The Invasion of Time

Written by:
David Agnew
Directed by: Gerrald Blake
Starring: Tom Baker
Year: 1978
Video Availability: Try

This is definitely a story I need to get on proper video. My blurry, jumpy, fourth-generation UK Gold copy isn't any good at all.

However, the story itself. A cheap sequel to The Deadly Assassin, it topped the DWAS season poll initially, yet is now largely slated. Personally, I love it, and it comfortably makes my top fifty stories.

The greatness of it is not the production but the grand ideas. The opening shot with its modest overhead model spacecraft is said to be the biggest homage to Star Wars, while there is more padding than I recalled. Do we really need all that patronising stuff with the Doctor explaining "cheek" to K-9? And Milton John's camp Castellan drags the pace almost to a halt.

Yet at its core is a cracking tale. Why is the Doctor behaving so erratically? (And, incidentally, giving his best performance of this and the next season. Over the top, but his best). Why is K-9 threatening Leela? This isn't perhaps a casual viewer's story, but it has plenty of dramatic potential.

After recently sitting through lots of the McCoy stories, it's weird to see a story with minimal incidental music. Letting the acting do the job alone is a risk, but here it is rewarded.

There are massive amounts of filler here, though, much more than I remembered. There's a chat between two elderly Time Lords that does nothing whatsoever to advance the plot and is just short of a whole minute in length. Yet it's amusing so it gets by.

There's also some nice Christ symbolism to finish off the episode. Interesting, and possessing more layers than its season peers.
* * * *

Another neat episode, featuring the classic "even the sonic screwdriver can't get me out of this one" line. In reality this could easily have been a four-parter, but I'm glad it's not. Even though the non-Tom scenes add little, they serve in padding them apart, making his plan seem all the more considered.

For a last Leela story this is terrible, but it's probably the best Doctor story. This is the sort of thing fan fiction would thrive on: it's a story not about external new ideas, but at heart an insular character study. It also breaks the narrative format that 90% of Doctor Who stories follow.

The cliffhanger, with the Doctor seemingly giving Gallifrey over to alien invaders, is superb. Okay, so they look like tinfoil. Cut it some slack, eh?
* * * *

"You disapoint me, Doctor. I expected better of you." "Did you really? Thank you." Maybe it's just the delivery and the rapport between Tom and John Arnatt but I really like all of their scenes together. As for the Vardans, maybe their tinfoil nature wouldn't be so bad if they had more impressive voices. Yet it's not their visual appearance, but the notion of a race that can read all your inner thoughts that compels.

All the guff with the Capitol outsiders - an overlong scene that drags on interminably for two and a half minutes - I can take or leave. But generally this is top stuff, the best episode so far. And having said that, the outsiders' plan to "drop out" to escape "all the peace and internal tranquillity" is quite satirical.
* * * *

Leela's subplot in this is completely superfluous, there to give her something to do to distract from the fact that this is, like Deadly Assassin, essentially a solo Doctor story.

Tom's a bit more send-up in this one, and the APC Net is pure anorak, but this is still tremendously entertaining. I really can't put my finger on what I like about this story, though I think it's just the notion of the Doctor's madness.

The Vardans appear in their human form this episode. Most moans can be forgiven by Tom's "disappointing, aren't they?" but why did one have to be a foot taller than the others? Stan McGowan is also a plank as the only speaking Vardan. K-9's a real plot device this time, too, but the cliffhanger is, of course, superb.
* * *

If the Sontarans were using the Vardans then why couldn't they read their minds? Is the implication that the Sontaran helmets are lead-lined? Cos they look like plastic to me. Having said that, an implication I'd never considered before is that the Vardans were willing accomplices. Incidentally, while he's no Kevin Lindsay I've got nothing against Derek Deadman as Stor.

Tom's again back on form, even if the Great Key of Rassilon turns out to be just an old yale key. The bit where Rodan "operates" on the console sees his flippancy float back in slightly, though generally he's fine, and note the Doctor mentioning the concept of more than one universe.

The Sontarans stabbings are a bit violent, and the Nazi salutes/SSSS elements are overstated. With the Doctor's madness theme gone, the big ideas of the first three and a half episodes have given away to a runaround. Still, it was good while it lasted.
* * *

The Doctor mentions the Daleks and the Cybermen this episode. It's okay, but there's a huge amount of padding here, and while I can accept the Tardis using brick interiors, the fact that it's shot on film does distract. [FACT: Over three and a half minutes of this episode feature the Doctor and/or his companions walking up and down corridors. This doesn't even take into consideration the time the Sontarans and Kelner spend doing the same, but at least they're pursuing the Doctor, so it is part of the plot in their case]

Of course, this story does have two Pertweeish resolutions. Part four ends with the Doctor placing the Vardans' homeworld in a timescoop, and this one ends with him building a bloody big gun. And yes, Leela marrying Andred is a little daft - throughout the entire story they spend just ten minutes of screentime together. And that's not just talking, that's including standing in the same room in a scene - but I guess viewers can use their imagination. Maybe.

Seeing a Sontaran decked by a sunlounger would be bad too, were it not so well directed. The first 22 minutes of this episode are still amusing, but a slight letdown after the quality of the previous five instalments. However, the final two minutes, with a hurt Doctor parting from Leela, are superb.
* * *

Despite the slight drop in quality of the second half, The Invasion of Time is still a story I'd recommend. It's Doctor Who doing what Doctor Who does best: a budget of 50p yet big, big ideas.
* * * *