darrow in a bit), but the rest of the cast – like Dicken Ashworth, David Chandler and Jeananne Crowley – are awful. Absolutely bloody awful.
And since Hallett and Carey are on screen for such little time, and since Darrow is quite openly taking the piss with his approach to the part, what we’re left with is a badly acted 90 minutes of TV whenever the Borad is off-screen.
Indeed, it’s all very pantomime, which isn’t helped by the way most of the action takes place in that big meeting hall that looks like it could easily be recreated on a stage, and a Timelash prop that is so cheap, I think I could have made it at school.
Where it’s similar to the Twin Dilemma is that it feels as though it’s written to make little kids laugh. In particular, you could imagine Vena (Crowley) turning to the camera and asking if the children at home can help them.
So there is that sense of embarrassment again that is forcing its way into the viewing experience.
Not Enough Plot
Apart from actors, the cheapness and the feel of it, Timelash’s biggest problem is that it’s too long.
And I’ve said the same thing now in almost all my Sixth Doctor reviews. If the story had been told at a quicker pace and was wrapped up in one episode (or two in the case of the Two Doctors) it would have been far better.
But once again we have a situation where the story just fizzles out in the final episode.
Here, the Borad is killed with almost an entire 23 minute episode length to spare. Had this been a four parter in the traditional sense, there’s no way they’d allow the lead villain to be written out in Episode 3.
But they do, and so the rest of the story – a story that I reckon exists purely to come up with the punchline that Herbert is H.G.Wells – is spent stalling.
We have those awful scenes in the TARDIS to kill 5 minutes, the dull conversations with the sock puppet and then – to top it all off – they bring back the Borad despite him being clearly killed, and have him say “Aye mate, it was a clone”, before he gets defeated again two minutes later.
And how we’re supposed to buy him as the Loch Ness Monster, I couldn’t tell you.
So it was another example of stalling, and it once again did not work.
The Colin Baker Cliffhanger Close-Up Count
We’ve got another one. And that takes the total to…
The Doctor 7-4 Peri
- On the subject of cliffhangers, the UK Gold version of Timelash – split into four parts rather than two – has perhaps the worst (or best) cliffhanger the show has ever seen. It’s just Paul Darrow saying to his lackeys “I will do the talking”. And that’s it, cut mid-scene. Wonderful editing.
- I mentioned the bad actors above, but I didn’t say who I thought was the very worst. Hands down that award goes to David Ashton as Kendron, who is pitiful. His scene with Paul Darrow before he dies is as low rent as low rent can possibly get.
- Over the past few stories, Colin Baker’s Doctor has become less of a problem than it was. Sure, the coat is awful, but his characterisation has mellowed, as has his relationship with Peri. So why Eric Saward wrote those extra scenes in the
TARDIS which took both characters back to their Twin Dilemma dynamic, I couldn’t tell you. At least Saward admits now how awful it was.
- The show’s obsession with its past takes a new turn in Timelash, with the story referencing a past Doctor Adventure that we hadn’t seen. As if to hammer the point home, there’s a mural of Jon Pertwee on a wall, and someone forces Peri to identify a picture of Jo Grant on pain of death.
- Now why would Peri know who Jo Grant is? And why would someone be given or even keep a locket with a picture of her in it?
- Furthermore, if it was a Third Doctor and Jo adventure, how come Paul Darrow remarks that the Doctor is only travelling with one companion this time? Who joined them? Benton?
- The worst bit of writing of the lot is where the Doctor reappears after the TARDIS is supposed to be destroyed, and just doesn’t bother to explain how he survived. We’d just seen 10 minutes of him telling both Peri and Herbert that he was about to sacrifice himself to save the planet, so when Peri asks how they managed to escape destruction, something better than “I’ll tell you later” would have been nice.
- What’s the point in those blue androids? Do you think Glen McCoy or even the director or producer thought giving them high pitched voices was a good idea? Because it wasn’t.
- I used to work with a guy who looked like the Borad, facially. It was unsettling.
- There’s something just so cheap about the way people don’t fall into the Timelash, but rather they slowly and gingerly step into it.
- If you’d never seen Paul Darrow before, I’m fairly certain you’d add him to the bad actors list, but I find him enjoyable to watch. The idea that he decided to play the part as Laurence Olivier playing Richard III just for a laugh is hilarious.
- My favourite Darrow line is his delivery of “…the most luminous force…in this part…of the Galaxy”. Awesome.
- This is the 300th article published on Stuart Reviews Stuff. I find it sad that it’s a review of Timelash.
- DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #199
Doctor Who – Timelash Review: Final Thoughts
Timelash is a strange mixture of good and embarrassing.
The good parts – mainly those associated with the Borad who I find to be one the better realised Doctor Who villains in terms of appearance and acting – are well worth commending.
And Paul Darrow is fun in a deliberately hammy way.
But the bad parts – set design, half the actors, bad writing, the sock puppet aliens, the padding – are awful and cringeworthy.
I feel that this is a story that could have been much better if it was limited to a single episode, and I feel I keep saying that about this era.
The second worst story of all time? No, but it’s still comfortably in the bottom 10%