5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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“Precisely what it’s supposed to do.”
Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK
We’ve always had a soft spot for Timelash. First of all, we feel sorry for it because everyone hates it. Second, we feel sorry for the Sixth Doctor because everyone hates him. And third, how bad can something with an OTT Avon in it possibly be?
Actually, not that bad at all. Maybe we’ve been corrupted by watching Russell T Davies’s Doctor Who, but these classic stories are a lot more fun than we remember. Yes, even Timelash.
For a start, it’s got the Sixth Doctor at the top of his game, and that means a very good Doctor indeed. Arrogant? Of course. So? Most of them are, aren’t they? From the First Doctor’s haughty pronouncements to the Third Doctor’s condescension to the Fourth Doctor’s existence on a different plane altogether to the Tenth Doctor continually rattling on about his genius, it’s always been clear the Doctor’s a cut above the rest of us, and doesn’t he know it. It’s never done them any harm, either; in fact, we’d argue it’s part of their charm.
Sure, it’s a little more obvious in the Sixth Doctor than in some of the other Doctors (we particularly like, when someone says they’re honoured by his presence, his response of “Yes, you are”), but it’s always tempered with humour and with his obvious compassion and desire to help. And yes, he bickers with Peri, but we always wonder if the people who complain about that have actually listened to the Fifth Doctor and Tegan. The surface acrimony of Peri and the Sixth Doctor’s exchanges is completely undercut by the obvious strong bond between them: in contrast, Tegan frequently has at the Fifth Doctor as if she hates the sight of him. What’s more, Peri and the Sixth Doctor are completely hilarious.
And Timelash is a particularly good story for the Doctor.
“When we’ve stopped congratulating each other, perhaps we can get on.”
How deliciously Doctorly. How deliciously Sixth Doctorly.
And as well as his derring-do amongst the tinsel, he gets to cobble together a time-lapse thingy, he bats aside an exorcism, he magnificently ignores a gun in his face, he engages in a hamming contest (and loses) with Paul Darrow. He even looks regretful when the villain dies of his own dastardliness. What’s not to like?
And while it moulders away into excruciating terribleness at the end, the plot’s actually got quite a lot of neat-o stuff in it. We love the idea that the Doctor was there before yet we never find out the details – they’ve done the return to the scene of the crime story several times before, but this is a nice new twist. While the rebels and the tyrant and the repressive society are all frosted over with cobwebs, some of the acting’s good enough to make it worthwhile: Eric Deacon as Mykros is seriously impressive, particularly in the first ep, and his impassioned discussion with his future Dad-in-law in the power chamber is positively electrifying.
There are also some enjoyably surprising twists: in the middle of standard SFery, with white sets and silly costumes and all, the last thing we were expecting was a Victorian study. And we’re crazy about the time lapse device: a quintessentially Time Lordy as well as Doctorly solution. Other than yer basic zipping around in the TARDIS to get to places, you hardly ever see time travel used as a plot device in Doctor Who, and this form is particularly elegant. We love the way the burning android appears without explanation and we don’t get to join the dots till later: it’s really clever.
What else? Well, there’s the inimitable Paul Darrow, who plays this part like Avon on steroids (and on a high-scenery diet). And it’s all the better for it. Let’s face it, you can’t take the plot seriously for too long without risking your sanity, and just when it’s all starting to get a bit too earnest and clichéd and tinsellated, in comes Paul to kick us firmly over into comedy mode. Magnificent.
And comedy there is by the bucketload, much of it intentional, courtesy of some stellar performances. It’s the Doctor and Peri’s relationship that makes “That’s the exact description you always give of the Eye Of Orion” so funny. It’s Colin Baker’s delivery that wrings every ounce out of “You seriously expect me to go through space and time looking for a lost girl and her trinket?”, and it’s Paul Darrow’s delivery that turns a simple line like “If you were to die, I don’t think anyone would notice the difference” into comedy gold. The Doctor’s exasperation with Herbert (‘“Shouldn’t we be preparing for an attack on this place, Doctor?” “I AM!”’) is wonderfully comic, and the exorcism, with the Doctor dismissing the hilariously over-the-top crucifix-waving, is especially hysterical. We’re mystified by the widespread criticism of the “foul-fanged fiend” line: this stuff’s meant to be funny, you know. It’s not an accident.
Amongst the comedy, there are some moments of true horror. The Borad threatening to put Peri’s eyes out is genuinely shocking.
And one more thing. Isn’t it completely fantastic seeing Doctor Who that’s actually proper SF? In space? With aliens and stuff? And it’s really about the aliens instead of having the odd alien around as icing for a story about humans? How we miss that.
Of course, even we would hardly contend that Timelash is in the running for Story Of The Year.
Peri doesn’t start off too badly: after some sprightly dialogue with the Doctor, she does her token botanist bit and then resourcefully uses that knowledge to rescue herself from the bad guys. (Incidentally, how come everyone’s always in a lather about the acid bath scene but nobody ever mentions Peri shoving an acid-spitting plant into somebody’s face?) But after that it’s downhill faster than a skateboard on an oil slick. She screams, screams and screams again as she’s repeatedly menaced by indecisive Morlox, in between being prepped yet again to be the Bride Of Frankenstein. Why the Borad has to wait for an Earth girl to happen past to propose to escapes us: it’s not like she’s the only female on the planet. We guess she’s just got that villain-attracting X factor.
Oh yes, the villain. The acting’s OK, but we could seriously do without them harping on an on and on about his ugliness like it’s a fate worse than death. It’s his evility that’s going to make him Borad No-Mates, not his unfortunate facial features.
Then there’s Herbert. Apart from the mildly clever working in of allusions to Wells’s novels he affords, how we hate this character. We know he’s supposed to be annoying, but really. We wanted to flatten him.
The dialogue on occasion does leave something to be desired. In fact, it’s often terrible. Runner-up: “Cloning! You are a clever clogs!”. Winner: “Don’t tell me you’ve got a fat female Morlox with a slinky walk.” Argh.
And this may be a minor point, but how feeble is Vena? Why is she fluttering around helpfully observing “He’s dangling on the edge of oblivion!” rather than putting her dainty hands to the rope and actually doing something about it?
The last episode, of course, is truly dreadful. From the threadbare “look out, they’ve got a bomb” story to the plot that meanders around like the last party guest who just can’t seem to take a hint, it all falls apart like a plank hosting a death watch beetle convention. Even the Doctor’s impressive feat of quiet self-sacrifice is completely undercut by the “I’ll explain later” copout.
OK, it’s a got a lot wrong with it. But it’s not nearly as bad as its reputation. Not even close.
MORAL: Don’t bother with world domination. A Time Lord will only come along and stuff it up.
Just as Maylin Renis in the power chamber says “Alive, you might just succeed”, the triangular piece on the slider he’s pushing comes off in his hand and he hastily puts it back.
ONE MAN, ONE VOTE
Yes, the tyrannical dictator plot is clichéd. But admit it: “Time for another election. Inform Tekker that I have elected him” is genius.
So how come the Third Doctor had a locket with Jo Grant’s picture and a lock of her hair in it, anyway? Carrying a torch? Or was he planning to clone her?
ANOTHER EXPEDITION INTO THE REALMS OF DUPLICITY
No need to explain later, Doctor. As was made clear at the beginning of the story, the TARDIS is indestructible. So why does the Doctor tell Herbert they’re about to die? We think he’s just yanking his chain. Face it, the temptation must have been irresistible.
BE IT EVER SO HUMBLE
Why would Herbert, who’s announced his determination to stay, suddenly agree to return home?
Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK