30 March 2014

TV: The Invasion of Time

And so we reach the end. The Invasion of Time is inextricable from the departure of Leela from the series, and I think this might overshadow this story's virtues. Surprisingly to me, this story is one of Louise Jameson's strongest; she is undoubtedly a highlight despite her not being a central figure for the majority. There are of course several aspects of the serial that don't come off as well as intended, and there are a few that just aren't to my tastes. As a series finale, not much more could be asked, and I personally think it's a brilliantly constructed effort.

The Invasion of Time came about when a story from David Weir, Killers of the Dark, was deemed too expensive by Anthony Read. Following the success and popularity of The Deadly Assassin, Graham Williams had decided that the final story of Series 15 would be a sequel set on Gallifrey. Weir's story told of a culture alongside that of the Time Lords, of cat people. It was intended to be similar to contemporary Asian societies, and featured swathes of extras in cat make up. I can only be grateful that such a feat was not attempted after some frankly dubious make up / prosthetics jobs around this time (see The Invisible Enemy, The Talons of Weng-Chiang et al.). I'm also grateful because it meant Read and Williams had to step in to fill the void. After the relatively low-key affairs of the preceding two stories, Series 15 needed to be tidied up with a barnstorming tale. And was it.

Williams and Read wisely opted for the approach of splitting the episode count - four and two. This had been the route taken the previous year, albeit out of necessity. And it works very well. It really makes a difference when those in long-term positions on the show write a story because they do something interesting and innovative, whether with the format or with the main characters. In this case, 'David Agnew' portrays the Doctor as the antagonist for the first three episodes. Right from his first scene, the Doctor is conspiring against the Time Lords with the Vardans. He signs a surrender order to them. This isn't referenced again, but it's a really neat way of tricking the audience and getting them involved in the story straight away. The renegade then returns to his homeworld, and demands Presidency - picking up a strand from The Deadly Assassin. Once he's been inaugurated (via a rejection by the Matrix, which now seems to be housed in a circlet), he orders Leela to be banished from the citadel. 

Over the course of the next three episodes, the Doctor slowly reveals his plan - first to K9, then to Borusa. He has expelled Leela in order to keep her safe. His plan was to lure the Vardans (who are just jumped-up humanoids) to Gallifrey by promising submission before defeating them utterly. He puts their planet into a Time Loop, and hence they never came to Gallifrey in the first place. This might sound short on plot, but it plays out beautifully, and gives us some of the best cliffhangers of the era, especially that of Part Two, where the Doctor chuckles manically as he introduces the members of the High Council to their 'new masters'. All through Parts One to Three, Baker is wholly convincing as a power-mad tyrant, and there are definite shades of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar to this. It's a shame we never got the same kind of situation as The Enemy of the World, with Baker playing opposite himself. He's bloody terrifying when he yells, and this is once more the Tom Baker of infamy from this time. Conversely, the pain he shows as he knows he can't tell anyone why he's being such a bastard as really emotive, and Baker shows he really can act rather than just recreate a larger (or smaller, depending on who you listen to)-than-life version of himself. I also loved that right til the end, the Doctor's still telling Leela to put her knife away. [EDIT: I missed these things out, so I'll talk about them now. Milton Johns, the ending is a bit disappointing, the gun wiping your memory is a great idea, the Sontarans all just disappear?, the TARDIS being kicked by Leela. There.]

The Vardans are a really good idea. It's true that they're not given much background (or budget), but the concept that the opening four episodes riff upon is solid. They can travel along any wavelength, entering the physical world only when necessary. They can also read your thoughts. This is why the Doctor demands his room be lined with lead. He does this very subtly though, disguising this amongst a jumble of other thoughts - similar to how he manages to sustain his pretence that he is in league with the Vardans. It's a really well thought out bit of scripting, and is much more ingenious than it's given credit for. All the details are there, and given this was written under such heavy time constraints, I'm impressed. The Vardans have a pretty decent plan too; they get a Time Lord traitor to lower Gallifrey's defences before invading and assuming absolute power. Admittedly, it's not overly original, but why should it be? It had never been done before, so credit where credit's due.

The shock twist at the end of Part Four is synonymous with this story; indeed, the Sontarans are much more famous as the villains of The Invasion of Time than the Vardans, despite being in it for half the amount of time. For viewers at the time, that must have been a really brilliant cliffhanger. This is one of those moments where I wish I could just forget everything I know about this story and watch it fresh, just to experience that. Tainted by the nostalgia of fandom (and Clayton Hickman's sub-par cover), I knew the Sontarans showed up, and that even before I knew who they were. Thinking about it now, I think this may have been my first Sontaran story. Oh well.

General consensus would tell you that the knights of Sontar are a bit... how can I put it?... shit in this story. Sometimes, there's a consensus for a reason. The costumes look terrible, and Derek Deadman is far too rotund to believably be a hardened warmonger. The heads are just awful. Was Kevin Lindsay busy? I really hope that's the reason he's not in this, as the Sontarans are much weaker here than in either of their two previous appearances, despite there being lots of them now (what a thrill that must have been!). The way one attacks a door to try and break in is laughable, slamming it with his elbow. Later, presumably the same one leaps over the edge of pool, slips on a sunbed and then falls over another. I really hope it was Stuart Fell inside that one. The way they talk (as in the actors' performances, not their lines) is poor too. I really wasn't a fan of the way they were brought to life here, but what a brilliant idea to finally have a Sontaran force to assert their power. Although, the Rutans aren't mentioned once, which is odd given they appeared at the top of the series. 

The Gallifrey we're presented with here is the not the immaculate, glitzy citadel of The Deadly Assassin. Far from it. Many of the same sets feature, but this version of the planet (which by the way, suits the Williams-era style down to the ground) is dirtier, more workmanlike. I get the impression that had this storyline been created in 1976, the defence shield control rooms would have been similar to the Matrix access centre, and I think I would have preferred that. I think the writers would too. What we got was an abandoned power station, also doubling for sections of the TARDIS - but I'll get to that. We see more of the planet of the Time Lords, and one question puzzles me above all: whose idea were those bloody struts in the corridor? They look terrible, and are cumbersome and totally impractical. Every time K9 has to circumnavigate one, I'm left thinking 'why?'. Obviously the citadel's gone to the dogs without a President.

We go outside the city as well. It's brilliant that we get a full flavour of the Outsiders, rather than them just being dismissed as mad savages. They are handled in the same unbiased way as Leela, and I really liked this.  The wastelands are portrayed as an orange quarry, but you can't really ask or expect more. It's probably for everyone's benefit that we don't actually see the city from outside as well. I really enjoyed the scenes between Leela, Rodan (far and away my favourite guest character in this) and the rebels. All of them are painted as real people rather than stereotypes. Their costumes leave a bit to be desired, but that can't be helped. All the time spent in this location is excellent, and one of my favourite aspects of the story. Of course Rodan wouldn't think of all these things. Who can know what to expect from something they've never done after all. I liked how this story left Gallifrey with the rebels, the Time Lords and the guards in power. It's a shame that by the time of Arc of Infinity (the next story to even feature Gallifrey, five years later) this has been forgotten and things are back in the faux-aristocracy mould.

The TARDIS is explored in its most depth ever here, I think. I would argue more so than Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, at least. We see a gritty, run down version. It's possible this was just what the Doctor was into at this time, as he does seems to chop and change bits of it pretty often. The disused hospital is a bit odd, but it's well used given the limitations. The inventive entropy concept used by the script also helps, and covers some good ground. Although it may seem old hat now to have TARDIS space folding in on itself, following the glossfairs that were Journey and the distinctly-average The Doctor's Wife (spoilers!), but back in 1978, this was brand new. I think this could potentially be the best use of it as well. Although it looks far superior when done again (even the '80s version is better), I think it's handled better here. The console room is also dark and mysterious from the off, letting us know that all is not right with the Doctor.

And so to everyone's favourite savage of them all - Leela. Louise Jameson is almost unquestionably the most talented actress to ever play a companion; she convincingly adopts the character of a culture so totally alien to our own, and I'm sure it really made contemporary children rethink their treatment of people - subconsciously. The Doctor treats Leela the same as he treats Sarah or Jo - closer in my opinion - despite her being from a totally different upbringing and society. He sees the benevolence in her, as he does everyone. The Invasion of Time restores Leela to the role of character rather than plot device as in Underworld. She is given a lot to do, leading the revolution, and carrying the show effectively when the viewer loses faith in the Doctor. She's adamant to the end that he hasn't actually sided with hostile aliens; she knows him too well. This is the reason I love Leela, and think she is potentially the greatest companion of them all. She also has great banter with the Doctor, and there's a real sense of mellowing between Baker and Jameson. It's such a shame that she decided to leave at this point. Just imagine Leela under the influence of Douglas Adams, throughout the next glorious run of stories; The Ribos Operation, The Pirate Planet and The Androids of Tara would have suited her particularly well, I feel. As enjoyable as Romana I is, I think it's another case of the actress being superior to the role. The 'ice queen' isn't anywhere near as interesting to me as Leela.

If you look for it, Leela's relationship with Andred is built up throughout this story. It makes sense pairing her off with him, really. It's not as rushed as you might have heard, although that is mostly down to Louise Jameson and Christopher Tranchell. I can see why each would be attracted to the other, and it's not as bizarre a pairing as I recalled. As with most stories, I last watched this about six years ago. As I remembered, Andred was basically a nobody, who showed up at the last minute. As it happens though, the Commander actually plays quite a big role in the story, starting a revolution parallel to Leela's. He even tries to kill the Doctor! I really enjoyed his little chats with K9 too - or should that be Sergeant K9 now? I do get the feeling that had this been a Russell "The" Davies script, it would have ended with Leela wanting to stay with Rodan. Even though I knew the ending, I was hoping all the way through that it'd turn out like that. The pair have brilliant chemistry, and share much more screen time than Leela and Andred, great as they are. As Leela comes from an unrestrained background, without the prejudices of 1970s British society, it would have been totally in character for her to want to be with another woman (and indeed the first female Gallifreyan onscreen since Susan, making her the second female of the Doctor's race in fifteen years of the show). Who's anyone to say what's 'normal' or not? 

I must mention the work of Gerald Blake. He shoots beautifully. His camera direction is absolutely magnificent. Given the resources of a Series 13 or 14 (or even 16) story, who knows what he could have done. He instills so much motion into shots that just wasn't possible in the last story (due to all the technical setup) and was non-existent in the story before that (due to Pennant "dull" Roberts). Blake directed only two Doctor Who stories - this and The Abominable Snowmen, one of the most hotly requested 'missing' stories. It seems a crime that he wasn't asked back when he's so much more able than some of his contemporaries. His style of shooting reminded me of David Maloney's, and it's fitting that this mini-marathon has come full circle, given that Maloney handled The Deadly Assassin. At the beginning and end of this rewatch, the Doctor is alone, in a story set on Gallifrey. Blake has less influence over the Sontarans, but it's not really his fault. I realise he chose the actors, but they're still pretty short of the mark (no pun intended).

And so it's the end - and the moment has been prepared for, if you look closely. I've really enjoyed going through all of Jameson's stories. My highlights were Image of the Fendahl, The Robots of Death and The Talons of Weng-Chiang. There were some really enjoyable stories along the way (something I should emphasise about this one; I really looked forward to each episode, so it must be doing something right) but even when the production let her down in some way, Jameson would still shine bright. She's a tremendous talent, and I am so glad that Who got her. Louise, thank you.

The Invasion of Time is much better than you might have heard, or might think. Go back over it with a positive eye. Yes the Vardans look terrible, yes they're tin foil, yes their voices are annoying as sin, and yes the Sontarans are just bad, but revel in the joyous air of this story. The whole thing is scripted to perfection, even if the performances and production values can't live up to it. Blake gives it a damn good try, and Williams and Read should be highly commended. However, the star of not only this, but the last nine stories, is Louise Jameson. The last moment almost had me tearing up.

In a Nutshell: Bye bye, savage.

You can buy The Invasion of Time DVD here, or read Joe from Doc Oho's review here.

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