Written by Terence Feely
Directed by Cyril Frankel
It’s tempting to draw parallels between the final episodes of UFO and the final episodes of The Prisoner. Although hopes were high at the time that another series of UFO would be made (eventually the concept of UFO series 2 mutated into Space 1999) there must have been some inkling that the series’ days were numbered.
Is this the reason why we had episodes like Timelash and Mindbender, which both pushed the series format in ways we’d never seen before? This also happened on The Prisoner, where the final few episodes (The Girl Who Was Death, Fall Out) were very strange indeed.
Whatever the reason, Timelash has one of the most arresting openings of any the UFO story. It seems to be a normal, humdrum day at SHADO HQ, but out of nowhere a disheveled Straker appears and starts smashing the equipment. He then beats up a dozen or so SHADO personnel (it’s amusing that Foster seems to be cowering the corner, unwilling to take a pasting!) before running onto the studio backlot. Foster and company eventually corner him, just as he discovers the unconscious form of Colonel Lake.
Taken back to SHADO HQ, Straker is injected with a drug which starts to bring him back to normality and since we’ve now seen the conclusion, we rewind back to the start of the story. Straker and Lake had been returning to headquarters when they noticed a UFO on their tail. Attempts to raise the alarm with SHADO get no response. The reason why becomes obvious when they enter the grounds of the Harlington-Straker film studios. Somehow, the aliens have managed to time freeze the whole area.
Every person is completely immobile and unresponsive (some lovely camera tricks here – a chair suspended in the air, smoke from a cigarette, etc) with Straker and Lake seemingly the only people not affected. Watching the two of them in action, had UFO gone to another series they could have formed a very impressive partnership. Ed Bishop and Wanda Ventham worked very well together and it’s a pity we didn’t get to see more stories with them paired up.
As they explore, Lake notices that one person has moved. Turner (Patrick Allen) is a traitor who has sold out to the aliens. Straker and Lake tool up with some impressive hardware and hunt him down through the studio backlot. This is where the story takes on even more of a surreal edge, as Turner has the ability to move in time and therefore is able to stay a couple of steps ahead of them.
He also has a nice line in mocking taunts as he attempts to pay Straker back for every slight, either real or imagined, he’s suffered over the years as one of SHADO’s foot-soldiers. And when Turner and Straker chase each other around the lot in children’s sports-cars you definitely know this isn’t a typical episode!
Eventually Straker works out a way to stop Turner and also manages destroy the UFO (although this is where there’s a little lack of logic – if the aliens are so powerful that they can freeze time, why send only one UFO? In Reflections in the Water, also written by Terence Feely, they had a fleet of 25!).
This niggle apart, everything ties up by the end of the episode as we understand exactly why Straker was smashing up the equipment at the start of the story. A complex, imaginative and ultimately satisfying tale, Timelash is a cracking episode.
And Wanda Ventham looks absolutely gorgeous, which is the icing on the cake!