At last, the future of Gallifrey is assured.
I have a confession to make. The Deadly Assassin has been my favourite story from the moment it was broadcast, and when I was younger, the Sontarans were my favourite monsters. I thought The Invasion of Time was fantastic, and played the big gun battles at school. Id been waiting for such a long time for a decent copy on tape, and was terribly excited when they finally released it.
Watching it recently episode by episode, I realised the gulf from how I loved it as a kid to it scraping about five out of ten for me now. It seems to have suddenly fallen in my Who story likes from about number 50 to, ooh, past number 100. Why? The story is much more traditional than The Deadly Assassin, and blatantly trying both to pull back from it and to be an epic to outmatch it. It ends up as a glittery and hollow pile of padding which doesn't have the force to carry off the 'Doctor turning bad' plot with which it begins, alternately entertaining and infuriating, then at the end dull except for the Doctor *really* turning bad in a lazy way they dont even notice. In short, it suffers from the curse of the sequel, and helps make Gallifrey dull for ever after.
OK, so thats the short review. Now come with me, and Ill take you through each episode, the highs and the lows, and spoilers abound To start with the context, Season 15 is perhaps the most disappointing year Doctor Who ever produced, with nosediving production values not yet being salvaged by the Williams wit finding its feet. Almost every story ends with something being blown up; almost every set and costume looks cheap. You might call it Boom and Bust, or The Year They Got Lazy. There are worse seasons, certainly, but never have expectations built up by steadily rising standards of brilliance over the preceding three years been so cruelly dashed. Scripts and acting are falling back into familiar, obvious patterns; Leela is going downhill faster than any other companion. It just looks so flat, so dull, so slipshod and Tom has gone off the rails in a way that he will avoid for most of the following, far superior year.
Unfortunately, in many more ways than being the climax of the steadily increasing mentions of the Time Lords in every story, The Invasion of Time is an appropriate summation of Season 15. From the beginning of episode One, you can see the problems. K9 has now settled into his forever-after mix of C3PO and R2D2 (bitchy pedant meets cute little robot), with a big gun added on, and the Doctor is now relying on him to shoot things altogether too much. Added to this laziness, he gains every fans undying hatred when he demands the TARDIS speak, then retorts, You are a very stupid machine. Die, tin can, die! ;-)
The Vardans start well, with cool high-backed chairs and froody multi-squared computer screens. Unusually, its very clear that a fair while has gone by between Underworld and this story, for the Doctor to have laid all his Vardan plans. Oh, and for Leela to have got herself a giant frog to play with in the exploitation shots in the pool. Landing on Gallifrey is an immense relief for the first time in the entire season, we have a set that looks grand and impressive, the more so when the Panopticon has clearly been redesigned (a bit) rather than broken out of storage. The ghastly plastic floor level blue and green chairs are a let-down, but generally its interesting and believable again.
Tom Baker is arrestingly abrupt as the Doctor declares himself and rather worryingly, Andred immediately sides with him and starts ordering around the most senior Time Lords at gunpoint! I mean, it seems a rather gun-ready society, doesnt it? Shame that Borusas best comeback line now is Then let him rot in a black star, or trying to lock him up John Arnatt gives a great performance to disguise it, but, really, Borusas character is already suffering from poorer scripting and much poorer lines.
The ceremony at the end isnt badly done, but suffers from having far fewer Time Lords milling around than last time At least Borusa doesnt put on his frock until its playtime, even if he does then utter the grisly error Their *elected* President. Call me a Deadly Assassin pedant, but the whole point of that story is that Goth, who would blatantly have won an election, wasnt going to get the job because the President makes the choice instead of a popular vote hence the need for a *deadly assassin* to trigger the unprecedented step of an election. Sigh. With this, the Rod blatantly being the Great Key from last time, albeit presented on a hideous inflatable cushion, the Supreme Council rather than the High Council, and the Great Key business with the Chancellors secret (so why did everyone think Goth would be President, if its an alternate career summit and they cant become President? Admittedly, the balance of power is quite nice, and perhaps the Matrix wipes the knowledge from Chancellors-turned-President, but couldnt they write it down?) you wonder if only the designers watched Assassin, and the authors didnt listen at all. Still, episode one has considerable style, and blessed relief in the production values department. Gomer and Savar even have a nice bit of banter in much the same way as the two old coves in the Assassin dressing room.
Part Two is much less interesting, and with so much padding on view, its clear that this story has nothing like the ideas of Assassin. Rather entertainingly, a very similar cliffhanger (white-clad President collapses on Panopticon dais) is followed by a similar resolution, with guards milling around and escorting the Doctor away, though this time its the cruder Borusa whos trying to have him locked up, while the clever one complained about the crude Chancellor. Mind you, its still just about working as a character piece for the Doctor, and Tom is still remembering to act just enough to pull it off. Its a nice touch that Leela is ordered to the enquiry by Borusa having failed with the Doctor, hes still looking for public scapegoats, and the aliens a prime target (though he blatantly knows she didnt do it, having switched his story from The Matrix rejects the candidate! to She attacked him).
When the Doctor comes round and startles us by turning on Leela, the story is still firing on all cylinders (which is more than the guards stasers do. Half the time they have no effect at all, but occasionally they have a white diamond, as last time. Its, er, almost as if they did it in a hurry and didnt finish putting all the effects). However, the lead is already becoming erratic. This is rather more than a student prank, says Borusa, calling our attention to Toms increasingly studenty performance of late. He ranges from the sudden roars (Get out! Get out! Get out! he cries near the end) to the hammy overplayed scene where hes trying to find Borusas voice print, and hes no longer entirely convincing. The episode ending has a considerable power, though, despite the Vardans already looking like a bit of scrunched-up plastic
Episode Three is full of political intrigue and the threat of the Vardans but unfortunately it doesnt come off. Kelner is too silly, Andred is too callow, and the Vardans simply dont work. They move very badly and are too blatant a matte, even ignoring their unspectacular appearance. Kelner plots with his pet guard to take over as President *later*, but protect the Doctor until then; so when did the Castellan bump up, illegally and unratified by a president, to become a High er, Supreme Councillor? And a really high-ranking one at that? While Kelner plots risibly, last weeks instant fascist Andred now goes for instant, insipid resistance, and unfortunately enthuses no-one.
Leela deciding to banish herself because the Doctor wanted her banished, and he always has a plan, is rather a nice touch the faithless one from her first story has found a faith she can believe in. At least shes given a bit more to do than her comedy part in the last episode, where lines like the stage-whispered Im with him, or the posh echo One does, made it almost impossible to believe shes not an average Twentieth Century woman. I can survive anywhere, she declares, and runs smack into Nesbin and the Outsiders, a last chance for her character to reassert itself.
Meanwhile, Tom gets very smug (K9 suggested lots of people call him that an episode ago but this is the first time hes really looked it) when Borusa learns from him. For this alone, you could forgive Andred for planning his assassination, but as for appointing Kelner acting Vice President (since when did the Time Lords have them? Its a different structure entirely, surely, with the Chancellor as deputy) Borusa is locked up (for the next episode!) after rather a great scene where he faces down the Vardans and is zapped by one. Again, youre almost persuaded that this story could be great. Unfortunately, Andreds assassination plot is a bit crap. His plotters are unconvincing, and seem more human than Time Lord - Gomer is an old Time Lord (claiming his 10th regeneration makes him less vigorous), played by an old man; Andreds callow youths are played by young men. Old actors playing young Time Lords would have shown more thought. Then Andreds rallying cry of In the name of liberty and honour is just so limply delivered that you want to scream.
Into the fourth episode, and as with all undramatic Doctor about to be shot cliffhangers, were amazed that, um, he isnt. The excuse this time is especially weedy - the Doctor has apparently set up K9s Earth blaster so it fires inside TARDISes, while Gallifreyan stasers dont. Convinced? The Doctor has some relatively good barbs to Andred about his ineffectual palace revolution (What can you pull off? indeed), but its getting more and more stretched, and constant balancing acts of Gallifreys crown jewels on K9 were probably funny in the studio. Andred using a calculator so K9 can show off and do the sums faster looks, ah, rather dated now. And probably then.
On the other hand, the Vardans have a much better episode, even though they suddenly laugh unconvincingly and tell Kelner theyve suspected the Doctor all along (just as their voiceovers at the beginning er disprove). The life-size Vardan talking to Kelner, with a minimum of movement, doesnt look too bad and the one sitting at Kelners chair is mildly entertaining. Of course, once they appear in their little soldier suits, they make the cardinal dramatic error of having the leader being by far the smallest and slightest of the three, and not much of an actor to boot, which rather undermines his authority as he stands there shouting. As the Doctor observes, Disappointing, arent they? At least one of the others is fairly cute
The Doctor enters the Matrix to get some ideas on dismantling the Quantum Forcefield (doesnt sound as cool as the Transduction Barriers, so we never hear of that again from anyone, huh?). He gets some nice shots on location with lots of mechanics and a Vardan, which is different padding from usual. The Outsiders run through the sandpit several times to build up tension for their approach, rather less successfully. Oh well, Leela had fun hamming it up with her target practice before her band of six go off to conquer New York (at least, we assume its a city of similar density, and a similarly implausible idea). Shame that she just gets to be the butt of the stupid What does proficient mean? joke instead, and that K9 is also reduced to nodding dog comic relief. At this point, the episode seems to have been a bit of a letdown, without even an appearance from Borusa to cheer it.
But then theres the gorgeously blobby electronic music underscoring *that* cliffhanger
Yes, Episode Five starts with fantastic oomph, and its a pleasant surprise to find that it keeps moves along at a fair old lick, largely helped by the mix of waspish Chancellor Borusa and some cool fx gunfights for the kids. Yes, its more running around, but its less tedious with it. Borusa is certainly a big pull this time, talking to himself as he listens to the Doctor, then forming a great double act that pulls some acting out of Tom (and even Toms alliteration quip to Stor is done with his old grimness). His placing of the Great Key *not* in a forest of them, but in his desk drawer, is fabulous even if the whole Chancellor / Key thing is a bit silly. For some reason never specified we get the idea that the Sontarans cannot conquer time Not while I - er, why? What does the Chancellor do with the Key that would stop them? And if its not been used for 10 million years ? At least we dont get Terrance Dicks a lesser Key was stolen by the Master line (yeah, right, like the Eye of Harmonys not important). Perhaps the Chancellor must use it to switch all the TARDISes on as part of his duties, but its not something the script bothers to justify.
OK, Stors asthmatic East End sound is a bit peculiar, and the eye-holes dont look vacuum-safe, but the Sontarans are generally fairly effective (still constantly helmeted so far; strange we didnt get that as the cliffhanger!). They also have three fingers again - and their gun effects, with blast fields shifting and wobbling around, definitely look much better than K9s thin red line (which at one stage shoots a Sontarans in the groin, only to see it carry on. Its difficult not to jump to the conclusion that they have no nadgers). Is this the first K9s magic blaster has no effect scene? Kelner oils over the Sontarans to a ludicrous extent immediately, but when required to do some technical work (largely on film!) for the Sontarans, suddenly becomes more confidently evil and an impressive expert, rather than a weaselly cipher. He says that taking over the defence systems is only possible using the TARDIS and the Doctors capsule is the only one operational, oddly (unless the Great Key has switched them all off). Still, Part Five has been something of a success.
In Episode Six, the wheels come off so fast they fly out of the screen at you.
Like Episode Five, this involves lots of running around and blatant padding, but it stands much less well as an episode on its own, and ends up even worse as a climax. The plot doesnt have enough to go on for a third of the time, and it makes very little use of what there is. For a start, Part Five was largely enlivened by the Chancellor, but this time its ten minutes in before Borusa appears, and he has precious little screen time. Other characters fare worse. Leela is roundly humiliated. Its really only the last couple of stories that her character has really collapsed, but collapsed it suddenly has. It starts with the You got lost / How do you know? comedy routine, then her kissing K9 (demob happy), and closes with her staying with Captain Dull of the Guard. Strewth. Kelner is back to cipher again, claiming Im not an engineer, sir, which is a blatant lie considering his accomplishments in these last two episodes, and poor Rodan spends most of her time hypnotised!
The TARDIS interiors must be greeted with some sympathy, given their unfortunate background in industrial disputes, and dont seem that bad, though occasionally poor (you sort of get used to it). Showing a brick and pipes corridor leading straight out of the console room is a good touch, and the lounger area where Borusa relaxes with news of the Titanic and a blue drink through a curly straw with the potplants and giant roundels on the wall works surprisingly well. Going round and round the same large area is very tedious, however, as is Tom constantly stumbling on the same point of the ramp in the corridor approaching it and the jumps between film and video are very obvious. Im a Time Lord, not a painter and decorator, cries the Doctor, Im preoccupied with Sontarans, Daleks and Cybermen. When Tom acts up, we know the script is falling down. At least the ancillary power station is quite pretty.
I feel obliged to note that Stor has his trooper drag in a large gun-like beamer to burn through the blocking bar across the TARDIS internal door And, wouldnt you know? It works! It seems Gallifreyans are the only race in the universe who cant build guns that fire inside their own ships. Stor has much bigger vacuum-unsafe eye holes all the better to fail to convince you with and mostly just stalks up and down brick corridors, glowering, taking his helmet off and putting it back on again for want of anything else to do.
Again, Borusa is cool and entertaining, and manages good acting even in scenes like the Doctors lost his memory one, with a slight smile, but theres too little of him to disguise the paucity of everything else. How does he instantly recognise the Demat Gun (or even know to look for it)? Its just a great big gun! The ultimate weapon (again), eh? I could rule the Universe with this gun, Chancellor. Oh, please. Itll throw us back to the darkest age, cries Borusa, desperately trying to make us believe. Some have theorised that, as its powered by the Great Key, its either a Time Destructor or it erases your timeline (which erases the Doctors memory, but people in the TARDIS are shielded from changes in reality). Unfortunately, nothing we see on screen gives us more than Its a bigger, clumsier Ogron disintegrator. Its just dull, and why on earth has he built it? It doesnt serve a more interesting plot function than a pistol. Or a club. Or even a net. The Doctor catches up with Stor awfully quickly, then Stor threatens to explode a grenade (very slowly) Youll destroy this entire galaxy, pleads the Doctor. Er, why? How? Yes, I know a fan might work it out that it's because he's stood on top of the Eye of Harmony, but for 'average' viewers, that was explained briefly 18 months ago! Its a very confused, very rushed (inexcusable after all the padding) and very poor conclusion. Its rather sad that the whole thing is, again, resolved by the Doctor and a big gun. Particularly a big gun whose rather nice whiteout effect has no explanation behind it, and which the Doctor has uniquely for the series so far designed and planned with lots of alternative equipment to hand, rather than just finding or cobbling together in desperation.
So, by the end of it, the Doctor has built the (albeit unconvincing) ultimate weapon. And he uses it, unhesitatingly. And he doesnt even resist the temptation not to *keep* using it that decision is made for him by a handy deus ex machina. Do we ever see the Doctor more out of character until he blows up Skaro? In retrospect, we can perhaps see the whole plot and resolution of the Key to Time as a remake of The Invasion of Time, but getting it right. Yes, the wheels still fall off a bit in the last two stories, but at least the Doctor is recognisably Doctorish and not Rambo at the end!
The Doctor, of course, then handily loses his memory. So how did he know which TARDIS room to look for his friends in? Oh, and were to presume that, when Borusa took the Sash off the Doctor and the Doctor let him, that was the Doctors resignation as President, too! At least Arnatt is good enough for us to infer Borusas wiles when the script fails to fill them in. Incidentally, although the Doctor may have had his own memory wiped, Rodan built the key under unconscious hypnosis and instruction from K9. So, the dog knows how to build one! And its staying with Borusa. Hmm Then all were left with is the worst exit for a companion since Dodo.
So, in the end, The Invasion of Time is a disappointment. There are much worse stories, but most of those have much less promise to go so wrong. Ive really got back into watching Who stories episodically again rather than all in a lump, but cutting up some stories episode by episode (as they were intended to be watched but with the deadly ability to dwell on the dodgy bits) is clearly a killer. Worse, its the end that lets it down most badly, as the Doctors behaviour is actually more worrying than at the beginning, but it hasnt occurred to the production team that hes other than heroic. I liked big guns and this story when I was six. Its difficult to be as enthusiastic about them these days, when Im not convinced either make very good Doctor Who.