What’s It About
While investigating a time corridor, the Doctor and Peri arrive on Karfel, a world the Doctor has visited before. But it seems things did not improve after his interference.
I don’t know whether to be impressed or disgusted
What can be said about “Timelash” that is worth saying or is in any way redemptive?
There are two really good ideas at the core of “Timelash”: (1) The Doctor revisiting a location he had once helped, only to find said location wasn’t helped at all by his intervention, and (2) a Doctor Who tribute to H.G. Wells. Neither of these, however, are handled well.
A story of a return, while done a couple of times in the past (“The Ark,” “The Face of Evil”) would have been most effective if it had been a return to a location we have already seen. How fascinating to see a later Doctor arrive somewhere a previous regeneration had helped, but to see unintended consequences! The Doctor might question himself. He may question his previous self and feel the need to right wrongs that he never saw at the time. This could have been so much better. Instead, we have a planet we have never seen and are given the story in exposition. This feels like a story with a returning villain or setting (and in the last few years we have seen a lot of returning villains and characters), but it never quite pays off because it is new. The trajectory of the era up to this point has been deceptive and actually hurts this story. Again, every episode has seen a reference to the past, but here, where a reference to the past is explicit in the story, there is none. Instead, we get a couple of references to Jo Grant and the Pertwee Doctor, but no actual return to a Pertwee-era story.
As for H.G. Wells, Doctor Who owes much to him. His approach to sci-fi has been extremely influential to Doctor Who. In fact, there is a good documentary on “The Ark” DVD about the influence of Wells. But in this story, the tribute to Wells is incidental. There are a few references through character names or monster names. Wells appears as a character halfway through, but his identity is left unknown until the end of the story. There doesn’t seem to be anything distinctly Wells in his portrayal. Worst of all, he is entirely forgettable, which is not what you want in a tribute. At least new Who makes their historical tributes memorable. They distill the historical figure into identifiable traits and struggles. They humanize them. In “Timelash,” Wells is just a plucky male assistant. His identity doesn’t matter. There is nothing in the story that prompts the viewer to want to pick up a Wells novel, nothing to compel the viewer to go deeper. What use is a tribute, then, if it doesn’t inspire the viewer?
So, on both counts that I have looked at, “Timelash” is a failure. But all Doctor Who stories have a fan or two somewhere. Let me know if you like “Timelash.” And even if you don’t care for it, how can we look at this story differently so as to redeem it? What interpretive lens improves this story?