We’re at the end of Season 15 here, so let’s start by getting something out of the way quickly. Doctor Who at this point is being made on a tiny budget and it looks awful. Don’t expect any kind of special effects to be anything other than embarrassing. Also, your appreciation of the Doctor will depend entirely on how much you like Tom Baker. He is front and centre, overacting for all he’s worth, so you will either love it or hate it.
Having glossed over all that boring stuff, which applies to most of the season, let’s focus on the interesting aspects of this one. Way back in The Daleks, the Doctor and his companions escaped the Daleks and returned to the TARDIS. Job done, time to fly away. And then the Doctor realised he had left a vital component of the TARDIS in the Dalek city and the story wasn’t over after all. This was Doctor Who’s first attempt at a red herring ending. A similar thing happens in The Ark, with the plot resolved and the Doctor and his companions flying off in the TARDIS, only to land in the same place at a later time, discovering that the resolution was not such a good one after all. After 14 years of Doctor Who, The Invasion of Time is only our third false ending, and the first for 12 years. It lacks the sophistication of The Ark, but is still an interesting way to get around the problem of those longer-form stories that can tend to drag interminably. If the budget isn’t there to do what The Evil of the Daleks or The Seeds of Doom did, and change locations partway through the story, then the next best thing is to change villains.
When you split a story into two distinct chunks, the obvious consequence is that one section is often going to be more fun than the other. With 4 episodes where the main villains are tin foil, followed by 2 episodes with Sontarans, I am sure you can guess which section is going to be best. But bizarrely you would be wrong, because the tin foil is the good bit.
That’s nothing to do with the villains. Of course, they’re as dreadful as they sound. But this story is a shining example of the importance of having an interesting story to tell as a starting point, and how that cannot be substituted for spectacle or nostalgia.
For the first couple of episodes, we basically jump ahead to 1988 and the scheming, mysterious kind of Doctor that McCoy played in his later stories arrives a decade early. We know that the Doctor must have some kind of a plan here or else is being brainwashed or controlled in some way, but we are kept guessing about that for a significant amount of the story. Meanwhile, Leela gets a nice little subplot with the Shobogans (at least, we assume that is who they are), our first attempt to explore the other side of the coin to the Time Lords’ obvious aristocracy.
Then the Sontarans turn up, and the story kind of assumes we will find that exciting in the same way that Day of the Daleks shoehorned in 3 Daleks to a story that could have featured any villain, and assumed we would enjoy that because they are Daleks. But, to jump ahead a bit and take a quote from A Fix with Sontarans, “Sontarans? Well, next to Daleks and Cybermen, the most evil force in the galaxy.” These are very much third choice monsters turning up, and hardly even that at this stage. Throwing them in and expecting us to enjoy watching them as generic monsters, while doing little other than a chase sequence, isn’t going to work.
So this ends up as a story that makes three interesting Doctor Who things boring. The Sontarans, who were entertaining individual villains in their two previous appearances, are now substitute Daleks but not as good. Gallifrey loses all its magic and power, and just becomes a planet to return to, less interesting than going back to Peladon, with the Time Lords reduced to incompetent good guys who get their planet invaded. Worst of all, the infinite and mysterious TARDIS interior becomes a bunch of clearly brick and mortar hospital corridors. It is the most astonishing collapse from a fascinating starting point since The Space Museum.
And then, with a backdrop of that tripple-whammy of planet, villains and TARDIS all being dullified, we get the full house of stupid by completely messing up the characterisations of both the Doctor and Leela. I’ll take the worst of those first, because I want to finish with Leela, like the story does.
RODAN: But what is it?
DOCTOR: It’s the ultimate weapon. The Demat gun.
RODAN: That’s impossible!
That’s the resolution to the story. The Doctor has built a big gun, and he is going to use it. Importantly, it is a gun that could have consequences, just like Linx’s supply of advanced weapons to humans in the Middle Ages in The Time Warrior.
Destroy that gun. Destroy all knowledge of it. It’ll throw us back to the darkest age!
But the Doctor doesn’t destroy it. He uses it instead. To end a season with this kind of resolution is a bitter disappointment, because the Doctor is normally better than this. We expect him to use his intelligence. After all, he could resolve every Doctor Who story by creating some kind of a horrendous weapon to blast his enemies out of existence. For this to happen on Gallifrey stands as an awkward precursor to the Time War, which is clearly a war that is escalated by ever more horrible weapons until mutual destruction is assured. If it does one useful thing, it is to set up a reaction to this approach during the next season. without giving too much away, just compare these two quotes, both from the Doctor:
From The Invasion of Time:
I could rule the universe with this, Chancellor.
From The Armageddon Factor:
We have the power to do anything we like. Absolute power over every particle in the universe. Everything that has ever existed or ever will exist.
One of those two is played for laughs, to make the point that this is something the Doctor would never do. The other is a Doctor who is in love with his own creation, which he is about to use to kill his enemies.
Then we have Leela, and the script cleverly builds up to her perfect exit from the series. She has become involved with the outsiders on Gallifrey and is a natural fit to join them. Their leader gets killed, and this is obviously going to be our Steven Taylor moment. Just like he left the Doctor because the Savages needed him, Leela is going to settle down on Gallifrey as chief Shabogan.
And then she marries an aristocrat she has just met.
Doesn’t that just scream “wrong”, for Leela of all people. Let’s look at our track record so far for departing female companions:
Kicked out, goes home, gets married, dead, dead, goes home, goes home, gets adopted, separated from the Doctor by Time Lords, goes home, gets married, separated from the Doctor by Time Lords, gets married.
Not looking great, is it. But this seems so much worse than the last time a companion got married off (and that was bad enough), because this is Leela. She has so much going for her as a companion, such fierce independence and strength, that it is a shocking betrayal of the character. And much of the reason for this being so staggeringly wrong is the brilliance that Louise Jameson brought to the part. It reminds me a lot of what happened with Maureen O’Brien and Vicki – another amazingly good companion who got married off. How on earth could you follow Sarah Jane as a companion? By hiring Louise Jameson to play the next one.
I’ll miss you too, savage.
Spoken to an empty console room, the Doctor’s final words to Leela speak volumes about how things have gone wrong. Respect has been earned, but it has not been given.
Her name’s not Savage. It’s Leela. And she was fantastic. RP
The view from across the pond:
By now, our faithful visitors to the junkyard have picked up on the fact that we are in “Sontaran Week” and it’s time to look at The Invasion of Time. But this story is different from other Sontaran stories. So far, we’ve seen a 4-part story (The Time Warrior) and a 2-part story (The Sontaran Experiment). The Invasion of Time is a 6 part story… but it is not a 6 part Sontaran story. What makes The Invasion of Time unique is that the first four parts have a race we’ve never heard of before, the Vardans, attacking Gallifrey and temporarily succeeding. It looks like the Doctor has turned traitor when in reality he’s on a sudden errand to catch and incarcerate a race of baddies. Secret mission, or the Doctor having a sudden desire to be James Bond… I don’t know. But the first four parts end with the Doctor defeating the evil Vardans to the cheers and applause of Gallifrey… before the real threat shows up. And then it becomes a Sontaran story. And this story truly adds to the threat they pose as a race of villains, since in the classic series they are the only race to ever successfully attack Gallifrey. And this sets the stage for later stories. In fact, this story is the precursor to a lot of things.
For one thing, it set the stage for something that would happen decades later: Big Finish, the company responsible for resurrecting Doctor Who in audio format, spun off a series called Gallifrey, predicated on The Invasion of Time, with Leela and K-9 still there! This is also the story where we first encounter the outsiders who live beyond the citadel walls, the Shobogans. Is that where the Doctor comes from? Is that the group of people dressed like 1800’s Wild West settlers in Hell Bent? If so, the Doctor spent a lot of time with them when he was a child, based on what we see in Listen. We may never know but again, none of that would have existed had it not been for this story! And so much of Gallifreyan lore is explored here from transduction barriers to “The (fill in the blank) of Rassilon”. (Examples include the Great Key of Rassilon, the Sash of Rassilon, the Crown of Rassilon and the Rod of Rassilon – this last one is not as awful as it sounds, but probably has a spin-off series of its own geared for a different crowd.)
The Great Key of Rassilon however is another letdown. This hyper-advanced race has this special key that could unlock the power of a “demat” gun. First, let’s talk about that for those who don’t know. A “demat” gun is short for dematerialization gun. Unlike other guns that utterly obliterate the target, this one erases the target from history effectively making it so that the target never existed. But the key to it looks like any of hundreds of skeleton keys we have back in my mom’s old center hall colonial. Believe me, I’d go get all of them if I thought I could make a top secret weapon, but I’m not that gullible. But from a visual perspective for the show, that was disappointing. They couldn’t have made a hypercube for the key? Something that didn’t look so… key-like?
On the other hand, another great thing about this story is that we get to see so much more of the interior of the TARDIS. This was marvelous as a kid as I got to see the pool and the art gallery but having seen it again as an adult, it’s a huge letdown. There’s nothing Gallifreyan about the interior of the TARDIS. It doesn’t look futuristic or otherworldly. In fact, it looks suspiciously like the interior of a hospital. That’s mostly because it was the interior of a hospital. At least the visuals were improved by Rodan. Not the giant pterodactyl that Godzilla fights, although I bet if she has a TARDIS of her own I know what the materialization noise sounds like! I’m talking about the Time Lady. I nearly fell in love with her in that episode, but I didn’t stay on Gallifrey to get married, unlike some people… Which brings me to Leela. C’mon, Leela! What are you, Jo Grant? You met Andred while he was pointing a gun at you and your best friend! How did you fall for him??? Do you see his hat? (Again, not a euphemism!) You’re going to stay on Gallifrey, the most inhospitable planet for a savage, and what? Have kids?? Imagine the arguments about how to raise them? “I know you said he should get off the computer and go outside, but he’s not good at hurling a spear to catch his lunch!” And frankly this whole point could have been avoided with one question: how is it that Sarah Jane was not allowed to go to Gallifrey, but Leela was?
Since it is their week at the Junkyard, I’ll jump back to the Sontarans for one more comment: Stor was my least favorite Sontaran of them all. I genuinely do see how different they look and Stor is by far the ugliest. Now, I know I’m doing the very thing I don’t like when the Doctor does, but I’m not the hero of the story so I claim immunity! Stor has these dark lips and deep, sunken eyes that scream “rotten” from the very soul of his cloned race. Styre was a reasonably handsome Sontaran, as was his precursor, Linx. Stike isn’t a great looker, but he had height that made him imposing. Stor looks like an old, tired General… which, come to think of it, is probably exactly the look they were going for, so kudos to the makeup team. But, to quote the Doctor, I still didn’t like his face.
The Invasion of Time is a 6 part story but due to the strangely designed format, it flows very quickly. Seeing Gallifrey, Borusa, the deeper TARDIS interior and a room made of lead gears alone make it worth watching. It’s not my favorite Baker story, but it certainly is a good one. Now unless I’m mistaken, I just heard the sound of giant flapping wings, which I suspect might be a certain someone’s TARDIS coming to visit. More on the Sontaran’s later this week… RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Ribos Operation