Timelash ★

Paul Darrow meets HG Wells – kind of... It's Timelash, a turkey that's also a hoot

793

Season 22 – Story 141

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“He’s dangling on the edge of oblivion” – Vena

Storyline
The Tardis is caught in the Timelash, a time corridor in space, emanating from the planet Karfel. Its people are governed by the Borad, a malign reptile-man who monitors their every move and banishes all rebels via the Timelash. He plans to provoke a war with the alien Bandrils so that all Karfelons are wiped out. Then he can repopulate with hybrids, starting with Peri and a reptilian Morlox. The Doctor is forced to enter the Timelash to retrieve an essential amulet. The trail leads to Earth, the Scottish Highlands in 1885, where Herbert, a naive adventurer, joins in the Doctor’s travels. We later discover he’s a young HG Wells…

First transmissions
Part 1 – Saturday 9 March 1985
Part 2 – Saturday 16 March 1985

Production
Studio recording: December 1984 in TC4 and TC8, January 1985 in TC8

Cast
The Doctor – Colin Baker
Peri – Nicola Bryant
Maylin Tekker – Paul Darrow
Mykros – Eric Deacon
Vena – Jeananne Crowley
Maylin Renis – Neil Hallett
The Borad – Robert Ashby
Kendron – David Ashton
Herbert (HG Wells) – David Chandler
Brunner – Peter Robert Scott
Sezon – Dickon Ashworth
Katz – Tracy Louise Ward
Tyheer – Martin Gower
Aram – Christine Kavanagh
Gazak – Steven Mackintosh
Old man – Denis Carey
Android – Dean Hollingsworth
Guardolier – James Richardson
Bandril ambassador – Martin Gower

Crew
Writer – Glen McCoy
Designer – Bob Cove
Incidental music – Liz Parker
Script editor – Eric Saward
Producer – John Nathan-Turner
Director – Pennant Roberts

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
Dismal, unloved Timelash – or Tinsel-lash, as my friends and I named it the moment we spied that shoddy chasm set, a sort of leisure-centre climbing wall with what looked like polystyrene struts for “crystals”, festooned with actual tinsel. It put the abyss into abysmal.

I took my sisters to the studio recording at BBC Television Centre and we were in fits as Colin Baker and others clambered upon and were hauled up and down this preposterous precipice. The poor loves acted as though their lives were in peril; it looked more liked their careers had nosedived with the world’s worst panto.

It was just before Christmas 1984 and I made a note in my diary that despite the fact we were clearly watching a turkey being trussed, we enjoyed “the best night in the viewing gallery ever”. Many chums were there (Richard Marson and Gary Russell) jollying things along, while down in the studio the cast were rattling through screeds of arch sci-fi dialogue and poorly choreographed tussles.

Paul Darrow is incapable of leaving any piece of furniture unchewed and not for the first time in Doctor Who does a guest villain opt for the Richard III approach. Producer John Nathan-Turner ordered him to tone down the winter of his discontent and vetoed a hump but shades of Larry Olivier remain beneath Darrow’s snide delivery. In truth, as Maylin Tekker, he offers little more than a reheat of his Avon from Blake’s 7, albeit with a dodgy wig, swishy robe and reptilian smirk.

Pennant Roberts wasn’t one of Who’s most dynamic directors, but he was shrewd at casting. He’d assign more roles to women than sci-fi scripts usually demanded and give many young actors a break. Steven Mackintosh, just 17, has a paltry part here as Gazak, a rebel turfed into the Timelash, but he’d go on to become one of Britain’s finest actors.

Roberts wasn’t impressed with Glen McCoy’s already heavily rewritten scripts and asked Eric Saward for a further draft. Saward was busy honing his own two-part season finale so had little time to dwell on Timelash, a tale that on balance should probably never have been told; certainly not televised when many eyes were on Doctor Who following the press storm about its cancellation/postponement.

Frankly, it’s codswallop served cold: boring Tardis scenes are intercut with stultifying political machinations on Karfel, a drab planet ruled by a lethargic lizard-man and about to be obliterated by glove-puppet Bandrils. There are androids with blue faces and yellow hair to contend with and a gigantic gnashing worm (Morlox) chained up in the dungeons.

We’re also thrown bizarre continuity references since supposedly the Doctor has visited Karfel before. A plaster wall crumbles to reveal a hideous daub of Jon Pertwee. The rebel Katz wears a locket that the third Doctor gave to her grandfather containing a publicity snap of Jo Grant – whom Peri recognises: “She used to travel with the Doctor… I’ve seen photographs of her but never met her.” Yes, I’m quite sure the sixth Doctor has teased bilious Peri with albums of her predecessors!

Fans generally loathe characters that closely resemble themselves, but the aspect that perhaps works best in Timelash is Glen McCoy’s sneaky addition of Herbert as the Doctor’s temporary sidekick. Although we don’t find out until right at the end that this jolly enthusiastic Victorian is a young HG Wells, McCoy plants clues throughout.

Time travel devices, a stoical heroine called Vena and subterranean monsters (Morlox)… all might feed into Herbert’s imagination when later penning The Time Machine. Young Herbert is characterised like his own Mr Polly, while the Borad would inspire the hybrid creatures from Wells’s The Island of Dr Moreau.

Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant reportedly weren’t impressed with this story, but the action at least keeps them apart much of the time so there’s less of their sniping. And Bryant is finally allowed to wear proper clothes (black slacks and a burgundy blouse) rather than fabric off-cuts pinned across her bulges.

Washed down with a few beers Timelash is a hoot. Taken seriously… well, don’t even bother.

RT archive material

(There’s an amusing typo in the Part One billing. The “Board” mentioned in the billing should be the “Borad”. In 1985, I kept sending the correct version back to the typesetters, but they insisted on “correcting” it back to “Board”. And that’s how it went to press.)

Timelash billings
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[Available on BBC DVD]