A new producer brings with him a new style but it takes a while for it to settle in and as such season fifteen veers between high comedy and horror. The Doctor and Leela come up againse a shapeshifting Rutan, the Nucleus of the Swarm, the deadly Fendhal, an evil taxing society, an evil computer and a Sontaran invasion of Gallifrey!
The regulars -
Horror of Fang Rock written by Terrance Dicks and directed by Paddy Russell
TO BE REVIEWED...
The Invisible Enemy written by Bob Baker & Dave Martin and directed by Derrick Goodwin
This story in a nutshell: A giant prawn invades the Doctors body to help it lay a load of eggs. No seriously.
Teeth and Curls: This is the first attempt to turn the fourth Doctor bad in the Williams era (other notable examples are The Invasion of Time and his mock Godhood in The Armageddon Factor) and you can tell Baker loves the chance to play the villain. Although the Doctor is fighting to resist the control of the Nucleus, Baker spits ‘kill her!’ as though he can’t wait to see Louise Jameson’s Leela dead! We get a repeat of the Gallifrey/Ireland joke, which just isn’t very funny anymore. The Doctor lost some Time Lord faculties when they kicked him out. The Doctor admits to the Nucleus that he has heard it all before and thinks all megalomaniacs sound the same. In a brilliantly funny moment that sees the Doctor murder he tosses Lowe into the hatchery to be eaten by the emerging swarm! I love the fact that he adopted Leela’s less than subtle plan to blow the base on Titan up!
Noble Savage: Baker and Martin do a far better writing for her character here than they did in Underworld, having her writing her name on a chalkboard as a suggestion that her education is continuing. She looks absolutely gorgeous in the Doctor’s hat – she should have kept it! There seems to be a much nicer chemistry between Baker and Jameson in this story than in Horror of Fang Rock so maybe she slapped him about a bit before the shooting began. Leela’s senses are very acute again and she can smell danger (eww I bet that’s nasty!). Its great how Leela stands up for what she is stating that she is not ashamed. She asks K.9 to explain which he does and then she asks ‘can you explain simply?’ Someone describes her as a bit of a mongrel and Leela looks herself as a clone and asks ‘do I really look like that?’ Aggression, determination, stamina and the predator’s instinct are what make up Leela and why she is immune to the Nucleus influence. Hilariously Leela glams up in green PVC and make up! Her answer to everything is to knock it on the head! You can tell that Robert Holmes still has a hand in this story (and not just because it is about possession!) because Leela is still being characterised with real care. The next time she would be this well written was The Sunmakers (another Holmes story, what a surprise!).
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What was that?’ ‘Oh just a passing thought.’
‘Shall we try using our intelligence?’ ‘If you think that’s a good idea.’
The Good Stuff: The Invisible Enemy really comes in for a lot of flack but I genuinely don’t think it is half as bad as people make it out to be. It might be more frowned upon coming after the trilogy of treasures (Robots/Talons/Horror). The opening effects shot of the ship weaving through an asteroid belt is a great example of the ambition and talent of the effects team of the time, working with a pittance and creating magic. It’s nice that they bother to re-introduce the white control room. The time of the Great Breakout where Leela’s ancestors went leapfrogging across the solar system on their way to the stars, spreading across the galaxy like a tidal wave or a disease – that’s a great description. The Titan Base model shots are probably the best we get until Trial of a Timelord (I love the little satellites that circle and the whole sequence of the ship docking and gliding into the base is pleasingly Thunderbirds). The Bi-Al Foundation is a great change of location, a hospital facility on an asteroid and a great example of the crazy locations we would visit in the next three years. Even though he is a bit dozy in this story K.9 is Baker and Martin’s greatest gift to Doctor Who, so popular he is still loved by kids today (and has his own spin off show!). The crash into the asteroid makes for an impressive set piece. I really like how the script keeps innovating, having the Doctor taken over, the change of location to the hospital, the trip into his mind – its written as a colourful, exciting tale (what a shame the realisation couldn’t match up to the strength of imagination on display). K.9 shoots in the nuts – good boy! I love the crazy effects as the Doctor and Leela are injected into his mind, its all bubbles and dancing! The gap between logic and imagination is well conceived and realised. I love the idea of a hunt through the Doctor’s mind no matter how ropey it looks! Comparing the human race with a virus actually quite a fair comparison! The eggs on the bubbling green slime actually looks pretty good! It all ends on an impressive bang.
The Bad Stuff: Simon was watching with me and cheered when the Titan crew were shot down! The virus infected Saffron is oddly middle class! I can see their thinking with the phonetic language but it looks really daft. The TARDIS being invaded should be realised far more excitingly than a little bang and a fade in/fade out. Simon was laughing at some of the ropey dialogue (‘its out there! The Evil Thing!’). Simon is such a filthy beast he misheard docking as dogging, raised an eyebrow when Leela could feel something and choked with laughter when the Doctor started talking about breeding from his nucleus! Episode one should have been far more dynamic than it is, drenched in shadows, a claustrophobic nightmare but instead its brightly lit and directed with little care. I know its been said before but…clothed clones? What on Earth were they thinking with those homicidal balls in the Doctor’s head? The scene with K.9 blasting a chunk of wall as a barrier is so obviously take two with the chunk of wall taped back on! The virus turns out to be…a pile of shit with a claw! The prawn of death! We’ve seen some cumbersome monsters in Doctor Who but this is possibly the ultimate man in monster costume! Even the Doctor calls it a pathetic crustation! The last gag is genuinely awful.
Result: Yes there are some very ropey effects but there are also some exceptional ones as well. Yes there is the whole issue of a giant prawn trying to take over the universe but there’s also the awesome concept of a hunt through the Doctor’s mind. And yes the direction is pretty plodding throughout but the script is brimming with imagination and great ideas. I’m not trying to suggest that The Invisible Enemy is a forgotten classic but like The Armageddon Factor and Paradise Towers I think there is much more to this story than people give it credit. Baker and Jameson try their best and it’s a really good Leela story with more insight into her character and the whole thing zips along harmlessly enough. Watch the DVD with the CGI effects on, the story becomes a lot more dynamic and they do wonders with the shoot em out scenes. This is a troubled production which I happen to find highly watchable, a colourful story that winds up being a great deal of fun: 6/10
Image of the Fendhal written by Chris Boucher and directed by George Spenton-Foster
This story in a nutshell: An unearthed skull leads to revelations about mankind…
Teeth and Curls: The Doctor thinks that Leela’s ancestors have a habit of self destruction that borders on genius (and she doesn’t like the way he keeps talking about her ancestors). Tom Baker embodies the role of the Doctor to such an extent now he is equally convincing in exclaiming ‘Good morning ladies!’ to a field full of cows as he is in suggesting that in one year there will be just one human being left alive. The Doctor has been at this sort of game long enough now that when they meet a yokel he knows exactly what sort of things to prompt the man into talking (the strangers, the haunted manor, the ghosts…). Its like he understands the genre he has walked into and plays up to the fact, it’s a subtle way of breaking the fourth wall and winking at the audience. He storms into the Priory and takes charge immediately, demanding to know how many deaths there have been and for once he seems genuinely haunted by events because this time the danger is a creature from his own mythology. Leela suggests that the Doctor has great knowledge and gentleness and we cut to a scene of him aggressively kicking some boxes because he has been locked away! When Leela kicks the chair away from him and he lands on top of her if you pause it at the wrong moment you could be mistaken into thinking that you have wandered in on a very different kind of programme! He loves fruitcake and his own special recipe (mix the peanuts with the treacle and throw in the apple cores hard, put the lot in a tin a bake in a high oven for two weeks) is enough to shock Mrs Tyler out of her fear! When asked how he knows so much he says that he reads a lot. Controversial it might be but I love the scene where the Doctor willingly gives the gun to Stael to commit suicide knowing there is nothing that he can do for him. They would never get away with that now and I’m surprised that they did then. The ‘I’m sorry’ ‘Thank you’ exchange between them is one of the most powerful of the era.
Noble Savage: It had been a long held belief of mine that it was her three stories in season fourteen that utilised Leela the best and that she became a little watered down and generic in the first Williams season. One of the things I have learnt doing this marathon is that clearly this isn’t the case and in fact aside from Underworld she is one of the most consistently interesting and independent of companions. Horror of Fang Rock used her hunting and protecting skills to the fullest, The Invisible Enemy took the time to highlight the differences between her and the Doctor, The Sunmakers and The Invasion of Time both see her strengths as a leader rallying the underdog and Image of Fendhal sees her used for both comic and dramatic purposes and exposes the fun dynamic between her and the Doctor. With Louise Jameson in the driving seat Leela was always going to be watchable but it has impressed me that the writers have made a real effort to keep her interesting. There is a lovely debate between the Doctor and Leela about her calling K.9 he and him calling the TARDIS she which Leela wins when the Doctor suggests he is in complete and constant control of the ship just before it tips to one side! However the Doctor cannot resist one last insult and suggests that primitive thought patterns such as Leela’s appeal to the ship! Poor Ted Moss was sent by the Council to cut the verges when Leela attacks him and holds a knife to his throat (‘Your council should choose its warriors more easily…a child of the Sevateem could have taken you!’). Moss thinks she must have escaped from somewhere and the Doctor agrees that she simply cannot go around attacking everybody they meet. Leela is very gentle with Ma Tyler and has great respect for her wisdom and superstitions. Rather than sneaking past the guards Leela can’t resist giving one of them a good chop to the neck. When Colby gets out of line Leela shoves her knife in his face and warns him if he doesn’t shut up he will meet a quick end. The Doctor sweetly tells her that good marksmanship isn’t a matter of luck.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘There’s a corpse in the woods!’ ‘What sort of corpse?’ ‘A dead one what other sort is there?’
‘You know I don’t think these cows know anything about the Time Scanner.’
‘You’ve both escaped from somewhere’ ‘Frequently.’
‘I have been used. You have been used. Mankind has been used!’
‘The Fendhal is dead. How do you kill death?’
The Good Stuff:
· In any other story the first scene would be the hiker in the woods but Fendhal is going for a new, more naturalistic approach and shows scientists at work in a mundane fashion rather than going straight for horror angle. However lets not skip over the scenes with the hiker which are about as effective as horror scenes come in Doctor Who as he rushes away from some unseen horror and the camera slides terrifying through the misty woodland after him. The way these stalking scenes overlay with Thea being touched by the glowing skull is probably the slowest and tensest build up of tension Doctor Who ever offered up…we’re not entirely sure what is going on (Who is chasing the hiker? What is happening to Thea?) but that just adds to the mystery and stomach clenching wrongness of the atmosphere. Plus there is something very creepy about overlapping Wanda Ventham’s beautiful face with such a hideous skull even if it is effortlessly achieved.
· The wood panelled sets are quite remarkable in this tale and really stress the sense of community in the Priory – I especially love the spacious kitchen which feels very homely. It’s a story that relishes its domesticity so that something horrible can invade it. The latter half of the story moves down to the cellar like a good horror movie and it proves a deliciously creepy and shadowy setting for the rebirth of evil.
· There has been some real effort in the writing and the casting of these characters to make them stick in the mind and it is one of my favourite guest casts of any story. Dennis Lill brings a manic edge to the brilliant and enthusiastic Dr Fendhelman and throughout you get a sense that he is tittering on the edge of being a hero and villain and I love that ambiguity (‘In that case you are hardly behaving in a manner conducive to your own safety…’). Wanda Ventham was quite a coup casting wise at the time and she is worth every second of screen time they give her. It is a part that could easily tip over into melodrama and yet Ventham ensures that she stresses Thea’s humanity even as she is gripped by this mark of death. Her struggle to retain her sense of self as death spreads through her like a plague is one of the most convincing portrayals of possession we have seen. Stael as a cold and calculating character and one that slips menacingly into the background of scenes and observes all the time. I have heard people criticise Daphne Heard’s (before finding fame as ‘Mrs Pooh’ from To The Manor Born) portrayal of Ma Tyler as being a stereotypical country bumpkin and whilst there might be a few moments of truth in that argument I just love how she refuses to be frightened and takes the lead in the last episode in heading to the manor and taking on whatever evil is brewing inside. I found her mixture of superstition and down to Earth normality rather wonderful (‘’Ere! That aint the way to make a fruit cake!’) and I was howling as she beat up Mitchell with her handbag! But my favourite character has to be Edward Arthur’s Adam Colby who takes arrogance to a new level and yet manages to remain extremely likable because of his sense of humour and gift for the one liner. Arthur’s natural charm leaks through into the role and no matter how full of himself Colby can be (and he really throws out some insults in the later episodes) you can’t help but enjoy spending time with this lovable idiot (‘Gently Mrs T! Remember your varicose veins!’).
· Lots of scary bits to mention in a story that seems to revel in making its audience wait to see the monster to maximise its fright factor and the director seems to revel in the lack of music to create an atmosphere of terror. The first cliffhanger is one of the best as the purring, sucking noises of the Fendhal sounds as we approach the Doctor through the shadowy woods from its POV. Mitchell sits and drinks his coffee alone in the darkened kitchen as the camera slowly pans along the windows suggesting the movement of the approaching creature before the door flies open and a screams sounds. The mini Fendhaleen appear all over Thea as though they are leeching off her humanity. Because the nature of the Fendhal taps into something that humanity longs to know (what is the meaning of life) there is something skin crawling about learning that our development was interfered with by this deadly alien force and watching it consume Thea as it plans to do to all of us. The Doctor is all smugness and light in the face of the skull (hoho) and in a simple but spine chilling cliffhanger it wipes the smile off his face as it starts glowing and attacks him. Whilst the adult Fendhaleen has been scoffed in the past I still think it is one of the scariest monsters of the Williams era, it might not be particularly dynamic but there is something horrible about a giant green snake with bloody tendrils that shoot from its mouth. It’s a shame about the painted eyelids because the glowing pentagram that heralds the rebirth of the Fendhal is a striking set piece (aided by Dudley Simpson’s outstanding music). The smile on the painted face as the Fendhal murders the brethren always gives me the willies. The mini Fendhaleen surrounding the glowing skull on the altar – has there ever been a better visual representation of horror in Doctor Who?
· Chris Boucher writes an extremely strong script which not only resists showing the Fendhal until the last possible moment but also gives you all the backstory you need in intelligent, methodical stages. The history for the Fendhal is cleverly conceived and integrated into the story and I was impressed by the amount of detail the writer went into to pull off this shocking revelation to mankind’s evolution. The Fifth planet broke up 12 million years ago and released the Fendhal which fell to Earth where it affected the development of mankind. With the scanner Fendhelman manages to trace the moment of death for the alien traveller, an in pouring of energy, a concentration of power as if to store it. X-raying the skull revealed a pentagram which is part of the bone structure, a neural relay that stores the energy. The energy is still within this neural circuit and can only be released with applied advanced technology, the release of which would act as a signal that there was intelligent life on this planet 12 million years ago and at last mankind would meet its next of kin. It is using appropriate genetic material from Thea to recreate itself, growing and existing on death, absorbing the soul to regenerate. There is no record of the Fifth Planet because the Time Lords placed it into a time loop with all memory of the planet erased and hide the fact from posterity. Fendhelman realises at the last minute that it is only to reactivate the skull and to bring life back to the Fendhal that he and his forefathers have lived – mankind has been developed to a stage where it can bring the Fendhal back to life. When it came to Earth it released that energy so that any life it came into contact with was altered into something that it could eventually use – it affect the evolution of man. The Fendhal is made up of twelve Fendhaleen and the core. It eats life, even that of its own kind. The only way the Doctor can think of to contain the skull is shove it into a star that is going supernova.
· Telepathy and precognition are natural for anyone who has been brought up near a time fissure. Every haunted place has a weakness in the fabric of space and time, that’s why they are haunted because of a time distortion. This is just a throwaway scene and yet it is another fantastic example of the thought going into this script.
The Bad Stuff: For a story with such wonderful dialogue for the most part it is shocking to open with a scene with some very clunky (‘I accept without reservation your potassium/argon test!’) exposition. Whilst most of the time scanner is wonderfully ordinary computers they couldn’t quite resist have a bank of instruments that lights up like a fruit machine! Unfortunately the reprise to the first cliffhanger isn’t as strong with Tom Baker losing it for a second as he tries to make his legs move like a pantomime character. The TARDIS is looking really grotty in this story…it needs a good lick of paint! With tarot cards and a secret cult thrown in for good measure there are a few moments when you think Boucher must be parodying all horror movies! One of the brethren is either a child or a midget. There’s a very awkward moment when the Doctor and Leela throw salt at a Fendhaleen that should have been a lot scarier than it is. I’m not sure we needed the ghostly apparitions at the end as well.
The Shallow Bit: Is it just me or is that hiker a bit of alright?
Result: One of Doctor Who’s most sophisticated horrors which doesn’t revel in clichés for its own sakes but thinks up an intelligent and bone gnawing terror rooted in realism. Thanks to the efforts of George Spenton-Foster and Chris Boucher they manage to make an inert skull the most butt clenchingly terrifying foe the Doctor has ever encountered. Stylistically the pace is slower than usual but that just increases the tension and Boucher takes great pains to make his guest cast as engaging as possible to provide some levity to the serious tale unfolding. Science and superstition and mythological terror mixes to great effect and there are even some wonderful monsters thrown in for good measure. Some people might think a lot of Doctor Who was like this in the mid seventies but whilst there are plenty of horror pastiches that delighted during the Hinchcliffe era this is a very unique and original tale that just so happens to enjoy scaring the pants off you. It doesn’t surprise me at all that this story began with 6.7 million viewers and ended with 9.1 million: 9/10
The Sun Makers written by Robert Holmes and directed by Pennant Roberts
TO BE REVIEWED...
Underworld written by Bob Baker & Dave Martin and directed by Norman Stewart
The story in a nutshell: Greek mythology is plundered as the Time Lord’s dirty washing is finally exposed and the reason for their non-interference policy is revealed. Oh and there’s loads of wondering around in pretend caves.
Teeth and Curls: There is something awkward about the initial scenes between the Doctor and Leela that doesn’t sit right – its almost as if Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are saying the lines under duress, the bits where they have to be nice to each other are forced and the bits where he can fly off the handle are keenly felt. Compared to his dextrous chemistry with Sarah Jane or either Romana it fees stiff. However Baker and Jameson are probably the most watchable things on display in this story but they work far better as individual characters rather than a unit. I really the moment in episode where the Doctor stares out at the scanner wistfully looking at nothing expecting the wonders of the universe to come out of nowhere – it is one of the few times during his reign the 4th Doctor seems in genuine awe of the universe. He is really abusive to K.9 obviously not realising yet what a hit with the kids the metal dog will be (his attitude would change completely towards the dog next year). I love how charming he can be to strangers, he really puts Idas at ease and carries a child to safety as they escape to the safety of the R1C. There is one of the first examples of Tom Baker taking advantage of his popularity, staring at the camera and asking ‘I wonder where it all went?’
Deadly Savage: Of all the stories to first experience Leela, her weakest! Louise Jameson is a superb actress and real coup for the series to have been cast and honestly I cannot imagine anybody else following Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane this well. As a violent, independent, funny savage she is a unique character and there has been nobody quite like her before or since. Her best stories (Robots, Talons, Horror, Fendhal, Sun Makers) are some of the best Doctor Who stories, period. And Leela has a lot to do with why.
Watching Leela operating the console made me bite my nails, the consequences could be catastrophic! I love the Doctor’s ‘don’t ever play with strange weapons Leela. Make sure the safety catch is off Leela.’ She just grabs a gun and fires regardless. The Doctor describes her as primitive, wild, warlike, aggressive, tempestuous, bad tempered, a warrior from a warrior tribe, courageous, indomitable, implacable, impossible. Leela has a spectacular strop after she realises she has been pacified (‘You’re all laughing at me!’). ‘Who did it?’ she asks brandishing her knife menacingly. You’ve got to love how she says hello to people, jumping on them with a knife raised screaming ‘Surrender or die!’ Louise Jameson could make watching your washing spin exciting but it is a good comment on the quality of this script that she really struggles here, she’s trying really hard to make Leela likable and funny but the script gives her so little to work with (unlike something like, say, Talons, where most of the work is done for her). Leela is trying to incite revolution again – I think she has an addiction to stirring up rebels! Sweetly Leela kisses K.9 on the nose.
The Good Stuff: The model work is extremely good, typical of the Williams era. As ever Baker and Martin are not short of an idea or two and their backstory is really rather good, its just a shame they failed to inject this history into a more dynamic script! The Minyans thought of the Time Lords as Gods and they gave them aid and as soon as they were technologically able they kicked the Gallifreyans out and went to war. The R1C got away before their planet exploded and the whole affair was considered distasteful and the Time Lords promised not to interfere in another culture. I like the pacifist gun and think we could use that in parliament. Being buried alive in meteorite fragments is realised really well and Dudley Simpson scores these moments memorably. Episode two begins with two great set pieces, first the ship tearing from the wall of rock and then landing in a planet in the process of formation. The long shots of the characters being pursued through the CSO tunnels are quite well done but there are some serious fringe problems in places. Can I have a shield gun please? The Doctor, Leela and Idas floating down the gravity well is about the funniest thing on offer here, it’s gloriously silly and accompanied by a Dudley Simpson lullaby! The P7E computer voice is really creepy and the bridge decked out as a temple is pleasantly atmospheric (if inferior to the similarly designed sets in The Face of Evil). Norman Tipton gives a sweet performance, the only character that displays any personality. The destruction of the world is a great ending and the ship rides the shockwave, too good for this story.
The Bad Stuff: Wow, how tatty does the TARDIS look? Time for a spring clean, Doc! Cream leather sofas do not look good on the bridge of a spaceship! Compare Jackson’s crew here to Rorvik’s crew in Warriors’ Gate, they have no personality, no humour, no relationships and no interest. They are the dullest bunch I think we have ever met in the series. The direction is remarkably static with the camera always stationary and no attempts to make it visually interesting (not helped by the dominant colour on display being beige). I know it has been said before but if they were going to use so much CSO couldn’t they think up something more visually appealing than caves? Episode two is literally nothing but running around in caves with no sparkle or substance to the writing. The fumigation set piece is really dull and it last the length of a bible. Why is this story so devoid of incident and dialogue? No wonder it is so unmemorable. The guards are faceless in every sense of the word. Is Herrick’s sacrifice supposed to mean something – he’s the dullest character of the lot! It is one cliché after another…sneaking in via the mine workings. Next thing you know the whole thing will be the work of a deranged super computer! Oh…wait. No way! The Doctor even states its ‘just another machine with megalomania’ – the script doesn’t even disguise its banality! The end of episode three might by the worst ever, its plodding, embarrassingly realised, lacking tension and almost nonsensical. How on Earth did that cliffhanger convince 11.7 million people to tune in to the final episode? What are those ruby-eyed thimble heads all about? By now Dudley Simpson is working on both Doctor Who and Blakes’ 7 and his work is suffering as a result. Okay so this crazy computer has given the Minyans two fusion grenades rather than the race banks and does the director attempt to make this in the least bit exciting? Nope. The tension is utterly bearable because there isn’t any. The double bluff of giving the Oracle the grenades back rather than the race banks is really tired. Much like everything on display here.
The Shallow Bit: Louise Jameson is simply mouth watering. That’s all.
Result: Probably the dullest Doctor Who story I have ever forced myself to sit through, it took me four attempts to get through this the first time I tried. Classic Doctor Who sometimes lacks finesse in its effects but it usually makes up for it with quality dialogue, rich performances, sparkling imagination and good storytelling. Underworld shows you what happens when this situation is reversed. The effects are pretty good but everything else is empty. Underworld has long stretches where nothing happens at all, faceless nobodies running about and a plot that fails to kick start beyond the end of episode one. The latest mad computer lacks even a witty retort and the Doctor and Leela are given little opportunity to shine. I don’t mind the CSO, it hardly compiles the story’s problems when there are this many to start off with. Frankly the behind the scenes documentary on the DVD is far more interesting: 2/10
The Invasion of Time written by David Agnew and directed by Gerald Blake
This story in a nutshell: The Sontarans invade Gallifrey!
Teeth and Curls: There is a gorgeous idea at the heart of the first three episodes of the Doctor going rogue and bringing down his own people. Given their strained history it is entirely plausible that he might harbour enough ill feeling concerning their rejection of his lifestyle to pull this off. How Borusa used to bore him with lectures of responsibility and he taught him nothing that instinct couldn’t have shown him better. Tom Baker gives a sublime performance throughout this story but he especially plays those early scenes with Borusa with such frightening intensity. I would have loved to have seen a story where he could play a villain as furiously as this ala Enemy of the World. He got used to 20th Century earth and he even liked it at times. Given the ill feeling between the two actors I am willing to bet Tom Baker loved banishing Leela and treating her like shite! ‘And stop that awful ringing in my head!’ Imagine if this is how Baker had chosen to play the Doctor throughout his time, it reminds me of the magnanimous first Doctor when we during his debut adventure. Is this the first time he talks directly to the audience? Has the Doctor gone totally dolally…told off for not going through doorways with realism Baker now plays hopscotch down the corridor! I loved the moment we saw the Doctor quietly agonised behind the TARDIS door as he locks Leela out, he looks genuinely conflicted. Go watch him screaming ‘GET OUT!’ and laughing malevolently as he introduces the Vardans…he’s bloody terrifying! Borusa learns that the Doctor’s frivolous lifestyle does have merits, he is too single minded to be informed of the Doctor’s plans whereas the Doctor himself can fill his head full of nonsense (lets be honest, his mind is pretty jumbled at the best of times). He gently apologises to his old mentor for the abuse he has hurled at him, there is a real feeling that he respects Borusa. Stor is the only character that bests the Doctor in pantomime moments of talking to the audience: ‘Well, I did it!’ There’s a fantastic moment between the Doctor and Borusa where he threatens to kill him rather than let the Great Key fall into the hands of the Sontarans. He is the first President since Rassilon to hold the Great Key – they were really trying to go for something impressively epic here (shame about the budget…it’s a shed key!). The Doctor saves the day by murdering Stor, everybody forgets this whilst they are condemning Colin Baker for his multiple homicides. Understanding their relationship well the Doctor tells Andred that Leela will look after him! ‘I’ll miss you too savage’ he says, but not to her face. It is a rare moment of poignancy for the superhero fourth Doctor.
Noble Savage: This isn’t one of Leela’s finest stories (her opening trilogy, Horror of Fang Rock and The Sun Makers take that honour) but her material is very truthful and it is proof that Louise Jameson brought much to her stories even when she wasn’t the focus. When she is on screen I cannot take my eyes off her, only a few actors in Doctor Who hold my attention that strongly (Matt Smith is another) and she is the only performer in the Tom Baker years that upstages the great man. Leela is frustrated by K.9’s obedience. Its fascinating to see Leela being kept in the dark of the Doctor’s plans, it makes his role as bullying President far more believable. Since the script fails to build their relationship Jameson and Tranchell make some effort to show chemistry and I love the real gusto where they argue furiously with each other in a way that only people who want to rip each other’s clothes off do. Leela is very proud to be a part of a ceremony that does the Doctor such honour. She declares reason a liar! What’s great is how they compare Leela against Rodan and you can see how the former is far more logical and intelligent as well as having sharply honed instincts, she positively sparkles in comparison! Leela looks radiant wrapped in her red cloak with her wild hair and sparkling blue eyes, you really believe her when she says she can survive anywhere. Despite his actions she still has total faith that the Doctor has not betrayed her. She wants to lead the warriors in an attack on the citadel; she wants to kick some serious Vardan ass! Prodigiously throws her knife into a Sontarans probic vent from a distance. The Doctor entrusts her with the Great Key. No need for explanation, she takes Andred’s hand and says she isn’t coming with him. When I first saw this story I was dreadfully disappointed that Leela didn’t die in a moment of glory but after having heard the superlative Gallifrey audio series which studies her character in such depth I can live with it.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Possibility of your explanation being better than mine less than 1%’
‘But you have access to the greatest source of knowledge in the universe!’ ‘Well I do talk to myself sometimes, yes.’
‘The SSS! Isn’t that carrying things a bit far?’
‘This machine is a load of obsolete rubbish!’
The Good Stuff: It gets quite a few mentions over the years but this is the only time we ever see the TARDIS swimming pool. Aside from a few cheap coloured plastic chairs the Panopticon set is great, split level and vast with plenty of places to shoot it from. As soon as the Doctor declares that he claims the Presidency my interest stepped up several notches – what the hell is he playing at? The Castellan is a fabulous ass licker, switching sides several times throughout the story and played with brown nosed glee by Milton Johns. Nobody glares at the camera with such depth as this guy; he adds a lot of profundity to what could have been a very shallow quisling. There is no sign of the budget running out in the induction sequences, loads of elegantly attired extras attend the ceremony. It is unusual for the audience to be kept in the dark for quite so long, you are wrong footed right up until the third week this was shown. Dudley Simpson gets to go psychotic with his grand ceremonial organ music. Rodan is a prototype Romana and you can see precisely how being brought up in this sterile, pampered environment would make you so inexperienced and naïve in basic life skills. Each episode hits you with one great shock and K.9, as a machine of death bringing down the transduction barriers and letting in the invaders is another great moment. The CGI Vardans are superb, much more chilling as electrified skeletons than wobbly tin foil (although they do maintain the foil rattle!). Refreshing to head out into the Outlands after the stuffy claustrophobia of the citadel, all glowing sands and furious winds. I love the industrial nightmare design of the Doctor’s secret room, what a piece of design! It’s nice to see that even the Time Lords have their own hippy dropouts! The Castellan takes full advantage of the invasion to weed out elements that he despises. The costumes are gorgeous throughout the story, resplendent reds, purples, oranges and yellows. The Doctor’s plan is to trick the invaders into revealing themselves and their planet of origin and time looping it. However the Vardan plan is to get the Doctor to drop the force field around Gallifrey to let the Sontarans in – how insidious! The end of episode four comes as a total shock, there’s no hint that this story was a plan within a plan. I cannot think of another story that has spent four episodes building up to such an audacious shock. I really like the evil farting Sontaran music, its kind of appropriate for this bumbling lot (best heard as they pursue our heroes in episode five). Never before have the Sontarans been such a bunch of faceless, violent thugs. The Doctor and Borusa walk through the Sontaran force field arm in arm – they make an excellent double act (‘So undignified!’). The Sontaran plan is to devastate all universes with the relics of Rassilon! The end of episode four is sold completely on Baker’s dramatic performance. The Doctor wielding the D Mat gun in a Mexican standoff with the Sontaran Commander – its trying to be an gripping conclusion which is let down by the direction but all there in the script.
The Bad Stuff: I do like the opening model shot but the money would have been better spent elsewhere. The amber alert balls are the first sign of a waning budget. When Time Lords gossip they talk technobabble…no wonder the Doctor want to leave! The Vardans are ineffectually voiced which destroys any tension they might have had. Outside of the Panopticon the rest of Gallifrey looks like an underdressed BBC studio! There are some really dozy Gallifreyan guards (and the performances are amateurish). Andred gets in on the pantomime theatrics and talks to himself. ‘Disappointing, aren’t they?’ says the Doctor when the Vardans reveal themselves and he isn’t wrong! Oh bless, Stor is one of the most illiterate Sontarans we have ever met, he can barely talk! Either the Vardans have exacted their revenge on the Time Lords and time looped Gallifrey or the characters spend the last two episodes running around in circles! All those relics of Rassilon are remarkably tacky looking. Doesn’t K.9 make a right racket! Wow, Stor is not only hideously ugly but the most pantomimic of all staring boggle eyed at the camera and spitting threats. Desperation creeps in in the last episode as a dowdy and disused hospital completely fails to convince as the TARDIS corridors. They even mention deja vu – are we stuck in a chronic hysteresis. As if to comment on the action in part six Borusa sits by the TARDIS swimming pool drinking cocktails! Then they all play farcical musical doors! What the hell is that voracious planet that gobbles up the Sontaran trooper? At this point we have well and truly tipped over into panto.
The Shallow Bit: Andred is quite a hottie and they squeeze him into so very tight trousers! Louise Jameson as ever looks gorgeous. Doctor Who’s Posh’n’Becks?
Result: Much of The Invasion of Time is cheap, amateurishly shot and even pantomimic but it is a story with fantastically climatic script and sublime performances which make the whole thing very watchable. Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Milton Johns, John Arnatt and Chris Tranchell all give superb performances and lift the production considerably. It’s a story that plays the Doctor as a traitor to his own people, that sees Gallifrey invaded twice and a brilliant shock cliffhanger with the Sontarans. Leela leaves in a disappointingly wet fashion and the last two episodes fail to generate any tension or much interest being merely a run-around in a disused hospital. The first four episodes however hold up pretty well and you have to watch this story just to see how scary Tom Baker can be when he plays the villain. Flawed but interesting, I was going to give this story a 6 but Simon insists because it has Leela in it (one of his favourites) it deserves: 7/10