Save your breath for the Timelash, Doctor. Most people depart with a scream. Doctor Who – Timelash

timelash

Whatever else Timelash is, it certainly isn’t dull.  But although it’s difficult (if not impossible) to argue that it’s an overlooked classic, it does have some decent elements and the bad ones are, very often, good for a laugh.

The first problem comes directly after the opening credits.  It should have started with the escape of Aram, Tyheer and Gazak.  This short scene manages to info-dump some important information quite well (the planet has a Citadel, a rebel encapment and the planet is ruled by the Borad) and it has a sense of urgency.  Instead, we open with a bickering TARDIS scene between the Doctor and Peri.

Whilst the Doctor and Peri remain stuck in the TARDIS, arguing about the Time Corridor and waiting to enter the main plot, events are happening on Karfel.  Timelash has a real range of performances, which travel the scale from Denis Carey (excellent and menacing in a small role) right down to Paul Darrow.  The opening scene in the inner sanctum allows us to observe some good examples of this.

It’s probably a relief that the rebel Gazak (Steven Mackintosh) is cast into the Timelash so early on.  His delivery of the lines “I’m no rebel. I love this planet. My crime is merely a concern for our world, our people, our loss of freedom, and the growing danger of an interplanetary war. ” is delivered in such a flat, lifeless way that his death is really a mercy killing.

Much better is Neil Hallett as Maylin Renis.  He also departs from the story quite quickly, which is a little bit of shame.  Hallett was a decent actor with decades of experience (a familiar face from series such as Ghost Squad) and his early demise allows Paul Darrow to step into the breach as the new Maylin.

Much has been written about Paul Darrow’s performance.  Arch, would be a good way to describe it (other less polite words are also available).  Like many parts in the story, it’s rather underwritten, so Darrow seems to to be doing his best to make it memorable, which he undeniably does.  But for a true masterclass in good-bad acting, you can’t beat Graham Crowden in The Horns of Nimon. Darrow’s not in the same league.

Tracy Louise Ward is appealing as Katz.  There’s nothing particularly interesting about her character, but she still manages to be very watchable.  Easily the best from the guest cast is David Chandler as Herbert.  He’s got the sharpest-written character (with some nice humourous moments) and he forms a good rapport with both Vena (Jeananne Crowley) and Colin Baker.

And if there’s one person holding this together, then it’s Colin Baker.  Although he may have realised that the story wasn’t working, there’s no sense of that in his performance – he still gives 100% and his energy and enthusiasm help to lift proceedings immensely.  But it’s not a good vehicle for Nicola Bryant as she spends the majority of the story chained up and menaced by an unconvincing rubber monster.  The Board is the latest in a long line of aliens who has taken a shine to her, and sadly that’s about the extent of her involvement in the plot.

Poor Peri is menaced by an unconvincing rubber monster.  The fate of Doctor Who companions down the ages.
Poor Peri is menaced by an unconvincing rubber monster. The fate of Doctor Who companions down the ages.

Speaking of rubber monsters, there’s the glorious appearance of the Bandril ambassador pleading for more grain, which is another highlight.  There’s also some fun to be had from the gratuitous info-dumping that happens from time to time, a sure sign that the script needed at least a few more redrafts (for example, “all five hundred of us?” which very clumsily establishes how many people are present in the Citadel).  The visual realisation of the Timelash, seen at the photo at the top of this post is breathtaking (for all the wrong reasons).  The sight of Colin Baker dangling on a rope whilst struggling to get back to safety is something that’s not easily forgotten.

The Borad is quite an impressive villian (at least visually) and he sounds suitably menacing, thanks to Robert Ashby.  His “shock” return after apparantly being killed (it was a clone that died) doesn’t really work though – as it feels like another ending tagged on to bolster an underruning episode.  And as the lengthy TARDIS scene in the second episode was recorded because the episode was short, so like The Mark of the Rani there’s a sense of the story running out of steam mid-way through episode two.

But having said all this, I can’t find it in my heart to actually dislike Timelash.  It’s not slapdash and shoddy like The Invasion of Time, dull like Underworld or just plain irritating like The Web Planet.  It’s never going to win any popularity contests, but it’s not all bad either.  Like the majority of S22 it remains fairly unloved by fandom, which is a shame, but whilst it has many faults, the commitment of the leading man certainly isn’t one of them.

UFO watch (Episode 24 – Timelash)

timelash

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 pushed the series format in a way we’d never seen before?  It 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 of the UFO stories.  It seems to be a normal, humdrum day at SHADO HQ, before a disheveled Straker appears from nowhere and starts smashing up the equipment.  He then beats up a dozen or so SHADO personnel (including Foster) before making his way onto the studio backlot.  Foster and co eventually corner him, just as he’s found an unconscious Colonel Lake.

Taken back to SHADO HQ, Straker is injected with a drug which starts to bring him back to normality.  Straker and Lake had been returning to headquarters when they noticed they were being tailed by a UFO.  He attempted to raise the alarm with SHADO, but got 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) and Straker and Lake are the only people not affected.  And 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, since Turner has the ability to move in time and therefore can always 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!

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