Nov 10

Time Reconsidered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Who Eps: #12 THE INVASION OF TIME

FT9 comments • 652 views

or “built like a brick shipmaze

… being a show-by-show TARDIS-esque (ie in effect random) exploration of Doctor Who Soup to Nuts, begun at LJ’s diggerdydum community, and crossposted at FT.

Massive epochal 1978 six-parter THE INVASION OF TIME, in which FOUR aka BadBaker aka BB makes himself COMBINATION TIMEH!TLER AND TIMEJUD4S on his absurd august homeworld Gallifrey, faffs around with the constitutional separation of powers established by the legendary RASSILON, uncovers imcompetence, corruption and twee idiocy among the upper layer of his own people, and an INVASION PLOT from — WHO COULD IT POSSIBLY BE FROM? The one tiny clue is a picture on the DVD! Viz a maximum-spoilers REVEAL of the sekrit invaders.

i: If there is any invasive entity actually more stupid and useless than the fkn SONTARANS, it has to be the fkn VARDANS. Twerpy and adenoidal where the militaristic potatohead clones are oafish and counterproductively whispery, the Vs are at their BEST when manifesting as trembling veils of double-exposure bacofoil. Their telepathy doesn’t seem to be any more plot-fruitfully effective than listening through a wall with a drinking glass — still, it’s not as massively annoying as the kill-me-here vent that the S’s build into their warsuits. And what’s with sub am-dram voice-acting of the various lead invader-aliens? The Gallifreyans are an RSC masterclass by contrast.
ii: All BB’s maddening gurning-at-camera tics and show-offy “counter-intuitive” inspiration-improv business actually for once WORK WITH THE PLOT hurrah. He is simultaneously playing a self-chosen role in which he’s maybe gone insane — the viewer isn’t meant to be sure for a while — and been driven insane by various pressures including having to watch The Matrix trilogy access the Matrix. Since BB behaves like this ALL THE TIME, it’s a welcome change for the shtick actually to have dramatic purpose. Ditto — for a wonder — K9, who is much more tart roboworkdoggy here than he is cute pet.
iii: For a pretty LONG story the pacing and tension is surprisingly good — in effect the viewer has five eps of not knowing wtf is going on, then one of Escher-esque runaround through the endless self-similar passageways, underground car-parks, sickbays and vivariums of the TARDIS. Plot confusion is achieved by a) BB’s habit of never telling anyone his plans*, combined with b) a multiple crisscross of social groups, inc, TWO sets of invaders, and THREE gallifreyan political parties (the old-skool feat.Chancellor Borusa, the moderniser-appeasers feat.,Castellan Kelner and haha the GREENS who wear animal skins and live in a sandpit).
iv: The decadent ramshackle goofiness of Gallifrey — silly costumes, silly rituals, everyone suspicious of one another — is I think the story’s best aspect. Yes, a lot of it’s semaphor, and it’s hardly profound commentary on political economy, but the idea that this is a fractured and confused culture with a history, a politics, a political mythos, and little clue which bits of itself work and which don’t, this is a HYUUUGE advance on most whovian strawfoe sketches. Yes I’m looking at YOU, o very lame potato-people of Sontar.
v: Leela starts the story swimming naked in the TARDISpool — actually she’s not but she’s filmed to suggest she is — and barely dresses thereafter, in a final SOMETHINGFORtheDADS spasm. As usual when she’s at large in overevolved and overcivilised societies, her impatient uneducated bloodthirsty bluntness, which ought to feel overused and one-note, is a tonic (“don’t call me MADAM!” and waving her knife around). Possibly because she’s never baffled or downcast, no matter how out of her depth she ought to be.** The big farewell scene is surprisingly unmawkishly handled: her trust and care for the doctor met with his usual arrogant public contempt; and barely better private concession to himself — “Yes, I’ll miss you, savage”
vi: i blinked and missed the mechanism by which BB blew up only the Sontarans and the gun he wasn’t supposed to have made ftb TIMEH!TLER — everything went to whiteout, then he sauntered back all memorywiped. Actually there’s quite a lot of intricate plotstuff in this story that they hurry through a bit. I doubt we’re missing anything. Some writers like to get this kind of stuff pinpoint neat: but I don’t think these ones gave a tuppeny stuff. How is BB just allowed to wander off if he’s president?
vii: yay for the TARDIS and its extensive labyrinthine whitewashed brickwork basement! I suddenly realised — as the poolroom scene&gag turned up — that this was an ep and an idea I’d watched and loved as a teen. I continue to think it’s neat and funny. Actually so is the fact that Gallifrey’s forcefield is run from a smashed-up lumber-room full of seemingly broken or discarded machinery. Gallifrey is basically Gormenghast.

**Actual favourite exchange, between likeable Gallyfreyan nerdgirl RODAN and Leela:
R: But reason dictates…!
L: then reason is a LIAR!

I was warned that this ep is undermined by massive SFX cheapo crapness and endless fannydangle runaround. But I loved all that: esp. when the Great Key of Rassilon turns out to be a rubbishy rusty old shed key. Any time ever watching a Sontaran is time wasted — even when you’re enjoying that they can never get their helmets on straight — but they’re not around much, and there’s a terrific unremoved blooper at one point, where one of them msjudges how robust a poolchair is going to be if he jumps on it, and very nearly brains himself as he stumbles, HURRAH! Basically the plot is as inexplicably windingly labyrinthine as the lower floors of the TARDIS, and all the better for it — the tension comes from the fact that Leela and K9 utterly trust BB, and his old teacher Berusa sorta kinda does too, or DOES HE? Is entertained by his pupil, anyway. And somehow this is enough to pull us in and chivvy us through.


  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 15 Nov 2010 #

    IOT has one of the top moments of Doctor Who trauma when the Doctor locks Leela out of the TARDIS to face a firing squad and she hammers on the door.

    The story was written over a weekend by the script editor, Anthony Read, when another script fell through. They needed to use existing sets and costumes, hence the Gallifrey setting.

    When you get around to ‘The Time Warrior’, the first (Pertwee) appearance of the Sontarans, you *might* be agreeably surprised, Mark. Its the only time that the costume works anyway, although it this initial version was abandoned after it suffocated the actor.

  2. 2

    I actually remember The Time Warrior pretty well from watching as a timelord I mean as a tiny myself. Even then I found the shoot-vent-here thing irritating. But I was suitably impressed when he first took his helmet off, yes.

  3. 3
    thefatgit on 15 Nov 2010 #

    The Sontaran’s cultural successor:


  4. 4
    lonepilgrim on 15 Nov 2010 #

    is this thread the most appropriate place to note this news item?


  5. 5
    A.N. English-Teacher on 18 Nov 2010 #

    What you say is entertaining – the adolescent manner of writing less so. This breathless idiolect (all GRATUITOUS CAPITALS and subjoycean gabble in the stile of n molesworth cheers cheers) is, to be honest, very hard to follow. It seems that your focus is on entertaining yourself rather than on communication.

    Why not take a leaf out of Tom’s book and put your efforts into clarity rather than self-indulgence?

  6. 6
    Kit on 19 Nov 2010 #

    I’m indulged, for one.

    The expansive interiors of the TARDIS pool in this caused a disconnect in my brain watching repeats of this as a wee lad – I’d learned to read film stock as exteriors and video as interiors, so it made no sense that the “brickwork basement” was liminally presented as “outside,” in Who’s visual language.

  7. 7
    Tom on 19 Nov 2010 #

    I love Mark S’ style, particularly on his Who reviews!

    I don’t feel any great need to rewatch this particular episode tho. Kit is right about the film stock/video stock thing – there are a few examples of Who playing this kind of trick – a lot of them around this time – and when it was pointed out to me I thought “oh YES, that’s why it feels ‘wrong'”

  8. 8
    Andrew F on 23 Nov 2010 #

    One of the cliffhangers in Robots of Death has that effect – accurately I think as the Doctor has stepped from A.N. Corridor to a dangerous room open to the outside world (and the bits of the outside world that try to fall on him)

  9. 9
    lonepilgrim on 23 Nov 2010 #

    there’s an interesting interview with Michael Moorcock re. his forthcoming Dr Who book plus a sweep through some of his past achievements here:

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