Available from BBC Audio (Download/ Four CDs)
Published: 1st September 2016
Run Time: 247 Minutes
Season Fifteen of Doctor Who was arguably the most directionless of the Seventies. After the wonderful three prior seasons under producer Philip Hinchcliffe, Doctor Who suddenly had a very different person at the helm, as Graham Williams took over. However the new showrunner perhaps was less able to make the most of the limited resources afforded the Saturday teatime show, and also commanded somewhat less authority over the sometimes domineering leading man. It was evident to many viewers how the show was struggling through a period of transition, and the average quality of both script and production dipped quite dramatically. It does need to be acknowledged, however that budget cuts were enforced by higher management, and furthermore in the case of this story industrial strikes took their toll.
The last two years had featured very strong climactic stories, which made the often regarded 'burden' of six episodes into an opportunity to really explore an exciting storyline and afford one-off characters stronger examination. The Invasion of Time unfortunately stopped the run of triumphs, although it still had quite a few merits to prevent it from being anywhere close to a disaster. The foundations for a satisfying season finale were never quite right from Day One, and even the same budget as Season Fourteen would not have prevented some of the decisions made by the production team. Experienced writer David Weir was unable to offer a script that could be made to work on screen; although perhaps if made with Hollywood resources it would have proven a success. Some Who stories failed for being too ambitious, with many of those being in the experimental Sixties era. But surely the concept of killer cats that could walk upright and talk should have been vetoed from the off(?). Deciding to keep the basic setting of the Doctor's home world, script editor Anthony Read, along with Williams, came up with Invasion. It was a work of some desperate measures, and to be frank it did show through a significant portion of the story's duration.
The (audio) book format takes away some of the considerable ropiness of the onscreen production. On the other hand, it also excises the excellence of Borusa and Kelner - performed respectively by John Arnatt, and Milton Johns, (who also made a fine villain in the re-discovered The Enemy Of The World). The ever-strong Louise Jameson made the most of the emotional tribulations that faced Leela, as she appears to be cast aside by her best friend. Even Andred and Rodan, while hardly the stuff of legend, did make for likeable one-time characters, and as portrayed on-screen gave some colour to the rather obtuse and stuffy society of Gallifrey's Capitol.
All the same, there is no getting away from the laughable visuals/costumes used for the Vardans, and the inadequate allocation of money for the Sontaran invasion squad. The casting and/or performances for both the Vardan leader, and Commander Stor left something to be desired as well. And most dedicated classic Who fans will be aware of the use of a disused hospital for the final episode run-around sections, within the endless depths of the Doctor's TARDIS, with even some verbal 'acknowledgement' by the characters of the repeated use of the limited sets.
Apart from exploring Gallifrey in notable depth and seeing Leela leave the show, Invasion was one of a number of stories where the Fourth Doctor went 'evil'. Other examples involved possession, being impersonated, or replicated in android form. This story however did the most with the trope, by allowing Tom Baker to come across as chillingly ruthless and corrupt. And yet there was also that hint at times he was still the same do-gooder, as viewers had long come to expect. Once episode three of the story is underway, an element of tension subsides as the Doctor's true intention is clarified. But then with each passing episode the plot become shakier as the rushed writing process shows through.
Nonetheless, this brave choice to start a season closer with such a shocking premise should still be given some credit. Thus, taken on its own terms as an intriguing story, with a hook as to the Doctor's loyalties and overall game plan, and also a chance to see how Gallifrey has fared since the conspiracy that took place in The Deadly Assassin, the novelisation had some distinct in-build advantages. Terrance Dicks, so comfortable at this point as an author, was always going to produce something pleasantly readable.
This new audio production is yet another feather in BBC Audio's cap, and the decision to once again employ John Leeson was a sound one. This loyal supporter of the show - both during his time in the cast, and many years after interacting with fandom - reprises his K9 voice effortlessly, and seamlessly incorporates any extra lines he is afforded in this version. One of the most minor characters sounds a little too much like K9, but that is forgivable, as Leeson's overall range is strong, and he breathes life even into the more one-dimensional figures of the original scripts.
The much-praised Episode Four cliffhanger makes for the most dramatic chapter ending, and sees Leeson's heartfelt read-through of the prose at its absolute peak. This moment is coupled with a nicely done accompaniment of orchestral music - somewhat similar, but certainly not identical to the great work of Dudley Simpson. Even if the front cover gives away the main enemy's identity, for someone completely new to the story and/or Doctor Who in general, the decision made by Williams and Read to use a big twist to bolster the 'four-plus-two' episode structure twist still holds up almost forty years later. Of course, back in 1978 the chances of spoilers were next to none, with a little bit of discretion.
In terms of what original material Dicks' adaption brings to readers who want more than just a solid translation of the teleplay, in all honesty this effort has limited 'bonuses'. Most regrettably, there is no build on the Leela/Andred relationship in this version of the story. Compared to the likes of Jo Grant, Vicki, or even Peri, this romantic exit - especially for a companion as iconic as Leela - really felt artificial. In fact there is less indication of their bond than the TV version, which had some moments of hand-holding/ eye-contact for Jameson and Christopher Tranchell to try to signpost to viewers. Also, perhaps Dicks missed opportunities for the Doctor to justify risking a full-scale Vardan invasion, and also the price paid in a number of Time Lord and Gallifreyan deaths. This loss of life, so normally abhorred by the Doctor is likely the by-product of a necessarily rushed script at the time, which still needed its quota of action-adventure and suspense.
There are at least some welcome explanations of how the Doctor was able to use the status of President, despite continuing on his travels, via a solid recap of the previous (and superior) Gallifrey story, and also a little bit of clarity over which of Rassilon's artefacts remained intact, for those who make the effort to scrutinise such details.
In sum then, this is a nice little addition to the BBC Audio library, mainly thanks to John Leeson's committed involvement. The original book was efficient in getting the rather elongated six-parter told in expeditious fashion, and the running time here - spread over 4 CDs - feels comparatively lighter. As a tale in its own right it can be followed with little difficulty, although it certainly resonates more if the listener is somewhat clued up on Time Lord basics, and also familiar with Leela's development (which evoked George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion).Whilst probably not the first choice for a fan unfamiliar with the Tom Baker era - and in particular this maiden season of the Williams era - this audiobook still holds its own, and offers a good few hours of easy listening.