UnderworldBookmark and Share

Thursday, 14 December 2006 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

Apparently, I live in some kind of "fanboy cave"! 

I had never heard that this story was so badly scoffed by fandomn. That it's considered one of Tom Baker's worst. To be held in the same (low) esteem as, say, "Revenge of the Cybermen" or "The Android Invasion". Up until I read some of the reviews on this site just a few moments ago, I had always been under the impression that this was regarded by general fandomn as an enjoyable little yarn that is marred chiefly by the fact that it relies too heavily on C.S.O. during the second half of its telling.

But now I'm reading differently. Complaints about preposterous plotting and wooden characterisations are be bandied about by the lot of you. My big question is: what Tom Baker stories don't have some of this going on? Particularly in this era of the series!

The nice thing about Undeworld is that it does really keep these sort of problems down to the barest of minimums. With lots of free reign being given to Tom to spice up some of the somewhat more mundane elements of the story. His energy levels during the entire plot are fantastic, as he bounds about through tunnels and spaceships spreading that inimitable chaos his character is so fond of generating. He's very fun to watch throughout these episodes - whilst still not going too far "over the top" as he did sometimes in later adventures that have become notorious in this producer's run. So that, as boundless as Baker's energy seems, it does not cause damage to the storyline's credibility. The main focus is still the desire to tell an exciting adventure story. Not watch Tom Baker muck about on strange-looking sets whilst taking the piss out of bug-eyed monsters. And it's nice to see how nice of a balance Underworld draws with this element. 

Underworld's biggest flaw lies, of course, in its flatness. Not just due to the C.S.O. but also some of the elements of the story itself. We have, at least, two plot elements that have, by this point, been done several times over in the show's history (attempts to preserve a race bank and a megalomaniac computer). So this immediately makes it a bit more difficult for the viewer to get all that interested in what's happening sometimes. It is always easier to get involved with a story when its premises seem "new" to us. And a good two-thirds of this story, purely from the standpoint of the series itself, is a bit of a re-hash. Even the Doctor identifies the Oracle for what it is quite quickly and almost seems to act like he's used to dealing with this sort of thing. Which, by this point, he is. 

Personally, I found the scenes with the Oracle to be a bit on the tedious side because of it. In fact, it almost gives us a bit of an anticlimax to find out the Oracle is just another computer gone mad. Might have been a great twist if it had been a whole "Wizard of Oz moment" and we discovered some Minyan hiding behind the curtains who had somehow gotten his hands on a regenerator and was sustaining himself indefinitely with it whilst controlling his little underground society with an iron fist. 

No such luck. Just another damned crazy computer instead. One that is nowhere near as interesting as the BOSS or Xoannon was before it. Or even WOTAN for that matter! 

Adding to this story's flatness is the actual sense of integrity the director is trying to maintain with themes of the script. We have a tired and listless ship crew that is so run-down that they actually long for their quest to become impossible so that they can finally quit it (note how Jackson actually seems to cheer up when the drive crystal breaks). And a tired and listless slave society that can see no real means of finding freedom from the tyranny that oppresses it. Admittedly, all this tiredness and listlessness, as intentional as it may have been, does make it hard for the viewer to care about much of what it is going on in the story. Perhaps the director should have been more careful with how he was portraying these elements. But that is, admittedly, a tough call to make. You want to stay true to a script, but you also have to keep overall entertainment impact in mind too. And, unfortunately, that balance seems a bit "off" in this element of the story. Thus making it difficult to become all that emotionally involved with some of the storyline.

But aside from those two problems and the actual genuine "flatness" of the C.S.O., I feel Underworld has a lot to be proud of. On the more superficial side, we have some of the best model work and laser battles the series has ever produced (shield guns are, easily, one of the coolest hand-weapons ever devised on the show). On the "deeper" side of things, we have a story that not only borrows from classical greek mythology - but does so without being too blatant about it. Something "Horns Of Nimon" and a few other Who stories like it that were "inspired by other sources" could learn a lot from. The little afterthought the Doctor has with Leela back in the console room after the adventure is over wraps up the whole idea quite nicely and gives us some nice abstract philosophy to ponder over. 

We also get, in amongst some of the afore-mentionned re-hashing, some really creative ideas too. Particularly the concept of a planet that is forming around a spaceship. And though some of the science regarding this idea is a bit "wobbly" (again, "wobbly science" is nothing new to Who and I'm still amazed at the fans who feel such tremendous need to pick it apart), it still made for some very imaginative moments. Of particular charm, of course, was the whole "descending down the tree of life" sequence. With its cute little lift music and, of course, yet more C.S.O! 

So, in the final analysis, "Underworld" does have a few big problems to it. But I'd hardly label it a "stinker". I would even go so far to say that as an action/adventure tale, it excels in the way it was executed. And considering the way action elements in Who have oftentimes been a total travesty, that makes this particular story extra noteworthy. "Underworld" on a rainy afternoon with nothing to do, makes for a very fun viewing.





The Invasion of TimeBookmark and Share

Thursday, 14 December 2006 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

Another classic example in the series where I can let the "fun" of the story make up for some of its lack of quality. 

I will admit, "The Invasion Of Time" is one of the Tom Baker stories from my collection that I re-watch the most often. No, it's not some superbly-written, magnificently-crafted piece of brilliance like its predecessor "Deadly Assassin" was. But it is a pleasantly-surprising romp with some fairly minor flaws and some truly "inspired" moments too. 

One of those more inspired moments is the treatment of the title character. The Doctor is going home again - something the series always makes a big deal of - but along with this return is a very strange approach to the Doctor himself. Is he genuinely betraying his own people? Why is he acting so rotten? It must be a plan, of course - but it was great fun that it took two-and-a-half episode to finally reveal it. And though Colin really messed with our heads with his Doctor seeming evil, this is the first time we see this of Tom. The first time we see this, ever, in the series. That kind of boldness always impresses me. Especially with such an iconic hero. 

While on the subject of the main character, this really is Tom Baker at his best. Especially when you take into consideration just how little plot there is in episode two. He carries that episode on his shoulders by just being so bloody enjoyable to watch - particularly the monologue he performs alone in Borussa's office as he looks for the hidden exit (I love it when he tells an imaginary Borussa he's speaking latin!). He also strikes one of his best balances between the serious and comedic side of Doctor Four in this story. There are some great moments of silliness in his performance but also some very serious times (oftentimes highlighted with some neat fanfare). And, occasionally, we get a neat little dose of pathos with moments like him locking Leela out of the TARDIS and having to plug his ears as she hammers away to be let in. 

K-9 and Leela are also extremely well-used in this story. Particularly K-9, as he uses Gallifrey's greatest relics in order to save the day (though, I'm not sure, exactly, how the rod, sash and coronet empower him to do some of the things he does). All truth be told, I have always had mixed feelings about K-9. A cheesy robot dog seems more like something a bad American sci-fi series might do. But this story definitely handles him well. The banter between him and the Doctor is another factor that carries things along nicely when the plot gets a bit thin. 

Next, we have the Vardans. Definitely a villain that works better in theory than on-screen. The superimposed plastic wrap is just plain silly-looking. But, even with such a bad visual, the intent behind it is kind of neat. And the whole idea of them being able to broadcast themselves on any wavelength is quite clever. Of equal cleverness, of course, is how the Doctor manages to work around that and eventually take them down. 

The delightful cliffhanger at the end of part four is highly memorable. Especially since the production team was smart enough to use an established baddie. I awaited Episode Five with baited breath. 

And what fun we have in those last two episodes. Yes, the TARDIS appears to have rooms that aren't rondel-covered (oh horror amongst horrors!) but it is still nice to finally get such a nice tour of the place. And if it means we don't get a perfect sense of continuity, oh well. The gardens and swimming pools and lifts were all great fun. The fact that big nasty Sontarans are traipsing through them at the same time just makes this all the more enjoyable. 

Finally, we have a really good ending even if it is a bit "hasty" in places. Not just Leela's sudden decision to run off with Andred. But even Stor's decision to just suddenly blow up Gallifrey seems a bit at odds. Still, I love the whole "wisdom of Rassillon" moment with Borussa. It's a nice touch. Incidentally, of all the actors to take on this character, I enjoyed this performer the most. Wish he had come back one or two more times. Boy can that Borussa regenerate sometimes, eh? 

So, even though I will swear to the end of my life that Deadly Assassin is easily one of, if not, the best Who stories of all time. It's sequel, though disappointing in some spots, is really a lot better than a lot of fans make of it. Enough so, that I think I've actually watched this story more often than I have Assassin. Because, in the end, there's just a lot more fun in this one. And sometimes, fun can get a bit of a mediocre tale to rise above itself.





UnderworldBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

Maybe I just have a strong constitution, but there are very few Doctor Who stories that I find really boring. I'd even give The Monster Of Peladon an average rating, and that's usually seen as one of the show's biggest turkeys. Underworld though, like The Leisure Hive, is one of the few stories to really make me want to drop off: so much so that I had to review it in two parts, and the only other occasion I've had to do that is with The War Games which is four hours long [for posterity I should note that at this stage I haven't done The Invasion, The Daleks' Master Plan or anything else like that].

Possibly because I'm just really badly disposed to this story, Tom Baker in his art gear really gets on my nerves. This quirkiness of character is far from rare in the Williams era, but it's so devoid of any relation to anything that happens at any point in the story that you have to wonder what the point was: it's as if Bob Baker wrote the scene while Dave Martin crossed "be Doctorish" off his list with his pencil. Very quickly though we get to see the story's one selling point: its superb model work, also a common feature of the Williams era. The nebula is pretty enough and the R1C is a good model but it's the set design that lets the show down, all flat mud browns and blank spaces. You'd think that with so much of the story set in dank caves they'd have put a bit of colour in where they could, but no. The acting is poor too, with only Alan Lake as Herrick making any effort. When we first meet them they are going over what the TARDIS materialisation sound could have been which is fine up to a point, because it's what they conceivably would be talking about, but since the audience knows the answer to their questions there's really no need to dwell on the subject as much as the episode does.

Baker immediately explains why the Time Lords are thought by the Minyans to be gods, so that any sense of mystery that could be generated fizzles out. The Minyans' catch phrase of "the quest is the quest" isn't exactly spine tingling either, as well as not making much sense.

All is not a total loss on the design front as the shield guns are a nice idea, although Leela fires one without even knowing what it is. The happy guns, a sort of valium in energy form, are another nice idea but let down by Louise Jameson's poor acting (although she has improved since season fourteen). The initial set up of the plot is then given to the audience: it's a good one (hey, those ancient Greeks knew how to tell a story) but poorly delivered by the maudlin James Maxwell as Jackson. I'm annoyed as well to see K9 yet again being used to solve a plot point.

Imogen Bickford-Smith as Tala doesn't liven up for her regeneration, but it's nice to see that Tom Baker is still capable of serious moments among the clowning. The meteors outside the ship look fantastic, leading to the story's best cliffhanger. The fact that they escape only to crash again shows how much of a lazy excuse for an episode ending, but the crash itself looks great.

Now we see the caves of the P7E planet. The models, while well made, don't exactly hold the viewer after three episodes of nothing but brown and, while the CSO is much better than average, the lack of shadow or any interaction with the environment means that it never looks really real. However, I am pleased to hear that they at least made an effort with the sound effects, and the echoes work well.

The guards look ridiculous in their KKK / '70s bell bottom uniforms, but at least they tried here (veiled reference to The Long Game? Surely not!). However, no thought has gone into what separates them from the miners: it's as if the Oracle simply arbitrarily made some of the Minyan descendants slavers and others slaves. That, frankly, is not a wholly satisfying explanation.

It shows how uninspired the story is when something as pedestrian as poison gas is held off for ages to make a cliffhanger (how many times has Doctor Who featured poison gas? As many times as laser guns, okay, but how many people would put "Klieg pulls laser gun on Doctor" in their top ten cliffhangers? Right then). The moment becomes even worse when you consider that the Doctor explains how he's going to get out of it before the credits roll. Halfway through and I'm struck with how hopeless and pointless it all feels: the references to Jason And The Argonauts, potentially a good idea, now feel like a way of avoiding coming up with a proper plot.

Why does it take the guard leaders so long to notice there's gas pumping into the control room, when everyone around them has collapsed and they can't see their hands in front of their faces? Their threats to Idas's (another plank) father (and another) are delivered with a similar lack of enthusiasm, which undermines their menace ("I'd kill you now, but I'm on my lunch").

The 'centre of gravity' scenes make no sense at all. I'm not going into the physics of it, but shouldn't there be some sort of gradual decline rather than just walking through a door and finding yourself floating about? Dudley Simpson doesn't help either; I can't work out if putting lift music into the scene where the Doctor, Leela and Idas float downwards is a really good joke or just really stupid: either way, it lets down an OK special effects scene. The sword of Damocles scene is just about interesting, maybe because the colour scheme of the room it takes place in is something other than mud brown.

Herrick's sacrifice is stupid and pointless: he does it to set up the narrative for later rather than for any reason appropriate to the time. The fact that Norman Stewart's handling of action scenes is so inept doesn't help either. However, the idea that the Oracle is using "sky-falls" to systematically cull the population of the planet is a very unsettling one, and injects a bit of life into the story for an all-too-brief period.

The Seers look utterly ridiculous, possibly the most unintentionally funny monsters of all time. There are just so many jokes…the jumping bean analogy isn't a new one, but if you combine that description with a cross between the ghosts from Pac Man and a whack-a-mole game you could be getting close. The cliffhanger is another useless one, as the direction is so poor that it's unclear what's going on. Don't they want to get tipped into the machine? Why else are they in the cart?

The fourth episode is more of the same really. The Oracle sounds good (a bit like the baddie from Ghostbusters actually) and isn't exactly original, but if it ain't broke…

Why doesn't K9 spot that the race banks are really grenades sooner? The planet escape sequence is well done, with more excellent model work, particularly the destruction of the planet. The Oracle states that it deserves death, which is an original twist on the megalomaniac idea, but the fact that she is consigning all her people to death makes this seems slightly less magnanimous. Even when they are facing destruction though, the Seers just don't give a monkeys. The exploding planet kills every single baddie, pushing up the story's mortality rate to just over 46%.

The final mistake is for the Doctor to directly talk about Jason And The Argonauts, as what starts out as a (relatively) subtle reference now becomes part of the plot itself leading to questions such as "why?" and "how?". I don't even want to think about it to be honest; I'm just glad it's over.

Underworld is a poor, poor story but I wouldn't put it as low as some: the 2003 Outpost Gallifrey poll puts it in the bottom three episodes of all time, but for me it's too lifeless and dull to reach the levels of obnoxiousness needed to get a bottom of the barrel rating. It comes to something when an episode's mediocrity works in its favour like this, but that about sums up Underworld: it is a hard story to sit through and is a low point of Tom Baker's tenure.





Horror of Fang RockBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

Horror Of Fang Rock is surprisingly tricky territory really as despite its popularity it is often criticised for being too simple and shallow. This is a justified claim but it has not come about through sheer laziness on Terrance Dicks’s part; the story was a famously last-minute addition to the schedules and in any case Dicks does make a valiant effort to correct these problems. What we are left with in the end is possibly the ultimate base-under-siege story, where all the elements that made the genre so successful under the Patrick Troughton era are distilled to absolute purity.

Admittedly the opening special effect is lame but in general the story’s visuals are excellent, with some excellent models and particularly well designed sets on display. The lighthouse is flawlessly realised, with its curved doors, intricate background scenery and dark lighting. The CSO in the lamp-room is also excellent and allows me to make that rarest of claims: it’s not that noticeable.

The first episode has a fun trio of guest stars, the best being Colin Douglas as Reuben. The exchange between him and Ben over the relative merits of oil and fire in lighthouses should silence those who claim this has a poor script, and show how a small cast totalling five people can carry the episode. The episode begins with a good ol’ mystery of the kind I get into so much – and it’s sustained too, for most of the story.

Louise Jameson will never be called the most charismatic of the Doctor’s companions but Dicks’s dialogue is reliably good and the film sets of the rocks are terrific. The sound of the foghorn is well used as well, acting as incidental music (which is rather sparse while I’m on the subject, although not bad) and showing how adept Paddy Russell is at creating atmosphere. 

This story is notable for the Doctor’s commanding presence, as he swans around taking charge of every situation he is placed in; rarely does he wait for another actor to give him his cue properly and very often he speaks without looking at his subject. This was allegedly difficult for the other actors to deal with and threatens to take the character over the top in certain places, but for the most part the Doctor comes across well as a dynamic and authoritative character. For example, the discovery of Ben’s body is an excellent piece of acting, being a mixture of disgust and calmness. 

The crash of the yacht is a brilliant piece of modelwork, unjustifiably criticised (modelwork being a particular strength of season fifteen now that I think about it) and makes for an underrated cliffhanger. A handy effect of this is that we get some extra cast members; the combination of the small space to cram them in and their general agitation means that the painstakingly-created sense of claustrophobia really begins to bite at this stage. The extra cast are generally good with the exception of Annette Woollett as Adelaide, whose drippy characterisation is a bit too much to handle. 

It’s only spoiled by the sight of the Rutan; for one thing it look ridiculous (monsters being a particular weakness of season fifteen now that I think about it) and for another thing, what’s the point of showing it in episode two if you’re just going to hide it away again until the conclusion? All it does is spoil the sense of the unknown. I ranted a bit more about this at the time but I used my notepad to kill a mosquito and frankly the rest is silence, or at least illegible.

“Are you in charge here?” “No, but I’m full of ideas.” Okay, hand on heart, this little jewel (I think from Robert Holmes) is my favourite quotation from Doctor Who and one that I had the good fortune of being able to use in a social situation not too long ago (I so rarely get asked if I’m in charge of anything). Apart from being a witty retort, it happens to make the Doctor look like the coolest bloke to ever walk the Earth or anywhere else.

On the DVD commentary Dicks gets very sniffy about the Tom Baker’s acting when Ben’s mutilated body is discovered, but really I think it’s quite appropriate as they’ve all seen violent death before; admittedly Harker doesn’t get much in the way of back history so I’m basing my assumptions about his constitution on the preconception that salty sea-dogs can handle just about anything. On the subject of back history, I consider the financial shenanigans of Skinsale and Palmerdale to be a bit of a noble failure. They are an attempt to make the characters seem a bit less like monster-fodder but as they are so inherently pointless they betray themselves; it looks like nothing more than an unsuccessful effort which in turn makes the characters seem even more like monster-fodder. That said, it’s great dialogue and always a pleasure to listen to even if it does go nowhere.

After another decent cliffhanger episode three begins, and Adelaide really starts to yell. She was never the story’s most likeable character to begin with, and her constant histrionics start to send the story over the edge.

Meanwhile Reuben-Rutan is lurking in his room; the Rutan itself is presumably attaching a transmitter to the lighthouse, but it is never explained what some projection of Reuben is left behind. Suggestions on a postcard please. On the subject of climbing the lighthouse then this isn’t a bad effect at all but is let down by it’s comparison to other visuals which are absolutely brilliant.

Yes, well, Adelaide gets slapped. Look, there are enough crass remarks about this already without me adding more so I’ll move on to the wrecked telegraph, which due to not fulfilling any narrative function I can only assume is simply there to increase the claustrophobia, which is already maxed out anyway thereby making it somewhat redundant.

The cliffhanger is another good one; seriously, what have people got against them? Vince’s death at the beginning of part four is poignant as he’s such a likeable character in a kicked-puppy sort of way, and it leads to a good scene where Reuben comes stalking into the crew-room; Adelaide’s death is arguably the story’s most dramatic moment. The transformation effect is good, but as I said before the Rutan looks terrible. Also, the talk of Sontarans and intergalactic wars seems slightly incongruous on a lighthouse off the coast of Southampton in the 1900s. 

Skinsale bites the bullet; this is famously (I think) the only story to have a 100% mortality rate. Even Pyramids Of Mars had Achmed. It should be said though that this is due to the story’s small cast (there are no extras at all) and the body count is only eight people, which is significantly less than many other stories. This means that it is characters that get killed as opposed to faceless stuntmen, and their deaths are all the more shocking for it.

The effect of the Rutan mothership is another good one; like the transformation of Leela’s eyes, the resolution is contrived but cool. To wrap up, this is followed by one of the best endings ever as the Doctor quotes from the amazingly atmospheric poem ‘Flannen Isle’, making for an appropriate ending to a very creepy story.

“Classic” is that most elitist of terms that nevertheless gets chucked around far too much; while I’m going to give this story a maximum rating, I’m not going to make the claim that it’s up there with the truly top-tier stories like Pyramids Of Mars that really can be called classics. Nevertheless, this is one of the top ten season openers.





Image of the FendahlBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

When I was young, I’d rave about anything. Would you believe at one point I loved The Twin Dilemma, and thought Battlefield was a good story to show to a newbie? These days, as a jaded 20 year old (I’ll be 21 in six weeks at the time of writing so I’m milking it for all it’s worth) it takes quite a lot to blow my mind, and while many have been good only two Doctor Who stories have ever managed it. One was Ghost Light; the other was Image Of The Fendahl.

What’s noticeable about this episode is how it focuses on the guest characters, with a relatively small role (initially anyway) for the Doctor and Leela. This allows for some excellently drawn roles, without going too far in this direction as the otherwise-good Revelation Of The Daleks did. It’s handy then that the guest roles are generally well acted, with the exception of the slightly stagy Edward Arthur as Adam Colby. Dennis Lill as Dr. Fendelman, taking the “mad scientist” baton and playing his little heart out while just managing to avoid playing for laughs (although take that remark with a pinch of salt when it comes to his death scene). None of this could work though were it not for the wonderful script from Chris Boucher; lines such as Adam’s plea to Max to “end the day with a smile” are the kind of nuances that take a good story into the realms of greatness. 

Oh man, I hate writing reviews where all I do is lavish praise. Still, I suppose getting to watch such an excellent episode counters this.

The visuals are appropriate to the story and are generally solid – it’s interesting to note that the other excellent stories of Graham Williams’s time as producer (Horror Of Fang Rock and City Of Death) also feature above average design. Makes you think, that. However, it must be said that this serial does the televisual equivalent of grabbing you by the lapels and screaming “GOTHIC!” at you until you pass out. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The scene with the hiker in the woods is very creepy and atmospheric, and the glowing skull effect is terrific. The only flaw is, like most programmes older than about five years, the computers look very dated.

George Spenton-Foster is a superb director on this story (his work on The Ribos Operation is more open to debate, although he was never terrible) and there are some wonderful touches such as overlaying the image of the skull over that of Thea. The hiker’s death is good, as the unseen monster’s powers of paralysis are scary enough on their own without any other details.

After some little time now we get to the first scene with the regulars. K9, even though he never speaks or leaves the TARDIS, seems incongruous in such a dark story, and Leela’s line of “don’t cry about it” illustrates her shift to being a slightly more easy going character (by her standards, anyway) over the course of the season.

After a brief scene in which the Doctor delivers a lot of technobabble (just focus on the “world will be destroyed” sections, they’re the important bits), we’re back to the scientists. The script seems to dry up whenever Max Stael opens his mouth – when Scott Fredericks hammily delivers lines like “it is never easy to die” he might as well have the words “bad guy” written on his forehead, and no amount of shifty behaviour from Fendelman can draw attention away from that. On the whole though this is still very good, even though it’s weird to see Wanda Ventham and Dennis Lill together on screen outside their vastly different roles in Only Fools And Horses. The post-mortem examination conducted by Stael on the hiker further emphasises that there’s some evil force around (the trouble with invisible monsters is that we need constant reminders that they’re there), and the atmosphere is helped at this stage by the lack of music. One point of contention though: who in their right minds names their dog Leaky? “’Scuse me, I thought you said she was housetrained-” “Gotta go!” VROOOOOOM…

The Doctor and Leela spend this episode enjoying a walk down some country lanes where they meet Ted Moss, naturalistically played by Edward Evans; the scene where Leela holds him at knifepoint is a high point of the story. At this stage I should say that even he cannot hold a candle to the superb Daphne Heard as Martha Tyler, hands down the best actor of the season.

The cliffhanger to the first episode is ambitious in its dual nature conceptually great, but it is let down by the fact that Tom Baker just standing there staring blankly doesn’t give the impression that the Doctor is in danger, especially since the darkness hides his face. Also, the scene of Leela being shot at is undermined in the next episode by one of the most annoying directorial devices possible in serials of any sort: a re-edited reprise showing that Leela was never in danger.

It is now that the Doctor makes a superb, commanding entrance to the manor house. He knows what’s going on from the moment he sees the embryo Fendahleen, and we see him delivering portentous hints as to what the danger is for the rest of the story. The plot is original, complex without being nonsense and very frightening; the Doctor’s warning about “four thousand million” people is a great line although simply saying “four billion” would have been more elegant. One of the most praiseworthy aspects of the plot is that Boucher uses the idea of the Fendahl’s continued influence, already a good idea in itself, to ease the plot delivery as it justifies all the amazingly well-informed guesses of Fendelman, which in a lesser story would be mere laziness.

Jack Tyler and Leela have some good dialogue together and Martha’s use of Tarot cards give another spooky dimension to an already captivating and mysterious plot. The cut from Leela praising the Doctor’s gentleness to him demolishing a box is a delightfully understated moment of comedy, the kind just appropriate for the story.

Episode three sees a change of pace now that the Doctor involves himself with the plot. It is quite tightly packed with plot explanations, a drawback of having such a slow paced, character driven first half. Anyway, it’s nothing that can’t be said of 90% of other stories’ third episodes. Also, it’s commendable that Boucher was able to use the Doctor like this so successfully, maintaining the mysterious atmosphere as long as possible by preventing him from entering and spoiling the plot too soon.

The scene where the Doctor uses fruit cake to restore Martha to her senses is quite simply marvellous, blending humour with a genuinely clever idea. Jack asks the Doctor how he knows so much, and his response of “I read a lot” is inspired and a quotation I use whenever the opportunity arises (or at least I would use it if I gave the impression of knowing stuff). That’s not her best china? Blimey, it’s better than mine.

There is noticeable music for the first time now, and it’s quiet and unobtrusive – a rarity for Dudley Simpson. The TARDIS scene feels like it has been crowbarred into the narrative to provide further exposition, but in a plot this good it hardly matters.

All a bit of a rush now really, as Thea is prepared for transformation in the cellar. This is a dazzling scene, both visually and musically, although it is let down slightly by being split across an episode break. Dennis Lill’s death scene is truly spectacular, reminding me a bit of Professor Zaroff’s infamous cry of “Nozzing in ze vurld can shtop me now!” in The Underwater Menace, although with a less hackneyed script.

The adult Fendahleen looks brilliant and is probably the best monster of the season, although the puppet embryos are less successful with their stiff movements of the bend down-straighten up-wiggle tail-repeat variety. Also, I have a feeling that Jack’s cry of “my legs! I can’t move my legs” is a throwback to The Daleks, where Ian says an almost identical line after being paralysed. The Doctor’s explanation of psychotelekinesis is the kind of technobabble that would have Russell T. Davies spitting blood and William Hartnell strangling himself with his own vocal cords but in the context of the scene it works, largely because of the tongue-in-cheek writing and delivery.

The Fendahl Core looks good apart from the painted eyes, and her faint smile is very creepy. It is a shame – although necessary, and it helps to retain the enigmatic ambience – that we never get to see the completed Fendahl gestalt. Stael’s death is unbearably dramatic, and it effectively illustrates the gravity of the situation to see the Doctor assisting in a man’s suicide. There is a magnificent shot of the Doctor and Leela running through an apparition of the Core, but the standard explosion ending is a bit of a disappointment after such a good story. Still, it’s nothing sufficient to damage the overall quality of the episode.

This is an often overlooked story, rarely appearing in top ten lists. In fact, I’m not sure if I’m honest that it even makes mine – but the fact remains that it is a superb, flawlessly constructed story that is by some margin the finest story of season 15, and one of the best of Graham Williams’s productions.





The Invasion of TimeBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 1 September 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

I was expecting to write a scathing review of 'The Invasion of Time'. I've only seen it twice before, but on each occasion I was less than impressed with it. On this occasion however, I found myself enjoying it and was surprised to find that it hangs together much better than its reputation would suggest. 

One of the most memorable aspects of 'The Invasion of Time' is of course the Doctor's seeming betrayal of Gallifrey to the Vardans. With no explanations forthcoming until Episode Three, the first two episodes leave open various possibilities; that the Doctor has gone mad, that he is being controlled, or of course that he has ulterior motives for this seeming treachery. The latter of course turns out to be the case, but Tom Baker's intense performance in the first two episodes must have had the audience wondering when the story was first broadcast. Erratic, arrogant, and ruthless, the Doctor heaps indignities on all around him (especially Borusa), orders that Leela be banished, and generally seizes the presidency of Gallifrey in as obnoxious a manner as is possible. Anyone who hadn't seen 'The Deadly Assassin' must have been even more startled by this development. With the Doctor acting so out of character, it is strangely relieving when he explains what is really going on to Borusa in Episode Three, even though I'm familiar with the plot. Once his true intentions for the Vardans are revealed, the Doctor settles down somewhat, but Baker maintains one of his most manic performances, possibly putting in a special effort because he's relieved that a season featuring two extremely bad Bob Baker and Dave Martin stories is nearly over. There are also moments where he displays the same kind of grim seriousness that characterised the Hinchcliffe era, such as when he picks up the De-Mat gun to a horrified gasp from Borusa and points out that they are utterly helpless against the Sontarans without it. What particularly interest me about 'The Invasion of Time' is just how manipulative the Doctor is. Although the Vardans state that if the Doctor fails "there will be others", I can't help wondering why the Doctor can't just go to Gallifrey, and warn them that a race named the Vardans are planning to invade; it is after all, the Doctor and K9 who are responsible for destroying the transduction barriers and opening a hole in the quantum force field. It suggests that the Doctor is not only trying to deal decisively with the Vardans, but also that he wants to shake the Time Lords up a bit. 

For her final story, Leela gets some very good lines and scenes. Her faith in the Doctor remains unshakeable, even when he orders her banished, and she manages to convince both Rodan and the Outsiders that he is up to something. Her usual skills at fighting are on show as ever, most notably when she throws a knife into a Sontaran's probic vent, but she also shows other attributes; once outside, she makes a point of looking after Rodan, and it is her leadership skills which allow her to convince the Outsiders to attack the Capitol. At one point she gets the line "Discussion is for the wise or the helpless and I am neither", which is not only superbly delivered by Jameson, but also suggests to me that Leela is actually a lot wiser than she gives herself credit for. Unfortunately, her leaving scene is notoriously contrived, due to Louise Jameson's late decision to depart, as Leela decides to stay with Andred, a man she barely knows. It is possible that some time passes between the Doctor's defeat of Stor and his actual departure during which time Leela gets to know Andred, and is also possible that this is how the Sevateem usually choose their partners, but it still feels awkward. On the other hand, the Doctor's wistful "I'll miss you too savage" as he closes the TARDIS door behind him goes some way to making up for this.

Also departing in this story is K9 Mark I, although due to a lack of any discernable difference between models, this makes very little impact. K9 however does get plenty to do, aiding and abetting the Doctor's scheme for the Vardans, being entrusted with Gallifrey's equivalent of the crown jewels and generally proving indispensable to the Doctor. The reason why I like K9 is summed up in the TARDIS scene in which K9 and the Doctor bicker outrageously, each calling the other smug; on the one hand it's rather silly to have a sarcastic back-talking robot dog, but on the other hand it is rather funny. 

The various Time Lords who appear here are generally well acted, especially John Arnatt's Borusa. His performance is not as memorable in my opinion as Angus Mackay's brilliant portrayal, but he still plays the part very well and manages to make it his own. Borusa's tendency to carefully analyze every situation with a view to ensuring Gallifrey's (and his own) future means that there is a slight edge to his relationship with the Doctor even after he knows what is really going on, and this results in him twice pulling a gun on the Doctor, most notably when the Doctor demands the Great Key of Rassilon. Milton Johns' loathsome Kelner is also a great character, displaying some truly unappealing character traits including cowardice and treacherousness (which contrasts nicely with the Doctor's pretence of betrayal - Kelner is happy to serve both Vardans and Sontarans for the sake of his own survival and power). Relatively minor characters like Lord Gomer and Nesbin also come over well, helping to make the story fill its six-episode length without feeling overly padded. On the other hand, I'm not particularly impressed with either Hilary Ryan as Rodan or Christopher Tranchell as Andred, both of whom occasionally veer alarmingly towards wooden acting. 

The main weaknesses in 'The Invasion of Time' are unfortunately the villains. Firstly, the Vardans are quite well written, and their ability to travel along broadcast wavelengths has enormous potential, which to the credit of Graham Williams and Anthony Read (a.k.a. David Agnew) is used rather well, this being the rationale behind the Doctor's highly erratic behaviour (they can read minds) and his seemingly throwaway demand in Episode One for a lead-lined office. Unfortunately, their realization on screen is rather less impressive. I don't actually mind their shimmering tin-foil appearance when they haven't fully materialized, but once they appear in the flesh they look utterly ridiculous, not because they are just normal humanoids, but because they wear phenomenally stupid uniforms, complete with helmets that resemble bedpans. This in itself wouldn't be so bad, but their acting throughout is awful, all of them sounding like dropouts from an amateur dramatics society, with horribly stilted diction and too much emphasis whenever they are supposed to sound angry or alarmed. 

In story terms, the revelation that the Vardans are not the real villains results in a cliffhanger to Episode Four which has rather impressive impact, especially for long term fans of the series. The Sontarans rank highly amongst my favourite Doctor Who monsters, and their revelation as Gallifrey's real attackers late in the day gives the story an effective boost. It also allows "David Agnew" to follow Robert Holmes' advice and structure the story as a four parter and a two parter, which as 'The Seeds of Doom' demonstrated can be an effective way to structure a six episode story. With the Vardans satisfactorily disposed off, the last two episodes of 'The Invasion of Time' thus concern the Sontaran invasion as the Doctor and his friends are faced with this more potent threat to Gallifrey. Unfortunately, however, at this point the story starts to fall apart somewhat. The Sontarans spend two episodes chasing around after the Doctor, so that they can secure the Great Key, which we are told will allow them access to all of space and time. After pursing the Doctor through his TARDIS for about half an episode however, they seem to give up and instead decide to just blow the planet up. Why exactly they give up so easily is unclear; a throwaway line about an approaching Rutan fleet might have made this plot development more plausible, but as it stands, Stor's sudden decision to destroy a large area of space seems included simply to provide a more exciting climax. In addition to this, the much vaunted De-Mat gun really isn't that impressive; nothing in the script suggests that is anything more than a glorified ray-gun, and the Doctor's line that he could rule the universe with it is utterly cringe-worthy. The Sontarans also suffer slightly from Derek Deadman's cockney accent, although this doesn't bother me quite as much as it does some fans and by Episode Six I'd pretty much got used to it. 

The production of 'The Invasion of Time' is reasonably good. The sets of the Capitol are nowhere nears as impressive as those from 'The Deadly Assassin', but they still look rather good and they also contain design aspects of those in that story, which suggests at widespread rebuilding after the havoc wreaked by the Master. The recycled Time Lord costumes still look good, making the costumes in this story look a lot more expensive than those in other stories from this season. There are also some impressive model shots of the Vardan ship in orbit around Gallifrey. The location work featured in 'The Invasion of Time' consists of that used for outer Gallifrey, which is adequate if unspectacular, and that used for the interiors of the Doctor's TARDIS, which is slightly controversial. Personally, I like the idea that the TARDIS can contain Victorian brickwork, and I also like the impression of scale created here, with reference to the TARDIS interior existing on multiple levels. On the other hand, the location work used to show those parts of the Capitol containing the machinery for the transduction barriers and the quantum force field clashes horribly with the studio sets of the rest of the Citadel. 'The Invasion of Time' also features some rather tatty-looking Sontaran costumes, and Stor's mask is a considerable disappointment after those worn by Kevin Lindsay in 'The Time Warrior' and 'The Sontaran Experiment'. Finally, I always find the fact that the Great Key of Rassilon just looks like any old key almost irrationally irritating. 

In summary, 'The Invasion of Time' has considerable flaws, but still just about manages to work. For a season with such fluctuating story quality as Season Fifteen, it is perhaps appropriate that the finale is itself something of a mixed bag. Graham William's first season perhaps suffers from having no discernable style of its own, featuring leftovers from his predecessor and two complete and utter turkeys. Having found his feet however, Williams would make leave far more of a distinctive mark on his next season…