It’s good news! The next serial is not from Season 24!
The bad news is that Timelash is a serial with very little to redeem it – it was a very strong candidate to finish absolutely rock bottom – which unfortunately therefore says a lot about the two serials that finished below it!
Timelash exactly typifies the problems the show faced in the 1980s in terms of the quality of story-telling, the production values, acting quality, and of course everything that was outlandish about the 1980s. The difference between Season 22 and later seasons is that at this point JNT thought Doctor Who was safe, and the show was in rude health. After the show was put on hiatus for a year, there were active efforts to get the show back on track, beginning in Season 23. In Season 22 the show had the distinct feel of going off the rails, and the producers being unaware that they were doing so.
Colin Baker got a very rough deal as the Sixth Doctor. The role was pitched to him as “start grumpy – you will get at least three seasons to grow out of being grumpy and reveal the kindly soul hidden beneath the gruff exterior.” He was then landed with some distinctly substandard scripts and quite possibly the worst costume to ever disgrace a Doctor – the best thing you can say for the multicoloured monstrosity (which then showrunner John Nathan Turner (JNT) specifically requested to be “bad taste”) is that it is distinctive! The net result was a negative reaction to his Doctor that he never had the opportunity to recover from. This episode is quite possibly the most evident example of the Sixth Doctor at his bombastic and overbearing worst – spending most of the episode shouting, and relying on the wholly unsatisfactory deus ex machina of “I happen to be Lord President of Gallifrey!” It’s a shame, because we see hints elsewhere that with a refined persona and a more appropriate costume, Baker could have played an excellent Doctor.
The story itself would also struggle to sell itself, even with better production values and acting. H.G. Wells appears – although for most of the episode he is simply referred to as “Herbie” – and is seemingly included for no other reason than as an odd twist to be revealed at the end. The bad guy of the piece is the Borad – a half-human mutant who it turns out is attempting to provoke a war with a rival planet so that he can wipe out the planet’s existing population and replace them with mutants like himself. Now, when the show’s own script admits that the science involved is worse than ropey, you have to wonder how badly they were scraping the barrel!
I would dearly love to end the agony at this point, but a dishonorable mention must be given to two further points. Firstly, JNT had the ingenious idea of casting Nicola Bryant to portray a somewhat glamorous American assistant with the intention of pitching to the US market. In her second serial the baddie of the piece falls for her beauty, and in the context it is very believable. JNT however, then thinks ‘that’s a good ruse, let’s use it again …’ not once … but twice! Not only is it utterly unbelievable, but by this serial the plotline is so tired the characters should be in nightshirts.
And lastly, poor Paul Darrow as Tekker. Darrow was excellent when he appeared as a UNIT captain in The Ambassadors of Death, and if he’d been directed to play the villainous and duplicitous Tekker completely straight, there might have been some redemption. As it is, nobody advised him not to play the role as he had recently portrayed Richard III on stage – and the net result is cringeworthy of the highest order.
About the only saving grace for this story is that it hadn’t appeared in Season 24. With the combination of the production values of that season, and the utterly intolerable Mel, that would have been quite enough to plummet this serial to bottom of the list!