Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Serial 141: Timelash

Doctor: Colin Baker (6th Doctor)
Companion: Peri Brown

Written by: Glen McCoy
Directed by: Pennant Roberts

Editor's Note: Hello, gentle friends! Matt here saying that I have the week off but Cassandra has the unfortunate task of talking about Timelash, so I'd like to right-off-the-bat apologize to her (seriously, there's anger coming) because... well... I told her I'd give her two Colin Bakers, but by the time I realized I was doing that, this was the only one left. I'M SORRY. But that's okay, She'll be getting plenty of other good stories coming up as we continue this downhill race towards the end of this blog (which will be a sad but relieving day). No seriously, she has one in April that is just not fair. You don't even know how tempted I am to steal it from her. Or better yet I'll just blog it myself because I don't think I'd be able to resist it. And then I'll never release it. Because... I won't.

Anyways, enough blither blather. Cassandra needs to talk so she can get done with it so I'll toss the reins to her and then promise to come back next week with talk of regeneration next week with some post-regen in two. At least those are always good to talk about. I hope..

Background & Significance: So.... This story is pretty terrible. No, really, it consistently lands at the bottom of most fan polls, and if nearly everyone you talk to about it agrees that it's awful? You're probably in a lot of trouble.

The fact that it's written by a fairly new TV writer and rewritten from what was supposed to be a Dalek story doesn't help matters either. Since the parts turned out lopsided and part one ran too long with part two running too short, Eric Saward stepped in to help tweak things, and you can definitely see his handiwork all over this story (which isn't a good thing in this case).

"Timelash" is writer Glen McCoy's first and only Doctor Who story (with good reason) and director Pennant Roberts' second; Roberts previously directed "Warriors of the Deep" and the eventually-abandoned "Shada" prior to this, and Jonathan Nathan-Turner hoped that pairing together a seasoned director with the offerings of a novice writer would help improve the story, but that didn't really happen, as we're about to see.

There... isn't all that much else to say about this. Aside from it's awfulness. Again.

But enough of all that. Let's take a closer look, shall we?


Part 1:

Oh boy. Ohhhhhhh boy.

As a reminder, I hate this story. But I'm trying to be at least a little bit fair and focus on some positive things first before tearing it a new asshole. So here we go.

My first thought with this first section is what a terrible idea it was for them to go to 45 minutes. Nobody at this point knows how to write to a 45 minute episode length, and... I can't decide if it makes this worse, or better (because there are only 2 parts instead of 4) but let's just say it's not good.

Crap. I said I'd be positive. Okay. Let's try that again.

This is my second time watching this story, and I was definitely not looking forward to it, since the first time was so awful. But (at least with this first part so far) I think I was playing it up in my head as way worse than it actually is, because, while still bad, it wasn't that bad. Some points were even tolerable.

And I do appreciate the... effort on the writer's end. At least, the idea behind this story. Because the idea is kinda cool. Dystopian police state society, rebels trying to throw off the oppressive leader seen only on a video screen, security cameras, monitoring, the whole bit. I find stories like that kinda cool (and increasingly relevant), and it reminds me quite a bit of V for Vendetta only Alan Moore did it way better.

I also like Peri's outfit in this because it's not horridly 80s and it makes her look good. And I think her fascination with the plants is amusing. And the guy who plays H.G. Wells (oops, spoiler, whatever) is kinda cute, so that's cool.

That's... about it for things I like. On to the other stuff.

Okay. Okay. You guys, why is this a Doctor Who story? And don't say it's because of all that made-up backstory continuity bullshit with the 3rd Doctor and Jo Grant having visited before, because whatever, that's bullshit and I'm going to be touching on that in it bit. But I'm being entirely serious when I ask: why in hell is this a Doctor Who story? The Doctor and Peri don't even *materialize* on the planet until 22 minutes into the episode (I was keeping track). If you break down the episode into the two parts it would have been in the more traditional serial structure, a whole episode passes without the Doctor and Peri interacting with the inhabitants of the planet we're supposed to be getting invested in. A whole episode. Do we see the Doctor and Peri? Yes, or I would probably have thrown my computer across the room in frustration by now, but come the fuck on. A whole episode with the Doctor and Peri not even getting involved in the story out of what would have been a four-parter? What a waste. What a fucking waste. Thanks for that, Eric Saward, you jackass. Just because you hated Colin Baker and tended to involve him in stories as little as possible, doesn't mean I hate him too. Ass.

Indeed, I do love Colin Baker more than I probably should. And I'm going to argue that he does a fine job in this story, because he always does a fine job in his stories. He performs what he's given really well, actually, which is a shame because most of his stories are complete shit, like this one. Poor guy didn't stand a chance.

I also think it's a waste of time that what we do see of the Doctor and Peri in the TARDIS is them bickering. Again. I don't want to see the Doctor and his companion bickering. I want to see them having fun and getting involved in adventures and saving the day. It's stupid. Who decided this was a good dynamic for a Doctor/companion relationship? Oh right. Ugh.

Seriously, why does the Doctor have to argue with his companions all the time? It didn't work with Tegan, it doesn't work with Peri. Of course I expect disagreements, but that's inherent in any positive relationship. It's healthy. But bickering? Bickering is not healthy. Nor is it entertaining or constructive towards telling a good story, but they're not even involved in the story at this point, so that's okay, right? (Spoilers: no. No, it is not. And at that point, why even bother? You're just wasting my time.)

Sigh. And it's not even this story, either. Remember last time the Doctor and companion didn't meet up or interact with the guest cast for an entire episode? That didn't turn out well, either. Moral of the story, if you're going to write a Doctor Who story, make sure the Doctor somehow gets pulled into the events as soon as possible. Otherwise, what's the point? I don't give a shit about the guest cast unless I'm given reason to (which I'm not); the Doctor and his companion(s) are the gateway for the audience to experience and get involved and invested with this adventure, and if the Doctor's not invested in some way, then I'm not. Plain and simple.

Again, though, I do like the concept behind this story. The toppling of an oppressive regime is standard fare for Doctor Who, and I like the dystopian take on this one (cuz I guess I just dig dystopias or something?), but the execution is... well, very decidedly lacking. None of the guest cast really stand out to me except the chick who plays Vena, who just has this fragile, vacant expression on her face the whole time (but I don't think that's a good reason for standing out to me) and the suuuuuper creepy Tekker, who has this kinda slimy suaveness to him that's pretty convincing.

And the production/set design is so very 80s. Peri has this meta moment where she comments on the sets and how boring and matte and not-sparkly or exciting they are, and I just go, "exactly!" because it's so spot on. (And I swear that those green couch things were used in "Robots of Death" but they looked way cooler with the production design on that story than in this one.)

My other beef with this story (well, actually, I have two, but this is the first) is the whole Doctor-has-visited-here-before schtick. Okay, fine, that's cool, whatever. I know the Doctor goes on magical adventures and we don't see all of them. If they'd mentioned it once and had done with it, I don't think I would have as much of a problem with it as I do. But they just keep bringing it up and at one point that rebel chick in the underground tunnels pulls out a locket with Jo Grant's picture in it and I'm like UGGHHHH because Continuity King JNT has struck again.

I'm not really sure where he got the idea that people would be more interested in a story if it's mired in continuity (FAKE CONTINUITY, no less) but he could not have been more wrong. It's ludicrous, really. How about you guys try and establish the 6th Doctor on his own merits and having awesome adventures with his companion instead of constantly trying to bring in fake continuity to up his case? That's called not having faith in your ability to tell a decent story and faith in your lead to make a decent name for himself as the Doctor. Constantly bringing in "past" adventures just undermines everything they were trying to do with Colin Baker's Doctor, and it's just... it's mind-boggling, really.

My other problem with this story? Why are we involving H.G. Wells? As a cute gag? 'Time Machine, haha, that's awesome, throw that in.' That must be what it is, right? I know he's not revealed to be H.G. Wells til the end, but he... Sigh. Why is he even in this?

Also if the Timelash/Time Corridor connects to 12th century Scotland, I wonder what happens to the people who get sent through it? Do they just materialize and then die cuz they get branded as witches? Seems like an awful lot of trouble just for killing somebody, when you'd think a war-mongering police state society like the one run by the Borad would be super efficient at killing people.

Ugh. I don't even know anymore.

Part 2:

Dare I say that this story gets even worse?

But it does. By the time I'm finished with it, I'm just left with a mixture of apathy and furiousness. And here's why.

First off, the crystals are just technobabble and make no sense. They come out of nowhere (after the Doctor escapes the android with a mirror? What? How does that make any sense? But whatever! They mentioned mirrors earlier, so let's go with it!), and there's all this false stakes what with the Doctor going down into the Timelash (which, again, makes no sense, because it's essentially a portal into another world/time so where the hell is this crazy glitter rock land anyway?) and then Herbert, and then that other guy. Which is SO UNSAFE. You guys, we covered what not to do with a rope back in "The Daleks". We really have to go through this again?

And sure, it's a neat trick, I guess, what with the time break or whatever, but I don't even care.

And then we have Peri who's in some crazy bondage torture-porn scenario, with the crazed ugly dictator guy wanting her to be his wife and stay down there in the caves with him forever and all that jazz. I mean, I know Nicola Bryant's hott and all that, but seriously? And why are we even doing this again, anyway? They did it in "Caves of Androzani" and way way better, so much so that I can't even think about it because it just cements in my mind even more what a waste of time "Timelash" is. [throws things]

So there's more attempts at "stakes" with the threat from the alien worm people who are at war with Karfel now, or something, while the Doctor takes out Borad. WITH 20 MINUTES LEFT IN THE EPISODE. And now we just have a "Creature from the Pit" scenario on our hands. At least with the threat with the Borad, it's interesting. Sorta. (I'm so desperate for good things I'm grasping at the straws that this is giving me. Go with it.) But then there's a missile and the TARDIS is used as a deflector and I swear to god I'm watching "Creature from the Pit" again. All of this is recycled material but done way way worse than the original. It's STUPID. I cannot stand this.

Seriously, why (seemingly) wrap up the story with the Borad so early on in the episode and then throw us a left turn that we've seen before? Surely your precious continuity advisor would have realized? Ohhh, because you want a twist that's not even earned to raise the stakes even more at the end? I see.

This episode makes the first one seem good in comparison. At least in the first part, we're building towards something. But once the Doctor takes out Borad (the first time) all the story's momentum is gone. The threat that you started off your story with is the creepy dictator, not the esoteric threat of war from another alien race. So for them to go from the threat of the Borad, to this alien, outside threat of the missile, and then fake left and give us the twist of THE BORAD AGAIN is just insulting. We already saw this guy die. It was satisfying, even. Though the Doctor is kinda reflecting energy back at him that was shot, but WHATEVER. I accept this. But apparently we can't end on a good note.

The end of this rankles me. RANKLES. Because we get this sequence on the TARDIS with the Doctor/Peri and then the Doctor/Herbert that has no tension to it and by the end of it I just want Herbert to shut his stupid fancy lad face. I don't even care that he's cute anymore. Make the noises stop.

And okay, that's boring, but the day is saved. SO WHY IS THIS STORY STILL GOING??

Oh, right. The twist. That is not deserved. At all. They don't even mention the fact that Borad's experimenting with cloning. They mention the fact that he's experimenting with time. They mention the fact that he's experimenting on the Morlox. So for him to show up again, and be all "lol jk guys, that was a clone, I'm the real deal" is just so insulting to me as a viewer. SO insulting. You don't even set it up properly and then you spring that on me? What a fucking waste of my time.

If it's even possible, I get more upset after this. Because the Doctor is written as a total dick and a bully and I hate that. Colin Baker's Doctor is so much more than that. So for him to take a swipe at Peri ("Don't I have a say in all this?" "Of course not, be quiet." ...Hey, Steven Moffat, you been taking your dialogue cues from this story?) and then basically save the day by bullying Borad into the Timelash? AND THEN they hint that Borad is the Loch Ness Monster? NOT COOL.

And the whole stupid H.G. Wells reveal that's just like "oh, hahah, aren't we clever" just fucking... Are they trying to shit all over me? I don't even care at that point because I'm too busy punching the writer of this story in the mouth.

I'm really pissed off. I apologize. [deep breath]

Thank god this is only two parts.

Final Thoughts?: Dear blog readers, to be entirely honest with you, I can't even talk about this story anymore. But I shall press on, for you.

The only good thing I take away from this is Colin Baker's performance, which isn't even mindblowingly amazing to begin with. The fact that scriptwriter Eric Saward had to tone down the level of antipathy and dickishness from the orignal script McCoy wrote is insane to think about, especially when you consider the final product. But in the end, Colin Baker performs what he is given, and what he's given is.... less than desirable, though he still does a good job with it.

Ultimately, though, I hope I never have to watch this story again, and if I do, not for a long, long time. If Doctor Who puts me in an anger and upset place, then you're clearly doing something wrong.

Next Time!: First Doctor! Ben and Polly! Cybermen! Mondas! Spaceships! More Kit Pedler! And the first ever regeneration! Matt's back next week to talk about "The Tenth Planet"!


  1. Fine entry! Just letting you know Pennant Roberts also directed "The Face of Evil", "The Sunmakers" and "The Pirate Planet", so this was his fifth Dr Who story.

  2. Thank you, Anon! The source I was using for background hadn't included those stories when describing Pennant Roberts. I appreciate the correction. =)