Sunday, 16 August 2009

Doctor Who: The Invasion of Time

Part One

“I claim the presidency of the council of Time Lords.”

So, a new writer, the mysterious David Agnew. Wonder if he’ll turn out to be any good? Rumour has it that he had something of a split personality…

Once again this season we start with the now-familiar sight of spaceships floating in, er, space. It’s finally occurred to me that Star Wars ( That’s the full title of the film, incidentally. Let’s have none of this A New Hope rubbish.) was released in the UK in December 1977, shortly before this was broadcast if probably not before it was made. An influence to keep track of in future, even if this scene probably isn’t influenced by Imperial Star Destroyers.

Anyway, it’s a fascinating episode which departs entirely from the programme’s standard format and does fascinating things with the Doctor’s character. We first see him, alone, having left Leela locked in the TARDIS with K9, apparently making a deal with some baddies and their pointy-backed chairs to give them complete control over the Time Lords! Has he turned bad? This is a brilliant concept, and superbly done. What they’re trying to do requires great care- the viewer needs to at least partly believe that the Doctor has gone bad, but the character mustn’t be undermined. As we’ll see, The Invasion of Time achieves this balance superbly.

Oh, and we see Leela having a “bath” in a big swimming pool in the TARDIS. There are no roundels, there are loads of lilos and stuff, and the set doesn’t look at all as though it could convincingly be part of the TARDIS. See Part Six for more on this theme…

After this preamble the TARDIS lands on Gallifrey, which sadly looks a lot cheaper than it once did, the UK economy having jumped off the edge of a cliff since The Deadly Assassin was made. Even the old Panopticon doesn’t look the same with such bright lighting- in fact, I admit I didn’t even recognise it until one of the DVD extras pointed it out. But, of course, the prologue means this TARDIS landing has a very different context than usual- the Doctor’s very status as a hero is on probation. What’s he up to? As soon as he leaves the TARDIS and is accosted by chancellery guards, he rudely dismisses Leela. What’s going on?

I have something of a problem with Andred simply allowing the Doctor, who is as far as he’s concerned an unauthorised visitor and very possibly extremely dangerous, to just walk into Chancellor Borusa’s office. Still, it’s a solitary lapse, and what happens next is very cool indeed as the Doctor claims the presidency, for which of course he was the sole surviving candidate at the recent election. Although this indicates not much time has passed, so how come (aside from the actor not being available!) Borusa has regenerated? He didn’t seem that old or frail last time.

We have a new Castellan, but Kelner is no Spandrell. Right from the off it’s clear he’s going top be quite the oily git, played with magnificent Uriah Heap-osity by Milton Johns. Oh, and another change here is that Leela is apparently allowed on the planet but Sarah wasn’t. How come? I suppose it could be argued that the Doctor is president after all, but some mention would have been nice.

More stuff from The Deadly Assassin appears- the Sash of Rassilon, the Rod of Rassilon, Gold Usher, the Matrix. Oddly, we get a fairly long techy conversation between two Time Lords which doesn’t seem to relate to anything!

Part Two

“This is rather more than a student prank, isn’t it?”

The Doctor seemingly betrays Leela again, trying to ban her from the Citadel, and continues to behave very oddly. And it’s fun to see the contrasting reactions of Kelner- rushing to ingratiate himself with this new potential source of patronage- and Borusa, whose concerns about the Doctor’s behaviour are balanced by a suspicion that all is not what it seems. John Arnatt is excellent here, restricting himself to subtle facial impressions and a calm tone of voice, but portraying Borusa’s concerns most effectively.

I’m enjoying this. So much, in fact, that I even enjoyed Tom’s wrecking ball to the fourth wall with his “Even the Sonic Screwdriver won’t get me out of this one!” It’s in one way reassuring and in another way disappointing that the Doctor’s conversation with K9 in the TARDIS pretty much gives away that his erratic behaviour and apparent treachery is just an act and he has his reasons.

Interestingly, Rodan (played by the rather lovely Hilary Ryan) is the first Time Lady we’ve ever met. Are there hardly any females for some bizarre sci-fi reason, or do Time Lords insist that a woman’s place is directing traffic? Either way, Rodan and Leela are getting on well, which is fortunate as they’re soon to be thrust into crisis- the Doctor has let down the transduction barriers, apparently selling out his own people to some nasty bits of tin foil, and lets out a villainous laugh too…

Part Three

“The Castellan will have me shot.”

“Well, that’s all right. I’ll have him shot.”

For once, it’s the Doctor who gets to say that “resistance is useless”! And these baddies, the Vardans, apparently want the great Key, which the Doctor pledged to seek in his presidential oath.

Meanwhile, Leela and Rodan are escaping the new regime to go out into the wilderness. Leela’s great here, decisive and intelligent. She may say that “Discussion is for the wise or the helpless and I am neither”, but the only thing she isn’t is helpless.

In a pivotal scene, the Doctor finally reveals to Borusa what he’s really up to in his lead lined room where the Vardans can’t read his thoughts. Naturally, we aren’t privy to what’s said as that would spoil all the fun.

Meanwhile, Kelner shows himself to be a right little Quisling, taking advantage of the new regime’s apparent purge to “settle old scores.” Our first exiles, albeit willing, are Leela and Rodan, and Rodan’s inability to deal with life “outside” speaks volumes about Gallifreyan society, as well as the fact that they see people living only just outside the Citadel as “barbarians”. Leela, on the other hand, quickly gains the respect of the Outlers. It’s soon clear that exiling his enemies is not the end of Kelner’s ambitions, though: an underling is dispatched to guard the new Doctor “for the time being” because “If anything does happen, I will have to take over as president , and I have no wish to expose myself to the dangers of that position.” Such a slimy little toad…

Part Four

“But you have access to the greatest source of knowledge in the universe.”

“Well, I do talk to myself sometimes, yes.”

The Vardans now turn out to suspect the Doctor- this is really quite an engagingly complex story, with all sorts of competing agendas ready to backstab each other. At last it seems the Graham Williams era has found its feet, using witty dialogue and careful plotting to carve out a way of producing good telly completely different to the previous regime.

Admittedly the production is very Spartan- in fact, not really acceptable at all, and things are going to get worse- but the scripts and performances more than compensate. Gallifey is often said to be an intrinsically dull place these days- not here it isn’t, it’s a labyrinth of plots, counter plots and intrigue. Brilliant. And even the production’s shortcomings are partly patched up by self-referential dialogue- the Vardans may look crap, but that’s ok as the dialogue points that out for us!

The episode’s ending is simply excellent- all the threads are drawn together, all the characters are brought to the Panopticon and the full details of the Doctor’s plan are reveals as he defeats the baddies and saves the planet.

And then the bloody Sontarans turn up. Excellent!

Part Five

“You are the first President since Rassilon to hold the Great Key.”

Re the quote- I thought we were told in The Deadly Assassin that Rassilon was never president? Anyway…

I love the way Kelner, rather than face the inevitable punishment for his treason, quickly sides with the Sontarans, oleaginous little sod that he is. And these Sontarans are a lot sillier than the ones we’ve seen before. And of course, there’s more than one of them for a change. Derek Deadman’s performance is- interesting.

There’s a fascinating game of cat and mouse as the Doctor gets Borusa to admit he holds the Great Key. I like Borusa- loyal to the old ways but with an open mind, and of course absolutely full of integrity. Yes, he’ll definitely never become a baddie. And as he knows where the Great Key is, presumably he can never become president. Come to think of it, I remember an article in issue #100 of Doctor Who Magazine back in the mid eighties, by Gary Russell, I think, on Time Lord history which touched on that very subject. I’ll have to dig it out. Rather tongue-in-cheek, I recall…

Oh, and there’s a great moment where the Doctor shows extraordinary trust in Leela in trusting her with the Great Key.

Part Six

“This machine is a load of obsolete rubbish.”

It’s such a shame that the setting of this episode is so execrable, as the script and performances continue to be first-rate. But using this location as the TARDIS interior simply won’t do. There are bricks everywhere, it’s all on film, and it takes you straight out of the drama. Little wonder all these rooms in the TARDIS were never spoken of again. Although I must admit I love the scene with Borusa drinking from a glass with a curly straw while reading about the sinking of the titanic from a contemporary edition of The Daily Mirror. Only on Doctor Who…

There’s lots of cool stuff here, however poorly realised it may be- the Venus fly trap thingy in the TARDIS “bathroom” and the TARDIS’ “ancillary power station” being disguised as an art gallery, which only makes sense if you include a deleted scene but never mind.

There’s a nice ending- the great Key is used to make the “Demat Gun” which is highly appropriate because one thing this marathon has taught me is that the Doctor uses guns all the time! Meanwhile, Stor is claiming that “This grenade will give me a lot of pleasure!” What a bizarre fetish…

Of course, inevitably, the Doctor forgets about the Great Key, all part of Rassilon’s plan. And a flawless plan it is too- I’m sure the fact that Borusa knows all about the Demat Gun will have no adverse consequences whatsoever.

Unfortunately the ending is marred by a completely rubbish companion departure. Leela deserved much better than that. Amusingly, Louise Jameson and the bloke who plays Andred say in a DVD extra that they tried to suggest they fancied each other by body language- not that I noticed they didn’t!

Overall, utterly magnificent- great plot, great dialogue, great performances. Unfortunately, and however understandable it may have been in those difficult budgetary times, the production was often far below acceptable, so much so that I really have to knock a point off. 4/5.

As for the season as a whole- well, it had its high points- Image of the Fendahl, The Sun Makers, The Invasion of Time- and its pretty good point- Horror of Fang Rock. But ultimately the two utter stinkers from the Bristol Boys and the production failings in some otherwise brilliant stories mean this season scores 3.17/5, putting it at the bottom of the pile. Still there are signs of a promising new direction, and the faults can be mainly laid at the door of budgetary disasters and the Bristol Boys. The future should be better- we’ll see…

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