The Invisible Enemy ★★

A change in tone for Who – less horror, more humour and the arrival of K•9

154

Season 15 – Story 93

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“It is the right of every creature across the universe to survive, multiply and perpetuate its species. How else does the predator exist?” – the Nucleus

Storyline
An intelligent virus – the Nucleus of the Swarm – infects the Doctor aboard the Tardis, which lands on Saturn’s moon Titan around the year AD 5000. The personnel of a refuelling station, and a shuttle relief crew arriving there, are also contaminated. Before lapsing into a coma, the Doctor instructs Leela how to pilot the Tardis to a local hospital asteroid. Here Professor Marius, assisted by his “personal data bank”, K•9, clones the time travellers and injects them into the Doctor’s blood stream to fight the parasite…

First transmissions
Part 1 – Saturday 1 October 1977
Part 2 – Saturday 8 October 1977
Part 3 – Saturday 15 October 1977
Part 4 – Saturday 22 October 1977

Production
Filming: April 1977 at Bray Studios
Studio recording: April 1977 in TC6

Cast
Doctor Who – Tom Baker
Leela – Louise Jameson
Voice of K•9 – John Leeson
Professor Marius – Frederick Jaeger
Lowe – Michael Sheard
Safran – Brian Grellis
Meeker – Edmund Pegge
Silvey – Jay Neill
Parsons – Roy Herrick
Marius’s nurse – Elizabeth Norman
Ophthalmologist – Jim McManus
Cruikshank – Roderick Smith
Hedges – Kenneth Waller
Medic – Pat Gorman
Reception nurse – Nell Curran
Crewman – Anthony Rowlands
Nucleus – John Scott Martin
Nucleus voice – John Leeson

Crew
Writers – Bob Baker, Dave Martin
Incidental music – Dudley Simpson
Designer – Barry Newbery
Script editor – Robert Holmes
Producer – Graham Williams
Director – Derrick Goodwin

RT Review by Mark Braxton
After the fog and corpses of the Hinchcliffe throwback Horror of Fang Rock came a sharp contrast, and a new direction: a kidified, Poundland Star Wars.

Under unequivocal instruction from on high, new producer Graham Williams was told to tone down the programme’s violence and to increase its humour. Perhaps also influenced by the global sensation of Luke Skywalker and co at the cinema, Williams went out all guns blazing. If only the guns looked like they worked…

An effects-heavy outing, The Invisible Enemy opens in such a way as to demonstrate the drawbacks of such an approach on budget-compromised drama. The first shot of a colourful starfield is an impressive one; unfortunately the second is of a spaceship wobbling its way through an asteroid field.

To be fair, many of the effects are excellent. Such were the requirements of this mini space opera that two VFX designers were needed instead of one. While Tony Harding had just three weeks to create K•9 for the first studio session, Ian Scoones used Bray Studios rather than the BBC’s own stages to film the model sequences. Which may explain why the excellent Titan base sequences resemble the sort of thing Brian Johnson was creating for Space: 1999.

Unfortunately, for every scene of a shuttle descending smoothly below ground, there’s a ship twirling out of control that looks like a loo roll pushed down some string. And there you have it: success and failure in precarious juxtaposition. It’s evident not just in the special effects but in the ambition of the serial as a whole.

A space station, shuttle interior, space hospital, a new Tardis control room, the inside of a brain… Baker and Martin’s romping yarn brings out the best in veteran designer Barry Newbery, who does a splendid job. I especially like the linguistic corruption that has resulted in signs saying “ISOLAYSHUN” and “EGSIT”.

But some of the action that takes place within the sets is unbelievably incompetent. In one scene, an infected human shoots his gun, point-blank and yet still ineffectually, at K•9, who in return fires a partially visible laser-beam at the man’s genitals. The man clasps his groin, accidentally dislodges a supposedly rigid marble column and collapses, kicking the column a few more inches for good measure. Just six seconds long but a total disaster from start to finish.

Thankfully the programme welcomes back a couple of old hands to anchor proceedings. Frederick Jaeger, so excellent in Planet of Evil, here plays the endearing Professor Marius. He sounds like Heinz Wolff and looks like an art curator from an episode of Wallander. And Michael “Mr Bronson” Sheard returns for his fourth story to date, this time in the thankless role of foremost human infectee Lowe.

Under harsh lighting and against pristine white sets, Louise Jameson has lost her tan as Leela and, back in her loincloth, looks unsurprisingly ill at ease. Not that she gives anything less than her usual 100 per cent as the sassy savage (“I am not ashamed of what I am”).

The Doctor, once again, rubbishes Leela’s sixth sense (with what sounds like a certain vehemence from Baker, too), and doesn’t acquit himself with any great heroism. Destroying an entire life form, something that would once have been anathema to him, he chuckles at his own mischief: “That was a good idea of mine, K•9, to blow it up.”

On the subject of K•9, the birth and operation of the metal mongrel was blighted with mechanical distemper. “Many retakes were necessitated by problems with K•9,” Barry Newbery has said. “It was a right pain because it hardly ever worked.” But for Graham Williams, the opportunity to corral a younger audience was too good to miss.

K•9’s overhaul for the rebooted Doctor Who has gone a long way to curing me of my cynophobia. And in any case, Williams was proved right: K•9 has his own series now, for goodness’ sake!

A provisional and better title for this traumatic four-parter was The Enemy Within. The Nucleus of the Swarm may initially have been microscopic, but not invisible: the Fantastic Voyage-style technology makes it a level playing field for hero and foe. Many say the creature should have stayed out of sight, but I’m rather fond of the ferocious prawn and the way it has to be trolleyed around by its minions after being extracted from the Doctor’s brain.

With The Invisible Enemy, Graham Williams bit off more than he could chew. The show didn’t yet bear his distinctive stamp, and in the very next serial he even reverted to a tried-and-trusted formula…

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Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

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[Available on BBC DVD]