Sneakily taking the hinges off the doors of perception

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. William Whyte
    May 14, 2012 @ 1:20 am

    To reiterate my point from last entry about the season containing a series of horrific transformations, it's as if the show itself is screaming out in horror at what it's become.


  2. Abigail Brady
    May 14, 2012 @ 1:24 am

    I think it's a measure of how ill-regarded this story is that nobody has ever written the prequel to it, despite 20 years of continuity porn-welcoming missing adventures/companion chronicles that it could be slotted in to.


  3. Lee Mansfield
    May 14, 2012 @ 1:38 am

    Although having said that it was RTD himself who invoked this lost adventure in the Sarah Jane Adventures 'Death Of The Doctor' episode when Jo Grant recalls with fondness her trip to Karfel.


  4. Lee Mansfield
    May 14, 2012 @ 1:42 am

    Actually…note that the invocation was in an episode called 'Death Of The Doctor'! The meta-consciousness of the series pointing back to its painful exorcism perhaps!


  5. Alex Wilcock
    May 14, 2012 @ 1:47 am

    Despite my love of Colin, for me, this is simply the worst Who story broadcast, but each to their own. The Doctor’s written as too mean, and Peri given a terrible part locked up for mutation and shagging – and together, they’re bitching as if it was back to the beginning of the season again. I can’t think of any other story with such jaw-droppingly crass ‘As you know, fellow councillor of mine’ exposition as ‘Our former allies, the Bandrils’, ‘My only daughter’, ‘My future wife’, ‘After such major surgery’ and the immortal ‘All 500 of us?’ What happens on screen is just as competent: heaven help us, but you wish for more tinsel when they can’t afford enough of even the cheapest of cheap stuff, and for all the many criticisms levelled at the series, the Maylin pulling off a knob and just holding it in his hand hoping we won’t notice is the only time it’s been Acorn Antiques.

    And the Felching Rocks are surely the series’ least appealing holiday destination.

    But back to your “hilarious hubris” for the real treasure: have you read the text notes on the DVD? It turns out the original script was worse still, and thanks to Saward for taking out most of Herbert’s Catholicism. Lucky, really, as his Catholic spiritualism is not in any way related to the real Calvinist / atheist Mr Wells. Just have a think about famous turn-of-the-last-century writers who had a major impact on Doctor Who and, as my brilliant other half did, you’ll have to conclude that Glen McCoy, astoundingly, just mixed up H.G. Wells with Arthur Conan Doyle and no-one spotted it.


  6. 5tephe
    May 14, 2012 @ 2:20 am

    Wow. You know, I think I must have forcibly repressed all memory of the content of this story. I totally remember the Doctor making that quip about Herbert's card, and thinking "Oh, cute."

    But I would have sworn BLIND that it was Tom Baker and Lis Sladen on screen at the time.

    And I certainly can't recall anything else about the story.


  7. Anton B
    May 14, 2012 @ 2:46 am

    'And so the implication of the story is that really crap Doctor Who is the secret origin of all science fiction'

    My god! you might have hit the proverbial nail here old chap. It may very well be. Is that what they put Poor old Colin on trial for next season? I wouldn't know I couldn't bring myself to watch it then and life's too short to bother now.

    I do remember accidently catching the denoument/reveal of Herbert's secret identity (curiosity must have got the better of me and made me check if Doctor Who really was still rubbish). I just remember thinking 'oh that's that then. What possible reason could they have for doing that?' You've just supplied a possible one, for which – thanks. By the way it's not even original as Michael Moorcock had already pulled the same stunt in his Dancers at the End of Time trilogy. At least he had the decency to suggest it might be an HG Wells from a parallel universe. (Also am I alone in my dissapointment at his recent stab at a Doctor Who Novel?)


  8. Matt Sharp
    May 14, 2012 @ 4:07 am

    'Just have a think about famous turn-of-the-last-century writers who had a major impact on Doctor Who and, as my brilliant other half did, you’ll have to conclude that Glen McCoy, astoundingly, just mixed up H.G. Wells with Arthur Conan Doyle and no-one spotted it.'

    My eleven year old self spotted it, and I can't believe that I was the only one. It's probably more accurate to say that he'd mixed up Arthur Conan Doyle and H. G. Wells and no one cared enough to do anything about it.


  9. J. L. Webb
    May 14, 2012 @ 4:33 am

    "…exposed the Doctor as an almost completely morally and philosophically bankrupt character, attacked the premise of monsters, and now, to top it all off, attacked the show’s standing as science fiction."

    This sounds disconcertingly like the most recent season of the revived series, are we in the midst of another exorcism?
    and what then does the upcoming Dalek story suggest…


  10. jane
    May 14, 2012 @ 5:03 am

    Thank you, Phil, for graciously saving me from outing myself.

    Okay, what about the mirrors? In the season of the exorcism, the Doctor finds a civilization where mirrors have been outlawed. Why? Because the Monster doesn't want to look at himself. And look at this monster — he's a mashup of two different species. Wait — a mashup? This is nothing less than the genetic code of Who itself, which has long performed the alchemy of mixing up genres. What we end up with is not just a monster that doesn't want to face itself, but a show that struggles with what it sees in the mirror.

    I have to note with pride that the Doctor uses a mirror to resolve the cliffhanger heading into Part 2, confusing the android guard and allowing the rebels to escape. So let's talk about the android. It's blue. TARDIS blue. And it gets sent back in time to the caves where Peri was previously imperiled. The labyrinthine caves are a metaphor for the Underworld, and in a redemptive reading of a season that's been identified as an exorcism, I can only take the burning android as the show realizing on a subconscious level that it's no longer invoking its own past, it's torching it.

    Okay, one last thought on the Borad. As I noted back in The Awakening, the Chair is a symbol for transcendence, and in the climactic final scene, the Doctor uses a Chair to smash through his own image, an image of a false past, revealing a mirror — Peri screams on cue, and the monster flails about helplessly before being bumped off into the Timelash. "Your reign of terror is over!" the Doctor cries gleefully, invoking a pointless historical from the show's first season.

    Timelash didn't just attack the show's standing as science fiction, it attacked the very core of its being.


  11. Henry R. Kujawa
    May 14, 2012 @ 5:47 am

    2 years back, I decided to watch every DOCTOR WHO in my collection. Even the bad ones. At the time, I had not seen "TIMELASH" in about 20 years, because it was that rare story that was SO bad, on every single possible level, that I just couldn't bear to put up with it in the course of a normal run of watching the show. Well, I watched it… and it was painful to sit thru. The whole time, all I could think was, "I'll NEVER watch this one again."

    2 years later, I'm only watching the ones I like. So far, I've skipped "THE SILURIANS", "THE AMBASSADORS OF DEATH", "INFERNO", the first half of "COLONY IN SPACE" (no really!), "DAY OF THE DALEKS", "THE CURSE OF PELADON", "THE MUTANTS", "FRONTIER IN SPACE", "PLANET OF THE DALEKS", "THE GREEN DEATH", "THE MONSTER OF PELADON", "GENESIS OF THE DALEKS" (no– really!!!!), and "FOUR TO DOOMSDAY". And I'm about to skip everything between "EARTHSHOCK" and "ENLIGHTENMENT". So I think it's safe to say I won't be watching this turkey this time around.

    I mean, if you're going to kidnap Peri, chain her up and set her out as a sex offering for some hideious alien monster, the least they could do is give her something skimpy and revealing to almost not be wearing.


  12. Adam Riggio
    May 14, 2012 @ 6:02 am

    Here we have a story that attempts to connect Doctor Who to one of the paradigm founders of the tradition of science-fiction, H. G. Wells. Wells, you're right Phil, is pretty whitewashed in the popular image of him, but Glen McCoy's story gets even that simplified image completely out of whack. As you pointed out in the post on the role-playing game, science-fiction in the 1980s (and really into the present) is generally understood to consist of franchises that take place within a single consistent world. The version of consistency that was imposed on Doctor Who was the Whoniverse, the living death that limits what kinds of stories can be told.

    Let me see if I can follow this.

    JNT-Saward tried to remake Doctor Who into an ordinary science-fiction franchise, a British parallel to Star Trek. JNT got the impression that this was the right direction to go through his relationships with superfans like Ian Levine who were most visible on the convention circuit. So they imposed a rigid continuity on the series, the Whoniverse. But trying to impose consistency on Doctor Who only provokes more problems, as explanations of continuity just become increasingly convoluted. As stories are conceived in terms of how they fit into and fill gaps in a continuity that must be consistent, actual aspects of dramatic quality like character, concept, and narrative lose centrality.

    JNT-Saward also conceived of Doctor Who as a continuation of the British tradition of science-fiction, of which a major progenitor was H. G. Wells. Timelash can be understood as the show taking up this inheritance. But because the focus on continuity is causing the show to drop in quality, it's increasingly less worthy of the mantle is aspires to. Timelash is not only a bad story. It also creates needless weirdnesses in continuity with the Pertwee reference, stumbling even in its current focus on internal consistency. It also messes up the reception of its legacy in misremembering Wells even less faithfully than his whitewashed public image. So the show is not only aiming for a lower standard than it was capable of in its best days, it isn't even achieving this low standard anymore.

    In conceiving of itself as a science-fiction show, Doctor Who loses sight of the best aspects of its own nature. It's not a sci-fi show, but a mythic show about the creative transformation of worlds. As such, when it attempts to claim an inheritance of legendary science-fiction, the show finds itself inadequate to the mantle of its heroes.

    JNT-Saward's Doctor Who aspires to the heroic creators of science-fiction alone, when it should position itself in the tradition of mythic narratives, their subversions, and self-awareness. There are elements of science-fiction, because that's the storehouse of allegory in our secular society. But Doctor Who is more akin to Beowulf, Camelot, Quixote, and the stories of Borges.


  13. gregmcduck
    May 14, 2012 @ 7:56 am

    What, no Fix with Sontarans? I was looking forward to you redemptive reading of Gareth Jenkins! 😉

    What's struck me about this season is how many "fun" elements there are that the writers just seem to ignore. I like a bit of crazy in my Doctor Who, and with things like infant dinosaurs in jars, hallucinatory fly monsters, Cybermen running around in sewers, there's no reason for these stories not to be fun. The Two Doctors is the only Sixth Doctor story I've seen thus far that seems to go all out in this, even though I felt the execution lacking.

    This story is the Doctor teaming up with H.G. Wells to fight mutants with crystal. So why is it so dull and not-fun?


  14. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 14, 2012 @ 7:58 am

    Slightly out of order – I wanted to do Season 22 as a solid stretch, so Fix With Sontarans will go up Friday. I'm actually writing it now. Well, no, right now I'm fucking around in my comment section avoiding writing it. But this is an important part of my process. Or something.


  15. tantalus1970
    May 14, 2012 @ 8:45 am

    "This story is the Doctor teaming up with H.G. Wells to fight mutants with crystal. So why is it so dull and not-fun?"

    One reason is the decision not to tell the audience who Herbert is. (Although many people did figure it out, personally at the time I didn't care enough to try!) Imagine the Dickens or Christie episodes in the new series doing that. In Timelash, they sacrifice what is actually a very good idea for a 'twist-at-the-end' that they clearly think is much cooler.


  16. Lane Williams
    May 14, 2012 @ 8:51 am

    The fact that so many people actually take the time to comment elaborately on this entry is a testament to what a great and powerful thing Timelash was. I mean, come on. TIMELASH!


  17. Alex Wilcock
    May 14, 2012 @ 10:06 am

    Ooh, you were sharp (no pun intended). And I was impressed when my beloved came up with it years later… Though I was thinking of 'no-one on the production team spotted it', as you'd think they'd at least have a cursory glance at an encyclopaedia, if not a biography.

    Mind you, while Timelash didn't inspire HG Wells, the Timelash does look to have inspired the Weeping Angels' way of killing people…


  18. BerserkRL
    May 14, 2012 @ 10:20 am

    Anton B.,

    Michael Moorcock had already pulled the same stunt in his Dancers at the End of Time trilogy.

    Plus there was the movie Time After Time in 1979.

    Also am I alone in my dissapointment at his recent stab at a Doctor Who Novel?

    See this.


  19. BerserkRL
    May 14, 2012 @ 10:23 am


    So you are in the grip of evil, then.


  20. BerserkRL
    May 14, 2012 @ 10:26 am

    almost nobody talks about any of his books following The First Men in the Moon in 1901

    I have!

    Incidentally, Wells' In the Days of the Comet helped to inspire both Conan Doyle's The Poison Belt and Karel ?apek's Factory of the Absolute (a.k.a. The Absolute at Large) — the latter about a mystical effluvium that converts the world to socialism, but with somewhat less happy results than in Wells' story.


  21. Henry R. Kujawa
    May 14, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

    Now, if they'd cast Malcolm McDowell to reprise his role as "Herbert" (as Mary Steenbergen called him), maybe this would have been worth watching.


  22. Henry R. Kujawa
    May 14, 2012 @ 12:33 pm


    So you are in the grip of evil, then."

    HEY! I just watched 'em 2 years ago. (Meanwhile I'm plowing thru some stuff in my collection right now I haven't seen in 20, 25 or 30 years.)

    And I've probably seen "INFERNO" more times than any other Pertwee story. It was the first one I managed to see all the way thru back when, and it was the first one that turned up on PBS in late-'83/early'84. Some stories outlive their welcome, no matter how good they are… but, especially if they're 6– or 7– episodes long! (I mean, I really am crazy about Jo these days– and I skipped her last 3 whole stories in a row– including her farewell story.)

    As it is, I saw "EARTHSHOCK" last night… and find it hard to reconcile al the rave reviewws of it at PageFillers, when to me, it's hovering at absolute "average". Not bad, not great– just, sort of– there.


  23. Matt Sharp
    May 14, 2012 @ 11:13 pm

    The alternative explanation is that no one on the production team had the same level of general knowledge as a vaguely interested eleven year old.

    Admittedly, I had been ploughing through the complete Sherlock Holmes at the time, and I'd read a lot of H. G. Wells the previous year, so it was pretty fresh in my mind. But, still…

    'as you'd think they'd at least have a cursory glance at an encyclopaedia, if not a biography.'

    That would be Eric Saward's job, and he doesn't care any more. He hasn't cared all year.


  24. Iain Coleman
    May 15, 2012 @ 7:50 am

    This story is, I think, the peak of the problem that we've had since the regeneration: the awful, nasty relationship between the Doctor and Peri. For the last few stories it's been increasingly difficult to understand why Peri would want to stay with this man who bullies her, abuses her verbally and psychologically, and gets her into all kinds of terrifying, life-threatening situations.

    Some of the worst moments in this relationship are in Timelash, most especially the bit when the Doctor promises the Borad he can have Peri as long as she doesn't scream when she sees him. "Don't I get a say in this?" she asks, not unreasonably. "No you don't" he barks dismissively. And there's a lot more where that came from. When she's with the Doctor, Peri's behaviour and body language scream "abused spouse". Most striking is the Doctor's threat in this story to take her back to Earth. She has every reason to say "yes please" and get away from this terrible man once and for all, but instead she backs down. There's no sense that she wants to stay on the Tardis because she enjoys the Doctor's company – instead she seems terrified of being dumped, in the way that the psychologically cowed partner of a bully often is.

    This dysfunctional and negative relationship is part of why this season is poorly perceived. We can enjoy stories with rubbish effects, tissue-thin plots and woeful dialogue provided the Doctor and his companions are fun to be with. Season 5 is surely the proof of that. Here, however, even otherwise decent stories can be hard to enjoy because the central relationship is so unpleasant.

    If we're looking at this season as the show attacking its own foundations, then this fits right in. This is how awful it can be, living with a madman in a box.


    • Richard Bennett
      September 5, 2018 @ 1:30 pm

      There’s a chilling example of this in part one. They’re going to leave the tardis and The Doctor makes a sudden and violent motion to open the tardis doors and Peri flinches back as if she’s about to struck, or more specifically as if she’s used to be being struck. And the director let that happen, it’s very obvious.


  25. Henry R. Kujawa
    May 15, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

    I used to joke that Colin Baker's Doctor was JNT's on-screen alter-ego. The more I learn about JNT behind the scenes, the more I'm beginning to think that was more true than I ever imagined…


  26. Alan
    June 2, 2012 @ 7:01 pm

    I really have nothing to say, as this is one of the few episodes of classic DW that I never saw and probably never will. Aside from its apparently deserved reputation, once I heard that dragging young H.G. Wells into the future was part of the plot (a hackneyed bit of nonsense that the series had wisely avoided for over twenty years), I simply could not bring myself to sit through it.


  27. Henry R. Kujawa
    February 8, 2014 @ 12:45 pm

    When I last watched this, and swore I'd never watch it again, I meant it. I've watched a pile of WHO stories since then, and had a blast picking and choosing which ones in sometimes-random order.

    But last night, "TIMELASH" joined the ranks of the very FEW stories of the series I deliberately pulled out to watch totally out of sequence, all on its own. IN GOD'S NAME, WHY??? –you ask? Well… I've been watching my 1st-ever "H.G. Wells" marathon. "THE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS", "THE INVISIBLE MAN", THINGS TO COME", WAR OF THE WORLDS", etc. My copy of "THE TIME MACHINE" (with Rod Taylor) has annoyingly gone missing, but last week I watched "TIME AFTER TIME" with Malcolm McDowell.

    And in a fit of inspired insanity, I decided it might– might– be fun to watch this next.

    MY MISTAKE. This remains, in my mind, the SINGLE WORST story in this show's history. And it has to go a long way to beat "WARRIORS OF THE DEEP". I mean, when every single aspect of the story, every bit of casting, every bit of production design, every single line of dialogue, and every moment of directing and acting are all so unbelievably, unbearably AWFUL on every possible level… you're left wondering, HOW did such a piece of S*** like this ever get made???

    I tell you! It takes a SPECIAL piece of CRAP to make 2 Bert I.Gordon turkeys– "THE FOOD OF THE GODS" and "EMPIRE OF THE ANTS"– look like masterpieces BY COMPARISON.

    Next Friday: WHO does "WOTW". Of course– "INVASION EARTH 2150 A.D."


  28. Andrew Bowman
    May 13, 2014 @ 3:55 am

    Leaving character aside for a moment, the plot itself feels very modern: time distortions, celebrity characters, the fantastic make-up of the Borad. Also, Denis Carey is always good value; the blue androids are striking, if not wholly effective, and the resolution is obvious without being explained. Yes, there are issues with it, but if it's watched as a piece of television, rather than as a subject for criticism, it has a good deal to offer. And for the record, I'm as capable of critical viewing as the next person; I just choose not to bother, as I don't really see the point of it – it just spoils my enjoyment the the long run.


  29. Matthew Kilburn
    May 15, 2014 @ 7:40 am

    Belated comment – fascinating. I never thought of the presentation of Wells as a straight mix-up with Doyle, but always thought it was off, from naming him as 'Herbert' on. I was going to write something about it for 'In Vision' back in 1998 or so but my lines of communication with the editor went down…


  30. orfeo
    April 18, 2017 @ 9:28 am

    Well. It seems that, having watched this just now without a full awareness of its awful reputation, I might be one of the few people on the planet who actually QUITE LIKED Timelash.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of things that don’t work (that creature in the tunnels) or don’t quite make sense. But I think this has quite a few interesting ideas and most of all it has good dialogue.

    Honestly, I enjoyed the exchanges here more than I have in quite a while. A couple of Herbert’s conversations with the Doctor are downright hilarious, and there were plenty of other occasions where I genuinely enjoyed a turn of phrase. Most of the characters had texture and personality, so that they weren’t completely interchangeable.

    This might sound like I’m declaring myself superior, but I genuinely think that part of the reputation of this one might be due to the dialogue being more detailed and subtle than usual. Some of the best bits come from small references, and if you don’t pick them up then yes, you’re left with a fairly cheap-looking production and uninspired direction. But the script… for me there are some genuinely nice things in there.


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