Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Serial 97: The Invasion of Time

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Leela, K-9

Written by: David Agnew (a.k.a. Graham Williams and Anthony Read)
Directed by: Gerald Blake

Author's Note: Hey guys! Before we get into this week's review, I just wanted to say that I'm one of the new co-hosts of this sw33t Doctor Who podcast called "The Doctor's Companion" where my co-host Scott and I discuss Classic Who stories in recap form not so unlike this blog (but also much unlike it too because it comes in "sound-word" form). The first episode is available for download here and I encourage everyone to subscribe in iTunes (or whatever tickles your fancy) cuz it's tons of fun and I promise a super great ride. And now on with the show!

Background & Significance: "The Invasion of Time" is, to me, something of a case study in the Graham Williams era. If nothing else, it really just reminds me that sometimes it's really hard to be hard on Tom Baker's second producer.

We've talked about it before, but it's definitely worth repeating here. The Williams era is, in my mind, a much maligned era, and how could it not be? He's coming right after three seasons of ridiculous high quality under producer Phillip Hinchcliffe, who had a much firmer grasp on his vision of what he wanted the show to be and was thusly able to execute it that much more effectively than Williams. In addition to that, the show's budget was slashed as hard times fell on England (or something. THIS ISN'T A HISTORY SHOW. WE ARE TALKING ABOUT DOCTOR WHO), Tom Baker (best-Doctor-ever-no-contests) was growing increasingly more and more heady and drunk when it came to his influence on the show, and the BBC came forward to tell Williams to cut back on the violence and horror of the previous era, focusing instead on something much more "important": Humour.

And then you remember that Hinchcliffe's vision was supported by the insane quality of having Robert Holmes in charge of the stories they were telling and you just realize that Williams... Williams didn't stand a chance.

But he gets props for trying.

"The Invasion of Time" is probably the thing I think of most when I think about Williams trying incredibly hard to make something that's awesome and matters and really cool. If you go and look at what Williams was trying to do, he was just trying to make the best Doctor Who stories he could make. The level of the fantastical was increased as Williams scoured the Earth for the best stories that he could find.

Building off the success of an extremely high water mark from the previous season's already extremely high quality, Williams thought Robert Holmes's fantastic Time Lord opus "The Deadly Assassin" a mythology rife with potential to expand and build upon. It had proved to be incredibly popular, so why not build on it by telling another story set on Gallifrey but with a different focus? He even asked Robert Holmes to come in and write it as a companion piece/sequel to "The Deadly Assassin". When Holmes refused and other possibilities proved fruitless, Williams and new script editor Anthony Read opted to write it together under a psuedonym in order to cut back on costs.

What we're left with is... this. And... Oh boy does it merit some discussion.

Before going into it, I'd almost recommend coming at it from a place of leniency. It needed to be made on the cheap, and what they're dealing with was... I understand why they did it and they get super props for at least trying it, because really... Why shouldn't you? Revisiting Gallifrey and Time Lord society was bound to happen at some point and choosing to revisit it wasn't a bad choice.

But... let's be honest... Neither Williams nor Read are Robert Holmes. And he's the only one who's proved himself capable of writing a quality Time Lord story. Ah well. They couldn't have known. Ce'st la.

So let's get to it!


Part 1:

Thinking about it while going through it, I can’t help but recognize “The Invasion of Time” as, inherently, a good story. It’s only in its execution that it fails. As such, I’ll outline the basic story before going into commentary too much to show you what I mean.

In the first episode, there’s a shady meeting between The Doctor and an as-yet-unseen force that seems to be using our hero for some malevolent end. After the meeting (in which The Doctor signs some document and vows to serve “these new masters of his”) he gets in the TARDIS with Leela and K-9 and books it to Gallifrey, where he is instantly detained by the Chancellary Guard, brought before Chancellor Borusa, declares that he plans to take over Presidency of the Time Lords, and is crowned President in a fancy ceremony at the end of which he collapses once he receives the keys to the Matrix. All throughout this, he’s acting very out of character and mysterious.

That, by itself, is a good story, or at least one in which I’m interested. When I heard the premise of The Doctor going to Gallifrey and being elected President, I was interested, which is a good job on Williams’ part.

Where this episode falls apart, then, is in the insane execution of it. There’s a lot of really weird choices that rub me the wrong way, not the least of which is a definite focus on silly, silly comedy, lots and lots of shouting, and of course, Tom Baker, all of which help drag down this story to make it one of my least favourites.

To start, we should probably mention the big ol’ elephant in the room: Tom Baker.

If I have a problem with this story, it’s almost always going to come back to Tom Baker and his actions, especially early on. This is the most un-Tom-Bakery Tom Baker we’ve seen so far and it shows. I mean, the point is for everyone to realize that something’s wrong with The Doctor, and while it’ll be something like two more episodes before he finally lets us in on what’s going on and why he’s being such an out and out dick (and he is being an out and out dick) we’re left firmly in the dark and wondering “Wtf”.

Needless to say, there is a plan, and we should all know it right away, but there’s no explanation as to why The Doctor (or specifically this Doctor) has to be such a dick about it all.

I’ll prove it to you: What if this wasn’t a Tom Baker story? What if this was a different Doctor? What if this was the 6th Doctor or the 7th Doctor? The 6th Doctor is a dick all the time anyways (and it worked in “The Sandman” which is pretty much the same exact story anyways SPOILERS) and the 7th Doctor is widely known as “The man with the plan”, but no. This is the 4th Doctor, who’s a force for good and a bit strange and boogly eyed but never out and out mean and whatever.

And yet he is here. And I find that problematic.

I mean, really, this goes into another point in this discussion, but EVERYONE in this story is yelling at each other. Leela’s yelling at K-9, Andred, and The Doctor. K-9’s yelling at Leela. And then you have The Doctor and he’s yelling at everyone who gets in his way. And for no reason. Even knowing what comes later, he can just come in and act like a doof and take over the Presidency without acting like a huge ass about it. I know part of the tip-off is that he is being such an ass about it, but it doesn’t change the fact that he is being a giant dick about everything. Look at the way he yells at Borusa and tells him not to leave. It’s a lack of restraint against Tom Baker and it really hurts this if you ask me. Compare it to McCoy. He could do this without yelling, but I guess that’ The Doctor’s age and wisdom showing.

But does he have to be so mean to Leela? We know he’s being watched, but he’s so impatient with her. Drunk impatient. Drunk Tom Baker. Angry at K-9 for doing nothing. Angry at Borusa. Angry at everyone. And it’s just ugh. There are more emotions than anger, Mr. Baker. Not only that, but even if you want to re-claim it later, I suddenly don’t give two shits about you. We know The Doctor’s going to pull it out in the end, but the fact that he manages to sell it so well and convince you that this really is The Doctor I don’t think so much speaks to The Doctor’s acting capabilities, but rather to the fact that we all know deep down that this iteration of The Doctor can be a major giant asshole at times.

And it makes me not care about him. Take a similar example in Harry Potter. And yes HARRY POTTER SPOILERS.

Take Snape. Snape is a dick. He’s a dick for seven books. All the time. At every turn. There’s never a moment in the series when Snape isn’t being a dick. Yes, Snape redeems himself later because we understand the root of his dickishness and that does make him redeemed, but it doesn’t change the fact that Snape’s an asshole for the entire rest of the series, from his constant torturing of Neville to his constant vindictiveness towards Hermione (neither of whom ever really did him any wrong). No matter who Snape ended up being (a tortured soul and atoner for sins), none of it changed the fact that he’s a bitter jerk and a bully all the time.

The same holds true here. And no matter what The Doctor ends up doing (saving the day and Gallifrey and the Time Lords) and all that, none of it changes the fact that he’s a huge dick here. And (in my opinion) unnecessarily so.

Other than that, there’s just the comedy bent, which we can discuss later, but it comes up here. Most of the Williams era comedy is very Douglas Adams (which explains why they were a “perfect” match later), such as the moment when The Doctor tells Leela to tell K-9 to tell her to shut up (which is a total dick move. Why not tell her to be quiet or at least be polite about it), but so she does and then goes “Ooooooh”. I dunno. I’m not a huge fan. It’s campy and humourous in a way, but it’s not the kind of humour that resonates with me.

But that’s not the story’s fault. It just highlights the degree to which comedy has leapt up in this series since Williams took over. I’m just not a fan, and the level of schlock doesn’t exactly stop as we continue.

Part 2:

If part one exists just to hint at what’s going on, part two out and out tells you, but before all that, I’ll tell you what happens and why that’s kind of a good story.

This part centers around The Doctor putting into effect that which he plans to do. At the end of the previous episode, the Matrix seemingly rejected The Doctor as President with The Doctor collapsing under the strain of becoming one with The Matrix. After he collapses, he’s brought to Borusa’s office and held there while he recovers, during which he orders Leela captured and expelled from the Citadel and thrown into Gallifrey’s harsh wastelands. While the Guard runs around trying to do this, The Doctor sneaks out of the room and back to his TARDIS where he confers with K-9 and orders his tin dog to destroy the transduction barriers while he takes care of other matters. Leela manages to escape from The Guard and runs into the Transduction Barrier control room, where, when K-9 destroys the barrier, Leela watches as Gallifrey is invaded. The Doctor calls a meeting of the High Council and they watch as he allows these random ass aliens to take over Gallifrey.

Now, all that is actually kinda interesting. We see that The Doctor’s plans are, in fact, nefarious. But again, it’s the execution that’s lacking.

Tom Baker is a bit better here, although he’s still being a major dick. He definitely yells at Borusa and the Castellan when they inform him that they have failed to cast Leela out of the Citadel, and watching him plot with K-9 is also really interesting. But it’s the descending into humour that really grinds me most about all this. There’s The Doctor hop-scotching down the corridors, or him offering Security Commander (or whatever) Andred some Jelly Babies (which has just descended into such a character/humour crutch at this point), or the ever so famous moment when he breaks the fourth wall and says “Not even the sonic screwdriver will get me out of this one.”

Again, he’s not as bad, but it’s by no means reminiscent of that which made us fall in love with him back in ‘Robot’ (or later). Not only that, but it furthers Tom Baker’s fall into being a wacky Doctor rather than, you know, a good Doctor.

We also have some expansion on Gallifreyan mythology. We learn that there’s a traffic control officer (shlock) who’s in charge of monitoring the transduction barrier and the continued non-interference policy of the Time Lords when she lets an alien through just so they can continue on to go and take out some element of the galaxy.

And then we have this alien invasion of Gallifrey, which is….

I really don’t mind it, truth be told. The ________ Invasion of Gallifrey is an interesting story if you ask me. It forces the Time Lords to turn from passive non-interventionists into action heroes needing to defend their home. I just wish it didn’t have to be mired in such camp and low-budget-looking whatever. It just doesn’t feel as grandiose or epic as it did in “The Deadly Assassin”. Not only that, but given that there is zero explanation as to what’s going on or why, I can’t even begin to recommend this story to a newbie, and not even because it’s good. We’re placed on Gallifrey with little-to-no explanation of its rules or who anyone is or what’s up with The Matrix or the Panopticon or any of that. Even the assumption of the presidency and the actual mechanics of that is full of holes. Hell, I’ve seen “Deadly Assassin” and I still don’t know how the hell The Doctor’s able to take over the presidency. Just how is he able to do that exactly? What happened to the previous Time Lord President? Has there not been one since the last one’s assassination in “Deadly Assassin”? Borusa’s been through an entire regeneration since the events of that story and in all that time the Time Lords have gone with neither President nor Chancellor? I call bullshit.

And when I call bullshit, that makes this story not good.

Part 3:

Part three is actually probably my favourite part in this so far, if for no other reason than because The Doctor’s actions are explained and then start to make sense.

In this episode, we discover that The Doctor has been playing his own game all along. He ordered his office lead lined (which looks totally silly, by the way) to protect himself from The Vardans’ mental powers and couldn’t tell anyone because they were watching the whole time and doing that and blah blah. He tells Borusa of this and informs him that he wanted to send Leela out of the city to protect her (despite the fact that Leela is easily the most scrappy and not-needing-The-Doctor’s-physical-protection of all Companions ever). Oh, and she’s banished to the outlying lands by the way. And then The Doctor holds meetings with the Vardans (discussing budgets and new HR policies) during which Borusa is incapacitated and he orders the Castellan to round up all opposition and exile them from the Citadel. It’s only when The Vardans order The Doctor to dismantle the quantum forcefield around Gallifrey that The Doctor panics. He heads off to his TARDIS and then comes face-to-face with Andred, who is leading a revolt against him and The Vardans.

Now, all this actually works, but it makes The Doctor’s insane asshole-ish-ness make no sense. Compare it to Sylvester McCoy and you’ll see that he could be just as “clueless” but also extremely manipulative. So does The Doctor need to be such a dick about all of his actions if this is how it really is? He’s the President. He can be as kooky as he wants and people will do what he says. So why be a dick about it?

And then there’s the Vardans who look like shiny tinfoil (which is actually not bad) but then they sound like it too, which ruins the illusion. BUT THAT IS NEITHER HERE NOR THERE.

So The Vardans can see everything that’s going on in the Citadel and on Gallifrey (which is a ridiculous amount of power) and they have the ability to read anyone’s mind from miles and miles away (light years, even) and then they invade and The Doctor calls them “more powerful than anything The Time Lords can possibly imagine."

Ummm…. No. This is called “diminishing the power of the Time Lords” and making them completely ridiculous. They’re the god damn Time Lords. They have time travel powers and stasers and lord over time and space because they’re crazy powerful and nigh omniscient. In their first appearance, they froze time in The War Games planet and took out entire civilizations. And now they’re brought down by these tin foil ninnies? I mean, who is really more powerful here? The Time Lords crumple just like that? Screw that, I’ll invade Gallifrey and take these namby pansies out.

That’s poor storytelling. You can’t make a race as seemingly limitless in power as the Time Lords get taken out by these guys so easily. And now the Time Lords aren’t even fighting? That’s lame. And assuming the Vardans really are as powerful as they’re portrayed, why did they need The Doctor in the first place? To take out the transduction barrier? Come on. That’s weak.

Not only that, but if the Vardans are so capable of reading people’s minds and The Doctor’s only works against them because it’s an addled jumble that doesn’t think linearly (which admittedly is a really good touch), why in god’s name does The Doctor tell Borusa (who he’s just spent a load of time describing as “a linear thinker”) every detail of his plan and what’s been going on? I mean, I get that we need to know that, but the Vardans can literally just go to Borusa’s mind and read it and learn about The Doctor’s plan. That’s moronic, kids. Demand better.

A final point of reference is the exiles out on the planet’s surface. The Time Lords who’ve abdicated their rights as Time Lords to live in the wilderness like a bunch of Mongolian-dressed Hippies.

Good god is this bad. Like, really. The acting is super weak and the discussions are kinda… whatever. Again, we’re expanding on Gallifreyan society, but to what end? What does this accomplish except establish that some people reject Time Lord ways? Naturally Leela fits right in here (so why doesn’t… wait, we’ll discuss that later), but it even brings down Louise Jameson’s performance. Come on. I love Leela and I really think Jameson is consistently good, but this isn’t. It’s just weird looking (there’s a picnic bench for frak’s sake) and it’s poorly acted and it’s some really weak dialogue and I just don’t care.

Le sigh. How much do we have left?

Part 4:

And then we get to part four… and the story’s end? But now not at all.

Part four sees the defeat of the Vardans. The Doctor manages to dismantle the quantum forcefield, thereby giving the Vardans license to trust him and reveal themselves as Imperial Star Destroyer officers. The Doctor then meets up with K-9 in the lead lined room and has him access the Matrix (which has somehow been invaded? Also, this is never dealt with or mentioned again), looking up who the Vardans really are (are they not Vardans? That seems like a species) so that K-9 can locate the Vardan homeworld and then suck it into a Time Loop, thereby removing it from history. And then that’s it. (No, sorry, there’s a cliffhanger, but more on that in a minute).

Of the things that stick out to me, we have the continued “I do what I want” of Tom Baker. Turns out the Vardans can’t read thoughts that happen in the TARDIS so The Doctor’s able to explain things to Andred and act normal in the TARDIS. So why doesn’t he? Why is he still a dick to Leela in the beginning? Why doesn’t he tell her anything? We’ve already established that Leela’s mind isn’t like other minds. Not only that, but if the TARDIS can block out the mind-reading powers of these invaders, why is the rest of Gallifrey so incompetent? It’s not like The Time Lords don’t have that EXACT TECHNOLOGY? Surely it can’t be too difficult to, I dunno, STOP THE READING OF YOUR MINDS BY OUTSIDE INVADERS WHO HAVE THAT POWER.

Oh and by the way, The Doctor actively removing an entire civilization from history (so much life) is really rather dark. No other Doctor would get away with this. Can you imagine someone like Troughton or Davison (Doctors I prefer to Tom Baker) wantonly curtailing a planet like this? That’s INSANELY Time Lordian and it comes after The Doctor has spent something like fifteen seasons at this point actively proving that he wants nothing to do with them because he doesn’t agree with their principles or positions. And yet here he is, doing that which they do on a regular basis. Not only that, but it seems so lazy. How do we solve the problem? Time loop. Nevermind the consequences. That doesn’t feel like The Doctor or something he would do. AND IF IT DID OR DOES? I want no part of that Doctor. Weak.

There’s one other thing that deserves mention here, and that’s The Castellan.

We haven’t really talked about him, but he’s probably my favourite thing about this whole story if for no other reason than because he’s a treacherous conniving little weasel. He’s really a dick to everyone and in search of nothing but power. He serves the Vardans without question and loves that which he does. I find it terribly amusing and I find him terribly compelling just for that reason. What a little snake he is, relishing in his power for the past two episodes. It’s terribly entertaining.

But yes. Anyways. We haven’t youtubed yet, so let’s youtube the end of this episode because it’s actually kinda fantastic.

Personally, that’s one of my favourite cliffhangers in the entire show. It’s just a shame they’re going to go botch it over the next two episodes.

What we’re left with at the end of all this is a surprise visit from our friends the Sontarans. I love that. Now we actually get a real invasion of Gallifrey by a [supposedly] nefarious foe. That’s pretty excellent and I totally approve. Not only that, but it falls into that whole “It’s a game changer” and also a “you don’t see it coming.” I love that. It’s a sucker punch every time and it’s gotta just make you go “Oh damn!” when you first see it. Great stuff.

That makes it good. Nevermind what happens next (until we talk about it. Which is now).

Part 5:

So let’s recap, shall we?

At the end of the previous episode, Sontarans showed up. So now there’s a small platoon of Sontarans on Gallifrey. The Doctor and everyone manages to get away, reconvening in Borusa’s chambers. Borusa pulls a gun on The Doctor (for no reason) and then says “I serve you cuz I’m Chancellor Guy”. There’s some other stuff, including The Sontarans revealing that they need to remove the force fields so that they can invade Gallifrey proper and the Doctor sends a group of people (led by Leela and including Andred, the traffic control operator, and K-9) back to the TARDIS where they can be safe. Then The Doctor confronts Borusa and says “Gimme the Great Key” which, when coupled with the Sash and Rod gives the President absolute power. There’s some shenanigans and then The Doctor gets the key (cuz Borusa, as Chancellor, had it) and then Borusa and The Doctor head back to the TARDIS and hide in there (with the other peeps) while they use the TARDIS to get the hole in the forcefield back up and then the Castellan tweaks the controls and now the TARDIS is under threat of getting hurled into the heart of a Black Star.

Okay. First things first. This six parter is structured very interestingly, and by that I mean, it’s basically a four-parter with a two parter tacked on. These last two episodes were predicated by the Vardan siege of Gallifrey, but any relationship beyond that is not much at best. I really like that, though. It was a trick they picked up from Robert Holmes (who hated six parters) and it was a way to divide up the story into a more manageable thing. We’ll track it in “Seeds of Doom” and “Talons of Weng-Chiang” when we get there, but it’s a good idea and it’s… well executed here. You can easily split this story into the Vardan four-parter and the Sontaran-two parter.

All that considering? This is where the wheels come off the wagon.

For one thing, all the silly humour thing continues, which is… fine. Whatever. But it gives this story a really camp and hokey feel when really you’re dealing with a badass idea (“Sontaran Invasion of Gallifrey”) and undercutting the badassery with your humour.

Tom Baker’s doing just fine in this story. He’s a bit throwy (I’m thinking of the moment when he throws what Borusa tells him is The Great Key across the room) and but other than that he’s totally serviceable as The Doctor here. Likewise, it’s really nice to see Borusa on The Doctor’s side (even though Borusa can’t seem to decide if he wants to trust The Doctor or not) and the two of them teaming up is satisfying because it’s a long time coming.

But other than that, this story has just descended into a giant run-around with ineffectual Sontarans. What should be Leela’s shining moment (Sontaran hunting in the Citadel) is cut short by The Doctor telling her she can’t handle it (but man wouldn't you really love to see her try).

The Doctor manages to evade the Sontarans for long enough to make it into the TARDIS where they will spend almost the entirety of the next episode and what has been an entire episode of straight runaround for is just setup for an even… well… Another runaround, but unique. Horribly horribly unique.

Also, I just wanted to point out that I friggin love the Castellan in this. What a prick, seriously. He betrayed everyone when the Vardans came in and now he rolls over for the Sontarans too. For a guy who’s in charge of security in this place he’s really not very loyal to the Time Lords at all. How did he get to be head of security, anyways? Musta been nepotism or something. Schmuck.

As a final point, the end of this is rather confusing. The TARDIS is on Gallifrey and now suddenly it’s going to be thrown into a Black Star. Black Stars I can handle, but is there one nearby? And how did the Castellan manage to pull off such a fantastic move? Maybe he should get a medal in TARDIS javelining or something. I dunno. It’s just weird. It just seems to come out of nowhere and becomes one of your standard “The Doctor is in peril again” cliffhangers, which, after the ending to the previous episode, is a total total letdown.

Part 6:

Now, it’s no secret that the flavor of just an episode or two can colour an entire impression of a story. One great episode can make a middling story seem excellent, a weak episode can make a great story weaker. For “The Invasion of Time” that’s this episode, with a bunch of really, really what-the-frak choices that are just so so strange it's ridiculous.

But before we start off about what makes this episode so not good, let’s talk about the elements that make it actually not bad in concept.

For one thing, I love the concept of a story that takes place exclusively in the TARDIS. The TARDIS is one of those really great unexplored concepts of Doctor Who. Likewise, the departure of Leela and the first iteration K-9 isn’t so bad IN THEORY. If Leela’s arc is that she’s a savage to whom The Doctor shows culture and helps to integrate into society, it only makes sense that that should end with her falling in love with a Time Lord of standing and rank and she goes on to integrate herself into a society full of pomp and importance.

But that falls apart.

I mean, I've heard people say "The thing with Commander Andred wasn't set up", but it was a very conscious decision on the parts of Jameson and Christopher Tranchell (Andred) to try and beef up every scene between the two of them with as much tension as they could muster and it's actually surprisingly quite a bit, but it's still an out-of-left-field moment. If you ask me, she had better chemistry with the King of the Hill People, but that would go against the arc that is built into her character.

I would like to sum how much this whole thing falls apart into one fourteen second youtube clip. It starts off as kinda badass and just descends into a whole “What the frak” thing. It’s just kinda perfect to describe how this episode is.

Possibly the greatest youtube we’ve ever posted? Top five, surely.

Really, that’s what this story comes down to. The de-clawing of the Sontarans. Seriously, think back to “The Time Warrior” and how awesome Linx the Sontaran was in that. Can you imagine him doing that to a chair? How lame.

The premise of this episode is “Let’s explore The TARDIS” which is a total as-of-yet unexplored territory in the context of the show. And this is one of those fantastic examples of why this is a bad idea. I mean, think about it. How many times have you thought “Let’s set an episode or a story entirely in the TARDIS”? And yet we have it here and it’s totally lame. Like, totally. Apparently the inside of the TARDIS is a lame-ass gym or abandoned school. Is this the vision of the ship we want to have? Especially after the control room and stuff, all of this just looks cheap and lame. I could go to this place. I just need a gym membership.

It just doesn’t look good.

That's not to say it doesn't have its moments of brilliance. Wont as I am to dislike some of the schtick that goes on in this story, the part where they keep walking through the same passageway is nevertheless humourous and I really enjoy the art gallery that The Castellan and Stor find themselves in (apparently the Castellan has a fine taste for Van Eyck), but it doesn't change the fact that the "same passageway" sequence doesn't look very pretty and there's a sequence in what looks like a high school shower room complete with curtains and multiple stalls and shower rings. It's just disappointing, really. Can you imagine if the TARDIS looked like this today? Internet trolls, man.

But none of that compares to the real clincher which is the entire endgame of this story.

The Doctor’s backed up against the wall and The Sontarans and the Castellan are both on him and he needs to stop everything once and for all. But! He has the Sash of Rassilon, the Rod of Rassilon, and The Great Key. He has the traffic controller under hypnosis and taking instructions from the Tin Dog and Borusa helping him out (by putting his feet up?) and K-9 stuck to the somewhere calculating things. But how in the world is he going to get out of this one? How do all those things come together to make a fantastic ending? How will he possibly stop The Sontarans with all those materials (which, admittedly, is no small amount of things)?

With a gun.

That’s right. The solution to this episode is a big ol’ gun.

Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmm……… what? No. Seriously. What. That’s insane. What? The solution to this story and the way The Doctor defeats the Sontarans is by constructing a giant De-mat Gun that Rassilon designed but never used and is powered by the Great Key? That is how this story ends? With The Doctor pointing a gun at the bad guys and firing it and then remembering nothing?

Come on. Really? I mean, that’s… What? REALLY?

Seriously, look at that shot. That is a Doctor going “I’m going Sontaran Hunting” shot. That’s crap. That’s total total crap. I’m in the very staunch anti-Doctor-with-guns camp. Very rarely and very dire are the exceptions. The Doctor picking up a gun is a perverse moment and a total extreme. I can see it in extreme circumstances (specifically in “Earthshock”) but that is so dire that it’s… almost necessary. But it's jarring and it's supposed to be. The Doctor blowing the crap out of a Cybermen by jamming a laser rifle into its chest and blowing it to holy Mary is supposed to be shocking.

But is it necessary here? No. The bad guys aren't Cybermen. They're really moronic and gross-looking Sontarans who are falling over god damn chairs. Are you telling me The Doctor can’t outthink them?

That’s bull crap. It’s lazy and it’s cheap and it’s bull crap. That’s why this story fails. Nevermind all the crap about Leela getting a poor send off or The TARDIS looking super lame. Whenever I think of this story I always think of that shot of Tom Baker with the gun and think “Really? Did that really happen?” because that’s just… It just stopped being Doctor Who and turned into a super parody of Doctor Who. I know it’s not the first or last time that The Doctor has used or picked up a gun, but my god. That is the solution, and not just that, but The Doctor’s solution.

And oh my god that really happened.

Final Thoughts?: Again, all I can ever think about when it comes to "The Invasion of Time" is how much it's a bunch of poor and baffling decisions.

Overall, it's one of the worst stories of the Tom Baker era and one of the worst stories out of the show's entire classic run. And when I say worst, I mean to say this story is bad.

If you've read this far, then you already know why I think it's bad, but at the same time, I want to go back even further to the beginning of this post and re-iterate something I said there: I can't totally blame Graham Williams. His whole goal is just to tell the best stories he can possibly tell and to do it as well as he possibly can. On the surface, this story has a lot to like and a lot to love. If I told you all the sweet ideas that go into this, you'd be really excited about it.

But at the same time, this story just becomes par for the course. We're dealing with an era that's in creative upheaval and having difficulty churning out stories of high quality and producing them at a level that makes the already strapped for cash show look like something awesome. It really highlights the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era as a high watermark of quality, not just in story quality, but also in terms of production values. Gallifrey just doesn't look as good as it did then. All the lush emerald and vertical space are gone in a wave of pale greens and the claustrophobia of cramped, narrow corridors. Even the TARDIS just looks like it's made out of cheap brick and weak paint. There's an art gallery but it's still just a white washed room.

And then there's that whole thing where The Doctor saves the day with his trusty de-materialization rifle. "Ol' Blue" he likes to call her. Obliterates anyone who gets in his way. No big.

Ugh. I still say: "Really?"

All in all, weak choices that take what's a decent idea and drag it right down to the lower denizens in the quality of Doctor Who. And it's a shame, really. I know Williams was all about making great Doctor Who, but this time (at least) it was beyond his reach. I can give the production values a mostly pass, though. They tried their best and because so much of Classic Who is based on imagination that gets mostly a pass.

Unfortunately, it's not the production stuff that will drag your story down.

Next Time!: 5th Doctor! Missing airplanes! Fast grieving! Time Travel! A great first episode! A great ending! A horrible middle! And some awesome discussion of The Master! "Time-Flight!" Coming next Tuesday!


  1. The Doctor is mean to Leela because he does not like very much.

    The Doctor had an odd relationship with Leela in this season (though not so much in the previous season). He rescues her when necessary and he finds her funny, but the main reason he keeps her around is because she is handy for intimidating people.

    The 4th Doctor/ Leela relationship is a good example of how the Doctor does not necesserilly need to like his companions and helps to highlight his alienness.

    I really like this story. It has plenty of faults, but it is so different to other stories. In a way, it laid the groundwork for the 7th Doctor era.

  2. I dunno, man. I'm not a huge fan of The Doctor out and out thinking someone inferior and then just condescending to her the whole time. And if the only reason he's keeping her around is because she's intimidating... why is he even doing that? He's gone through three incarnations without an intimidation figure, without weapons, without really needing anything except his brain. And if he really needs Leela because she's so intimidating, why not use that intimidation against the Vardans or the Sontarans?

    Likewise, he's kind of a jerk. And maybe it's a fault of mine, but I really can't stand how much of a jerk this Doctor is. And it's not even like... Before. Compare the way he treats Leela here to the way he treats Brother Scarman in "Pyramids of Mars". That's at least an attempt at compassion. But everything here is not about compassion at all and The Doctor is all about compassion in my conception of him. All my favourite Doctors (Tennant, Smith, Davison, Troughton) have that. Tom Baker (almost actively, it seems) is not.

    Also, there's an underlying issue to the "he's an alien" argument. When The Doctor's around his own people, he's not an alien. So why don't the Time Lords not act like him more? Maybe that's a fault of the story or the whatever, but The Doctor isn't even pretending to be a Time Lord. His stance is almost specifically "anti-human".

    Really, that becomes my problem with Tom Baker. The alien of him is not what I'm interested in. I'm interested in stories about characters who have real human experiences and Tom Baker's Doctor doesn't do that.

    I like that you really like this story, though. Someone certainly has to. =p

  3. I agree with everything you said, and yet, I have to admit that I liked this story as a kid. Well, I liked the episode where they wandered around the inside of the TARDIS, anyway. I agree looking at it now that really, overall it was pretty lame as the interior of the kick-ass time machine we all know and love. But as a kid all I saw was a space so large you could wander for days and not even know if you'd gotten anywhere. Oh, and a pool. I loved the pool. A concept that they've mentioned several times in the show lately--because pools are cool. Rather like bowties. ^.^ But yes, overall, this episode is fail. The gun at the end solving all the problems even offended me as a kid. Lame story telling people. Try a little harder. And the Leela/Andred thing could have been done so much better! They had SIX episodes to work with. How 'bout a little less pointless running up and down hallways and a little more character development? I heard once upon a time that they planned to kill off Leela and decided at the last minute to have her decide to stay instead--don't know if that's even kind of true, but it would make me slightly less offended by the lack of send-off. I guess a chicken out is better than a lame writing job--sort of...

  4. I completely understand liking it as a kid. I mean, tell a ten year old that you're going into the TARDIS, show them, and they'll marvel because budgets don't matter to little kids. You can have crappy sets on soundstages (or in this case, empty factories) and they'll accept it as truth or fact. It's adulthood that scars that from our eyes. The tradeoff for that, of course, is an appreciation of strong narratives and characters.

    As such, I really think that that speaks to the Williams' era's strengths: mystical worlds of wonder and adventure with plenty of decent or compelling ideas but to varying degrees of successful execution. It's totally an era that children and a younger skewing audience would eat up with wonder. The only other eras that I think kids would absolutely eat up with as much delight as they would this era would be the Troughton and Hartnell eras, which are totally more focused on telling fantastic romp stories without having to skew to an older audience.

    As such, I think that's why they don't kill of Leela. Everyone in this era gets a free pass as it's totally an era of good vs. evil. While it's *fitting* for Leela to go out while fighting in some major moment of battle/sacrifice, it doesn't fit in with the goofy camp of the show's pathos. The Williams era is decidedly feel-good and light-hearted and a companion death just wouldn't work in such a context.

    But yes. Her departure is super weak and super lazy. Even as a kid you'd probably say "oh it makes sense", because people seemingly fall in love all the time and at random (oh to be ten again...), but the discerning/grown-up eye *does* make it stand out and make you go "What?!" and just highlights the problems with this story, where things happen in this story because they 'seem cool' rather than because they make narrative sense.

    In my opinion, anyways. =)

  5. I quite like the way the TARDIS interior looks in this story; it is such a wonderful mixture of the bizarre and the mundane.

    I think Leela marrying Andred makes perfect sense.

    Not every culture has a concept of romance. Courtship in Leela's culture is probably a lot simpler; a woman would seek a mate who is strong and skillful; qualities Leela has learned Andred posseses.

    It is a conceivable that if Leela was tired of travelling in the TARDIS she would want to settle somewhere. And given that she has the same desires and needs of any human being; finding a mate would factor into her choice of destiantion considerably.

    In Britain and the USA we would expect Leela to go on a few dates with Andred before they shack up, but I am sure the Sevateem are more straight to the point about it.

  6. That's interesting. I'd never thought about it that way and if that's the case, that makes sense, especially from the perspective of Leela. But why Andred? Why not someone else from the other episodes? I mean, yeah he's brave, but so was dude-who-was-leader-of-the-mountain-people. More even. That guy was a hunter and Leela spent two episodes with that guy. In battle.

    The most Leela shares with Andred is.... three scenes? And all that over the course of six episodes. One of them is, admittedly, the tender scene in the shower room, but even that only hints as to her interest in him and feels like a setup for more scenes between them rather than "the defining moment".

    What it really comes down to is a lack of set up through the writing. If Leela is tired of traveling in the TARDIS and just wants to be done with it (a la Tegan or Victoria) that should be present in the way the story is presented. We should at least understand the character's decisions and not have to second guess a Companion's reasons for walking out of The Doctor's life, probably forever.

    Compare it to Tegan's departure, which comes after a story of nothing but pure carnage. Tegan isn't even really in that story (or not with the main action, anyway), but her departure (which is about all the senseless death that occurs around The Doctor) makes sense despite the surprise that comes with it, i.e. the fact that she leaves.

    As it stands now, Leela doesn't play it like "I HAVE FOUND A MATE". It's more humble and "This is guy I have feelings for, so much so that I feel I have to leave you" which is a bit out of the blue. Even Louise Jameson herself wasn't even able to convince herself that it made sense.

    That's really what it comes down to. It's lazy and falls under this lazy writing idea of "Two people got together. Viewers like when people fall in love so they won't care" rather than attempting to write her out convincingly.

  7. The biggest sad point on this is the the Key of Time. Which we spend the next season finding. How amazingly amazing would it have been in traffic-control-girl was Romana and the Doctor comes back to give the Doctor the Key to Time? A trifle Moffatt-y, but that would have made sad/lame into epic. Ah, for a time machine