“Timelash” isn’t very good. It’s a lightweight, passable story hobbled by some poor acting, low-budget production values and some obvious scene padding due to the second episode running short. I’m not one to complain about scenes added purely to get an episode up to length, as long as such scenes are enjoyable, but in “Timelash” they consist almost entirely of arguments in the TARDIS. On the plus side, the makeup for the Borad is quite good, as is the actor playing the part, who generally plays him with an air of quiet menace rather than as a ranting madman.
The plot is nothing out of the ordinary for Doctor Who. An alien planet named Karfel is under the control of a brutal and repressive dictator. They are on the brink of war with their neighbors, and there is an organized group of rebels plotting to overthrow the dictator. The Doctor arrives and sorts things out after some difficulty. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. However the story is made a bit more interesting by adding plotlines related to time experiments by the Borad, and the unseen prior visit by the third Doctor to Karfel. Watching the Doctor tinker with the Kontron crystals and toy around with time is good fun.
The acting varies from stiff and stilted to way over the top. The actors playing Vena and Brunner are particularly poor. Most of the remaining cast are passable, with the exception of Paul Darrow who can actually act, but goes the opposite direction and plays his character Tekker about as over the top as possible. He chews the scenery with glee, and clearly isn’t taking the part too seriously. The lack of decent acting certainly hurts the production. Peri in particular deserves a special mention. Nicola Bryant is a fine actress, but in “Timelash” she plays Peri as someone who’s in a constant state of nervousness, and it gets annoying fast. One wonders just why she keeps traveling with the Doctor, since he clearly seems to intimidate her.
The sets are, to quote Peri, “dull and matte and lifeless”, though this is intentional and related to the plot. Even so, it does make the caves and Herbert’s cabin stand out in stark contrast. The Borad’s hideaway is darkly lit and looks decent. The Bandrils, on the other hand, are very obvious hand puppets, and are just impossible to take seriously. Especially with that reedy voice.
All of that being said, I wonder if the story wouldn’t have benefited from being a single 45 minute episode? There’s some good material and some good ideas in the story, and it’s possible that “Timelash” could have been salvaged with some rewrites, though I don’t know that sprucing up the story would necessarily have papered over the acting deficiencies.
Overall, “Timelash” is watchable, but is certainly one of the less successful Doctor Who episodes. A rewrite or some recasting might have saved it, but as it is it’s not all that good. It is, however, refreshingly light and breezy compared to the story that follows…