March 31, 2008

Doctor Who Geekery Report: The Time Warrior & Timelash

A pleasant surprise awaited me on my return home from work, as two new Dr Who DVD's arrived in the mail. I had nothing planned this evening, so a quick re-heat of last night's leftovers, and I was on the couch for the better part of the evening.

The Time Warrior (12 Dec 73 - 5 Jan 74) was the first story of season 11, Doc #3 Jon Pertwee's final season. This story also brought the debut of companion extraordinaire Sarah Jane Smith, embodying the production staff's reluctant accession to 70's feminism. Not entirely intentionally, one assumes, they initially erred on the side of lezbo-butch with her masculine hairdo and brown pants-suit. Her brassy self-reliance, a welcome change from her predecessor, remained over her three-plus seasons on the show, even if it gained a softer sensibility as her hair grew out and she traded her slacks for overalls and even the occasional dress.

This story also brought a refreshing return to the history-based approach of the show's initial years, even if it's more of the pseudo-history of "Time Meddler" than the pure history of "Marco Polo." Indeed, Time Warrior borrows its plot heavily from Meddler; an alien comes to Medieval England to present the locals with armaments centuries ahead of their time. The concept is a bit better thought-out here. Rather than a mischievous Time Lord meddling simply because he could, our villain Lynx the Sontaran does so for a purpose, paying off the Saxon warlord Irongron (a gleefully scene-chewing David Daker) housing him as he repairs his space egg. Of course, the repairs require tech unavailable in 1100, so he has to kidnap scientists and equipment from the future (read, the present). These scientists consist of one speaking part, the cartoonishly near-sighted Professor Rubeish, and a whole lotta sorry-looking extras who look like they barely made it through vocational school.

The heavy-handed and unidimensional feminism of Sarah's character is balanced nicely by the quietly poised strength of Lady Eleanor (June Brown), more than a match for her rather wishy-washy husband, Lord Edward. Star Wars fans can drool over Jeremy Bulloch (a.k.a Boba Fett sans helmet) as champion archer Hal.

This is a solidly structured story with decent performances across the board, but let down by its special effects and some sloppy directing. The robot warrior is ludicrous, the 'falling star' is a tennis ball, and the exploding castle merely stock footage of a quarry wall blast. Thankfully, the DVD has optional CGI effects to replace them.

The next story of my evening, however, could not be salvaged by CGI. Timelash (19-26 Mar 85) earns its justifiably low standing in the hearts & minds of classic Who fans. One wag noted that "Timelash" is an anagram of "Lame Shit", and the special feature interviews do little to persuade us that it's anything else. (So, uh, why did they release it? And, uh... why did I buy it?)

It starts off, oddly enough, with a very solid notion at its core: the young HG Wells finding inspiration for his future works due to a brief encounter with the Doctor. Unfortunately, writer Glen McCoy couldn't conceive a decent plot to string together after his original idea of using the Daleks was summarily vetoed. Somewhere along the line, the Borad came along, half-man-half-lizard (well-achieved by the makeup designer, and subtly underplayed by Robert Ashby), seeking Peri as a mate (none of the native girls, apparently, would do), and goading a planet of sock puppets into annihilating everyone else so he and Peri could get busy. Add into the mix a laughably over the top secondary villain Tekker (Paul Darrow apparently thinking he was Richard III), and a rather weak performance by young HG, and this kernel of a concept goes way way wrong.

Let's see, what else? Supposedly an early draft had the First Doc and his companions having visited before, hence the reference on his return, "oh, only two of you this time?" which wasn't edited in the re-write that changed it from Doc #1 to Doc #3, who only ever travelled as a pair. Then there's poor Peri who gets nothing to do except be chained up and menaced by a rather phallic reptile. Then the poorly written supporting characters, played by wooden actors. Then the all-too-obvious padding scenes in the TARDIS ("We've got seconds to spare! Let's riff on this notion for ten frikkin minutes!") when it became clear that McCoy couldn't dredge up ninety minutes worth of lame shit on his own.

And, see, admire my restraint. I waited until now to mention the two most famous shortcomings: the tinsel-lined eponymous time hole and the "oh, I forgot to mention that I cloned myself" revelation after the Borad's apparent demise (equally unforgivable when Davros does it in the very next story).

Timelash nearly rivals "Horns of Nimon" in the so-bad-it's-good category, except it stars Colin Baker, who I find unbearable. Only watch it with uber-fans as a lark; never, repeat, never with a newb.

2 comments:

Sean said...

How come you never watch bad Dr. Who with Bill or I?

John said...

SERVOMATIC: "If you've enjoyed this drink, why not share it with your friends?"

ARTHUR DENT: "Because I want to keep them."