Friday, 27 September 2013

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. It is Williams and Reed really thinking about the character, his past and refusing to let him rest on his laurels. 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 the Doctor takes great delight in taunting him with the knowledge that he taught him nothing that instinct couldn’t have shown him better. Tom Baker gives a sublime performance throughout The Invasion of Time, one of its shining stars when the budget is so lacking, and he especially plays those early scenes with Borusa with such a 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. Meglos is as close as we got in that respect and whilst Baker is chilling, the story itself is lacking. He got used to 20th Century Earth and he even liked it at times. More discussion of the past, handled with real delicacy. Given the ill feeling between the two actors I am willing to bet Tom Baker loved banishing Leela and treating her this appallingly, you'd be hard pressed to find another Doctor Who story where the Doctor is this vicious to his companion (albeit with a very good reason). ‘And stop that awful ringing in my head!’ he bellows like and insane Time Lord. Imagine if this is how Baker had chosen to play the Doctor throughout his time, it reminds me of the mysterious first Doctor when we unsure of him during his debut adventure turned up to ten. Is this the first time he talks directly to the audience? These knowing winks will be all the rage in the following years as the ratings climb to mad proportions and the show gets ever more confident with Baker at the helm. Has the Doctor gone totally doolally…criticized for not going through doorways with realism, Baker now plays hopscotch down the corridor! There is a very telling moment when the Doctor's guard slips completely in the safety of the TARDIS and he stands, agonized, behind the main door as Leela tries to gain access. He looks genuinely tortured at not being able to reach out to his companion. Go watch him screaming ‘GET OUT!’ and laughing malevolently as he introduces the Vardans...this is the Tom Baker that those who worked with him admitted was 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 his mentor like few other people. 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, and this time he isn't playing mind games. He is the first President since Rassilon to hold the Great Key, they were clearly trying to go for something impressively epic here (shame about the budget, all the Doctor wields is a shed key!). The Doctor saves the day by murdering Stor, either understandable or abominable depending on your opinion of the Doctor using terminal force. 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, letting his feelings slip to the audience, if not his companion.

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 central 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 and she is the only performer in the Tom Baker years that manages to upstage the great man and making it look effortless. Leela is frustrated by K.9’s obedience. It's fascinating to see Leela being kept in the dark of the Doctor’s plans, it makes his role as the bullying President far more believable. What is sweet is how Leela's faith in the Time Lord holds even when he behaving in the most appalling fashion, she really has been bewitched by the Doctor. Since the script fails to build their relationship (Williams convinced that the actress would come around and sign up for another season), Jameson and Tranchell make some effort to show chemistry and the real gusto with which they argue furiously with each other is in exactly the way I used to as a horny teen who wanted to rip off the clothes of the person I was having the fabricated altercation with.  Leela is very proud to be a part of a ceremony that does the Doctor such honour. She declares reason a liar, which I suppose is sometimes the case. A strong comparison is made between Leela and Rodan where we can see just what a revolutionary companion the former is, Leela being independent, logical, brave, intelligent and instinctive compared to her whimpering counterpart. There was a time when Rodan was the Doctor's companion (sniveling Victoria) so it's a great chance to see how far we've come. Leela looks radiant wrapped in her red cloak with her wild hair and sparkling blue eyes, somehow feral and incandescent. You really believe her when she says she can survive anywhere. Leela's job this season seems to be to lead the populace into action, to help encourage them to rise up and conquer the administration. With the Outsiders she has found kindred spirits and a lifestyle that suits her. Prodigiously, she throws her knife into a Sontarans probic vent from a distance. The Doctor entrusts her with the Great Key, an honour he wouldn't rest with anybody else. No need for anexplanation, 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 learn to live with this drippy ending for a feral companion. Jameson may have been dissatisfied at the time, but the choice of departure has secured some decent audio work for her in the future. The first season of Gallifrey handles the Andred relationship with real pathos. You should check it out.

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: Considering the ever shrinking budget of this tale, it is quite surprising that this is the tale where we see the often mentioned but never seen TARDIS swimming pool. Even Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS could only manage a duff bit of CGI. Aside from a few cheap coloured plastic chairs (I know vacuum formed furniture was all the rage in the seventies but what a shame that this should be the only element that dates the design so badly) 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? This isn't like his furious attempts to escape vapourisation in The Deadly Assassin but something much more sinister. The Castellan is a fabulous ass licker, switching sides several times throughout the story and played with brown nose glee by Milton Johns, a far cry from his sympathetic turn as Crayford in The Android Invasion. Nobody glares at the camera with such consideration 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, lots 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 episode was originally aired. Surely that was long enough for the kiddiewinks to genuinely start questioning their heroes motives. Dudley Simpson is let off the leash when he conducts his grand ceremonial organ music, it is a pompous assault on the ears that says everything you need to know about the ritual driven Time Lords. Rodan is a prototype Romana and you can see precisely how being brought up in this sterile, pampered environment might make you so inexperienced and na├»ve in basic life skills. Each episode hits you with one shock after another and the idea of K.9 as a machine of death bringing down the transduction barriers and letting in the invaders is another fully realised sequence. He causes some furious destruction. Even if you are one of those Doctor Who purists that comes out in hives at the very idea of trying out the CGI enhancements to classic stories that are available on the DVDs, it might be worth putting up with the sweaty welts to discover just how well the Vardans scrub up when they aren't being represented as quivering sheets of baco-foil. How 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 of the Doctor’s secret room, what a nightmarish piece of design. It’s nice to see that the Time Lords have their own hippie dropouts, even the most sophisticated (their words, not mine) race in the universe produce nonconformists. The Castellan takes full advantage of the invasion to weed out elements that he despises, evidence of his perfidious nature. 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. It shows both the Doctor and his enemies thinking intelligently about how to manipulate the other. The end of episode four comes as a total shock, there’s no hint that this story was a plan within a plan and it is most unlike the show to hold back on it's real intentions for this length of time. 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, entirely appropriate for this bumbling squadron (most 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, making an excellent double act (‘So undignified!’). It makes you wonder why they never teamed the Doctor up with an older companion. You never know, a strong enough octogenarian might have been able to have reined in Tom Baker's excesses. The Sontaran plan is to devastate all universes with the relics of Rassilon which is an audacious notion from a squadron of militaristic potato heads. The end of episode four is sold completely on Baker’s dramatic performance rather than any skill in the direction. The Doctor wielding the D-Mat gun in a Mexican standoff with the Sontaran Commander is a beautifully climactic moment in the script that Tom Baker tries to sell as best he can but he isn't helped by plodding direction. 

The Bad Stuff: Whilst I think the opening, Star Wars inspired, model shot is phenomenal, I wonder if the money would have been better spend elsewhere. The amber alert balls are the first sign of a waning budget, the least sophisticated security system that didn't escape from The Tomorrow People. Time Lord gossip seems to consist of technobabble which makes them the squarest race in the universe. The Vardan presence in the early episodes would be helped immeasurably if the Welsh twang wasn't so detectable in their spokesperson. He sounds like a cuddly sort of chap.  Outside of the Panopticon the rest of Gallifrey looks like an under dressed, plasticky BBC studio. Clearly the Gallifreyan Academy of Security is a bit lax when it comes to their recruitment process because some of their number are truly idiotic. Mind I could fire that same accusation at the extras recruitment policy at the BBC because some of the performances are too. Andred gets in on the pantomime theatrics and talks to himself. ‘Disappointing, aren’t they?’ says the Doctor when the Vardans reveal themselves. Is this an addition to the script or was this added after the costumes were unveiled? Oh bless, Stor is one of the most illiterate Sontarans we have ever encountered, he can barely string a sentence together without frothing at the mouth with rage. Either the Vardans have exacted their revenge on the Time Lords and trapped Gallifrey in a time loop or the characters choose to spend the last two episodes running around in circles not getting anywhere. All those relics of Rassilon are remarkably tacky looking. I bet if Tim Wonnacot took them to auction he wouldn't get tuppence for them. K.9 clearly needs a little tinker because he makes a godawful racket in some scenes. Stor takes the mantle of the most hideously ugly villain the Doctor has ever faced (Read suggests that this would still be the case if Deadman wasn't wearing the mask) but also the most pantomimic of baddies,  always staring out at the audience and spitting ineffectual threats. Stop talking and get on with it. 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, he's clearly riveted by the situation. I'm surprised the BBC weren't paying closer attention to the game of musical doors in the last episodes, there's a game show in that. What the hell is that voracious plant that gobbles up the Sontaran trooper? At this point we have well and truly tipped over into pure panto.

The Shallow Bit: Andred is quite a hottie and they squeeze him into so very tight trousers. That's not a fatuous observation, it's very hard not to miss regardless of your orientation. Louise Jameson looks as gorgeous as ever. Doctor Who’s Posh’n’Becks?

Result: Much of The Invasion of Time is cheap, amateurishly shot and pantomimic but it is a story with an intelligent and climactic script and sublime performances that help to 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. Graeme Williams and Anthony Read are no slouches either, having to knock out this script in record time as the original finale for season fifteen fell through and producing a stunning piece of work under the circumstances. It’s a story that plays the Doctor as a traitor to his own people, that sees Gallifrey invaded twice and builds to a brilliant shock cliffhanger with the Sontarans. As a piece of writing, The Invasion of Time is every bit blockbuster Doctor Who at its finest. As a production it works to a point; costumes and set design are of a pretty high quality and if you can bring yourself to switch on the DVD CGI effects the resulting production is much more polished. However there are clear signs that we have reached the end of the season and the kitty is dearth of funds. Leela leaves in a disappointingly wet fashion and the last two episodes fail to generate any tension or much interest, merely churning a run-around in a disused hospital. The first four episodes however hold up pretty well 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 high 6 but Simon insists because it has Leela in it (one of his favourites) it deserves: 7/10

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Do you know the Blog Adventures with wife in space? (http://wifeinspace.com/), you could do "adventures with hubby in space" where you put Simon to see all Dr Who episodes and transcript his comments ;)

Kevin said...

Brilliant stuff. I'm not an FX / budget fiend but I still haven't watched this for ages. I'm going to watch it tonight!

Joe Ford said...

Either you're messing or you haven't caught 'The Fella' in the toolbar where we do just that! I didn't want to step in the toes of the insanely popular 'Adventures' so we have only been watching the New Series. Or you were joking, in which case :-) :-) :-) :-) x

Joe Ford said...

I hope you have as much fun with as I did, Kevin! :-)

Kevin said...

You're right, Baker and especially Jameson are giving terrific performances. It makes me a bit sad though, when Leela has such faith in the Doctor despite his being so unpleasant to her. I know it's a ruse, but it's still a bit sad, especially knowing how rotten Baker was to Louise. He looks like a psycho in this, I wouldn't want to go near him in 1977! Last 2 episodes now, thanks for the great review of a story lost at the back of my mind :)

Joe Ford said...

I tend to steer clear of behind the scenes gossip about Doctor Who but sometimes it is so fascinating you have to delve further. What's interesting is that Baker was so inhospitable towards Jameson that she carries the scars of that treatment with her for decades, and has only recently reconciled with Baker whilst working with him with Big Finish. She said as much on the 'special features' documentary on one of the audio releases. I'm glad they sorted out their differences (I don't think Baker was even aware of them if I'm honest) but it makes you wonder if the actor had gone a bit power mad (understandably so given the ratings and popularity) at the time.

I'm glad people are giving the Williams stories another chance, it is an unfairly maligned period of the show I find and I hope with some positive defence more people will be willing to give it another stab.

Thanks, you've made me grin today.

Peakius Baragonius said...

I haven't watched this one in a while but it is actually one of my favorite Tom Baker stories going by memory. I'll have to reevaluate it for myself but until then thank you very much for pointing out this story's many overlooked strengths!

For me, the last two episodes work because it isn't just any old runaround in a hospital, it's the TARDIS! Obviously certain sections such as the brick walls are crap looking but I actually like the plant room, the art gallery, and the swimming pool. How sad is it that the realization of the TARDIS is more *interesting* than Journey To the Centre of the TARDIS's made this year?

AndrewBuckley said...

Hi Joe, the Chronology link at the top of your blog is broken

Joe Ford said...

Fixed :-)

Alex Wilcock said...

This is the single most striking example for me of a story I loved as a boy but which has really plummeted for me since, so I enjoyed reading some of your enthusiastic bits that brought the happier side back! For me, it’s partly that the quality oscillates so much and that there are so many deeply stupid moments as well as the odd brilliant (or at least diverting) one, but my biggest beef with it is the climax: of your options, I’m on the “abominable” side, and more.

It’s not just that, as ultimate weapons go, a big gun is the most paralysingly dull, boring and tedious sort: that’s not the biggest failure of imagination. It’s the only Doctor Who story I can think of where the Doctor deliberately seeks out, plans, builds and then uses the Ultimate Weapon (other more interesting Ultimate Weapons are available). There are a lot of things he cobbles together in desperation and uses in regret, but I can’t think of another time when he acts so exactly like a Doctor Who villain. It just feels wrong.

He doesn’t even choose to give it up – that’s only by amnesia ex machina.

My own personal theory is that Graham Williams and Anthony Read realised what a terrible mistake they’d made in their writing and determined to reject it next time: the whole resolution of the Key to Time seems like a remake of this to get it right, with the Doctor being the Doctor instead of Rambo. I did meet Mr Read once but chickened out of asking him in case I was wrong, in which case ‘I think one of your scripts was horrible rubbish, so did you write the next story arc to repudiate it?’ may not have gone down so well.

Anyway, it’s a story that starts with the 'Doctor turning bad', but the writers don’t even notice that he really turns bad at the end. I liked big guns and this story when I was six. These days I think neither make good Doctor Who.

Oh, and I always think Andred’s a bit wet to be sexy, whatever his packet shots ;)

Joe Ford said...

What an interesting analysis. I'm more of the opinion that the show is called Doctor Who and not Doctrine Who so I really have no issue if he ever has a justifiable reason for picking up a weapon and blasting away? He's done it enough times now for me to shrug it off. It sure makes for a gripping conclusion on paper, even if that doesn't quite translate well on screen, whatever side of the argument you are on just to see how it pans out.

I don't mind wet. I even had a little crush on Cordo from the Sunmakers once! What was I thinking?

Still there are some lovely ideas in this and great performances. I WISH it could be better than it is because it has such potential. But its still pretty good.

Alex Wilcock said...

Thank you! And: "Still there are some lovely ideas in this and great performances. I WISH it could be better than it is because it has such potential. But its still pretty good" is an excellent case for the defence.

I think what marks this particular Great Big Gun out is the stated ultimate-weaponishness of it, and the cold-blooded premeditation of it, neither of which seem in character (there's only one other classic series story that I have similar problems with. No conferring).

But, as I said, I loved it when I was six, so even my mileage varies.

Actually, I can see what you mean about Cordo. But he's terrified and you want to go 'Awwhh,' and it's a little triumph when he rises above it a big. Whereas a big butch guard captain with a charisma bypass just isn't worthy of our Leela (the bastard one in Big Finish, on the other hand, for so many reasons...).

Anthony Pirtle said...

This is a great four parter.