Doctor Who #481: The Invasion of Time Part 6

"She'll look after you. She's terribly good with a knife."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.11 1978.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor leads the Sontarans on a merry chase through the bowels of the TARDIS, and Leela leaves the show.

REVIEW: Just how many things are wrong with this episode? The big one: The idea of a chase through the TARDIS' vast interior is too ambitious to realize properly. As soon as we leave the console room, we're in practical locations made of brick, pipes, and/or what is clearly exterior lighting. The director tries to keep things interesting with dynamic handheld camera work, but it can't help the very worst bit, the workshop, which has black plastic bags in the windows to keep the sunlight out, and nothing in view that would allow someone to build a giant Demat gun. I can see what they're trying to get at, with the recursive way the TARDIS loops on itself, etc., but the overall effect is to drain all the magic out of the time-space machine and make the production look incredibly cheap. If they'd had sets to showcase, then fine, I might have been happy with a lot of pointless running around, but with what they ended up doing, I'd have cut that down to a minimum. Even in the assembly of it, the timeline is muddled. The Sontarans catch up to the heroes before the Castellan (whose cartoon motivation is less and less believable, and he's never punished) fixes their tracker by fondling a statue's butt. Storr is meant to be in the Panopticon when he's seen in the TARDIS corridors. No, the only good bit is seeing a Sontaran warrior step and slip on a deckchair by the pool. And it's an accident.

It's not just the chase either; pointlessness is the order of the day. Leela was given the Key to hold, but the Doctor asks for it back before she ever has a chance to evade the Sontarans with it. The Doctor hypnotizes Rodan to make her follow K9's orders and build the Demat gun, but she was being helpful and it feels gratuitous. This can be explained, of course. The weapon is so powerful he doesn't want her to remember how to build it. But it's never said! It's just a very odd moment among many, where the script can't quite tell its story with any clarity. There's something completely off about the Doctor building and wielding a giant gun, and a lot of hand-waving when it somehow knows to disintegrate itself AND wipe the Doctor's memories of the entire incident. Again, is that bout of amnesia particularly useful? He didn't build the gun, K9 did. If having touched the Matrix was a problem, or if they wanted to erase his official induction as president, it's not clearly explained. It's just a thing that happens. Like Stor coming out with a grenade that will explode the galaxy (what?!), or Borusa drinking with a silly straw (mildly amusing at least). And did they forget a couple of Sontaran warriors running around in the lower levels of the TARDIS?

One of those "things that happen" is Leela leaving the Doctor. Somehow, she's found a romantic partner in Andred, a man who's been played mostly as a clown, from a culture Leela already finds unappetizing. Also, a man she hasn't really had many scenes with. Bit of romantic comedy antagonism in Part 1, I guess, then nothing until this last part where he shows bravery in wanting to hold off the Sontarans after he's wounded (except he doesn't and the way it's staged, there would have been no point). That's it. She doesn't go for an Outlander, someone with her values and lifestyle. And there's nothing in the serial that would make her want to leave the TARDIS. She's been loyal and faithful throughout this madness, and still seemed to think the Doctor needed her protection. What's changed? Nothing. K9 stays behind too, and it's true that he was HER dog. In Baker's best moment this episode, he allows the Doctor to say he'll miss his savage friend, but only once the doors are closed. I liked Leela too, but she wasn't allowed to grow naturally, so it's probably for the best. I would have been happy to see K9 go, frankly, but no, can't make the kids cry over the summer, he brings in the Mark II in a box. Where it came from, no one knows (if the Doctor built it, why is it boxed?). And to comfort the kiddies further, Baker looks right into the camera, this time unambiguously, and starts to laugh. I hate that moment. The program has never seemed more self-satisfied, and after this truly remedial episode, it really should have hanged its head in shame instead.

VERSIONS: The CGI option on the DVD improves the various weapons fire, but it can't fix the plot. The Target novelization combines Jasko and Ablif into the single character Jablif. Writer Terrence Dicks also integrates details that make the story more coherent with The Deadly Assassin.

REWATCHABILITY: Low - A pointless runaround through cheap locations. Like everything else in this episode, Leela's departure isn't really justified. An irritation.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - There's an interesting mystery initially, some nice chemistry between the Doctor and Borusa in the middle, new information on Gallifrey, and an important event, Leela's departure, at the end. Sadly, the plot is a real mess, the villains are ridiculous, the comedy unduly overwhelms the drama at times, and the budget can render neither Gallifrey nor the TARDIS adequately.


-Peder said...

Somehow I'd missed this episode when I was younger, so I was really looking forward to seeing it in chronological context. You're right, it was very disappointing. The production looked cheap throughout and Leela's exit really is simply tacked on. I was glad to see K9 come back, but then I have good memories of him with the Romanas.
Man, this one is bad.

Siskoid said...

I think the Mark II is less noisy. Remains to be seen. But that would reduce my irritation considerably.


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