Why the Timelash backlash?

I am relatively new to classic Doctor Who. I say “relatively”, as while I watched the Davison and McCoy periods avidly as a young lad (I was born in 1980), there was only one serial I actually recall in any detail – Remembrance of the Daleks. And even then, I only remembered three scenes from the whole thing: 1) Ace with the baseball bat; 2) The revelation that the Daleks could float upstairs; and 3) the Dalek falling out of the window before plummeting to the concrete below.

I find it odd that I can’t remember much of the series I watched in the 80s, given that I KNOW I watched it every week. I’m not overly concerned though, as rediscovering it all again now allows me to enjoy it all as though I’ve never seen it before.

Curiously, I do not remember ever watching a Colin Baker serial. Davison, yes. McCoy, yes. But between them is a gap in my memories, which could be simply that I had no interest in the Doctor’s adventures between 1984-1986, or possibly that my innocent child’s brain had blocked out all the shocking violence which apparently so tainted Colin’s episodes…..

My current regular treat to myself is purchasing a DVD of an older serial once or twice a month. I don’t read any reviews before I pick my serial, I just pick a Doctor I fancy watching that week and choose a story at random.

While browsing London’s Forbidden Planet last week I noticed two Colin Baker stories sitting alone on a shelf. One was Revelation of the Daleks, and the other, slightly more dust-covered and lonely, was Timelash – a title I did recall, for some reason.

I ignored the callings of a few Troughton and Tom Baker episodes, and bought the two Colin serials, simply because despite having met Colin at Collectormania 18 and obtaining an autograph and photo, I had to admit (to myself) that I simply couldn’t remember ‘his’ Doctor.

On the way home I checked online for some reviews of Timelash. It was then I realised why the name of that particular serial had seemed familiar. Apparently it’s highly regarded as one of (if not THE) worst episodes of Doctor Who ever made. The sets, the costumes, the acting, the plot, the dialogue, the acting, the Doctor’s actions, the acting again, and everything else.

I instantly tried to remember if the assistant in Forbidden Planet had smirked a little as I handed over my seven quid for Timelash. Maybe she did. I dunno. But I wasn’t going to return it, because I was curious. And it was the London branch, and I live in Manchester.

So, I returned home, unwrapped the box and shoved the disc into the player. As I waited for it to load, I had a read of the little booklet insert thingy which, in these classic sets, is put there to give you a little bit of history about the episode you’re about to watch. My eyes (as tends to be the case with me) read the final line first, and I quote – “Timelash isn’t all bad”.

Reading the remainder of the introduction to the episode, it was clear that due to funding constraints, Timelash was described as “dull”, “uninspiring”, and “unimaginative” with “over-the-top” acting from some of the key players.

I wasn’t looking forward to this, now….

….But being a man of bravery and adventure, I flicked it on anyway.

I won’t bore you by running through the two 45-minute episodes minute by minute, and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for any other folks who haven’t already seen it.

Basically, I thoroughly enjoyed Timelash. Yes, the sets didn’t necessarily have to be grey, with a choice of grey outfits for the key characters, but generally as a two-part Doctor Who episode, it had all I would want as a viewer. Action, comedy, timey-wimey stuff, clever contraptions invented by the Doctor out of bugger all, a misguided semi-bad guy, a pretty nasty bad guy, Peri in peril, and two or three clever little Doctor Who moments which would not be out of place in the current series (the exploding robot in the underground caves, for example, which seems like nonsense at the time but is cleverly explained later on).

Of course there are issues. The Doctor picking up a gun isn’t a highlight, but having said that, Eccleston (Dalek), Tennant (The End of Time, The Doctor’s Daughter) and Smith (A Town Called Mercy) have all picked up a gun in anger and these were all accepted at the time. The Doctor ain’t perfect is he.

The acting is absolutely fine. Paul Darrow (as Tekker) has been given an awful amount of grief for his performance, and yes, while I would accept it’s a little hammy, that’s what makes the character of Tekker so intentionally unpleasant. You’re supposed to find him irritating, and you’re supposed to dislike him. He’s an arse. He backstabs and bum-licks his way through the whole 90 minutes, but bad guys tend to do that.

The reveal of the Borad, and how he came to be in the condition he is found in, is pretty shocking. For a low budget episode, the make up is splendid, and the showdown in his control room is, again, something which would not be out of place in Nu-Who. The Borad is given a choice by the Doctor, and is warned of the dangers of attacking him. The decision to attack, and his eventual “end”, is all due to the failure of The Borad to heed the Doctor’s advice.

So, curiously, ‘classic’ Who in this case is less classic Who and much more Nu-Who. And I mean that in a positive sense.

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