sixth doctor

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Cover art for the BBC Doctor Who DVD release Timelash.

Yes, I own this on DVD. Yes, I have watched it more than once. Yes, I actually admit to liking it. And yes, I am now going to stand before you all and shamelessly defend it…


What can I say? I like it. Yep, I like Timelash.

I get why a lot of folks don’t like this story, or find it mediocre. I don’t quite get the rampant level of bile that it so often gets showered with however, nor it always being placed so high on fans “worst ever” lists. For example, in the 2009 Doctor Who Monthly fan poll of all episodes made up until that point, Timelash placed 199th out of 200, with only The Twin Dilemma being judged as worse. But hey, I guess that will just have to remain a mystery to me, fan who actually likes Timelash that I am.

Contrary to rumours that may suggest otherwise, I’m not blind. Or crazy. Well, I’m not blind. There is admittedly a lot here that you could take aim at, and so if you want nits to pick then you’ll admittedly have a few to choose from. But at the end of the day, for me, it all boils down to the very simple fact that I just find it all rather fun. I love Paul Darrow’s much maligned performance. Yes it’s hammy, but it’s delightfully hammy, not obtrusively so. And while his acting choices may seem bat-shit crazy, he fully commits to it, and for me it just works. Plus he’s wearing a cape. For no conceivable reason at all, and against all other perceivable fashion on the planet. But he doesn’t care, because fuck them all, he has a cape, and it is awesome. And it makes me smile.

I also think that while Nicola Bryant is woefully underused in this story, and just plain poorly treated even when she does have some screen time, Colin Baker is actually quite superb here, and I just really enjoy his blustering Doctor, who for my money was often far better than the scripts he was often lumbered with. And in this regard, Timelash is no different. Once again Colin Baker gives it his all. And while the script could be called, if you were in a particularly generous mood, ‘patchy’, when Baker is on screen he manages to make it work, or at least help make you not care too much about any of the rougher edges. Also, despite Timelash’s shoddy reputation, there’s actually some decent support here as well. Robert Ashby as The Borad was more than solid, as was the late, great Denis Carey as his human image, and Eric Deacon as Mycros. And again, though not a particularly popular opinion, I rather enjoyed David Chandler’s enthusiastic performance as ‘Herbert’ as well. The rest of the cast however range from merely serviceable, to, well, let’s face it, not even that, so probably best to just move swiftly along at this point.

Which brings us to the oft-ridiculed production design. But once again, I honestly don’t find it notably awful compared against where Doctor Who was at the time. Especially when you consider that these were the lowest budgeted episodes of an already ridiculously low budgeted show from an era where they had now endured years of ever slimming budgets versus ever increasing basic expenses. Yes, the Timelash chamber is very naff, and the use of tinsel never did anything any favours whenever it showed it’s shiny face in an episode of Doctor Who. And yes, while the cavern beastie isn’t very convincing at all, I’d argue that the head was actually decently sculpted at least, so if they had smoked up the caves a bit and lit darker it might have had a bit more impact…or not. But hey, at least it’s not The Myrka. And sure, I admit that the blue faced android rates quite high on the cheese factor as well. In fact it may well spend most of it’s off hours living on top of a cracker. But again, the actor in question was at least fully committed…or maybe he should have been. But regardless, for some crazy reason these things just don’t bother me all that much in Timelash for whatever reason. They’re all just part of the crazy. And I guess it rings true as my kind of crazy. Besides, I’d argue that the Borad make-up was actually quite good, by any classic Who standards. The snake-head ambassador puppets, yeah, okay, I’ll concede the point on that one, and once again just swiftly move along.

Let us face facts, the real problem here is the script. It’s unfocussed, very padded, and pretty flatly directed for the most part to boot. It also has more holes than a sieve with extra holes in it, if you’re mad enough to examine it too closely. But again, even knowing that, it doesn’t really bother me too much, outside of the under use and, frankly, plain poorly written treatment given to Nicola Bryant’s Peri, who as I already stated above definitely deserved better than she was granted here. That, more than anything, is my one major and lasting bugbear with this show. Most of the rest I can go with. And some of it, as I’ve explained, I can actually and truly do crazily enjoy, but the tied and screaming Peri factor is a legitimate and lasting complaint against the whole proceedings, and one deserving of no defence from me whatsoever.

As to the ending, which so many fans seem to hate, and even positively take offence at, I always found it kind of funny to be honest. To dismiss the importance of exactly what happened, by way of a throwaway joke line, well, that just always seemed like a very Sixth Doctor thing to say and do. And so for me, it works. Which is ultimately all that matters, really. And any behind-the-scenes machinations that led to such a, shall we say non-traditional, ending is, to me, largely irrelevant in the greater scheme of things.

Look, I’m not arguing that Timelash is some lost and abused classic here, but the worst of Classic era Who? No, I’m sorry, but that I simply can not let stand unchallenged. Even with it’s flaws, it’s not even close to being the nadir of the classic Who catalogue.

In fact, I quite like Timelash. And a lot of it just makes me smile.

And sometimes, that’s enough.