Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Reviews


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14 Jun 2003The Invisible Enemy, by Ewen Campion-Clarke
14 Jun 2003The Invisible Enemy, by Gareth Jelley
31 Dec 2003The Invisible Enemy, by Paul Clarke

When I first saw this story, my TV developed a fault, forcing me to watch it in black and white. The idea of journeying-to-the-centre-of-the-brain was quite popular that week - Danger Mouse went through four episodes of this just like the Doctor. Looking back, I was surprised I could take the middle segment of the story seriously as a cartoon mouse and gerbil beat the Doctor and Leela into the controlled brain of a main character (in their case Colonel K) to find the evil squatters at the heart. While Time Lord and Savage fought phagocites and evil clones, DM found himself fighting literal funny bones as well as getting lost inside the body. However, this story has K9 in it, so it must be taken with all the respect it deserves. 

Looking at it today, I do notice how disparate the episodes are. The first one is a sort of 1970s Event Horizon with a ship full of well-rounded characters (well, as well-rounded as you can get with one minute of dialogue between them) being plunged into chaos then, possessed, begin to kill off their innocent co-workers as they return. The scenes of the spacesuited carriers hunting down the crew room are more eerie than when they reveal their infection (presumably capitalizing on the success of The Ambassadors of Death). I do wonder, though, why the infected spacemen begin to grow silver fur around their eyes. Why? If, for example, they were beginning to mutate into giant prawns, it would be more scary if you asked me. Of course, seeing the pregnant prawn in the final episode, it would not have done to story any favors to show the mutation complete, but it could be mentioned in passing. 

I'm surprised I liked the fourth Doctor so much during my childhood. His only competitor was the Seventh, but all the stories of the fourth Doctor seemed to have him possessed or evil. The Invisible Enemy, The Invasion of Time, The Face of Evil - his uncharacteristic anger during the Horror of Fang Rock included. Of course, now I know the Seventh Doctor is the manipulative, evil and amoral Time Lord, but back then he seemed like Davison at his most naive. Well, I had only seen Season 24 at the time. 

The second episode has a cool ER 5000 feel to it and maybe the story could have been better if they'd concentrated on that angle, with Leela wandering round the hospital and seeing how different the hospital of the future is from now. The Doctor suddenly cured for five minutes long enough to re-explain the plot confuses me even now, but I am easily-confused. Oh yes, and while the explanation of the Kilbracken technique explains the clothes, it doesn't explain why they are linked telepathically to their hosts - and if so, why isn't the cloned Doctor infected? 

The Fantastic Voyage in part three is supposed to take less than eleven minutes. I suppose it could work if you think of every few scenes happening at the same time, or if the clones' reduced size increases their lifespan, but the idea of time running out is clumsy. Why not simply have the virus ready to take over in ten minutes unless they are stopped. While I was intrigued by the Doctor's airy claim that his telepathy was curtailed when the Time Lords kicked him out (and the fact he instantly changes the subject when Leela asks him about it) I didn't really feel the clones knowing they were going to die whatever happened worked. Leela seems very cheerful despite the fact she will be dead in five minutes. 

The scene where the Doctor argues with an intelligent virus about sensible ambition inside his own brain feels very normal considering three episodes ago he was discussing strategy with a blob of jelly on the steps of a lighthouse. The death of the clone Doctor and Leela could have been very dramatic but, well, it isn't. It's shot terribly: the Virus shouts that it has won; the Doctor falls over, shouting 'get out of my brain'; Leela runs in and falls over; the Doctor turns see-through; a gunshot; and then all that's left is a smoky hole in the ground and Leela's knife and hair. Knife and hair. That don't dissolve. Give me strength. 

The fourth episode tries to pull itself back into reality - and this is no mean feet with the pregnant prawn burbing in the background. Why couldn't it be red? WHY? The Doctor taking the piss out of the monster normally works in alleviating tension, but there is no tension here in the first place. I was surprised the scene shown in the novelization when Marius tries to infect the Doctor and fails isn't in the program. Assuming it never happened, that would explain why they think he can 'be consumed' when he is clearly immunized. Back to Titan for a race-against-time, the third in the story and better. K9 breaking down could have worked better if this didn't happen so often but it does re-state the Doctor's 'never trust gimmecky gadgets' philosophy. Him leaving Leela and K9 behind was quite exciting the first time, but it's supposed to be comic relief. Also, there's a terrible bit of editing - Lowe fires at the Doctor, who drops the box of antibodies, smashing it and forcing h! im to use Leela's plan. What we see is a shot of the eggs bubbling while we hear Lowe firing, so the box of anti-bodies seems to disappear and we have no idea why the Doctor changes tactics. 

Finally, Titan is destroyed (surely wrecking the solar system's balance and not a good thing) and the Doctor gets out his Sedan chair in his new control room to match the hatstand and using the scanner alcove and a bookshelf. K9 fits in quite well, and it would have been simple for the TARDIS simply to have gone wrong while trying to return the marvellous metal mutt to Marius (ooh, aliteration). Instead there is the annoying scene with Leela acting like a four-year old to the Doctor's brooding parent. 'All right, Leela, you can have K9 but you'll have to feed him and take him for walks because a dog isn't just for Christmas, especially when you're a time traveller'... 

The Invisible Enemy isn't perfect. But it entertains for the two hours needed to watch it.

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At a key point in 'The Invisible Enemy' the Doctor discovers that cloning experiments first took place in the year 3922 (or some similarly far-flung date), a gentle reminder that recent advances in genetic science have come at us far quicker than could ever have been expected. That isn't to imply that 'The Invisible Enemy' explores cloning in any serious way: it doesn't. But it does demonstrate the wonderfully throw-away approach to science in Doctor Who stories, or what in Star Trek is called 'techno-babble'. But where Star Trek is quite earnest and serious in its approach to 'science', taking it all 'very seriously', Doctor Who stories often seem to fling 'real' science facts into the mix in the way you might fling chocolate chips into a dough mixture: you don't need to be precise, because all that really matters is that you don't forget to put them in. 

The reason 'The Invisible Enemy' is still entertaining is the combination of witty dialogue and eye-catching design. Tom Baker frequently proves to be the saving grace of Fourth Doctor stories, and here is no exception. Both the Doctor and Leela are served well by a script which is clever, slightly ironic, and full of good dialogue ("You megalomaniacs are all the same"), and save for a few dud lines (usually where the script is desperately trying to cover some distance in a short space of time with exposition from either Leela of the Swarm) Bob Baker and Dave Martin turned out a solid (if not classic) story.

However what stands out in 'The Invisible Enemy' is the time that appears to have gone into giving the story a distinctive look and atmosphere. A high-angle shot of the three infected astronauts in their space-suits, for example, succeeds in stretching the capabilities of a shot-on-video studio-based TV story into the realms of the filmic. 'The Invisible Enemy' isn't cinematic by any stretch of the imagination, but there are certain shots early on that leave a big impression. The cliff-hanger to episode one, the special effects shots at the very beginning of the story, and the model-shots of the eggs before they hatch, are all particularly effective. And other, smaller details shouldn't be ignored: the decals used in the moon base ('Oxygen' and 'Level 4X', etc.) have a pleasing future-retro feel, and Professor Marius' spectacles are wonderful.

There is a lot to like in 'The Invisible Enemy', and even though certain elements would make even the most hardy of viewers wince (the inside of the Doctor's brain, and the virus in it, for example, are far too tacky) overall it is a successful and enjoyable Doctor Who adventure.

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Apologists for 'The Invisible Enemy' like to affectionately describe it as "grand folly". I like to define it as "utter cobblers". Saddled with a stupid plot, very cheap-looking production values, an extremely silly monster, and bad acting, it comes as a massive disappointment after 'Horror of Fang Rock' and has also aged very badly.

'The Invisible Enemy' suffers from arguably the worst script Bob Baker and Dave Martin ever contributed to the series, and they wrote 'The Three Doctors'. The plot is laden with unconvincing and silly technobabble, three points of which I shall address. The first is the Swarm; frequently described as a virus, the Swarm bears no resemblance to anything actually approaching a virus in real life. Viruses are small stretches of nucleic acid wrapped in a protein coat and sometimes a lipid envelope. The Swarm is a megalomaniac seafood platter with the ability to infect robots, survive outside of a host after having been increased in size by an enormous factor, and give its hosts big silver eyebrows. Slightly hypocritically, I probably wouldn't mind so much if some pseudoscientific description of a micro-dimensional organism had been provided, but by calling it a virus, the writers drive me to distraction throughout. The second item of unconvincing technobabble concerns the clones. It was apparently noted by a viewer at the time that if the clones in Episodes Two and Three were real clones, they would be stark-bollock naked. The process of cloning described bears about as much resemblance to any real basis of cloning as a haddock bears to Peru, with the process seemingly producing telepathic clones with a psychic connection to their originals, and also managing to clone knives and guns. Which is impressive. In fact, the "clones" are more akin to the transmat duplicates described in 'Down', 'The Slow Empire', Barry Letts' execrable Blake's 7 audio 'The SevenFold Crown', and (I am informed) Star Trek. Mention of the clones brings us to the third point of technobabble and by the far the most ludicrous: The Doctor's brain. The Doctor is not human; he is a Time Lord. This being the case, I can be convinced that his physiology is different to that of a human, but depicting the inside of his brain as a series of garish dry tunnels with foam rubber décor stretches credibility to new limits. Whereas in 'The Brain of Morbius' we had a Time Lord brain that looked more or less like a human's, here we see the Brain of Tawdriness, a farcical journey through one of the least convincing sets in the entire history of the series. The script of course is paying homage to Fantastic Voyage, but both that film and its thematic sequel Inner Space, sensibly showed the body to be full of fluid. Here, budgetary concerns could not possibly allow this, so instead of doing the humane thing and setting fire to the script, the production team create the interior of a brain out of some reddish paint and old drapes. 

'The Invisible Enemy' look awful throughout. The sets on the Titan base look, basically, like cheap studio sets, rather than a futuristic metal walled outpost. The costumes are immensely silly, especially the massive-headed spacesuits in Episode One, which look like they have been drawn for a Warner Bros cartoon, and the green PVC overalls and skull-caps worn by the personnel of the Bi-Al Foundation. The model shot of the shuttle crashing into the Bi-Al Foundation amusingly reminds me of the space battle from Monty Pythons' The Life of Brian, as the shuttle careers widely from side to side as it plummets towards its target. The worst aspect of the entire production is the Nucleus, looking, as it does, like a giant prawn. The scenes of its human slaves rolling it along corridors are unintentionally hilarious, and this makes the Doctor's concerned proclamation that the Swarm could overrun the solar system like a plague of giant locusts highly entertaining, since the things can barely move and the Nuclues does little except wobble menacingly. And on the subject of the Bi-Al Foundation, I don't care how advanced medical science and hygiene techniques have become by the year five thousand, the sight of a man about to perform surgery whilst wearing an old jacket will always be ludicrous. 

With dodgy script and dodgy production values, we might hope to look to good acting for solace, but sadly it is not to be. Everyone in the cast seems thoroughly bored, except for Frederick Jaeger, who seems to be taking the piss to keep himself amused. After his excellent performance as Jano in 'The Savages' and as Sorenson in 'Planet of Evil', his outrageous accent here comes as something of a shock. As do his facial hair and spectacles. Michael Sheard, normally so reliable, here seems slightly stunned by the paucity of the programme he's been tricked into making, and puts in a performance as Lowe that makes him look constipated. Tom Baker seems particularly bored and lacks all of the intensity he brought to 'Horror of Fang Rock'. Louise Jameson comes across the best, especially when her instincts are warning her of danger in Episode One, but the end of the story she too seems bored. Leela also gets to use her knife on people for the first time, which ends up looking very unconvincing due to the lack of blood, which the production team of course could not have got away with. 

Amidst all this rubbish however, there are two things I like about 'The Invisible Enemy'. The first, trivial though it is, is the "Finglish" used for the signs in the Titan base and the Bi-Al Foundation; as an attempt to show that languages evolve and change over time, it is a rather nice idea. The second is K9. For fans who bemoan the change in direction after Graham Williams took over from Phillip Hinchcliffe, K9 is probably an object of some hatred, clearly designed as he is to appeal to a younger audience and emphasizing the change away from more horror-orientated and arguably more adult stories. In addition, I hadn't noticed until now how badly he's aged; the white cleaning robot in the Fosters lager advert looks more state-of-the-art than K9 does, and the initial problems with the actual prop are in evidence here, with K9 making a considerable racket whenever he moves. Despite this however, I can't help but like him. There's something about the concept of the Doctor owning a robot dog that makes it seem perfectly at home in the series, and John Leeson's enthusiastic vocal performance helps to make K9 endearing. 'The Invisible Enemy' is hardly his best story, but he nevertheless manages to make an immediate impression. 

Overall, 'The Invisible Enemy' is televisual diarrhoea, and it is unfortunate that Graham Williams' first real chance to put his stamp on the programme after the Hinchcliffe-like 'Horror of Fang Rock' should go so badly wrong. It doesn't help that it is followed by a much more impressive story which, like 'Horror of Fang Rock', also feels like a leftover from the previous producer's era…

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