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Doctor Who XV: 21-26: The Invasion of Time

July 16th, 2011 (03:12 pm)

I'm in the middle of a wholesale reappraisal of the contents of my flat, including my collection of VHS tapes. This has led to my playing The Invasion of Time, which works rather well as background to walking in and out of the room. One notices the strengths more: Castellan Kelner in the hands of the master of unctuous officialdom, Milton Johns, alternately conspiring against his president and grovelling to feed him jelly babies; the Outsiders' dismissal of Rodan's survival skills reducing her to tears and apologies; the scenes of chamber politics and close-ups which play to the theatrical roots of studio drama and given Tom Baker the chance to deploy a range of performance which he had little opportunity to do in Doctor Who; and Louise Jameson's domination of the location scenes in Outer Gallifrey, which redeem Leela from the burden of the leaden and belittling dialogue she is given to speak in scenes with the Doctor.

Yes, the Vardans are badly-realised, there are too many chancellery guards not paying attention to staying in character, and there are characters set up for usefulness - such as Gomer and Savar, whose discussion about wavelength fluctuations in part one foreshadows both the Vardans' source of power and their weakness - who are in the event underdeveloped. However, the first few episodes aspire with some success to dramatise some 1970s popular concerns - the source of political power and authority, and the limitations of the welfare state - though little effort is made to disguise the convenience with which the Doctor can stop and divert the action with an "apt phrase", which undermines the whole.

Some Doctor Who fans of the late 1970s and early 1980s were obsessed with Gallifrey, to the extent of wishing for a season entirely set there. We were mostly would-be technocrats then; but we'd all missed the message. The Invasion of Time is about the corrosive effects of a consensus of the highly educated, unable to stand up to ideas spread by broadcasting or brute force (and the Sontarans, led by a Cockney Stor, are here working-class warriors rather than the bachelor colonial officers they are elsewhere) without innovative thinking. The anticlimax is that the status quo ante is restored at the end, with the gimmick of the Demat Gun suggesting an epic which has run out of ideas.

ETA: There's also the confusion that Derek Deadman's Sontaran mask is noticeably different between the location film footage and the studio videotape scenes. In studio, the nose appears larger and narrower and the eyes are surrounded by dark make-up which doesn't appear on location. The effect is that Stor's genetic inheritance includes some of the vampire Count Orlok from Nosferatu; what this does to my class-warrior reading of the Sontarans is beyond the scope of this post.

Comments

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 17th, 2011 12:49 am (UTC)

I doubt the specific allusions are there somehow... though the general point about 1970s anxiety that the rules have changed and the elite don't know what the new ones are or indeed are unable to conceive that there could be new ones applies just as much to the military as to any other area of society. Indeed, it applies to the BBC which is closest to home, and unable at the time to break the damaging industrial relations cycle which caused more of this episode than planned to be shot on location.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: July 16th, 2011 10:26 pm (UTC)
Me

I've always liked The Invasion of Time. It has flaws, but they are outnumbered by its strengths, particularly the extraordinarily brave opening episodes, taking the idea behind the first cliff-hanger to The Deadly Assassin and running with it for fifty minutes. Even the 'dark Doctor' of the McCoy era was never this dark, although the second Doctor came close a couple of times.

I'm not sure what you're referring to regarding "the limitations of the welfare state" and I've never noticed Stor's "noticeably different" mask! Perhaps I'm just unobservant.

You didn't mention the TARDIS interiors; I know lots of fans hate them, but they seem perfectly in keeping to me. And fun too - a dirty word in the eighties, but rehabilitated by Davies and Moffat.

Btw, slightly confused about your link on Facebook. Is that site just for selected posts from here? Or am I missing something?

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: July 16th, 2011 10:29 pm (UTC)
Me

Oh, but you're right that the ending is rubbish. The Doctor gets a big gun and shoots everyone? Ugh. "Doctor Who died for me today" etc. At the very least, a Time Lord gun should do something interesting, like wind time backwards or remove people from the timeline (cf. The War Games).

Posted by: sharaz_jek (sharaz_jek)
Posted at: July 23rd, 2011 05:37 pm (UTC)

or remove people from the timeline

Whoever wrote its entry in The Book of the War had similar thoughts.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 17th, 2011 12:44 am (UTC)

My Dreamwidth blog is basically a clone of this one, though I post from there; it also seems less prone to spamming!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 17th, 2011 12:57 am (UTC)

The 'limitations of the welfare state' is my take on Gallifrey's cradle-to-grave support for the Time Lords. Rodan has never needed to fend for herself and is entirely unprepared for the collapse of her society - this reminds me of Survivors and the survivalist subtext of some 1970s environmentalism.