Aired 9 – 16 March 1985
It’s fair to say that Colin Baker’s first full year in the titular role is a decidedly mixed one. While ‘Vengeance on Varos’ is undoubtedly a classic and ‘The Mark of the Rani’ and ‘The Two Doctors’ can certainly be enjoyed within a certain context, ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ is a tale that lacks in almost every respect other than shamelessly delving into past continuity. Unfortunately, the biggest issue throughout this run is that the relationship filled with such seeming animosity between the Sixth Doctor and Peri is only intermittently improved as any particular moment in any particular story warrants, creating an underlying sense of unease around the two leads that the writers and production staff simply don’t meaningfully address. As a result, when a story such as ‘Timelash’ comes along with its decent ideas amid a flurry of nonsense and overacting, the continuing maelstrom between the heroic leads only serves to further weaken the overall result, and ‘Timelash’ has the dubious honour of consistently ranking near the bottom of fan polls.
Nonetheless, it is intriguing to see a programme built upon the foundation of time and space utilizing those components as a weapon, and disposing of criminals into the far past of Scotland makes for a strikingly visual and effective means of punishment that eliminates the criminals’ presumed burden on their own society. Similarly, the weapon that rapidly ages its victims is frighteningly effective, and the Doctor’s time delay crystal wonderfully flirts with pseudo-science in a way that only Doctor Who can. However, the exact reason for the former being implemented and the explanation of the latter’s function and purpose are both somewhat lacking, leaving a strange sense of emptiness beyond the visual nature of both.
The problem as alluded to, of course, is that the heroes- and especially the Sixth Doctor- simply aren’t likable and charming enough to create a dynamic aspect that allows the shortcomings of the production to be overlooked. Thus, each plot hole and cost-saving measure applied to the costuming and sets is always brazenly in focus, and the Sixth Doctor who is arguably at his most cantankerous and bullying rather than continuing on the path to becoming more mellow as supposedly intended only adds to the list of problems. It’s easy to imagine a stronger-willed companion putting this Doctor in his place and calling him out for his rude and unnecessary behavior, but the intrinsic vulnerabilities built into the character of Peri make her a poor choice to offer him any sort of redemption or rectification. Of course, the writing of ‘Timelash’ does not do Nicola Bryant any favours, outdoing the more subtle suggestions of earlier stories with her and overtly treating her as a sexualized object of desire for the Borad. Peri’s appearance has often been part of the earlier plots involving her, but suggesting that hurting her looks is the best way to hurt her is an odd repeated message that doesn’t necessarily seem at home with how the character herself is written.
Even looking beyond the strange correlation between evil and ugliness that pervades the story, ‘Timelash’ fails to create a live, breathing environment. The nod to a missing Third Doctor adventure is nice, and it’s fitting that Peri’s knowledge of Jo should save her life just as the show’s obsession with past continuity continued to alienate viewers, but none of the characters or even the central conflict between alien species become memorable or noticeable in any meaningful fashion. Considering that even the use of H.G. Wells is mishandled so that his presence is almost completely superfluous to events despite his close association with time travel and science fiction, ‘Timelash’ is simply a story that can’t manage to fully flesh out its interesting ideas, resulting in a difficult experience dampened by an aggressive and bullying lead.