Friday, 20 December 2013

Timelash written by Glen McCoy and directed by Pennant Roberts

This story in a nutshell: How can you sum up Timelash in a nutshell? H.G Wells, invisible Time Lords, disfigured Walrus creatures, burnt out androids, sequels to adventures never seen before and Paul Darrow hamming it up outrageously.

Aristocratic Adventurer: It’s easy to mock the overdone characterisation of the sixth Doctor in this story but amongst the dreck there are still some (scant) gems to be found. Colin Baker is trying his best to find something in the melodramatic drivel he is given to say…although at times the material is so bad he just surrenders to it. His ‘bad…bad…BAD!’ confirms all your suspicions that he is a shrieking bully and he needs to tone it down a bit. I prefer it when he is quiet and contemplative such as his wistful reminiscence about the Andromeda galaxy. He says that it is so difficult to recruit good staff these days throwing a disdainful look at Peri and suggests that he has little mercy for time meddlers. He and Herbert share some fun chemistry, the scene where he discovers him in the TARDIS always makes me chuckle. I've said this in practically every episode of the season but the Doctor has fun chemistry with plenty of male one off guest stars this season and it is a shame that he never got to travel with a male companion of his own. I think that really would have worked and helped to soften him up a little. This Doctor is about as powerful as a burnt out android.  Looks like the sixth Doctor has developed exactly the same sort of lame swearing as the ‘ham fisted bun vendor’ third Doctor and ‘spack off!’ fourth Doctor – his latest attempt is ‘microcephallic apostate’ (one day he will just say ‘you fucking twat'). That is one ugly drawing of Jon Pertwee. Strange how you forget how you used to look…that’s because you never used to look like that. Mind you, you can just imagine the dictatorial third Doctor lecturing Magellan on his unethical experiments, can’t you? I love the moment when Herbert tells the Doctor not to worry about him and he gives him a pained look and says ‘I’m not.’ You have to love this guys confidence, in the face of Tekker holding a gun in his face he dismisses him with ‘do shut up and go away.’ He is responsible for Tekker's death in a round about sort of way but he did warn him not to fire. Watch the Doctor’s amazing growing hair as he rushes into the TARDIS in episode two to stop the missile…it grows about three inches between scenes (you can really tell this padding was filmed later). I love him picking up the struggling Peri and throwing her out of the TARDIS. It is an example of the hysterical chemistry between them really working. Putting the TARDIS between the missile and Karfel is incredibly dangerous and reckless, but might save an entire planet. What you have in Timelash is an exhausted actor (torn between this and panto) trying to salvage something from a retarded script. The fact that he manages at all is something of a minor miracle but this is still the weakest story for the characterization of the sixth Doctor and even this isn't that bad. He's still memorable, at least.

Busty Babe: Ouch, how did this characterisation of Peri ever get off of the drawing board? Eric Saward says on the documentary that Peri was one of the better companions they had but they could never find anything for her to do. Why not? As script editor I would have ripped up this script and started all over again. This doesn’t hark back to sixties misogyny, Doctor Who has never been this sexist before. Peri is dragged around by a collar, treated as a sex object, salivated over and  forced to scream continually in the face of the monsters. It’s unforgivably bad. In episode two she is released from her manacles and just stands there screaming like an idiot until a man comes in with a flaming torch and rescues her. Nicola Bryant manages to salvage a few moments. When the Doctor threatens to take her home she jumps in immediately to stop him which reveals that she does enjoy travelling with him to a point. Her botany is brought up again (it's mentioned in The Mark of the Rani, Timelash, Revelation of the Daleks and The Mysterious Planet) which is nice although she does look like a plum sticking her tongue out at the poisonous plants. Easily Peri’s weakest story, you can’t help but feel sorry for Nicola Bryant – mind you with her best three stories coming up she's in for a wealth of strong material before she departs.

Sparkling Dialogue: In general the dialogue is horrendous so it really surprises you when a gem comes along:
‘Time for another election…’
‘Maybe spirits from the other world might find fishing a little mundane.’
‘The waves of time wash us all clean…’

The Good Stuff: There’s an early sequence between Mekros and the Maylin in the darkened power distribution room, which might (almost) convince you that this story could amount to something (they are the best actors in the guest cast). The silky voiced Borad hidden behind his chair reveals that Doctor Who gets something very right no matter how bad the story. Paul Darrow is so insanely over the top that you can’t fail to adore him as Tekker ('It’s called treason and he is the traitor!’). I like the sudden cut to 1885, something the show didn't do enough back then (a sudden switch in location halfway through the story but is an expert at these days). Herbert is hopelessly wet and yet he’s rather sweet and certainly more likable than Peri in this story. His attempted exorcism of the Doctor provides a good laugh. I rather like a bumbling fool, it is the same sort of humour that made Xander so appealing in early Buffy. Tekker luring Mekron to the inner sanctum with promises of promotion only to blame him for all their problems is laugh out loud funny. Only Paul Darrow could play that quite as deliciously, revelling in his characters naughtiness. It's hopelessly lost in the execution but HG Wells finding inspiration in this adventure to write The Time Machine and The Invisible Man is an idea that really appeals. ‘The most luminous force in this part of the galaxy!’ – Tekker needed his own spin off series. The make up for the Borad is so good it’s shocking that a story this inept can get something so right.

The Bad Stuff: Come on own up…who on Earth designed that android with a blue face and blond hair (and musical footsteps)? Jeananne Crowley has appeared in dramas as good as Educating Rita and Tenko so why does she choose to play Vena as a monosyllabic robot – I thought she was one at first. The first scene in the Council Chamber (a bare room with a few stools, these Karfelons really enjoy the minimalist look) is pure exposition (‘Our old allies the Bandrils!’, somebody exclaims and mentions ‘all 500 of us?’ when it comes to the immediate danger to the city populace) and unmasks the inexperience of the writer. The Timelash itself might just be the most embarrassingly designed piece of sophisticated technological equipment that Doctor Who ever coughed up - rustling with deadly tinsel and constructed out of cardboard hexagonal rods. The Doctor and Peri riding the time tunnel is horribly farcical and in no way amusing, it’ll leave you scrambling for the remote if somebody remotely normal who wouldn’t think to watch this nonsense walks into the room. If their dancing in seatbelts wasn't bad enough, Roberts chooses to treat Baker and Bryant's voices so they sound like excitable mice. Why did the android steal Peri’s St Christopher? Did he have a taste in primitive Earth religion? I don’t mind the Bandril design, we’ve seen far worse puppets before and since in the show but why did they give them such camp voices – it's like attack of the Smurfs! Why does that random person walk into the room and give Peri the cryptic note? It feels like this being made up on the hoof. Where is the script editor? Was he performing a JNT pantomime as well? Peri declares that Karfel ‘lacks sparkle’. Are you kidding me? It's one of the dullest, barest planets we have ever visited and fancy taking a visitor on a tour of those boring corridors as though it is one of the tourist spots. Someone had a bright idea to add seams of minerals to the underground rock faces except in reality it looks like someone has attacked the polystyrene with crayon. The Morlox look genuinely awful, like a grinning grey turd on a stick. Why doesn’t Peri run from it when she clearly has space to get away and the creature cannot move beyond it's limited swivel space on the end of its stick – that is probably the worst example of the rushed direction of this story. The most useless bunch of rebels (and Dicken Ashworth sounds really bored) we have had the misfortune to watch revolt. Not one of them has a shade of character as far as I can see. The terrible plotting continues as the rebels are attacked because Peri dropped her note. Yeah, you heard me correctly...she dropped the note. That's desperation for you. The Doctor invents a brand new eighties craze; it’s called the android mirror dance. Give it a try and we might get it to catch on in the clubs. The Doctor dangling from the Timelash might have sounded good on paper but the design is so bad it and the direction so lacking in tension or magic that you might feel as though this is is the pantomime and that they are going to stage the TV story Timelash at the end of Eastbourne pier.. Doctor Who has rarely looked this cheap. Some dialogue should never be uttered and the following examples qualify: ‘Unpleasant journey!’‘He’s dangling on the edge of oblivion!’ and ‘Don’t tell me you’ve got a fat female Morlox with a slinky walk?’ Was Saward aiming for b-movie Who when he let these lines through? The Bandril ship looks like a flying hair dryer and comes with its own disco beat (optional extra). ‘You’ve tricked me!’ screams the Borad, hardly you twat, for once the Doctor told the villain precisely what would happen if he didn't behave himself. The hastily scripted TARDIS scenes are quite fun but clearly padding. You're watching Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant struggle to fill time nonsensically. How many climaxes can one story have? The Borad is the Loch Ness Monster? Again a clever idea but it only works if he is a full Morlox, which he isn't. How disappointing it would be if a half man/half Morlox stumbled out of the Loch screaming 'he tricked me!' Hardly the stuff of great myths. I cannot believe they had the nerve to have the Doctor say ‘I’ll explain later, it’s a neat trick’ about surviving the missile explosion. I don't really like to say that writing is lazy because it is a tough profession but there are quite a few times in Timelash where that accusation could unhappily be levelled.

Result: Surely it cannot be a co-incidence that the two worst directed eighties stories were helmed by the same man and without all the excuses of Warriors of the Deep (lack of time, an election in the wings, a monster that wasn't ready to go, etc) I can only conclude that Pennant Roberts is not a very good action adventure director. Timelash is more enjoyable than Warriors simply because it doesn't’t take itself at all seriously (whereas watching a sniffy piece of drama fall to pieces is tragic) and with its wealth of faults stacking up over the two episodes it becomes a frothy, useless b-movie slice of Doctor Who. It's rare for so many things to go wrong with a production; turgid direction, appalling performances, crass dialogue, dull music, cheap design, childish plotting and insulting sexism that you simply have to let it wash over you and bask in its ineptitude. Redeeming features are Herbert who is quite likable and Tekker who makes me howl with laughter every time he opens his mouth. Timelash doesn’t quite reach the enjoyment of other comically incompetent Doctor Who's (The Chase and Time and the Rani are my gems in that category) but it is far more enjoyable than it has any right to be given its slew of faults: 5/10


Peakius Baragonius said...

Whilst I share the common opinion that this story is crap I must say I really enjoyed Paul Darrow's performance in this. His hamming it up really livens the story up and his clear enjoyment of the role means that we end up having fun too. He even manages to nicely underplay his defiance of the Borad at the end and give Tekka a dignified final note in the process.

Also, you taking the p*ss out of this story was as hilarious as always! I want to see if I can spark the android dance trend now...

Ben Herman said...

I think that aspects of Timelash are brilliant, and other aspects are brilliantly bad. Much of the serial, though, is just bad. But among the highlights are the Borad and Maylan Tekker as two wonderfully egotistical, grandiose foes at whom Colin Baker's Doctor can so dramatically vent his righteous moral indignation.

One my own personal favorite lines of dialogue is the one which actor Robert Ashby improvised to replace the original, pedestrian statement "You're lying!" Instead, we have the Borad's wonderful declaration “Another expedition into the realms of duplicity!"

carlr said...

If you can handle swallowing the odd little bits of sick in your mouth, Timelash is an entertaining way of occupying an hour or two. Think of it as Doctor Who meets Blue Peter, perhaps... It is one of the nadirs of 80s Who, and stinks to high heaven, but it isn't exactly dull.

David Pirtle said...

I always find it hard to rate this story, because it's just chock full of things I adore and things I can't stand. I guess 5 is as good as any number.