Doctor Who: K9 Tales Box Set - The Invisible Enemy Review
The Invisible Enemy was the first show to be produced by Graham Williams who took over as producer from the very popular Philip Hinchcliffe. It marks a definite change of emphasis as the violence and doom-laden tone of Hinchcliffe’s era largely vanished in favour of more family-friendly elements. One of these was, of course, the introduction of the “mechanical dog” K9 and it is in this story that he makes his first appearance.
Apart from K9, the show is perhaps best remembered as the one which takes place inside the Doctor’s body. Watching it again, one sees that it’s actually the Doctor’s brain and only about twenty minutes are spent there. The reason for this is that the Doctor is acting as host for a particularly unpleasant virus which infects people through a kind of electrical flash. The only hope to stop the virus spreading is for the Doctor and Leela to enter the Doctor’s brain and discover more about it. Through the intervention of Professor Marius (Jaeger) and his dog K9, the time travellers are cloned and injected into the Doctor’s head.
The problem with The Invisible Enemy is that it often looks and feels rushed. The key problems with the special effects will be dealt with later but, beyond this, the show is full of lines that sound fluffed and moments which simply don’t make sense, due to deleted dialogue which hasn’t been adequately replaced. At times, Tom Baker seems to be making it up as he goes along and it’s entirely possible that, at this point in his tenure at the doctor, he is. Although the budget for the show was presumably pretty high, some of the sets are spartan in the extreme – in one early scene, a mess hall looks more like a customer service desk. As for the make-up, the idea isn’t bad but the turquoise sequins are uncomfortably reminiscent of the even more ludicrous make-up for The Underwater Menace and the infected crewmen consequently lack threat – although Michael Sheard exercises his considerable authority to go some way to counter this paucity of menace.
As for the effects, they are best described as a heroic effort which doesn’t quite pay off. The character of K9 is largely an exception to this – but not completely – but the design and execution of the Nucleus is disastrous, resembling a large and grumpy crustacean once it is inadvertently grown to full size. This is not to belittle the efforts of John Scott Martin who is the poor bastard inside the costume, but the waving hands, bewhiskered visage and wobbling antennae tend to evoke a aged and bewildered academic rather than a virulent and pissed off virus. Similarly, for the scenes inside the Doctor’s brain – a brilliant concept, stolen from Fantastic Voyage but still done with immense ingenuity and panache in the script - the CSO backdrops are sometimes utterly majestic – there’s a scene where the sculpture resembles, as one interviewee on the DVD points out, the work of Antonio Gaudi – but this means that the threadbare studio sets come as even more of a disappointment. It would fairer to pass over the execution of the aggressive white blood cells but it’s hard to suppress a giggle as Michael Sheard is attacked by large cotton wool balls.
However, once should also say that the model shots are often extremely good for the period, thanks to the efforts of Ian Scoones and the Visual Effects team, and K9 has to be classed, for all his obvious drawbacks, as a triumph. The design by Tony Harding is a masterpiece, combining familiar canine and robotic features with an all-important twinkle in the glowing eyes. The problem with the design – the inability of K9 to work effective outside the studio – isn’t a problem here although there are is still an obvious moment when K9 gets jammed up against a wall. Vital to K9’s success, of course, is the voice by John Leeson. It seems a bit deeper and more serious than it would become but Leeson draws out as much humour as he can without making the robot look ridiculous – or, if you don’t like K9, even more ridiculous. For my money, the invention of K9 was a pretty good way of making a series which had become very brutal more child-friendly, while successfully anticipating the popularity of robots which would be spearheaded by Star Wars. As I recall, for every older fan who complained, there were five or six kids becoming hooked on the show and K9 became as much a part of Tom’s era as Sarah Jane, Leela or Romana.
The episodes manage to grip despite the problems and this is attributable to Derrick Goodwin’s splendidly brisk pace and the strong supporting performances from Michael Sheard and Frederick Jaeger. The latter uses a slightly odd Germanic accent but as he was born in Germany, it is presumably something which was familiar to him. He also works very nicely with K9 and Tom Baker – the two actors clearly enjoy each others company. There’s also that imaginative script by Bob Baker and Dave Martin which has enough ideas for two or three stories. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are on top form and if you can look beyond the flaws, there’s quite a bit of fun to be had here.
The Invisible Enemy is only available at present as part of the K9 Tales box set along with K9 And Company: A Girl’s Best Friend. Apart from one grievous problem, which is being addressed, the disc maintains the high standards one expects from the Doctor Who range.
The show was, apart from a few special effects inserts, shot entirely on videotape in the studio. Some clean-up work and remastering has been done and the overall effect is very impressive. Certainly, there are no obvious glitches and the colours are very easy on the eye. The mono soundtrack is also very clean and clear with Dudley Simpson’s score coming across very well.
The biggest problem with the disc, however, is the end of episode three in which the scenes appear to be out of order. I am assured that 2 Entertain are replacing these faulty discs so you can contact them if your disc is one of these. Either email firstname.lastname@example.org (note: corrected address) or call 020 7612 3186. Instructions on what to do are on the voicemail of the phone line and on the auto reply from the email.
The extras package is fairly generous. The episodes are accompanied by a commentary from Louise Jameson, John Leeson, Bob Baker and Mat Irvine. The participants get along very well with Jameson contributing the most and Leeson supplying the humour. It’s all quite informative although input from the director would have been welcome. There is also the usual running production subtitles text commentary, this time written by Richard Molesworth and well up to his usual exacting standards.
The featurettes are fairly short but contain some interesting material. The 20 minutes “Dreams And Fantasy” looks at the making of the story with interviews from the people on the commentary along with Derrick Goodwin, designer Tony Harding, K9 operator Nigel Brackley and journalist Gary Gillatt. The interviews are excellent but there’s some bizarre interpolations from people watching the series and overplaying their various reactions. The best bit of this featurette is the opportunity to see K9 once more out and about. “Studio Sweepings” contains some black and white videotape from the studio sessions for the story and is enlivened by Tom Baker’s wicked sense of humour. “Visual Effect” is a nostalgic conversation between Mat Irvine and Ian Scoones; an affectionate chat between old friends which covers several stories as well as The Invisible Enemy. Finally, there is five minutes of Blue Peter during which Shep gets to meet his robotic counterpart.
As usual, we get a photo gallery, some enjoyable trails and continuities, a Coming Soon trailer (this time for The Brain Of Morbius, and PDF copies of original Radio Times billings. There is also the opportunity to watch the story with new CGI effects supplied by John Kelly. These are interesting and well achieved, although I personally prefer to see the original story, warts and all.
The serial and the featurettes are accompanied by optional subtitles. The commentary is not subtitled. An Easter Egg is available and, for Larry Grayson fans, well worth finding.