Doctor Who: The Invasion Of Time Review

By the end of his fourth season as the Doctor, Tom Baker was at the pinnacle of his personal success. The former monk and hod-carrier had won a place in the collective heart of the nation with his decidedly quirky take on the Time Lord and he used his popularity as a lever to dominate all aspects of the programme. Following the BBC edict to cut down the violence in the show, new producer Graham Williams was forced to introduce a more obviously comedic and family-friendly element, something which Tom Baker wholeheartedly embraced, and the results first appeared in shows such as The Invisible Enemy with the introduction of K-9. However, a bigger problem was money. There had been an overspend on the 1976-77 season and this had to come out of the budget for 1977-78, leaving Williams with less money than his predecessor Philip Hinchcliffe had been used to. This led to the need for some cheap shows, one of which was the final story of the season, The Invasion Of Time.

For many years, The Invasion Of Time has been the subject of derision amongst some fans for two specific reasons. Firstly, the quality of some of the special effects which is poor even by the standards of low-budget 1970s television. Secondly, the quality nosedive of the final two episodes, which I will discuss later. Up until this point, the story is very promising indeed. The Doctor returns to Gallifrey with the apparent object of usurping the Time Lords in favour of an invading alien race, the Vardans. He demands to assert his right to be President (gained at the end of The Deadly Assassin) and banishes Leela to the outer wastes of the planet. His old friend Chancellor Borusa (Arnett) is perplexed by the Doctor’s bizarre behaviour while the scheming Castellan Kelner (Johns) spots the opportunity to make political capital out of the situation. But needless to say, all is not as it seems and the Doctor’s motives are a good deal purer than they initially appear.

The first four episodes are, generally speaking, a delight with witty dialogue, excellent performances and some ingenious production design from Barbara Gosnell, making the most of very limited resources by taking well-made costumes out of storage and re-using familiar sets. Even Dudley Simpson rises to the occasion with a thoroughly inventive score. Tom Baker, in particular, shines throughout. He relishes the chance to play against his loveable image in the early episodes, only gradually revealing his true colours. But there are some lovely humorous moments and although some fans tut-tut at the moment when he breaks the fourth wall – “Even the sonic screwdriver won’t get me out of this one” – I think it’s delightful and a lot less embarrassing than when William Hartnell did the same thing in 1965. Baker also works well with John Arnett, whose Chancellor Borusa is a quietly scheming politico and more convincing than Angus Mackay’s rather camp rendition of the role a year before. He also seems to have finally clicked with Leela and K-9 and Louise Jameson’s energetic and funny performance makes one regret that this was her last story.

The main problem with this first section of the story – and it is very deliberately designed as a four-parter with a two-part “dog leg” – is the appearance of the Vardans who in both sound and vision appear to have been designed using a few sheets of tin foil. Worse still, when they materialise in humanoid form, they look like three slightly nervous actors who have great problems delivering a line of dialogue convincingly. These flaws are forgivable however because the writing and performances elsewhere are so strong. Outside the Capitol building, matters aren’t quite so good because the outsiders encountered by Leela are completely unpersuasive – the leader Nesbin looks like nothing so much as an old ham from the provinces who has been encouraged to act like Donald Sinden having a go at Tonto.

However, the final two episodes tend to mar the whole to such an extent that Invasion Of Time has to be judged something of a failure. The setbacks begin with the shock appearance of the Sontarans at the end of episode four – although it’s not a shock if you’ve seen 2 Entertain’s DVD cover. This is, in itself, a rather good moment but the minute their leader speaks, with the deadening Cockney drawl of Derek Deadman, it’s hard to keep a straight face. The Sontarans also look a bit clunky this time round and far from threatening – they’ve never been my favourite monsters but they look far more effective in their streamlined incarnation as seen in The Two Doctors. When they pursue the Doctor and friends through the Tardis, it looks like he’s being chased by a group of Teletubbies in fetishwear. To make things worse, we have the chase through the Tardis which is repetitive and cheap, complete with dubious interior design and a groanworthy recurring joke from Mr. Baker. The ending of the story is also weak with Leela’s last minute decision to stay with the male-model turned Gallifreyan guard Commander Andred more than a little surprising considering they barely spend any time together.

Still, if one were inclined to be generous, there are enough amusing moments to make Invasion Of Time worth a look, especially for fans of Tom Baker. He’s not quite out of control here in the way that he is during Season Seventeen but he’s clearly being given his head by director Gerald Blake and beginning to make clear a lack of interest in his surroundings. Tom being Tom, however, he’s always eminently watchable. The politics of Gallifrey also remain interesting, although there are some discrepancies with The Deadly Assassin, notably the form of the ‘Great Key’ and the political role of the Castellan. On the whole, for a story which was born in some desperation, Invasion Of Time stands up quite well, particularly compared to some other six-parters amongst which The Armageddon Factor shall be nameless.

The Disc

In some respects, the DVD of The Invasion Of Time is up to the usual high standards we have come to expect, showcasing some particularly good work from the Doctor Who Restoration Team. Sadly, the Special Features are nothing like as impressive as they have been on some other discs in the range.

The episodes, presented in fullscreen format as originally broadcast, look very good indeed and certainly better than the VHS release from a few years ago. Colours look freshly minted and there’s plenty of detail, with the film sequences coming across particularly well. The quality of the transfer does tend to highlight the deficiencies in the special effects, particularly in the case of the Vardans, but fortunately John Kelly has come to the rescue with some new CGI effects. I am not normally sympathetic to these but in this case, he has produced effects which are very much in keeping with the original intentions but manage to be rather less embarrassing than the original efforts. The mono soundtrack is absolutely pristine.

The extra features on the first disc are a commentary track and the usual production subtitles. The commentary, featuring actors Louise Jameson and John Leeson and production team members Anthony Read and Mat Irvine, is very entertaining and chatty. All concerned are very honest about the flaws of the production but, equally, they admire many of the performances and enjoy the script. John Leeson is particularly good value, as he always is. The production subtitles are, thankfully, a vast improvement on those for Black Orchid and feature a mass of information, delivered with an amusingly dry wit.

It’s the extras on the second disc which are the problem. All of them are acceptable in themselves but they are all frustratingly short – the longest featurette ,Out of Time, is just under seventeen minutes. This is a pretty standard run through of the making of the story but there’s so many interesting stories alluded to that it could do with being at least twice as long, if not longer. The Rise and Fall of Gallifrey is a look at the way that Gallifrey has been portrayed over the years but is so skimpy that it won’t tell viewers anything that isn’t covered elsewhere. As for The Elusive David Agnew, it might be reasonable funny were it not for the fact that it’s common knowledge that David Agnew isn’t a real person. The five minutes of Deleted Scenes are from the film sequences from the final two episodes and are fairly repetitive, adding little to what’s already in the story.

More entertaining are the usual continuity announcements, a very substantial photo gallery and a rather well edited Coming Soon trailer. The disc also contains some nostalgic Radio Times clippings.

As usual, there are optional subtitles for all features except the commentary.

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