Friday, 20 September 2013

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 mind 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 which if you are being pernickety doesn't exactly count) and you can tell Baker loves the chance to play the villain. Either that or he is reveling in the chance to chase Louise Jameson's Leela about with a gun and finish her off before she gets too popular and has to stick around against his wishes. Although the Doctor is fighting to resist the control of the Nucleus, Baker spits ‘kill her!’ viciously as though he was born to play a nasty. When Baker moans about the strained wit in the scripts he's probably talking about gags like the Gallifrey/Ireland one which Baker and Martin loved pulling out in practically every script they penned. The Doctor lost some Time Lord faculties when they kicked him out, an unusual mention of his early years in the fourth Doctor era which went to some lengths to favour original storytelling over continuity. Whilst I have to give him credit for not laughing his head off when confronted with the Nucleus in its true form in his body, he does at least take some time to rip the piss out of it's tediously familiar plan. He's heard it all before and it takes the schemes of somebody like the Pirate Captain and Scaroth to get his goat up. Clearly he is as fed up of the story as the audience come episode four and so to help brings things to a swiften conclusion, the Doctor tosses Lowe into the hatchery to be gobbled up by the emerging swarm. It's very funny how Baker plays it but it lacks the Doctor's trademark intellect and is as cruel as any murder at poor old Sixie's hands. The Doctor can't quite bring himself to admit that he adopted Leela's plan to blow up the base and got a sense of satisfaction from it even though it is written all over his face. Proof conclusive that Tom Baker can make any old tosh watchable.

Noble Savage: Baker and Martin do a far better job writing for her character here than they did in Underworld, affording her a mix of intelligence and instinct and come the conclusion I was impressed at how well served she was overall. She's certainly given more gumption and ability in The Invisible than somebody like Susan or Victoria managed in entire seasons. I like the idea of her writing her name on a chalkboard, the Doctor continuing with her education (a thread that would vanish along with Robert Holmes this season, unfortunately). Like Lalla Ward in Destiny of the Daleks, she looks absolutely gorgeous in the Doctor’s hat and it suggests an intimacy between the two characters that is perhaps missing from the feuding actors. There seems to be a much nicer chemistry between Baker and Jameson in this story than in Horror of Fang Rock so perhaps she slapped him about a bit in the rehearsal room when he was in full 'whippet shit' vehemence. Leela’s senses are very acute again and she can smell danger, which must be a pretty potent aroma. Leela stands up for the superstitions that she believes and refused to be cowled by the Doctor, a worthy lesson to children to not be ashamed of their feelings or to give in to peer pressure. That time in the rehersal room with John Leeson has paid dividens because there is a palpable chemistry between Leela and K.9 (I love it when she asks the metal mutt to explain, which he does, and then she asks ‘can you explain simply?’). Someone describes her as a bit of a mongrel and Leela examines herself as a clone and asks ‘do I really look like that?’ as though she had never thought to look in a mirror before. I'm fairly certain most women would not object to looking like Louise Jameson. Aggression, determination, stamina and a predators instinct are what make up Leela and why she is immune to the Nucleus influence. Not above a little role play, Leela glams up in green PVC to try in a sneak attack on the Nucleus' forces. Her natural reaction to being challenged is to knock whatever it is on the head. You can tell that Robert Holmes still has a hand in this story (and not just because it is one of last stabs at possession) because Leela is still being characterised with real care. The next time she would be this well written would be The Sunmakers, a personal favourite of Jameson's 

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) but it does have some merits that not only push it out of the trash can but allow it to stand up on rickety legs and wave a flag of pride. 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. All the model is of an exceptionally high standard during this era of the show (one that is not famed for its visuals) and The Invisible Enemy might just be the cream of the crop with both the hospital asteroid and the Titan Base realised with some very detailed miniatures. This is what I'm talking about when I defend model work over CGI effects - the CG enhancements made to the DVD generally make the physical effects make far more sense and give the piece a greater sense of dynamism but their alterations to the model work are unnecessary because they are of such a high standard already. The Titan Base model shots are probably the best the series enjoyed until Trial of a Time Lord (I love the little satellites that circle and the whole sequence of the ship docking and gliding into the base is pleasingly Thunderbirds). As much as it was a moody one season wonder, I'm pleased they re-introduced the old style white console room. It suits the Williams era much more. 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 Baker & Martin's imagination on fire creating a fascinating back story for the period we are visiting. The story goes leapfrogging from one location to another, the sort of thing that would usually terrifying incoming producers but Williams wants to explore the giddy multitude of what the universe has to offer. The Bi-Al Foundation is a hospital facility on an asteroid and a great example of the crazy locations we would visit in the next three years. K.9 might be taking his first faltering steps into Doctor and might be a little dozy in his debut but he is still Baker and Martin’s greatest gift to Doctor Who, such a popular notion and design that he is still loved by kids today. You can piss and moan about how nobody is taking Doctor Who seriously anymore (who wants them to do that all the time anyway?) but this character has spearheaded two spin off shows for Sarah Jane and landed his own Australian hit as well. In every way, K.9 is a success story and he would add so much wit and charm to the coming seasons. The crash into the asteroid makes for an oddly impressive, expensive looking set piece. I don't mean to sound so surprised but this show normally fudges sequences like that. I really like how the script keeps innovating; the Doctor possessed, the shifts in location from Titan to the hospital to the depths of the Doctor's mind – it is written as a colourful, exciting, generously inventive tale for children and if the budget cannot match the justifiable ambition on display it has a damn good stab at it anyway (and the DVD makers have a great stab at fixing the rest). K.9 shoots isn't stupid when it comes to bringing men to their knees, he goes straight for their nuts. I love the crazy effects as the Doctor and Leela are injected into his mind, it's all bubbles and dancing and madness. The gap between logic and imagination is well conceived and realised, making you wonder how on Earth they achieved it. Stop thinking about the realisation for a moment and consider how exciting the concept of a hunt through the Doctor's mind actually is. The Doctor makes a fair case for comparing the human race to a virus. I love how the director has taken the effort to have a miniature hangar built shoots the eggs wobbling on bubbling green slime on film, trying to make the demented idea look as good as possible. Inexplicably, I chose to watch this story with my husband (or rather he planted himself down as soon as he saw one of his favourite actresses - Louise Jameson - in skimpy leather and hung around until the end). It was a singular experience of shock (his impressed reaction to the model work), laughter ('The Shellfish of Death!') and much head shaking as the story veered from one crazy twist to another.To put this in perspective, Simon asked me to turn Caves of Androzani off before the end of the first episode because he was bored rigid. No such trouble with The Invisible Enemy. Simon was laughing at some of the ropey dialogue (‘Its out there! The Evil Thing!’) and his filthy mind took over when 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! Honestly, this is a really fun story if you give it a chance.

The Bad Stuff: Isn't it hilarious how middle class Saffron sounds, even after he has been infected? It's very hard to feel threatened by a possessed human when they sound like they are about to serve tea and cake. I can see their thinking with the phonetic language but it looks really daft, a misfire from the ever spewing well of imagination that is Baker & Martin. It's strange how Derrick Goodwin who has come from soaps and sitcom land straight into the madness of Doctor Who can make some set pieces come alive with real dynamism (there's a gloriously dramatic pan following the Doctor along the corridors of Titan as he begins the hunt for Leela) and others like the invasion of the TARDIS (the console goes phut and there is a pathetic little fade in/fade out) bomb unspectacularly. I know it has been said before but…clothed clones? Even if you were scientifically retarded (which I am), that one could hardly fail to pass you by. What on Earth were they thinking with those homicidal hairy balls in the Doctor’s head? I might have gone with an electronic effect if I could. Poor Louise Jameson and Michael Sheard are left trying to convince that these shaggy orbs are a threat. How they got through these takes without bursting out laughing is a testament to their acting ability. Talk about sloppy direction...K.9's attempts to create a barrier from a piece of masonry is a sound idea and might have worked if this clearly wasn't take two and the section he cuts away hadn't been taped precariously back onto the wall. This possibly (or should that read hopefully) the only Doctor Who story where the villain turns out to be a pile of excrement with an demonstrative claw waving emphatically about. Which might have been excusable if that wasn't followed by it turning into a gargantuan crustacean that shudders erotically, ready to discharge its anticipatory, milky eggs. Yeah, you read that right. 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 for the most part but the script is brimming with imagination, great ideas and some lovely lines. 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 like to give it credit. There's a quickfire pace to events that means it is constantly offering up something new if you're happy with where the story currently is (in terms of locations and ideas) and it is championed by bravura performances from Baker, Jameson and Sheard who are trying their hardest to make the insanity make some kind of sense. It's a great story for Leela who is written with some intelligence and a great chance to see Tom Baker play the villain. Watch the DVD with the CGI effects on, the story becomes a lot more magnetic, especially the shoot'em up sequences (mind you'll lose some of the incredible model work and that is one of the stories biggest selling points). 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


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David Pirtle said...
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