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Jul 10, 2007

Can one shot save a story?

Just like everyone else, I've been grimacing my way through the new dvd release, Timelash.  On paper there are some great ideas in here which wouldn't look out of place in one of Russell's  pre-season episode plans for nu-Who: the return to the setting of an old adventure which is played very much as though we're supposed to have seen it in the series a few decades before; a stable wormhole dropping inhabitants of a planet far in the future into the dark ages (with the effects each of those appearances could have on the timeline) and most squandered the idea of Doctor meta-fictionally meeting one of his inspirations HG Wells.

But no matter what Colin and co might imply in the entertaining commentary it's a shambles and not even gloriously so.  Everyone seems under rehearsed, the script is underwritten in places, overwritten in others, the Bandrill is as disappointing a creature as I'd been led to believe and when, not even the overacting and overreacting of Paul Darrow can save a pantomime like this you kind of wonder why anyone would want to buy it let alone watch it. 

And on the back of a new series, I really hope that there aren't any kids for whom this is their first classic story -- perhaps 2Entertain should have put a label on the back warning them to go and by Genesis of the Daleks instead or have someone call a spade a spade and call it something naughty in the surprisingly honest document in an attempt to drive up the BBFC rating -- which on the face of it could have least included the description from the sleeve notes on the inside contains 'dull, uninspiring sets and costumes'.

But (surprise) I don't come to completely bury Timelash.  Because there is one good scene.  Or rather shot.  And here it is:

As film theorist David Bordwell explains in this brilliant exposition, this kind of shot is becoming increasingly common in film, in everything from Wes Anderson's movies to underrated I, Robot. He describes:

"The camera stands perpendicular to a rear surface, usually a wall. The characters are strung across the frame like clothes on a line. Sometimes they’re facing us, so the image looks like people in a police lineup. Sometimes the figures are in profile, usually for the sake of conversation, but just as often they talk while facing front."

That's not exactly what's going on here -- the studio camera is at a slight angle, but it's not often that you see the Doctor and his plus one simply in repose like this waiting for the next bit of plot to come along (unless they've been captured for the umpteenth time and it's that point in the story when Pertwee gets to deploy his moment of charm).

More often than not the Doctor is moving around, making plans, investigating.  But here he is almost relaxed.  But more than that, it's almost as though, in midst of some of the blandest direction known to the series, Pennant Roberts has, at least for a few seconds, decided to show the state of the relationship between these two travelers and their attitude to adventure.

They look used to one another, like the old married couple they're often described as because of the endless bickering, not even looking at each other, looking into the environment.  There's a stillness to it.  There was a paparazzi photo taken during the making of the first new series of Chris and Billie sitting side by side in their own star chairs texting someone and their attitude was the same as this, relaxed yet also somehow tense in one another's company.

The close ups within this scene are within the same plain -- in other words when we see Colin and Nicola's heads they're positioned as they are now, which is the kind of editing language prevalent in old Hollywood (you can see it often in Frank Capra's films) and that helps to elaborate on this mood.  Then as the scene progresses, the effect is spoiled  as the story kicks in again and anything related to real human drama goes out of the window.

Does this one shot save the story?  Oh good god no, it's utter garbage, the whole other eighty-eight minutes.  But just for a few brief moments, both of these characters become interesting and mysterious and there's a window into what could have been.


Now THAT'S how you drape yourself across a sofa.

Good job in picking a diamond out of the rough here. I'd pondered picking up the DVD, soley if the commentary was entertaining enough...what's it like?

One day, when I was up at an ungodly hour beore going to work, I caught a few minutes on UKTV Gold, and I saw a scene which was actually quite interesting, and which would have made me continue watching, were it not for the follow up. It was a scene between two men, just before a scene where the TARDIS is shaking, and comes floating into a room. The dialogue between the two men was really quite good, but the next 5 minutes that I saw made me cringe.

I remember someone here, a good year and a half or two ago, saying that that TARDIS materialization was one of their favourites of the whole run.

I do love David Bordwell's essays, and his one on 'planimetric shots' (anyone with any knowledge of technical drawing conventions could justifiably contest that name) was particularly good.

Still, Timelash is and always will be terrible, the bit with the tinsel notwithstanding.

The Timelash DVD is worth it purely for the making-of documentary which wastes no time in delving into 25 minutes of 'what went wrong'.

Colin Baker damns Pennant Roberts with the faintest of praise by describing him as 'laid back' in comparison to Graeme Harper's energy; Baker and Darrow comment on Baker's performance in City At The Edge Of Forever, how Darrow got irritated at being upstaged and Timelash was essentially payback; Eric Saward ends up pointing the finger at all JN-T's dodgy mid-80s production and PR decisions that led up to the situation with the story ("Oh dear, I'm blaming him again"); there's a lovely slow-motion shot that highlights the moment when a technician pulls a knob off and has to hurriedly put it back; and the Darrow's turn as Tekker is described as 'a Roman emperor who's been sniffing glue all day'.

And the very last line is Paul Darrow saying, "Turn it off after I'm dead, it's boring."

That thing's a 'sofa'? It looks more like a pile of World War II sandbags.

I know a few people over at the DW Restoration Team forum seemed upset that the Timelash documentary was so negative...but then, hey, it's Timelash. Kind of a bugger really.

I eagerly await The Twin Dilemma to finally come out on DVD. That should be a massive one, in terms of the damage it did to Colin's run, the show in general, the weird excuses from the writer, productions difficulties...and so on and so on. Plus a commentary with Colin grinding his teeth as some of the worst moments. It would be facinating.

Maybe they'll include a cut-out Barry Scott face mask as a bonus PDF.

Damon -- actually it sounds like it was recorded at least two years ago -- all of the new series references certainly feel that old -- Chris X is mentioned as though he's the current Doctor.

"I remember someone here, a good year and a half or two ago, saying that that TARDIS materialization was one of their favourites of the whole run."

That was me. I'm fascinated by the TARDIS, and the way it moves in real space, which is why I list Timelash and Runaway Bride amongst my favorites, despite the stories being a bit rubbish. Excellent TARDIS-in-flight moments.

"I know a few people over at the DW Restoration Team forum seemed upset that the Timelash documentary was so negative...but then, hey, it's Timelash. Kind of a bugger really."

I'm concerned how everyone involved in the Survival documentaries seem to think it was awful, yet Survival is one of the most fondly-remembered stories of the later years. I mean, c'mon Lisa Bowerman (marry me), the cat-people weren't THAT bad..

"-- actually it sounds like it was recorded at least two years ago -- "

That's no excuse for a Time Lord, Colin. >=/


I watched The Leisure Hive the other day, and marvelled at the 1 minute and 40 seconds wordless, unpeopled tracking shot of a beach that begins the story.

In Nu-Who we would possibly have had the premise of the episode established in the pre-credits teaser and then have launched into the credits in that time.


I must say I really like the idea of Colin Baker and Paul Darrow having an epic Ham-Battle across '80s BBC science-fiction television!

"...the cat-people weren't THAT bad.."

I couldn't agree more...Cartmel in particular seemed mortified. But hey, you've got a basic problem right at the heart of things in that cheetahs, unless they're lunging at you fangs bared...do tend to look a bit cuddly and teddy-bearish anyway.

Despite all the technological advancements over the years, the cat nuns (and Father Dougal Cat) didn't look too far off the same look...

Still, better that than just the commentators endlessly praising everything all the time. Yes, Nu Who commentators, I'm looking in your direction :P

Just shows how big the BBC warehouse is and how long they store things for. I'm sure that turntable from Blankety Blank and Hitchhikers is still in use somewhere.

Half the prizes from Blanketty Blank are probably still in there too.

It is sad that so many of you seem to follow the leader and blast this story. Maybe next time the reviewer can try being a trend breaker and praise a much lamented story rather than pick it apart. Not everyone hates the mid 80s Who.

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