Doctor Who #477: The Invasion of Time Part 2

"Even the sonic screwdriver won't get me out of this one."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.11 1978.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor skulks about, Leela meets a Time Lady, and K9 blows Gallifrey's shields so the aliens can invade.

REVIEW: Once again, while there's something very serious going on here, even sinister, it seems the program's new direction is intent on undermining all that for the sake of humor. Under the new regime - and it IS the new regime in its purest possible form here, since the writers are both the producer and the script editor - Tom Baker is apparently allowed to do anything he likes. They've awakened a monster. He turns to camera to make self-aware pronouncements, and is allowed to vamp through scenes for far too long (the illogical Open Sesame scene, and the bit where he and Andred eat jelly babies are good examples). At his best, he's channeling the theater of the absurd ("can you hear my head ringing?"), but at his worst, he turns into a young children's program presenter. Don't get me wrong, there are some fabulous comedy episodes ahead, but this isn't one of them. Its comedy clashes for too strongly with the possibility of the Doctor's turning evil.

But the Doctor's performance is far from the only place where the comedy trumps story logic. The Chancellery Guard, for example, are played as clowns. Oh, I'm sure there's hardly ever anything for them to do on Gallifrey except attend ceremonies, but that hardly excuses their stupidity here. Don't Gallifreyans have highly evolved brains? Andred isn't as dumb, but he's a clown too, only a frustrated one. Despite Lord President Doctor's edict to have her thrown out of the Citadel (either she could ruin his plans, or he's trying to protect her), she's allowed to walk around unimpeded thanks to their total incompetence. The Castellan, supposedly in charge of security, is just as ineffectual, too busy to try and make Borusa look bad to do much about the situation, though to what ends, we hardly care. Leela finds a friend in Rodan, a prototype for Romana who's stuck in "traffic control" and quite bored, but like everyone else on Gallifrey, she lacks common sense and judgement. Though she knows Leela is the alien the guards are looking for, and though she's behind a forcefield because she's in the highest security area in the Citadel, and though Leela clearly mocks her aristocratic, intellectual mannerisms, she thinks it's a good idea to let the forcefield down and let the savage girl walk in. I'm fine with Doctor Who being lighter entertainment, but it should be so fluffy as to be this frivolous.

If Robert Holmes took the Time Lords down a peg in The Deadly Assassin, Read and Williams go even further - too far, in fact - in The Invasion of Time. In addition to the sudden drop in IQ, they've also brought Gallifrey into the "current day" where it interacts with the outside world. No longer is it before or after known time, it's right there for others to try and conquer. Worse, they've got someone in a room who lets people traverse their space, though apparently they'll let anyone through, even armed to the teeth. If the planet itself is behind an impervious barrier, what's the point of controlling the space around it? Bottom line, it makes Gallifrey just like any other planet. It certainly doesn't help that the transduction barrier is destroyed by K9 in a dirty basement machine room clearly filmed somewhere on Earth, with none of the planet's design aesthetic. Not that that design is particularly good except where they've rebuilt what was in The Deadly Assassin. Sets and props are cheap, and it sometimes looks like we're backstage in a high school theater. The cheapness extends to the aliens the Doctor's working with, revealed to be badly superimposed ghosts of crinkly plastic.

I've still got to compliment some parts of the production. I do enjoy Leela, at times defiant, at others impish. Her leaning against a forcefield is well done. The Doctor, though his sneaking about doesn't accomplish much in terms of plot (a noisy technobabble scene with K9), is great at outsmarting his opponents, whether it's shutting his mind down to prevent the aliens from accessing the Matrix (I'm guessing), or getting back to his rooms just in time to confound the Castellan. Now if only those opponents were smarter, it would be an achievement. The sinister element in the script is quite engaging. What is the Doctor playing at? How can he be working with the bad guys? And the big cathedral music is quite good, never quite letting you know if it's diegetic or not.

VERSIONS: The CGI option makes the episode more pleasant, certainly. It adds a soft forcefield effect to Rodan's doorway (I do wish it interacted with Leela's hands more), neat effects to the guard's set of TARDIS keys, punchy nose laser effects for K9 (see above screen grab), and fiery rockets at the back of the alien ship. Most of all, and this will play a huge role in Part 3, it overlays the aliens with much stronger electric silhouettes that have real shape and substance. They're not perfect, but I'll discuss them more fully in the next review.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - It's not boring by any means, but a little aimless and with a weak grasp of character logic. And I'm afraid the Gallifrey they want to show can't be on this budget.

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