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 seasonÂ…

FILTER: - Television - Fourth Doctor - Series 15