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!
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 naïve 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