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Case Number 13584

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Doctor Who: Timelash

BBC Video // 1985 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Ryan (Retired) // May 7th, 2008

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All Rise...

It's a simple formula, really: Judge Dave Ryan + Peri + a good, stiff timelash = hours of kinky fun.

The Charge

"He's dangling on the edge of oblivion!"

Opening Statement

A quick review of the collected wisdom of Whovians out there leads to the conclusion that Timelash probably wasn't the best choice for my introduction to the Colin "I'm Not Tom, Dammit" Baker era of Doctor Who. It's apparently one of the least-loved stories in the show's history—the phrase "piece of crap" tends to come up a lot. Yet here is the BBC releasing it on DVD, with all the TLC we've come to expect from these Who releases.

And you know what? I kinda liked it!

Facts of the Case

The Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) are romping through time (as usual) when they're caught up in a temporal vortex. The TARDIS winds up materializing on the planet Karfel, which currently has a bit of a dictator problem. (The also have the titular "Timelash," a time corridor that they use to dispose of political undesirables.

Long story short, the Doctor's been there before, the kindly-looking old dictator is actually a fairly ugly half-reptile dictator called the Borad (Robert Ashby), his puppet/lackey Tekker (Paul Darrow, Blake's 7) is kind of a jerk, and an English fellow named Herbert from the 19th century (David Chandler)—who may or may not grow up to write a few science fiction novels, if you catch my drift—winds up playing an important role. Also, Peri actually gets to wear pants for once.

The Evidence

Timelash just isn't very good. The story, from first-timer Glen McCoy, is a hodgepodge of ideas that never really gels. Some of the effects—the puppets used for the alien Bandrils and the "fearsome" beasts the Morlox—are laughable even by Who standards. Worst of all, it had the poor fortune to be aired between two highly-acclaimed Doctor Who stories, The Two Doctors and Revelation of the Daleks. This slapdash-y production, which was clearly made as quickly and as cheaply as possible, will never be a banner entry on any of the participants' resumés.

So why has Timelash, out of the hundreds of Doctor Who stories, been chosen for DVD treatment? And why am I actually about to recommend it to Who fans? Well, there are a couple of reasons…

First, Timelash falls squarely into the so-bad-it's-good category. It's so spectacularly hammy and overwrought that it's almost entrancing. In fact, if some of the more useless tacked-on scenes were cut, it would be downright terrific as a sort of Who farce. (The story was "padded out" after primary filming was completed because the first edit had resulted in a too-short running time.) Paul Darrow's scenery-chewing as Tekker is particularly fun (and intentional on his part—he decided to play the role, in his words, "like Richard III"). Sometimes it's okay for classic science fiction to be goofy and sloppy.

The other reason to recommend Timelash, especially to Who fans, is the extras package—or, more specifically, the way the extras package and the feature interact to communicate how Doctor Who was the often-imperfect result of often-imperfect people. We'd like to think that every episode of Doctor Who was crafted and executed by the finest scifi and television minds that England had to offer. But sometimes it was just a bunch of actors and production people working to poop out a show on a deadline, because that was their job. The Who production team didn't have a lot of time or money to make Timelash. Yes, it shows. But it's also impressive how much they were able to do on such a limited budget in a limited timeframe—Timelash, while not great, is still watchable. It's not a complete and utter train wreck by any stretch of the imagination. It's just not anyone's best work.

The extras on offer here are not exhaustive, but it's a sizable package for this story. The making-of featurette, "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly," is not at all your typical DVD fluff piece. The featurette, and the people interviewed for it (including Baker, Bryant, and writer McCoy), pull no punches with respect to the story's quality. In fact, the featurette is almost too hard on poor little Timelash. (Time, incidentally, has not lashed Nicola Bryant, who is still highly va-voomish even at age 45. But then, Peri always was the hottest of the Doctor's companions, by far…) The commentary with Baker, Bryant, and Darrow is fun and informative, but never gets out of hand. (Baker is seemingly a natural at DVD commentaries—he controls and focuses the discussion without dominating it, which significantly adds to the listener's enjoyment.)

Here in the U.S., those of us who watched Doctor Who were pretty much limited to what our particular local PBS station chose to show us. We didn't get a full exposure to the full scope of Who history—we really only got a dose of the more classic Tom Baker stories, with a little Peter Davison thrown in for good measure. Therefore, as noted above, this is actually the first time I've seen Colin Baker's performance as the Doctor. I'm actually quite impressed. Even in this less-than-stellar story, Baker's acting talent—and his innate charisma—can easily be seen. He fulfills the main requirement that any actor who plays the Doctor must meet: he's interesting. He's got a lot of hammy moments in Timelash, but to me he's clearly trying to make the best of a bad situation, given the time pressures and a script that needed a lot more polishing.

The DVD case notes that the audio and video for Timelash have been digitally remastered. I have no doubt that this is true; the picture especially looks too good to be sourced from an unretouched 1985 master. But "digitally remastered" doesn't necessarily mean "good." The sound, which is presented in the original broadcast mono, is clear and understandable, but unspectacular. The video, on the other hand…not great. There are none of the drop-outs or other problems that you might expect from 1980s vintage videotape, but the color balance is right out of a vintage Chess King commercial, or a Cars video. (Fun fact: Peri's Sheena Easton-ish outfit was actually made for…Sheena Easton.) As if the soft, pastel-heavy palate wasn't bad enough, the whites are often over-driven, resulting in those nasty rainbow fringes. I guess it's not terrible video—your eyes aren't going to pop out of their sockets or anything—but it really does make me want to break out my Member's Only jacket and some acid-washed jeans, and rock out to Animotion.

I still can't find the easter egg, so unfortunately I can't give it a proper review. Alas.

Closing Statement

To paraphrase Bill Belichick, Timelash is what it is. No more, no less. I thought it was fun; your mileage may vary. Worth a look for fans, best to avoid for new fans of Who. (For new fans, I can't help but recommend the current David Tennant incarnation of Doctor Who…excellent, excellent stuff.)

The Verdict

Sentenced to be physically (and EXTREMELY DRAMATICALLY!!!!!) cast into the Timelash!!!!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 70
Audio: 75
Extras: 90
Acting: 88
Story: 75
Judgment: 78

Perp Profile

Studio: BBC Video
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• English
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Cult
• Foreign
• Science Fiction
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary with Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, and Paul Darrow
• Featurette: "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly"
• Radio Times Listings
• Feature Subtitles With Production Notes
• Photo Gallery
• Easter Egg

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