Pulled into a time warp, the Tardis arrives on planet Karfel during a particularly nasty dictatorship, a looming war with a neighbouring planet, and rebellion bubbling beneath the surface. Apparently, the Doctor has visited this world before with Jo Grant during his third incarnation, but this was not from any televised adventure. It’s useful only in the sense the bad guys recognise who he is, which I suppose makes a change from the normal routine of capturing the intruders and having them explain themselves.
There are a couple of cool things in Timelash. Firstly, there’s Borad, the mysterious ruler. It’s a well-worn trope of hiding behind a false persona, but I liked the idea of him using a robot dummy to talk to his people, and I especially like the awesome make-up they used to make Borad’s face. The half-human/half-rubber-lizard prosthetic is genuinely impressive (and horrific!) to me now; I can only imagine what it must have been like for viewers in 1985. Secondly, there’s some interesting use of time effects. The Doctor’s double-image bluff is intriguing, and there’s the burning android that gets sent back in time one hour, which hints at the sort of non-linear storytelling that Doctor Who doesn’t do very often, probably because serials have to be painfully linear when they’re spread over several weeks. Sadly, this doesn’t have much bearing on the plot.
And the plot is not all that. The rebel uprising is kinda boring and the time portal to the past is silly. It’s made out to be some horrible fate worse than death… but actually you just wind up in Scotland with H.G. Wells? Speaking of, the whole Wells thing is a cute twist, but the character is awful, or at least the actor is. This is a particular shame since most of the supporting cast are also awful. Poor performances all round, with one or two exceptions. And Peri is perhaps at her most useless here, serving as little more than the damsel in distress and screaming a lot. The best performance is from the Doctor as he frustratingly (and meticulously) chews out his companions for getting in the way, in a scene that appears to have been written to fill the remaining ten minutes, despite the implied urgency of the situation. I mean, it’s quite funny, but what the hell?
The ending, then, is just one massive cop-out, as the Doctor steers the Tardis into the incoming missile and is presumed dead, only to miraculously survive the explosion. I’m sorry, but “oh, it’s complicated, I’ll tell you about it some other time” is the absolute worst bottom-of-the-barrel writing imaginable. Shameful stuff.