Doctor Who: The Time Warrior

From Doctor Who: Time Warrior

All things considered The Time Warrior and Timelash could be labeled “The Height and Fall of Classic Doctor Who”.

Doctor Who

Distributor: BBC Warner
Cast: John Pertwee, Colin Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Nicola Bryant
Network: BBC
First date: 1975
US Release Date: 2008-04-01

Doctor Who

Distributor: BBC Warner
Cast: John Pertwee, Colin Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Nicola Bryant
Network: BBC
First date: 1975
US Release Date: 2008-04-01

There’s the Doctor Who that’s currently being seen in America on the SciFi channel and BBC America. Then there’s the Doctor Who that older and somewhat stranger Americans remember watching on PBS, which now goes by the label of “classic” Doctor Who. The BBC has just released two DVD’s from the “classic” era, The Time Warrior and Timelash.

In The Time Warrior, John Pertwee plays the third incarnation of Doctor Who. This isn’t just classic Doctor Who, it’s the classic era of the classic show. Pertwee plays the Doctor superbly. He’s older and a bit more authority-oriented than the Tom Baker version, but he’s just as whimsical and every bit as cool. Both Doctors equally enjoy tweaking the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney), the commander of UNIT, which is the brave but often hapless force of humans that try to protect the Earth from nefarious alien schemes.

The story begins when Linx (Kevin Lindsay), a massive, armor clad alien with a very bad attitude, crash-lands in medieval England after his ship is damaged in a skirmish with other aliens. He quickly teams up with Irongron (David Daker), an evil knight who has just stolen a castle but is running low on food, wine, and quality wenches. Irongron and Linx quickly start making mischief with Linx traveling forward in time to kidnap 20th century scientists to fix his ship and Irongron trying to capture the rather wimpy Edward of Wessex’s castle. It’s clearly time to call in the Doctor.

The story is quite good, a mixture of high tech aliens and medieval knights, which should delight any science fiction fan. There’s also a nice egalitarian element in that the medieval English aren’t shown as primitive boobs (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court and Army of Darkness come to mind), but are instead just as clueless as everyone else. Linx and Irongron think exactly alike while the Brigadier and Edward of Wessex (Alan Rowe) are equally hapless.

Another nice story element is that of the brilliant but absent-minded scientist. You don’t see any of them in science fiction nowadays outside of Futurama, which is a crying shame. Instead of the crazy old man in the lab we have sleek professionals who work out in the gym while constantly demonstrating how cool they are. No wonder science scores are down. Time Warrior has an excellent remedy for this sorry state of affairs in the character of Professor Rubeish. Rubeish (Donald Pelmear) stumbles about with myopic charm and while he may not know the time of day, he’s brilliant enough to help save it (the day, that is).

The Doctor also receives help from Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) in her first appearance on Doctor Who. This fact alone makes Time Warrior a must have for any self respecting Whovian. Sarah Jane Smith! The greatest Doctor companion ever, hands down, no debate allowed. Object of this writer’s boyhood fancy, Sladen went from being a last minute replacement to making the role her own. The fact that she has her own show now, The Sarah Jane Adventures, is testimony that I wasn’t the only one she impressed.

The Time Warrior is a must see for any science fiction fan. If you are a Whovian you’ve probably already bought the DVD. If you are curious about “classic” Doctor Who, this DVD is a great litmus test. If you don’t like Time Warrior, then you won’t have to watch anything else because this is as good as it gets. But if you do enjoy it, there’s years worth of good stuff here.

Unfortunately those years were over by the time Colin Baker (no relation to the legendary Tom Baker) took over as the Doctor. It pains me to say this, but Colin’s portrayal of the Doctor is, well, a bit silly. I mentioned this to my wife, who likes the newer Doctors (It’s the production values I’m sure) and loves Torchwood but has little patience with “classic” Doctor Who. Her response was that all of the “classic” Doctors were quite silly and the ensuing “discussion” almost put me out on the couch. My protests that there is a thin but discernable line between whimsy and silliness were met with scorn.

Still, I maintain that there is such a line and that Colin Baker crossed it. But he isn’t to blame, since at this point Doctor Who is adrift and suffering from neglect. There doesn’t seem to be any direction, the cast seems as if they’ve been thrown in the deep end and left to tread water until the film runs out. A perfect example of this is the voice of Nicola Bryant who plays Peri, the Doctors current companion. Peri is supposed to be an American college student, but unfortunately her accent is so bad that she may as well be a Dalek. It’s not her fault; she was fresh out of drama school, but the fact that the BBC let her go on like that for a couple of seasons is pure negligence.

What makes Timelash watchable is it’s storyline and the hammy villainy of Tekker (Paul Darrow). An evil scientist, the Borad (Robert Ashby), who has been mutated into a cave lizard, is ruling the planet Karfel. The Borad wants to eradicate the Karfellians and start a new lizard race by mating with Peri. This mutant lizard has a serious agenda and rather good taste. The plot quickly gets thicker and more bizarre than Bryant’s accent, and would have been a great yarn if the director (Pennant Roberts) had done his job.

All things considered these two DVD’s could be labeled “The Height and Fall of Classic Doctor Who”. The Time Warrior is definitive and embodies everything that is good about the show. Timelash is only for the most devoted of Whovians and is rather a sad thing to see.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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