originally reviewed 6/7/2006 (!!)
(when I was still a beginning-to-medium fan)
“Perhaps spirits from the other side find fishing a bit mundane.” --Herbert
You see how hard I had to reach to find a memorable quote? This really is the dud of the season. Poor Glen McCoy. He must feel bad that his story is so universally despised. “Timelash”’s failure isn’t entirely his fault, but the serial does lack a really compelling story or interesting characters, aside from maybe Herbert. It shows neither Peri nor the Doctor up to their full capacity, and the production values are cringe-worthy. Still, it’s not all bad—I still think “Delta and the Bannermen” is worse.
Most of the problem, as I say, is that nothing is really that gripping. The Bandrill attack at the end, despite the actors’ attempts to prove otherwise, is very sleepy indeed. The action moves extremely slowly, a problem that even the director, Pennant Roberts, can’t solve. The costumes are also not the best, and the production values are positively disappointing. One wonders if all the money went to the highly costly location shooting for the serials before this one. Or if it all went to makeup. Allen Hughes’ costumes for the Karfels seem to be a weird mix between ancient Rome and Star Wars, although Vena’s Roman lady outfit isn’t bad. The Borad’s guards look like beekeepers on steroids. The thing that freaks me out more than the Borad are his robots, also on steroids, with blue faces and peroxide hair and unnervingly Alvin and Chipmunk-like voices. Peri herself notes that the Citadel is “matte” and “lacks sparkle”—is that the writer’s way of excusing the Citadel sets? The caves are even worse. I realize we see a lot of caves on Doctor Who, some of them more fake-looking than others. These are pretty bad. Need I even mention the Morlox? From the Borad, I think the Morlox are supposed to have long necks, short bodies, and flippers—but we never see their bodies. The Timelash itself shines with Christmas lights and tinsel, though, to be fair, the interior sequence where the Doctor has to get the crystals (the logic of which I still can’t understand) is kind of good. The Bandrills themselves seem like interesting enough aliens. Pity we didn’t see more of them.
The Doctor has a few of his signature quips, and he gets to be self-sacrificing in the end, but I have to say it isn’t his best story. He and Peri have a fairly entertaining argument in the TARDIS: “I am never, ever lost,” the Doctor insists. Peri whines, “What about me?” Why don’t they ever get to go where she wants to go? *whine, whine, stamp foot* The Doctor wants to go the Eye of Orion, though Peri thinks it will be boring—“Few visit apart from you.” “Does nothing please you?” he snaps. Peri’s interested in “purposeful travel.” A bit of self-pity on the Doctor’s part: “You see our time together as aimless?” Well, if she does, he can let her off in 1985 Earth. There’s a cute moment when you realize that, despite all of her whining, Peri does like traveling in the TARDIS, even with the temperamental Doctor. Stuck in a time corridor (like that hasn’t happened before) the Doctor explains to Peri, “The short answer is pow.” The two of them then don seatbelts, which are sensible, though they look pretty ridiculous. The Doctor then gives a sh*t-eating grin reminiscent of my ex-boyfriend. Wow.
Then the Doctor starts being very self-centered and a bit annoying. “Never mind what I said,” he tells Peri, when she tries not to get separated from him as per his orders to stay close. This is pretty irresponsible and ultimately leads to her getting captured. While the Doctor helps Vena and the rebels to repel the androids and the Borad’s guards, he seems remarkably unhurried about creating his crystal device and basically more interested in showing off. What I think is a nice touch is that the Doctor has been to this planet before, in his third incarnation so we find out, and is revered by the people for his help. I like the mural of Pertwee that’s revealed, and later the mirror (what are the implications of that, I wonder? or is it just the lazy writer again?). “You’ve changed a lot,” Herbert observes. “Immeasurably for the best, it seems.” “I show little mercy to time meddlers,” the Doctor says, which may be true, but is pretty hypocritical. There’s the surprisingly long sequence in which the Doctor convinces Peri to get out of the TARDIS. He even shouts at her, “Get out!” “I worry, it’s my Terran nature,” Peri admits. Even worse, at the end when he and Herbert show up unscathed, the best he can say to Peri’s incredulous “how did you survive?” is “I’ll explain one day.”
Peri shows a glimmer of actually getting some development at the beginning of the serial. She’s at last, at last dressed in an outfit that’s not only sensible (aside from the damned heels) but looks quite flattering on her as well, and not in a trashy way. Later, on Karfel, she evinces her first real sign of passion in the whole season, her love of plants. The Doctor acknowledges that she’s “a bit of botanist.” But this thread ultimately goes nowhere, resulting only in a cheap escape. For the rest of the story, Peri is made to suffer, embarrassingly. When she is captured by the rebels, it’s interesting that her way of proving herself is by identifying Jo Grant from a picture. I guess knowing one’s predecessors really pays off. I wonder if the Doctor has a room with photos of all his companions in it? That would be a bit creepy. Or maybe he gives detailed briefings for potential companions on their predecessors in case they meet up some time and want to share notes? Most of the companions in “The Five Doctors” didn’t seem to know about each other. Anyway, back to Peri. She’s carted from prison to prison, with a degrading-looking neck restraint on. “All these corridors look the same,” she notes, as she did in “Vengeance on Varos.” She drops the note the rebels give to her and ultimately leads to their capture. To add insult to injury, she becomes the ultimate screaming companion—it’s like we’ve jumped back twenty years in TV history. The Morlox attack her twice, and the first time she really has no excuse—she just stands there and screams and has to be rescued. The worst part is that the Doctor doesn’t really seem to care.
Glen McCoy must have enjoyed “Caves of Androzani” as much as the rest of us, but he went a bit too far in the creation of the Borad (or, as I first heard it, the Borax). Instead of a burned, disfigured genius who delights in beauty, we have an extremely pathetic, utterly unlikable mutation who has no concept of Peri’s feelings. He wants to explode a gas on her so the Morlox will attack her and make her into the same mutation as he, so he can, as the Doctor notes, populate the universe with little Borads. Clearly, as I said, the entire budget went to the Borad’s make up job, which is sufficiently repulsive. His age accelerator ray is quite brutal. The confrontation between the Borad and the Doctor is pretty anti-climactic, all things considered. I didn’t expect the Borad to show up again. Well, his clone did. And poor Peri is again taken prisoner while the Doctor and the Borad debate over her fate. It’s definitely patronizing. “Don’t I have a say in all this?” Of course she screams, and the Doctor’s pushing the Borad into the Timelash is a bit of a foregone conclusion. That he will become the Loch Ness monster is a cute, almost too cute, development. To be fair, Professor Chronotis from “Shada” lends some credibility to the Borad with his consummate, understated acting.
Secondary characters are, for the most part, forgettable and acted quite blandly. An exception is Jeanne Crowley as Vena, who is earnest and dignified. Rarely have I encountered such an annoying character as Teka. From beginning to end he’s irritating in the extreme. The actor wants to be playing Richard III, but instead he is a self-centered, bothersome alien. When the Bandrill ambassador sighs, “Then it seems we are at war,” he replies, “Good.” He’s downright disrespectful to the Doctor (though perhaps the Doctor deserves it), “Do you realize with whom you’re dealing?” “You’re about as powerful as a burnt-out android.” The Doctor delivers the immensely satisfying line, “Will you shut up and go away?” before Teka’s timely demise.
Herbert (ie, H.G. Wells) as played by David Chandler, is so fresh-faced and appealing he’s definitely the bright point in the serial. His youthful curiosity reminds me of Adam, but he’s less self-centered than Adam. I really don’t know that much about H.G. Wells, but the sequences in his Inverness house are really cute. He takes Vena’s appearance through the Timelash quite calmly, as he’s been holding a séance. His exorcism of the Doctor is definitely the funniest moment of the whole thing. “Avaunt, ye foul-fanged fiend! Back, spirit of the glass!” Herbert is like an overenthusiastic puppy, stowing away on the TARDIS, impetuously going into the Timelash to help the Doctor, etc. Still, that doesn’t make him less annoying to the Doctor. They have a very funny interaction in the TARDIS when the Doctor goes off to shield the planet from the Bandrill missile. When the Doctor exclaims he’s just sent Peri away, Herbert’s response is, “Oh, but she’s a girl!” “There’s nothing particularly masculine about throwing your life away.” The Doctor talks about breaking the laws of time and how the other Time Lords might react, “They’re not all as pleasant and agreeable as I am.” Ha ha, Doctor. Herbert doesn’t want the Doctor to have his demise on his conscience, and the Doctor confesses, “Thoughts of you will very low on my list.” As poor Herbert keeps saying “oh, I see,” the Doctor—looking very harried, I have to say; Colin Baker’s hair is all in a tizzy—shouts, “Shut UP!” Herbert returns, to write The Time-Machine, which the Seventh Doctor is seen reading in the TV movie.
Alas, Herbert’s presence could not rescue this from being a dull story. It shows neither the Doctor nor Peri in a particularly flattering light, and bores and exasperates the viewer along the way.