“Repulsive? Perhaps, but I have a hundred times your intellect, the strength of twenty Guardoliers, and a life spanning a dozen centuries.” – The Borad
This one is garbage. This was only my second time to see it and the first casual viewing had not left a good impression. A more reasoned watching this time confirms that feeling in full. I am fairly certain I can say that this is the worst episode of all classic Who. I say that because most other stories that have mostly bad elements at least have one strong good element in their favor. In Timelash, every major element— the plot, the dialogue the acting, the direction, the sets, the costumes, the effects–are problematic or even out right bad.
So where to start? The whole thing comes across very cheap and campy. The sets are obviously low budget, the all important time corridor entrance is hokey, and the costumes look like they were just thrown together. I will admit the face of the Borad is a really well done prosthetic but that’s it. Most of the design is terrible. Now, not having money to cover costs is not the worst sin. There’ve been many cheaply made stories in the show’s history lifted by good acting. But the actors here speak either stilted and unengaged (listen to some of the wooden performances almost in monotone!) or go way over the top of believability. Puppeteered monsters undercut believability even further.
All of this would be okay if the story was good, but it’s not. It’s set up with the familiar pastiche of a society under a monstrous dictator that the Doctor stumbles across and must rescue. But then all kinds of silliness is added. Even the very few moments that I’ll concede have elements of a good idea have problems. For example, having Vena falling through the time tunnel to suddenly whip through TARDIS like a ethereal ghost as their paths cross is a cool idea. Unfortunately, it gets ruined by having the actress in a silly stilted pose. And while I love the idea of the damaged android’s totally unexplained appearance in the tunnels being tied to a time device we would later see the Doctor rig up, they absolutely ruin it by having a character realize it’s going to happen and explain it all before we even get to see it. Even the interesting notion of having the guest character of the story turn out to be somebody famous is undercut by making it a silly wink and nod revelation. At least Peri finally gets a less revealing costume and a nice moment of being a step ahead of the bad guys in the corridor by immediately recognizing and reacting to danger. Too bad in the end she just ends up with yet another bad guy lusting after her.
While the overall plot is rather mediocre, some plot points are absolutely disastrous:
- The Doctor has been to the planet before so everyone’s excited to see him. Look they have a picture of Jo Grant! Look they have a picture of the Third Doctor! How nostalgic for no reason! (And Peri knows Jo’s face and name because the Doctor talks about her all the time?!)
- The Doctor goes under duress to bring back the key to the dictator’s power. He convinces the brave woman who nearly sacrificed her life escaping with it to return, but don’t fear the Doctor always has a plan up his sleeve. Except this time he totally doesn’t. He seems genuinely shocked that just giving the obvious bad guy what he wanted doesn’t just solve the problem.
- The rebels are trapped with just the time corridor to their back so what will they do? Well no worries, the Doctor can just tie a rope around his waist and climb into it (!) and then somehow, instead of it being the time tunnel that makes people disappear to the past that it had been up until now, he is able to just climb down a wall made of crystals that is there on the other side—and even be joined by two other people no less!
- But at least the Borad dies and is defeated. Oh but not really, it was just a clone! Even though the appearance of the Borad was the result of an accident not genetics to be cloned. And even though the supposed clone was clearly making all the decisions. And even though the supposed real one that pops up later has all the memories of the interaction and is desperately running from a defeat even though he was not the one defeated. Hey, we’ll just defeat him by making him feel bad about himself and then send him to Scotland to turn into the Loch Ness monster.
- But the danger is still not done—we have a few desperate seconds before the war missile hits. So the Doctor spends ages arguing with Peri and Herbert in the TARDIS as if he has all the time in the world. But in the end he and Herbert go and make a big sacrifice to die standing in the way of the missile—just kidding! The Doctor escaped. How did he do it? The scriptwriter has no idea what to write here so the Doctor just says: “I’ll explain one day. It’s a neat trick.” Argh!!
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
It does seem a bit horrible when Renis is told to cut the power and it’s revealed that doing so will cut the power to his wife on life-support at the hospital, and yet he sadly feels defeated and obliged to do it anyway. I also find it surprising that he and some other characters like Aram whom we are introduced to as if they will have a big role in the story are suddenly killed.
It must just be coincidence because there is no way the show was planning ahead almost two years, but I was flabbergasted to here the Doctor say: “You can alter Peri’s outward appearance, but you can’t change the brain in her head.”
That this was made and other stuff was not!