Nice Guy, Nasty Cosmos
The great Timelash II rehash finally hobbles to a close. Here’s the last roundup. Seasons 19-21.
This is a story, like ‘Logopolis’, that achieves greatness despite its many flaws. Flaws first:
“Take your hands off me – this is an official uniform!” and “We’re perfectly harmless, unfortunately!”
Seriously… who the hell talks like that? I can forgive “I know so little about telebiogenesis” because Nyssa is an alien scientist child prodigy aristocrat. But Tegan is supposed to be a down-to-earth working woman. And, on that subject, it becomes abundantly clear during this story that the programme makers aren’t going to exploit the contrast between the two characters’ backgrounds and attitudes for interesting dramatic conflict. Nor are they going to milk the business of the Master inhabiting Nyssa’s father’s body for dramatic potential either… though, to her great credit, Sarah Sutton is still trying to use her face to express anguish at the Master’s appearance.
Ainley, it need hardly be said, excels as the delightful Portreeve (channelling Olivier to the point that it becomes beside-the-point that it’s always obvious who he is) but suddenly goes crap when called upon to play an obtuse, snarling Dick Dastardly. At times, when playing the Master at the end, Ainley moves and looks like no-one other than Groucho Marx (my second favourite Marx, as it happens… but there’s a time and place for everything). As in ‘Logopolis’, we needed a better villain. It seems hardly credible that a dunce like this Master could devise a trap of such subtlety and beauty as Castrovalva, let alone characters like Ruther and Mergrave. (One can only assume that they come as much from Adric as from his captor.) Ironically enough, we’re meant to be wrong-footed into suspecting Shardovan of villainy… because he’s a villain stereotype in black clothes and a black moustache.
The first two episodes are a bit of a trudge. There are lots of good bits, but they could easily be condensed into one episode. Again, Bidmead makes the TARDIS into an almost metaphysical space, a peculiar and vaguely-sinister labyrinth with healing rooms that smell of roses, rooms that can be ‘deleted’ as though the whole structure exists as data on a hard drive, rooms that seem to have been placed in the Doctor’s way by the TARDIS itself (to help provide him with a new identity) and medicine chests with Alice in Wonderland-style bottles inside marked ‘The Potion’, ‘The Ointment’ and ‘The Solution’. “Ah my little friend… if only you were!” Gorgeous.
Sadly, the business with the TARDIS being sent back to the hydrogen inrush is a bit of a mcguffin… and, again, as in ‘Logopolis’, Bidmead feels the need to have characters naming and explaining this story’s Big Theme to each other… just in case we miss it when it pops up. Having said that, the business with the Index File being listed in the Index File under Index File is very clever, both conceptually and linguistically. But the second half of Episode Two, featuring Tegan and Nyssa slowly carrying a box through a (admittedly beautiful) forest, is possibly the most boring thing ever committed to film.…