At last, the future of Gallifrey is assured.
I have a confession to make. The Deadly Assassin has been my favourite story from the moment it was broadcast, and when I was younger, the Sontarans were my favourite monsters. I thought The Invasion of Time was fantastic, and played the big gun battles at school. Id been waiting for such a long time for a decent copy on tape, and was terribly excited when they finally released it.
Watching it recently episode by episode, I realised the gulf from how I loved it as a kid to it scraping about five out of ten for me now. It seems to have suddenly fallen in my Who story likes from about number 50 to, ooh, past number 100. Why? The story is much more traditional than The Deadly Assassin, and blatantly trying both to pull back from it and to be an epic to outmatch it. It ends up as a glittery and hollow pile of padding which doesn't have the force to carry off the 'Doctor turning bad' plot with which it begins, alternately entertaining and infuriating, then at the end dull except for the Doctor *really* turning bad in a lazy way they dont even notice. In short, it suffers from the curse of the sequel, and helps make Gallifrey dull for ever after.
OK, so thats the short review. Now come with me, and Ill take you through each episode, the highs and the lows, and spoilers abound To start with the context, Season 15 is perhaps the most disappointing year Doctor Who ever produced, with nosediving production values not yet being salvaged by the Williams wit finding its feet. Almost every story ends with something being blown up; almost every set and costume looks cheap. You might call it Boom and Bust, or The Year They Got Lazy. There are worse seasons, certainly, but never have expectations built up by steadily rising standards of brilliance over the preceding three years been so cruelly dashed. Scripts and acting are falling back into familiar, obvious patterns; Leela is going downhill faster than any other companion. It just looks so flat, so dull, so slipshod and Tom has gone off the rails in a way that he will avoid for most of the following, far superior year.
Unfortunately, in many more ways than being the climax of the steadily increasing mentions of the Time Lords in every story, The Invasion of Time is an appropriate summation of Season 15. From the beginning of episode One, you can see the problems. K9 has now settled into his forever-after mix of C3PO and R2D2 (bitchy pedant meets cute little robot), with a big gun added on, and the Doctor is now relying on him to shoot things altogether too much. Added to this laziness, he gains every fans undying hatred when he demands the TARDIS speak, then retorts, You are a very stupid machine. Die, tin can, die! ;-)
The Vardans start well, with cool high-backed chairs and froody multi-squared computer screens. Unusually, its very clear that a fair while has gone by between Underworld and this story, for the Doctor to have laid all his Vardan plans. Oh, and for Leela to have got herself a giant frog to play with in the exploitation shots in the pool. Landing on Gallifrey is an immense relief for the first time in the entire season, we have a set that looks grand and impressive, the more so when the Panopticon has clearly been redesigned (a bit) rather than broken out of storage. The ghastly plastic floor level blue and green chairs are a let-down, but generally its interesting and believable again.
Tom Baker is arrestingly abrupt as the Doctor declares himself and rather worryingly, Andred immediately sides with him and starts ordering around the most senior Time Lords at gunpoint! I mean, it seems a rather gun-ready society, doesnt it? Shame that Borusas best comeback line now is Then let him rot in a black star, or trying to lock him up John Arnatt gives a great performance to disguise it, but, really, Borusas character is already suffering from poorer scripting and much poorer lines.
The ceremony at the end isnt badly done, but suffers from having far fewer Time Lords milling around than last time At least Borusa doesnt put on his frock until its playtime, even if he does then utter the grisly error Their *elected* President. Call me a Deadly Assassin pedant, but the whole point of that story is that Goth, who would blatantly have won an election, wasnt going to get the job because the President makes the choice instead of a popular vote hence the need for a *deadly assassin* to trigger the unprecedented step of an election. Sigh. With this, the Rod blatantly being the Great Key from last time, albeit presented on a hideous inflatable cushion, the Supreme Council rather than the High Council, and the Great Key business with the Chancellors secret (so why did everyone think Goth would be President, if its an alternate career summit and they cant become President? Admittedly, the balance of power is quite nice, and perhaps the Matrix wipes the knowledge from Chancellors-turned-President, but couldnt they write it down?) you wonder if only the designers watched Assassin, and the authors didnt listen at all. Still, episode one has considerable style, and blessed relief in the production values department. Gomer and Savar even have a nice bit of banter in much the same way as the two old coves in the Assassin dressing room.
Part Two is much less interesting, and with so much padding on view, its clear that this story has nothing like the ideas of Assassin. Rather entertainingly, a very similar cliffhanger (white-clad President collapses on Panopticon dais) is followed by a similar resolution, with guards milling around and escorting the Doctor away, though this time its the cruder Borusa whos trying to have him locked up, while the clever one complained about the crude Chancellor. Mind you, its still just about working as a character piece for the Doctor, and Tom is still remembering to act just enough to pull it off. Its a nice touch that Leela is ordered to the enquiry by Borusa having failed with the Doctor, hes still looking for public scapegoats, and the aliens a prime target (though he blatantly knows she didnt do it, having switched his story from The Matrix rejects the candidate! to She attacked him).
When the Doctor comes round and startles us by turning on Leela, the story is still firing on all cylinders (which is more than the guards stasers do. Half the time they have no effect at all, but occasionally they have a white diamond, as last time. Its, er, almost as if they did it in a hurry and didnt finish putting all the effects). However, the lead is already becoming erratic. This is rather more than a student prank, says Borusa, calling our attention to Toms increasingly studenty performance of late. He ranges from the sudden roars (Get out! Get out! Get out! he cries near the end) to the hammy overplayed scene where hes trying to find Borusas voice print, and hes no longer entirely convincing. The episode ending has a considerable power, though, despite the Vardans already looking like a bit of scrunched-up plastic
Episode Three is full of political intrigue and the threat of the Vardans but unfortunately it doesnt come off. Kelner is too silly, Andred is too callow, and the Vardans simply dont work. They move very badly and are too blatant a matte, even ignoring their unspectacular appearance. Kelner plots with his pet guard to take over as President *later*, but protect the Doctor until then; so when did the Castellan bump up, illegally and unratified by a president, to become a High er, Supreme Councillor? And a really high-ranking one at that? While Kelner plots risibly, last weeks instant fascist Andred now goes for instant, insipid resistance, and unfortunately enthuses no-one.
Leela deciding to banish herself because the Doctor wanted her banished, and he always has a plan, is rather a nice touch the faithless one from her first story has found a faith she can believe in. At least shes given a bit more to do than her comedy part in the last episode, where lines like the stage-whispered Im with him, or the posh echo One does, made it almost impossible to believe shes not an average Twentieth Century woman. I can survive anywhere, she declares, and runs smack into Nesbin and the Outsiders, a last chance for her character to reassert itself.
Meanwhile, Tom gets very smug (K9 suggested lots of people call him that an episode ago but this is the first time hes really looked it) when Borusa learns from him. For this alone, you could forgive Andred for planning his assassination, but as for appointing Kelner acting Vice President (since when did the Time Lords have them? Its a different structure entirely, surely, with the Chancellor as deputy) Borusa is locked up (for the next episode!) after rather a great scene where he faces down the Vardans and is zapped by one. Again, youre almost persuaded that this story could be great. Unfortunately, Andreds assassination plot is a bit crap. His plotters are unconvincing, and seem more human than Time Lord - Gomer is an old Time Lord (claiming his 10th regeneration makes him less vigorous), played by an old man; Andreds callow youths are played by young men. Old actors playing young Time Lords would have shown more thought. Then Andreds rallying cry of In the name of liberty and honour is just so limply delivered that you want to scream.
Into the fourth episode, and as with all undramatic Doctor about to be shot cliffhangers, were amazed that, um, he isnt. The excuse this time is especially weedy - the Doctor has apparently set up K9s Earth blaster so it fires inside TARDISes, while Gallifreyan stasers dont. Convinced? The Doctor has some relatively good barbs to Andred about his ineffectual palace revolution (What can you pull off? indeed), but its getting more and more stretched, and constant balancing acts of Gallifreys crown jewels on K9 were probably funny in the studio. Andred using a calculator so K9 can show off and do the sums faster looks, ah, rather dated now. And probably then.
On the other hand, the Vardans have a much better episode, even though they suddenly laugh unconvincingly and tell Kelner theyve suspected the Doctor all along (just as their voiceovers at the beginning er disprove). The life-size Vardan talking to Kelner, with a minimum of movement, doesnt look too bad and the one sitting at Kelners chair is mildly entertaining. Of course, once they appear in their little soldier suits, they make the cardinal dramatic error of having the leader being by far the smallest and slightest of the three, and not much of an actor to boot, which rather undermines his authority as he stands there shouting. As the Doctor observes, Disappointing, arent they? At least one of the others is fairly cute
The Doctor enters the Matrix to get some ideas on dismantling the Quantum Forcefield (doesnt sound as cool as the Transduction Barriers, so we never hear of that again from anyone, huh?). He gets some nice shots on location with lots of mechanics and a Vardan, which is different padding from usual. The Outsiders run through the sandpit several times to build up tension for their approach, rather less successfully. Oh well, Leela had fun hamming it up with her target practice before her band of six go off to conquer New York (at least, we assume its a city of similar density, and a similarly implausible idea). Shame that she just gets to be the butt of the stupid What does proficient mean? joke instead, and that K9 is also reduced to nodding dog comic relief. At this point, the episode seems to have been a bit of a letdown, without even an appearance from Borusa to cheer it.
But then theres the gorgeously blobby electronic music underscoring *that* cliffhanger
Yes, Episode Five starts with fantastic oomph, and its a pleasant surprise to find that it keeps moves along at a fair old lick, largely helped by the mix of waspish Chancellor Borusa and some cool fx gunfights for the kids. Yes, its more running around, but its less tedious with it. Borusa is certainly a big pull this time, talking to himself as he listens to the Doctor, then forming a great double act that pulls some acting out of Tom (and even Toms alliteration quip to Stor is done with his old grimness). His placing of the Great Key *not* in a forest of them, but in his desk drawer, is fabulous even if the whole Chancellor / Key thing is a bit silly. For some reason never specified we get the idea that the Sontarans cannot conquer time Not while I - er, why? What does the Chancellor do with the Key that would stop them? And if its not been used for 10 million years ? At least we dont get Terrance Dicks a lesser Key was stolen by the Master line (yeah, right, like the Eye of Harmonys not important). Perhaps the Chancellor must use it to switch all the TARDISes on as part of his duties, but its not something the script bothers to justify.
OK, Stors asthmatic East End sound is a bit peculiar, and the eye-holes dont look vacuum-safe, but the Sontarans are generally fairly effective (still constantly helmeted so far; strange we didnt get that as the cliffhanger!). They also have three fingers again - and their gun effects, with blast fields shifting and wobbling around, definitely look much better than K9s thin red line (which at one stage shoots a Sontarans in the groin, only to see it carry on. Its difficult not to jump to the conclusion that they have no nadgers). Is this the first K9s magic blaster has no effect scene? Kelner oils over the Sontarans to a ludicrous extent immediately, but when required to do some technical work (largely on film!) for the Sontarans, suddenly becomes more confidently evil and an impressive expert, rather than a weaselly cipher. He says that taking over the defence systems is only possible using the TARDIS and the Doctors capsule is the only one operational, oddly (unless the Great Key has switched them all off). Still, Part Five has been something of a success.
In Episode Six, the wheels come off so fast they fly out of the screen at you.
Like Episode Five, this involves lots of running around and blatant padding, but it stands much less well as an episode on its own, and ends up even worse as a climax. The plot doesnt have enough to go on for a third of the time, and it makes very little use of what there is. For a start, Part Five was largely enlivened by the Chancellor, but this time its ten minutes in before Borusa appears, and he has precious little screen time. Other characters fare worse. Leela is roundly humiliated. Its really only the last couple of stories that her character has really collapsed, but collapsed it suddenly has. It starts with the You got lost / How do you know? comedy routine, then her kissing K9 (demob happy), and closes with her staying with Captain Dull of the Guard. Strewth. Kelner is back to cipher again, claiming Im not an engineer, sir, which is a blatant lie considering his accomplishments in these last two episodes, and poor Rodan spends most of her time hypnotised!
The TARDIS interiors must be greeted with some sympathy, given their unfortunate background in industrial disputes, and dont seem that bad, though occasionally poor (you sort of get used to it). Showing a brick and pipes corridor leading straight out of the console room is a good touch, and the lounger area where Borusa relaxes with news of the Titanic and a blue drink through a curly straw with the potplants and giant roundels on the wall works surprisingly well. Going round and round the same large area is very tedious, however, as is Tom constantly stumbling on the same point of the ramp in the corridor approaching it and the jumps between film and video are very obvious. Im a Time Lord, not a painter and decorator, cries the Doctor, Im preoccupied with Sontarans, Daleks and Cybermen. When Tom acts up, we know the script is falling down. At least the ancillary power station is quite pretty.
I feel obliged to note that Stor has his trooper drag in a large gun-like beamer to burn through the blocking bar across the TARDIS internal door And, wouldnt you know? It works! It seems Gallifreyans are the only race in the universe who cant build guns that fire inside their own ships. Stor has much bigger vacuum-unsafe eye holes all the better to fail to convince you with and mostly just stalks up and down brick corridors, glowering, taking his helmet off and putting it back on again for want of anything else to do.
Again, Borusa is cool and entertaining, and manages good acting even in scenes like the Doctors lost his memory one, with a slight smile, but theres too little of him to disguise the paucity of everything else. How does he instantly recognise the Demat Gun (or even know to look for it)? Its just a great big gun! The ultimate weapon (again), eh? I could rule the Universe with this gun, Chancellor. Oh, please. Itll throw us back to the darkest age, cries Borusa, desperately trying to make us believe. Some have theorised that, as its powered by the Great Key, its either a Time Destructor or it erases your timeline (which erases the Doctors memory, but people in the TARDIS are shielded from changes in reality). Unfortunately, nothing we see on screen gives us more than Its a bigger, clumsier Ogron disintegrator. Its just dull, and why on earth has he built it? It doesnt serve a more interesting plot function than a pistol. Or a club. Or even a net. The Doctor catches up with Stor awfully quickly, then Stor threatens to explode a grenade (very slowly) Youll destroy this entire galaxy, pleads the Doctor. Er, why? How? Yes, I know a fan might work it out that it's because he's stood on top of the Eye of Harmony, but for 'average' viewers, that was explained briefly 18 months ago! Its a very confused, very rushed (inexcusable after all the padding) and very poor conclusion. Its rather sad that the whole thing is, again, resolved by the Doctor and a big gun. Particularly a big gun whose rather nice whiteout effect has no explanation behind it, and which the Doctor has uniquely for the series so far designed and planned with lots of alternative equipment to hand, rather than just finding or cobbling together in desperation.
So, by the end of it, the Doctor has built the (albeit unconvincing) ultimate weapon. And he uses it, unhesitatingly. And he doesnt even resist the temptation not to *keep* using it that decision is made for him by a handy deus ex machina. Do we ever see the Doctor more out of character until he blows up Skaro? In retrospect, we can perhaps see the whole plot and resolution of the Key to Time as a remake of The Invasion of Time, but getting it right. Yes, the wheels still fall off a bit in the last two stories, but at least the Doctor is recognisably Doctorish and not Rambo at the end!
The Doctor, of course, then handily loses his memory. So how did he know which TARDIS room to look for his friends in? Oh, and were to presume that, when Borusa took the Sash off the Doctor and the Doctor let him, that was the Doctors resignation as President, too! At least Arnatt is good enough for us to infer Borusas wiles when the script fails to fill them in. Incidentally, although the Doctor may have had his own memory wiped, Rodan built the key under unconscious hypnosis and instruction from K9. So, the dog knows how to build one! And its staying with Borusa. Hmm Then all were left with is the worst exit for a companion since Dodo.
So, in the end, The Invasion of Time is a disappointment. There are much worse stories, but most of those have much less promise to go so wrong. Ive really got back into watching Who stories episodically again rather than all in a lump, but cutting up some stories episode by episode (as they were intended to be watched but with the deadly ability to dwell on the dodgy bits) is clearly a killer. Worse, its the end that lets it down most badly, as the Doctors behaviour is actually more worrying than at the beginning, but it hasnt occurred to the production team that hes other than heroic. I liked big guns and this story when I was six. Its difficult to be as enthusiastic about them these days, when Im not convinced either make very good Doctor Who.
Filters: Television Fourth Doctor Series 15
I was expecting to write a scathing review of 'The Invasion of Time'. I've only seen it twice before, but on each occasion I was less than impressed with it. On this occasion however, I found myself enjoying it and was surprised to find that it hangs together much better than its reputation would suggest.
One of the most memorable aspects of 'The Invasion of Time' is of course the Doctor's seeming betrayal of Gallifrey to the Vardans. With no explanations forthcoming until Episode Three, the first two episodes leave open various possibilities; that the Doctor has gone mad, that he is being controlled, or of course that he has ulterior motives for this seeming treachery. The latter of course turns out to be the case, but Tom Baker's intense performance in the first two episodes must have had the audience wondering when the story was first broadcast. Erratic, arrogant, and ruthless, the Doctor heaps indignities on all around him (especially Borusa), orders that Leela be banished, and generally seizes the presidency of Gallifrey in as obnoxious a manner as is possible. Anyone who hadn't seen 'The Deadly Assassin' must have been even more startled by this development. With the Doctor acting so out of character, it is strangely relieving when he explains what is really going on to Borusa in Episode Three, even though I'm familiar with the plot. Once his true intentions for the Vardans are revealed, the Doctor settles down somewhat, but Baker maintains one of his most manic performances, possibly putting in a special effort because he's relieved that a season featuring two extremely bad Bob Baker and Dave Martin stories is nearly over. There are also moments where he displays the same kind of grim seriousness that characterised the Hinchcliffe era, such as when he picks up the De-Mat gun to a horrified gasp from Borusa and points out that they are utterly helpless against the Sontarans without it. What particularly interest me about 'The Invasion of Time' is just how manipulative the Doctor is. Although the Vardans state that if the Doctor fails "there will be others", I can't help wondering why the Doctor can't just go to Gallifrey, and warn them that a race named the Vardans are planning to invade; it is after all, the Doctor and K9 who are responsible for destroying the transduction barriers and opening a hole in the quantum force field. It suggests that the Doctor is not only trying to deal decisively with the Vardans, but also that he wants to shake the Time Lords up a bit.
For her final story, Leela gets some very good lines and scenes. Her faith in the Doctor remains unshakeable, even when he orders her banished, and she manages to convince both Rodan and the Outsiders that he is up to something. Her usual skills at fighting are on show as ever, most notably when she throws a knife into a Sontaran's probic vent, but she also shows other attributes; once outside, she makes a point of looking after Rodan, and it is her leadership skills which allow her to convince the Outsiders to attack the Capitol. At one point she gets the line "Discussion is for the wise or the helpless and I am neither", which is not only superbly delivered by Jameson, but also suggests to me that Leela is actually a lot wiser than she gives herself credit for. Unfortunately, her leaving scene is notoriously contrived, due to Louise Jameson's late decision to depart, as Leela decides to stay with Andred, a man she barely knows. It is possible that some time passes between the Doctor's defeat of Stor and his actual departure during which time Leela gets to know Andred, and is also possible that this is how the Sevateem usually choose their partners, but it still feels awkward. On the other hand, the Doctor's wistful "I'll miss you too savage" as he closes the TARDIS door behind him goes some way to making up for this.
Also departing in this story is K9 Mark I, although due to a lack of any discernable difference between models, this makes very little impact. K9 however does get plenty to do, aiding and abetting the Doctor's scheme for the Vardans, being entrusted with Gallifrey's equivalent of the crown jewels and generally proving indispensable to the Doctor. The reason why I like K9 is summed up in the TARDIS scene in which K9 and the Doctor bicker outrageously, each calling the other smug; on the one hand it's rather silly to have a sarcastic back-talking robot dog, but on the other hand it is rather funny.
The various Time Lords who appear here are generally well acted, especially John Arnatt's Borusa. His performance is not as memorable in my opinion as Angus Mackay's brilliant portrayal, but he still plays the part very well and manages to make it his own. Borusa's tendency to carefully analyze every situation with a view to ensuring Gallifrey's (and his own) future means that there is a slight edge to his relationship with the Doctor even after he knows what is really going on, and this results in him twice pulling a gun on the Doctor, most notably when the Doctor demands the Great Key of Rassilon. Milton Johns' loathsome Kelner is also a great character, displaying some truly unappealing character traits including cowardice and treacherousness (which contrasts nicely with the Doctor's pretence of betrayal - Kelner is happy to serve both Vardans and Sontarans for the sake of his own survival and power). Relatively minor characters like Lord Gomer and Nesbin also come over well, helping to make the story fill its six-episode length without feeling overly padded. On the other hand, I'm not particularly impressed with either Hilary Ryan as Rodan or Christopher Tranchell as Andred, both of whom occasionally veer alarmingly towards wooden acting.
The main weaknesses in 'The Invasion of Time' are unfortunately the villains. Firstly, the Vardans are quite well written, and their ability to travel along broadcast wavelengths has enormous potential, which to the credit of Graham Williams and Anthony Read (a.k.a. David Agnew) is used rather well, this being the rationale behind the Doctor's highly erratic behaviour (they can read minds) and his seemingly throwaway demand in Episode One for a lead-lined office. Unfortunately, their realization on screen is rather less impressive. I don't actually mind their shimmering tin-foil appearance when they haven't fully materialized, but once they appear in the flesh they look utterly ridiculous, not because they are just normal humanoids, but because they wear phenomenally stupid uniforms, complete with helmets that resemble bedpans. This in itself wouldn't be so bad, but their acting throughout is awful, all of them sounding like dropouts from an amateur dramatics society, with horribly stilted diction and too much emphasis whenever they are supposed to sound angry or alarmed.
In story terms, the revelation that the Vardans are not the real villains results in a cliffhanger to Episode Four which has rather impressive impact, especially for long term fans of the series. The Sontarans rank highly amongst my favourite Doctor Who monsters, and their revelation as Gallifrey's real attackers late in the day gives the story an effective boost. It also allows "David Agnew" to follow Robert Holmes' advice and structure the story as a four parter and a two parter, which as 'The Seeds of Doom' demonstrated can be an effective way to structure a six episode story. With the Vardans satisfactorily disposed off, the last two episodes of 'The Invasion of Time' thus concern the Sontaran invasion as the Doctor and his friends are faced with this more potent threat to Gallifrey. Unfortunately, however, at this point the story starts to fall apart somewhat. The Sontarans spend two episodes chasing around after the Doctor, so that they can secure the Great Key, which we are told will allow them access to all of space and time. After pursing the Doctor through his TARDIS for about half an episode however, they seem to give up and instead decide to just blow the planet up. Why exactly they give up so easily is unclear; a throwaway line about an approaching Rutan fleet might have made this plot development more plausible, but as it stands, Stor's sudden decision to destroy a large area of space seems included simply to provide a more exciting climax. In addition to this, the much vaunted De-Mat gun really isn't that impressive; nothing in the script suggests that is anything more than a glorified ray-gun, and the Doctor's line that he could rule the universe with it is utterly cringe-worthy. The Sontarans also suffer slightly from Derek Deadman's cockney accent, although this doesn't bother me quite as much as it does some fans and by Episode Six I'd pretty much got used to it.
The production of 'The Invasion of Time' is reasonably good. The sets of the Capitol are nowhere nears as impressive as those from 'The Deadly Assassin', but they still look rather good and they also contain design aspects of those in that story, which suggests at widespread rebuilding after the havoc wreaked by the Master. The recycled Time Lord costumes still look good, making the costumes in this story look a lot more expensive than those in other stories from this season. There are also some impressive model shots of the Vardan ship in orbit around Gallifrey. The location work featured in 'The Invasion of Time' consists of that used for outer Gallifrey, which is adequate if unspectacular, and that used for the interiors of the Doctor's TARDIS, which is slightly controversial. Personally, I like the idea that the TARDIS can contain Victorian brickwork, and I also like the impression of scale created here, with reference to the TARDIS interior existing on multiple levels. On the other hand, the location work used to show those parts of the Capitol containing the machinery for the transduction barriers and the quantum force field clashes horribly with the studio sets of the rest of the Citadel. 'The Invasion of Time' also features some rather tatty-looking Sontaran costumes, and Stor's mask is a considerable disappointment after those worn by Kevin Lindsay in 'The Time Warrior' and 'The Sontaran Experiment'. Finally, I always find the fact that the Great Key of Rassilon just looks like any old key almost irrationally irritating.
In summary, 'The Invasion of Time' has considerable flaws, but still just about manages to work. For a season with such fluctuating story quality as Season Fifteen, it is perhaps appropriate that the finale is itself something of a mixed bag. Graham William's first season perhaps suffers from having no discernable style of its own, featuring leftovers from his predecessor and two complete and utter turkeys. Having found his feet however, Williams would make leave far more of a distinctive mark on his next season
Filters: Television Fourth Doctor Series 15
Another classic example in the series where I can let the "fun" of the story make up for some of its lack of quality.
I will admit, "The Invasion Of Time" is one of the Tom Baker stories from my collection that I re-watch the most often. No, it's not some superbly-written, magnificently-crafted piece of brilliance like its predecessor "Deadly Assassin" was. But it is a pleasantly-surprising romp with some fairly minor flaws and some truly "inspired" moments too.
One of those more inspired moments is the treatment of the title character. The Doctor is going home again - something the series always makes a big deal of - but along with this return is a very strange approach to the Doctor himself. Is he genuinely betraying his own people? Why is he acting so rotten? It must be a plan, of course - but it was great fun that it took two-and-a-half episode to finally reveal it. And though Colin really messed with our heads with his Doctor seeming evil, this is the first time we see this of Tom. The first time we see this, ever, in the series. That kind of boldness always impresses me. Especially with such an iconic hero.
While on the subject of the main character, this really is Tom Baker at his best. Especially when you take into consideration just how little plot there is in episode two. He carries that episode on his shoulders by just being so bloody enjoyable to watch - particularly the monologue he performs alone in Borussa's office as he looks for the hidden exit (I love it when he tells an imaginary Borussa he's speaking latin!). He also strikes one of his best balances between the serious and comedic side of Doctor Four in this story. There are some great moments of silliness in his performance but also some very serious times (oftentimes highlighted with some neat fanfare). And, occasionally, we get a neat little dose of pathos with moments like him locking Leela out of the TARDIS and having to plug his ears as she hammers away to be let in.
K-9 and Leela are also extremely well-used in this story. Particularly K-9, as he uses Gallifrey's greatest relics in order to save the day (though, I'm not sure, exactly, how the rod, sash and coronet empower him to do some of the things he does). All truth be told, I have always had mixed feelings about K-9. A cheesy robot dog seems more like something a bad American sci-fi series might do. But this story definitely handles him well. The banter between him and the Doctor is another factor that carries things along nicely when the plot gets a bit thin.
Next, we have the Vardans. Definitely a villain that works better in theory than on-screen. The superimposed plastic wrap is just plain silly-looking. But, even with such a bad visual, the intent behind it is kind of neat. And the whole idea of them being able to broadcast themselves on any wavelength is quite clever. Of equal cleverness, of course, is how the Doctor manages to work around that and eventually take them down.
The delightful cliffhanger at the end of part four is highly memorable. Especially since the production team was smart enough to use an established baddie. I awaited Episode Five with baited breath.
And what fun we have in those last two episodes. Yes, the TARDIS appears to have rooms that aren't rondel-covered (oh horror amongst horrors!) but it is still nice to finally get such a nice tour of the place. And if it means we don't get a perfect sense of continuity, oh well. The gardens and swimming pools and lifts were all great fun. The fact that big nasty Sontarans are traipsing through them at the same time just makes this all the more enjoyable.
Finally, we have a really good ending even if it is a bit "hasty" in places. Not just Leela's sudden decision to run off with Andred. But even Stor's decision to just suddenly blow up Gallifrey seems a bit at odds. Still, I love the whole "wisdom of Rassillon" moment with Borussa. It's a nice touch. Incidentally, of all the actors to take on this character, I enjoyed this performer the most. Wish he had come back one or two more times. Boy can that Borussa regenerate sometimes, eh?
So, even though I will swear to the end of my life that Deadly Assassin is easily one of, if not, the best Who stories of all time. It's sequel, though disappointing in some spots, is really a lot better than a lot of fans make of it. Enough so, that I think I've actually watched this story more often than I have Assassin. Because, in the end, there's just a lot more fun in this one. And sometimes, fun can get a bit of a mediocre tale to rise above itself.
Filters: Television Series 15 Fourth Doctor
Terrance Dicks, Narrator: John Leeson
Available from BBC Audio (Download/ Four CDs)
Published: 1st September 2016
Run Time: 247 Minutes
Season Fifteen of Doctor Who was arguably the most directionless of the Seventies. After the wonderful three prior seasons under producer Philip Hinchcliffe, Doctor Who suddenly had a very different person at the helm, as Graham Williams took over. However the new showrunner perhaps was less able to make the most of the limited resources afforded the Saturday teatime show, and also commanded somewhat less authority over the sometimes domineering leading man. It was evident to many viewers how the show was struggling through a period of transition, and the average quality of both script and production dipped quite dramatically. It does need to be acknowledged, however that budget cuts were enforced by higher management, and furthermore in the case of this story industrial strikes took their toll.
The last two years had featured very strong climactic stories, which made the often regarded 'burden' of six episodes into an opportunity to really explore an exciting storyline and afford one-off characters stronger examination. The Invasion of Time unfortunately stopped the run of triumphs, although it still had quite a few merits to prevent it from being anywhere close to a disaster. The foundations for a satisfying season finale were never quite right from Day One, and even the same budget as Season Fourteen would not have prevented some of the decisions made by the production team. Experienced writer David Weir was unable to offer a script that could be made to work on screen; although perhaps if made with Hollywood resources it would have proven a success. Some Who stories failed for being too ambitious, with many of those being in the experimental Sixties era. But surely the concept of killer cats that could walk upright and talk should have been vetoed from the off(?). Deciding to keep the basic setting of the Doctor's home world, script editor Anthony Read, along with Williams, came up with Invasion. It was a work of some desperate measures, and to be frank it did show through a significant portion of the story's duration.
The (audio) book format takes away some of the considerable ropiness of the onscreen production. On the other hand, it also excises the excellence of Borusa and Kelner - performed respectively by John Arnatt, and Milton Johns, (who also made a fine villain in the re-discovered The Enemy Of The World). The ever-strong Louise Jameson made the most of the emotional tribulations that faced Leela, as she appears to be cast aside by her best friend. Even Andred and Rodan, while hardly the stuff of legend, did make for likeable one-time characters, and as portrayed on-screen gave some colour to the rather obtuse and stuffy society of Gallifrey's Capitol.
All the same, there is no getting away from the laughable visuals/costumes used for the Vardans, and the inadequate allocation of money for the Sontaran invasion squad. The casting and/or performances for both the Vardan leader, and Commander Stor left something to be desired as well. And most dedicated classic Who fans will be aware of the use of a disused hospital for the final episode run-around sections, within the endless depths of the Doctor's TARDIS, with even some verbal 'acknowledgement' by the characters of the repeated use of the limited sets.
Apart from exploring Gallifrey in notable depth and seeing Leela leave the show, Invasion was one of a number of stories where the Fourth Doctor went 'evil'. Other examples involved possession, being impersonated, or replicated in android form. This story however did the most with the trope, by allowing Tom Baker to come across as chillingly ruthless and corrupt. And yet there was also that hint at times he was still the same do-gooder, as viewers had long come to expect. Once episode three of the story is underway, an element of tension subsides as the Doctor's true intention is clarified. But then with each passing episode the plot become shakier as the rushed writing process shows through.
Nonetheless, this brave choice to start a season closer with such a shocking premise should still be given some credit. Thus, taken on its own terms as an intriguing story, with a hook as to the Doctor's loyalties and overall game plan, and also a chance to see how Gallifrey has fared since the conspiracy that took place in The Deadly Assassin, the novelisation had some distinct in-build advantages. Terrance Dicks, so comfortable at this point as an author, was always going to produce something pleasantly readable.
This new audio production is yet another feather in BBC Audio's cap, and the decision to once again employ John Leeson was a sound one. This loyal supporter of the show - both during his time in the cast, and many years after interacting with fandom - reprises his K9 voice effortlessly, and seamlessly incorporates any extra lines he is afforded in this version. One of the most minor characters sounds a little too much like K9, but that is forgivable, as Leeson's overall range is strong, and he breathes life even into the more one-dimensional figures of the original scripts.
The much-praised Episode Four cliffhanger makes for the most dramatic chapter ending, and sees Leeson's heartfelt read-through of the prose at its absolute peak. This moment is coupled with a nicely done accompaniment of orchestral music - somewhat similar, but certainly not identical to the great work of Dudley Simpson. Even if the front cover gives away the main enemy's identity, for someone completely new to the story and/or Doctor Who in general, the decision made by Williams and Read to use a big twist to bolster the 'four-plus-two' episode structure twist still holds up almost forty years later. Of course, back in 1978 the chances of spoilers were next to none, with a little bit of discretion.
In terms of what original material Dicks' adaption brings to readers who want more than just a solid translation of the teleplay, in all honesty this effort has limited 'bonuses'. Most regrettably, there is no build on the Leela/Andred relationship in this version of the story. Compared to the likes of Jo Grant, Vicki, or even Peri, this romantic exit - especially for a companion as iconic as Leela - really felt artificial. In fact there is less indication of their bond than the TV version, which had some moments of hand-holding/ eye-contact for Jameson and Christopher Tranchell to try to signpost to viewers. Also, perhaps Dicks missed opportunities for the Doctor to justify risking a full-scale Vardan invasion, and also the price paid in a number of Time Lord and Gallifreyan deaths. This loss of life, so normally abhorred by the Doctor is likely the by-product of a necessarily rushed script at the time, which still needed its quota of action-adventure and suspense.
There are at least some welcome explanations of how the Doctor was able to use the status of President, despite continuing on his travels, via a solid recap of the previous (and superior) Gallifrey story, and also a little bit of clarity over which of Rassilon's artefacts remained intact, for those who make the effort to scrutinise such details.
In sum then, this is a nice little addition to the BBC Audio library, mainly thanks to John Leeson's committed involvement. The original book was efficient in getting the rather elongated six-parter told in expeditious fashion, and the running time here - spread over 4 CDs - feels comparatively lighter. As a tale in its own right it can be followed with little difficulty, although it certainly resonates more if the listener is somewhat clued up on Time Lord basics, and also familiar with Leela's development (which evoked George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion).Whilst probably not the first choice for a fan unfamiliar with the Tom Baker era - and in particular this maiden season of the Williams era - this audiobook still holds its own, and offers a good few hours of easy listening.
Filters: AUDIO BBC FOURTH DOCTOR AUDIOBOOK GALLIFREY