The Invasion of Time ***

In a very silly, shoddy six-parter set on Gallifrey, Sontarans arrive, Leela departs and the Tardis has brick walls

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Doctor Who story guide
Mark Braxton
Mark Braxton
The Invasion of Time ***

Season 15 – Story 97

"Don't you care about your world being invaded by alien warmongers? These are Sontaran shock troops… a few, still, but soon there'll be thousands, millions, threatening time itself" - the Doctor

Storyline

An out-of-character Doctor arrives on Gallifrey claiming presidency of the Time Lords. In apparent collusion with the telepathic Vardans, he expedites their arrival by making K•9 deactivate the planet's defences. His behaviour is intended to deflect Vardan suspicion; he even banishes Leela from the citadel in case she derails his plan. As Leela joins a fighting force of exiled Time Lords, K•9 helps the Doctor eject the Vardans, only to lay the way open for a Sontaran influx. When the newcomers' offensive is repelled, Leela stays behind with Chancellery guard Andred, and K•9 joins her. Departing in the Tardis, the Doctor unboxes a new version of the robot.

First transmissions
Part 1 - Saturday 4 February 1978
Part 2 - Saturday 11 February 1978
Part 3 - Saturday 18 February 1978
Part 4 - Saturday 25 February 1978
Part 5 - Saturday 4 March 1978
Part 6 - Saturday 11 March 1978

Production
Location filming: November/December 1977 at British Oxygen, Hammersmith; St Anne's Hospital and Beachfields quarry in Redhill, Surrey
Filming: November 1977 at Bray Studios
OB recording: November/December 1977 at St Anne's Hospital, Redhill, Surrey
Studio recording: November 1977 in TC8

Cast
Doctor Who - Tom Baker
Leela - Louise Jameson
Voice of K•9 - John Leeson
Borusa - John Arnatt
Andred - Chris Tranchell
Castellan Kelner - Milton Johns
Rodan - Hilary Ryan
Lord Gomer - Dennis Edwards
Lord Savar - Reginald Jessup
Gold usher - Charles Morgan
Ablif - Ray Callaghan
Jasko - Michael Mundell
Nesbin - Max Faulkner
Presta - Gai Smith
Vardans - Stan McGowan, Tom Kelly
Stor - Derek Deadman
Sontaran - Stuart Fell
Bodyguard - Michael Harley
Guard - Christopher Christou
Castellan guard - Eric Danot

Crew
Writer - David Agnew (a pseudonym for Graham Williams and Anthony Read)
Incidental music - Dudley Simpson
Designer - Barbara Gosnold
Script editor - Anthony Read
Producer - Graham Williams
Director - Gerald Blake

RT Review by Mark Braxton
A return to Gallifrey, feral Time Lords, Sontarans on the march, new aliens and a departing companion… classy ingredients certainly, but the result was a dog's dinner. The reasons for such a disappointment are manifold, and it's no surprise to find the writers hiding under an invisibility cloak.

Had Robert Holmes accepted an invitation to write a sequel to his bracing 1976 thriller The Deadly Assassin, The Invasion of Time might have been a classic. But he didn't, a set of David Weir scripts about killer cats proved unusable, and producer Graham Williams and script editor Anthony Read had a white-knuckle ride scraping something together before the deadline.

And that wasn't the end of the nightmare. At the pre-production stage, Louise Jameson declared that she would be hanging up her leathers at the end of the season (more on that later), and an industrial dispute mangled the shooting schedule.

It would be mercenary to appraise the story without taking all these factors into account. But such horrors have befallen the show before, with a vastly more favourable outcome. Sweet are the uses of adversity, you might say. Sadly, not on this occasion.

Inept sequences abound, dampening any drama with impressive regularity. Here are my favourites:
1 The flapping cloaks worn by the Chancellery guards tangle in their legs as they walk.
2 The tin-foil invading force is weedy in sound and vision - the Vardans' ultimate configuration of three blokes in Action Man fatigues is appropriately anticlimactic.
3 Everyone who walks along corridors has to negotiate the insane architecture, reducing an impassioned stride to a nervous zigzag. Quite who the dwarf plastic chairs are supposed to provide comfort for is anyone's guess.
4 A Chancellery guard, using thick gauntlets, tries to unlock the Tardis with an assortment of perspex Play School shapes.
5 A Sontaran stumbles on one poolside chair and, when another is thrown at him, he falls and places himself down a step next to the pool with weird deliberation.

The Invasion of Time got off to a poor start with the casting: for every example of a canny yin, there is a jarring yang. John Arnatt's Borusa is a triumph of old-school disapproval and grizzled rectitude, but the Vardans look like they've been pulled in off the street. As the unctuous Kelner, Milton Johns fits like a glove, being suitably… Milton Johns-ish, but Derek Deadman's asthmatic Stor is a fiasco. I've enjoyed Mr Deadman's work elsewhere, but I won't accept a cockney Sontaran ("force feeyoowd"; "the uwtimate goaw"). His jaundiced fright-mask heightens the misery.

It's a shame because the Sontarans' shock entrance is an ace up the sleeve. The idea of one alien race riding on the coattails of another is an excellent one. As is the Doctor's apparent duplicity, and his rejection of a companion. For two episodes we wonder what our hero is playing at. And that's good for the show, even if Tom Baker's Doctor in shouty mode is deeply unattractive.

Let's also give praise to the models and space shots, taking Doctor Who visual effects into uncharted areas of sturdy respectability.

But back to that infamous departure. Louise Jameson often expressed her wish for Leela to go out in a blaze of glory. Instead her fiery savage, a woman who lives for the hunt, hooks up with a glorified security man with unseemly haste and stays on Gallifrey. For this we can lay the blame squarely at the door of Graham Williams, who'd been irked by the timing of Jameson's announcement. "I'm afraid that was me in a tiff for which I can only apologise," he once said. Tiff or not, it reduced one of the show's greatest companions to undeserving ignominy.

Apart from one excellent line ("Discussion is for the wise or the helpless, and I am neither"), Leela is underwritten throughout. Skipping gamely around in tiny bleached skins, Jameson must have been horribly self-conscious on set. And the Doctor is so dismissive of her that we end up being glad she rejects him. Leela was so much more than a sidekick; she was an assertive, gung-ho heroine in her own right. If only Williams had gone down the Adric route and written her into self-sacrificing immortality.

To think that fans criticised The Deadly Assassin for its prosaic demystification of the Doctor's people. In The Invasion of Time the wastelands of Gallifrey are a sandpit, the Time Lords are camp tittle-tattlers ("Aren't you due for regeneration?") and the voluminous bowels of the Tardis are reduced to one brick warehouse and a hospital.

The parting shot of Baker smiling at the camera (there are other examples of fourth-wall demolition) encapsulates the story's silliness and signals the comedy territory into which Doctor Who would soon plunge headlong.

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Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

[Available on BBC DVD]