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.
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.