Sunday, 8 November 2009

Doctor Who: Timelash

Part One

“Avaunt thee, foul fanged fiend!”

I’ve been particularly looking forward to this one!

The initial faffing about in the TARDIS (a perennial problem with this season) is hardly promising; bickering, pointless mentioning of the Eye of Orion, the Doctor being a git, the fact that the Doctor’s relationship with Peri seems to have regressed to the level of The Mark of the Rani, as they hardly seem to be friends here- but as soon as the focus moves to Karfel the story is a delight from start to finish. I don’t mean to suggest it’s actually good, of course. That would be silly. But few stories are more entertaining, if not necessarily for the right reasons. And yet it wouldn’t be entirely fair to dismiss this story as “so bad it’s good” either.

The sets and costumes on Karfel look good, and although the script and performances are quite wonderfully camp we still get a very effective presentation of a totalitarian society through the depictions of the pressures on the individual to either conform and suppress one’s principles or rebel and suffer the consequences; by ensuring there are close personal links between the rebels and characters close to power we get a real sense of the dilemmas faced by such people in such a society. This is actually good writing from Glen McCoy, using the personal stresses of tyranny on Vena, Myklos and Renis to quickly illustrate the nature of this society. Particularly chilling is the line “It’s a strange feeling, not being monitored.” This is a society so tyrannical that there are CCTV cameras anywhere. Of course, such a terrible thing could never happen in real life.

Unfortunately, although McCoy’s script tends to be unfairly maligned, not only can he not do dialogue, he can’t do dialogue with hilarious consequences. Pieces of exposition are blatantly crowbarred in, a particularly amusing example being the line “Not only is our planet divided, we are under imminent threat of invasion from our former allies, the Bandrils.”

Otherwise, though, the story is solid enough. And there are some effective pieces of dialogue too; when the Borad declares it’s time for an election to be held he then immediately follows this with “Tell Tekker that I have elected him,” evoking the “elections” held in real life dictatorships.

Paul Darrow is quite superb as Tekker. He’s been criticised for hamming up his performance, but there’s simply no other way he could have delivered the dialogue he was given- that’s how the character was written so that’s how he played it. It’s a magnificent performance, quite on a par with Graham Crowden in The Horns of Nimon.

The Borad throws a right mardy as Vena disappears into the Timelash with his precious amulet, but fortunately the Doctor turns up at that precise moment, and Tekker resolves for him to be persuaded to retrieve it. The Doctor’s known on Karfel, which is fortunate as it allows us to skip a whole load of potentially tiresome questions about who he is and where he came from. The Doctor was last here “a regeneration or three back” and Tekker asks whether it’s just the two of them this time.

The Bandril ambassador not only looks wonderfully silly but gets hilariously unnaturalistic dialogue such as “Then it seems we are at war.” And shortly after this we get another “All these corridors look the same to me,” from Peri. This story’s dialogue is just as entertaining as the dialogue from City of Death, if not necessarily for the right reasons.

Just when you think things can’t get any more entertaining, Herbert appears, thinking he’s just summoned Vena with a Ouija board; there’s more puppet fun as Peri is attacked with a Morlox; and more hilariously creaky dialogue ensues as rebels appear and force Peri to identify Jo Grant. Incidentally, I wonder who the other passenger was when the Doctor travelled here before? Benton? Yates? Liz? The Brig?!
The episode ends on a high, as the Doctor angrily calls Tekker a “microcephalic apostate”.

Part Two

“I didn’t realise dying heroically would be such a strain on the nerves.”

The Doctor ventures into the Timelash, which is a great thing to happen as it gives us the line “He’s dangling on the edge of oblivion.” Still, with the help of Herbert, catastrophe is averted and the Doctor is able to start making his cool timey-wimey machine.

This is another episode of top entertainment, with something great happening every couple of minutes, from the nice little temporal paradox of the burning android to Tekker’s delightful betrayal of Tendron. The only niggle I have is the sidelining of Peri for much of this episode.

We finally get to see the Borad’s face, and it’s a triumph. In fact, there’s not a lot wrong with the production of this story at all. Tekker, unexpectedly, dies almost heroically as the Borad’s hilarious plan is revealed; he intends to wipe out all Karfelons by provoking the Bandrils into nuking the planet. This will leave the only survivors, for some reason, as himself, the Morlox, and Peri, who is to be mutated like himself and will no doubt agree to be his consort. A flawless and rational plan, I’m sure you’ll agree. Oh, and of course his dialogue is hilarious; “Another expedition to the realms of duplicity?”

Having apparently killed the Borad, the Doctor, ably assisted by Herbert, must prevent Armageddon by plonking the TARDIS into the path of the approaching nuke. As he tries to impress upon Herbert, this may not be entirely safe. Interestingly, the Doctor seems to imply that the “Laws of Time” are legal, er, laws, rather than physical ones.

The Doctor somehow dodges certain death (“I’ll explain one day.”) and discovers the Borad to still be alive, conveniently having cloned himself. You’ve just got to love this story. Predictably, the Borad ends up in Loch Ness, 1179, and Herbert is revealed to be a personage famed for his Morlocks and time machines.

Oh Timelash, you are awful, but I like you. This is rubbish, of course, but it’s wonderful rubbish, and manages to be an ingenious spoof of the genre without meaning to. Still, although the plot, the concepts, and the treatment of the totalitarian theme are actually pretty good, I can’t in good conscience give this more than a 3/5, cos that would be silly.

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