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The Invasion of Time

Video Review by Jamas Enright

Even before watching the story, there's a small treat inside the cover, giving some of the background details of the video. Unfortunately, knowing some of those details (for me) took away some of the mystery of the story. And, unfortunately, watching the video took away the rest.

“There's nothing more useless than a lock with a voice print.”

And there's nothing more useless than a six-part story that isn't. This isn't a single story but three two-parters (much like The Armageddon Factor). There's a very interesting ‘Doctor appears to betray Gallifrey’ story, a more humdrum ‘Doctor stops the Vardan invasion’ story, then a repeat of this in the ‘Doctor stops the Sontaran invasion’ story.

The first story is, I freely admit, new and exciting. How often have we seen the Doctor take the role of aiding the bad guys against the good guys? Sure, the Vardans aren't immediately portrayed as the baddies, but from the Doctor's shiftiness and lack of confiding in Leela, we get the right idea. Similarly the Time Lords' role as good guys are as much from them being the Doctor's people as anyone else. But this is completely at odds with we expect of the Fourth Doctor, and so, it works on a shock value level. It also helps that the Vardans are completely unseen until the end of episode two, adding to their menace.

When you already know the story, the Doctor's motives are completely clear of course, but who can resist the feel of unease at the Doctor's laugh as he introduces the Time Lords' new masters?

From there, of course, it rapidly goes down hill...

“I don't like the idea of inertia being perfect.”

Once the Vardans come into play, the Doctor's motives are revealed, and we're back on familiar territory as the Doctor plays to keep the Vardans from doing anything drastic while he plots their undoing. The Leela and Rodan sub-plot looks more promising, but the rather unlikely looking Outsiders quickly kill interest in their activities.

There is a bright point here and indeed in the rest of the story, in the weasely Castellan Kelner, always greasing up to the invaders in true brown-nosing style. And many style points to him for the lengths he goes to be even more weasely and suck-uppy. As the Doctor says, “Every oligarchy gets the Castellan it deserves.”

The Doctor was right about something else. The menacing Vardans are shimmering tin foil? Able to travel along any broadcast medium (as Andred guesses instantly from the fact that the TARDIS scanner doesn't work)? Sounds impressive, even though we don't see too much of that. Either which way, that's a lot better than when we finally see them in person. “Disappointing, aren't they?” sums up more than the Time Lords' reactions.

One point I'd like to raise. The Doctor pops out of the TARDIS and sees the supposed revolutionaries lying dead. His reaction? No more than a glance, and an “I see.” This is the Fourth Doctor, isn't it?

Still, the cliffhanger at the end of episode four is a definite plus. Can't get better timing than that. Out of nowhere, it's the Sontarans!

“Déjà vu. Back where we started.”

The Sontarans! This must be exciting! An old enemy has returned back and invaded Gallifrey! All we hold dear must not be at risk!

Hang on... the Doctor's already on to defeating them, and this seems to involve running up and down a lot of corridors first in the Capitol, then inside the TARDIS. K9 whips up a technological solution, and everything's fine again. But didn't we just see that?

Despite this seeming rehash/padding, there is something very notable about this part. The Doctor wields a gun, and causally, almost callously, uses it to kill off two Sontarans. Again, not exactly in character for the Fourth Doctor. All this would be more reasonable for the later Seventh Doctor, but no-one minds, the Doctor forgets and life goes on, never to be mentioned again. If I didn't know better, I'd think someone was trying to make a point. Just as well I know better.

“Then who is in that capsule?”

Tom Baker's performance is sterling. Apart from part of one scene, in the first two episodes there really isn't any indication that the Fourth Doctor is anything other than a betrayer and a dictator, two qualities the Doctor fights against. After that, Tom Baker is also an old hand at running around and spouting rubbish to distract from the fact that the Doctor doesn't really know what he's doing. As far as satisfying the needs of the script, he's first class. But as seen above, the script has some serious problems with it.

Just as undeniably, the performances from the other main cast members are also superb. Milton Johns as the Castellan was wonderful. John Arnatt carried Borusa's imperialness with grandeur. Hilary Ryan as Rodan obviously had fun. And I certainly believed that Chris Tranchell was a guard. The problem was that the characters were so two-dimensional (at best), that not even great acting could save them. Andred goes from ‘guard out to save Gallifrey's purity, even if he has to kill the President’ to ‘lackey running around doing the Doctor's bidding’, and Chris Tranchell does both roles well, but the transition happens in a moment, and you'd hardly believe they were the same person.

If you want the biggest character problem, then you need look no further than Andred and Leela's relationship. I'll have to side with Paul Scoones on that one (see Timestreams 1). Still, this was Leela's last episode, so she had to leave somehow. In oh-so-many ways, it is a pity Louise Jameson's idea of Leela's exit didn't come to pass. (If you don't know, you'll just have to read the inside cover.)

“I'll miss you too, savage.”

After nine stories, how has Leela grown? In The Face of Evil she is a savage that follows the Doctor around trusting him, doesn't know too much and fills a role of eye-candy. In The Invasion of Time, she's a savage, follows the Doctor, more or less, trusting him, doesn't know too much, and is still eye candy. That's the kind of character growth that can only be surpassed by the upcoming first Romana's descent from the Doctor's peer to just another screaming companion.

Louise Jameson, like the rest of the cast, does her character proud in portraying what the script required, but if that's all Leela could be, you can see why she chose to leave. That's a shame because, Louise, I believe you could have done so much more. At least she managed to get a fair few non-Doctor Who roles afterwards.

“Dereliction of duty is pretty rife around here.”

So much for the script and the characters. But what of the rest of the production? Pretty good, actually. Some great looking sets, the President's chamber with its myriad wheels being a particular favourite of mine. And some remarkable locations as well, especially for the interior of the TARDIS. A hospital ward is a welcome change from the typical corridor interiors. This goes well with some very nice camera work, and the special effects (such as gun blasts) are actually put where they're supposed to be.

The costumes are terrific. Can't do better than Time Lords for pomposity and overly-grandiose outfits. One small fashion tip though, guys: big inflatable red plastic cushions do not add to the solemnity of the occasion. ‘Cheap and tacky’ is what you get.

Some good moments: the episode ends are well shot. Some bad moments: near the start of episode two, Leela fights the guards and escapes using almost magic because she barely touches the guards at all and yet they completely collapse. And then there's a particular bug-bear of mine...

“They should have been played at my induction, only fifty times lower.”

There's something about Dudley Simpson's incidental music that really irks me. And this episode is no exception. Organ music works well in the coronation sequence, but not when it blasts out hearing anything else! There are other points also where the music is totally at odds with the scene on the screen. When the Doctor exits the TARDIS for the final face-off against Stor, a light jazzy wind-instrument is not really what's called for here.

Incidental music may add to some scenes, but in many instances it gets in the way. More often than not, unfortunately. If it does work, it's usually on a sub-conscious level, so I can easily tell when it doesn't work. I notice it. And this story, you'll notice it too. Not good.

“Then reason is a liar!”

If you've read this far, then you'll probably have the impression that I didn't like this story. Good, because that's the impression I was aiming for. There is great production quality here, some great acting, but the only part of the story really worth watching is the first two episodes. The rest, we've seen before.

This item appeared in TSV 60 (June 2000).

Index nodes: The Invasion of Time