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26 October 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 664: Timelash, Episode One

Dear diary,

Although I try to keep an open mind about every story in this marathon as I reach it, I have to admit that I've been dreading this one. Unlike, say, Underworld, which had a bad reputation, but I'd never judged for myself, or The Twin Dilemma, which I'd enjoyed in spite of such an awful reputation, Timelash is a story that I can remember coming away from on a previous viewing and actively thinking that it had a well-deserved reputation for being rubbish. Ever since, it's existed on my list of 'stories I don't plan to watch again'. Now, this isn't the first time in this marathon where I've come across such a story, and it can usually swing wildly in one direction or the other - I'll either come away loving it because it's better than I'm expecting, or I'll hate it even more because I've spent the last few days being so sure that I would. Sadly… I think we're falling in to the later of those two categories.

Something that's been becoming more and more prevalent this season is that the Doctor and Peri spend such a long time in the TARDIS. In this episode, they don't make it out of the ship until something like 23 minutes through - in 'old money', that would mean the entire first episode stuck in there! It's a trend that's been steadily growing for a while now (especially through the last two seasons, but it started as far back as Season Eighteen), and I think I'm just a bit bored of it. There was a time, when I was quite a new fan of Doctor Who, when the more time spent inside the TARDIS, the better the episode was - I was absolutely fascinated by it, and loved a chance to just look at the console room. Now, I'm not so sure. I'm also not keen on the way that the TARDIS is being set up this season.

Put simply, it no longer feels like a powerful time and space machine in the way that it did right back at the start of the programme, and it's all down to the way it's being treated. In Vengeance on Varos, when the Doctor retires to muse on the rest of eternity being spent in a dying ship, he sits on a garishly 1980s chair, that just happens to be plonked in the console room, away from anything else! It doesn't feel as though it's part of this console room at all (and neither, for that matter, does the entirely different chair which occupies a similar spot in The Twin Dilemma). Way back when, the TARDIS console room used to contain a little wooden chair, and various other odds and ends like that, but they somehow seemed to fit in perfectly with this strange place inside the police box. During the events of The Edge of Destruction, for example, the chair Barbara has to slump in doesn't feel incongruous, it simply feels natural that it should be there. I think the fact that the TARDIS is now less a collection of different elements - different attempts at making roundel walls, and fault locators, and ceiling lights - and more of a white void, coupled with the fact that the chair is so dated by being made in the mid-1980s, really does harm it.

In today's episode, it's the sudden appearance of straps being used like seat belts which feels out of place. When the Second Doctor gets up from regeneration and starts rummaging through a chest in the TARDIS console room, pulling out knives and cloaks and mirrors, it somehow feels natural. Similarly, when the Tenth Doctor does the same in The Unicorn and the Wasp, I'm somehow able to suspend my belief for long enough to just accept it. Here, though, it simply feels odd, and completely out-of-place with the set. If anything, it comes across as an excuse to pad out the running time a little (and I think I'm right in saying that the second episode, at least, did need some padding out with extra TARDIS scenes, so I may not be that far off the mark…!)

All that said… maybe they're better off being stuck inside the TARDIS, because the set design on Karfel leaves plenty to be desired. I get the impression that they're going for a kind of totalitarian minimalism effect - all blank walls and very little to inspire the people - but it just comes across as looking bland. Note how much more interesting it all looks, and how much my attention picked up, when we go in to the… I don't know, 'power chamber'? Suddenly, the lights are down, and they're trying something interesting with the colours. The sets aren't just flat blank walls, but rather there's some detail to them. Even the bland costumes look rather nice when there's some shadow to them!

I've little else to add, really, because Timelash simply isn't inspiring me to talk about it all that much! I'm in the sorry position of simply wanting to get tomorrow's episode over with, so I can move on to something that's hopefully a little bit better…

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