"Timelash" has long been maligned as the worst story from one of "Doctor Who"'s weaker seasons. Everyone, it seems, has a different explanation as to why "Timelash" failed: the fault might lie with the guest actors, or with the director, or the writer, the producer, the set designer... Everyone, just this once, is correct.
"Timelash"'s script is a mess, and that's the fatal flaw. There's too much going on and the end result is less than the sum of its parts. There's an interplanetary war, a deformed dictator (part man, part plesiosaur), some no-nonsense rebels (played here by a pretty young woman and a bald fat guy), a bunch of squabbling Senators, a time corridor in space... and a young H.G. Wells. The characters are by and large one-dimensional, and the dialogue is mostly woeful. Nothing that happens on the planet Karfel ever really engages the viewer... except for Paul Darrow.
Best known for his role on "Blake's 7", Darrow came to this story expected to turn in a similar performance. Instead, he wanted to explore fresh waters by playing his character as Richard the Third. He delivers, in the end, a sarcastic, pompous, oily performance that would have worked really well... had any of the other guest actors been up to the challenge. Instead, he sticks out like a sore thumb. As Darrow says in the DVD's making-of featurette, the story really does get boring once his character exits, midway through the final episode.
The making-of documentary, by the way, is one of the DVD production team's liveliest efforts thus far. Several members of the production (cast and crew) spread the blame around. Script editor Eric Saward, as he always does, blames the producer, a man who's been dead for years. He does point some of the blame at the episode director, but then blames the producer for hiring said director in the first place. As a result, these 20 minutes are far livelier than anything that happens during "Timelash" proper.
"Timelash"'s strength is in the voice acting. Three men alone were up to the task of adding gravitas to their lines: Colin Baker (the Doctor), Darrow, and Robert Ashby (the plesiosaur), who reportedly wrote his own ripostes when the script failed him: "Another expedition into the realms of duplicity". Separated from its drab sets and heard only as an audio play, "Timelash" might offer some moments of true menace.
Unfortunately, apart from those three performances, the rest of the guest cast are just going through the motions, likely as confused by the story as were the script editor and director. "Timelash" winds up a dull misfire, not as bad its legend has grown, but certainly not worth the DVD cover price unless you're a completist.