13 December 2021: not really a review of Flux added.
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THE INVASION OF TIME
"One grows tired of jellybabies, Castellan."
Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK
Good grief. What a mess.
The Invasion of Time is horrible, and unforgivably so at that. Because of production problems, Graham Williams had the option of dropping the story and using the budget for the next season. Instead of that, he chose to visit on us this flaccidly scripted, unevenly toned, meandering, underbudgeted disaster. It lets down the Doctor, it lets down Leela, it lets down the Time Lords and most of all it lets down the audience. And thank you, yes, we will say what we think.
Supposedly, Invasion Of Time's strength is in the Big Idea of the Doctor appearing to be a traitor bent on nefarious evil. We say bollocks to that. There can't be a single audience member with an IQ above cornflake level who thinks for one second that this is really the case. So we sit back, admiring Tom's thespy skills and wondering vaguely when we're going to find out what's really going on. Not very gripping, is it?
So having found out that the main hook of the story is at best mildly interesting, what about the rest of it? Well, it's rubbish, innit? The Deadly Assassin, while it lifted the robes to reveal the Time Lords' clay feet, still left us with an inkling of their incredible power. And it was fascinating to see the Doctor amongst his peers. But then what? Along comes Graham Williams, who in his zeal to do his very own Gallifrey story manages to reduce beings of astonishing and frankly scary clout to a pack of bumbling morons. Oh, yeah. Nice one, Graham. Not only does it make a laughing stock of the Time Lords, but it takes away Gallifrey's most fun aspect - a place where the Doctor's just one of the boys.
And what about the villains? Sad, sad, sad. Too much has been said over the years about the Vardans' tragic crinkly tinfoil for us to elaborate here, but we will say it's not surprising that in introducing them Tom bursts out laughing. The idea of beings that can surf down waves is intriguing, but very little's made of it apart from the lead-lined room, Andred's hat and the Doctor's cheesy Master-like hypnosis bit. And after totally wasting their potential, they go out with a whimper in yet another doggus ex machina ending.
But just when they think it's all over - Sontarans! And not just any Sontarans, either - comedy Sontarans. Sure, they're bowling over innocents right and left, but it's a bit of a laugh, isn't it, lads. How do these Sontarans annoy us? Let us count the ways.
For a start, there's that stupid probic vent. Millions of years of warfare, and nobody's ever thought to build a little cage around it? It's a horribly convenient get out of jail free card. Then there's that ghastly door scene. Millions of years of etc and the best they can do is to bang on it with their fists. And let's not even mention the hilarious joke ending. The door opened inwards? Stop lest we split our sides with merriment. And what about the sickbay scene, where they do such a rubbish job they manage to miss a full-grown man hiding behind a flimsy little curtain? And Stor's north London accent? And how did the Sontarans get the upper hand over beings as powerful as the Vardans anyway?
Then there’s this whole time loop stuff. We distinctly remember the Doctor saying in Fendahl that putting someone in a time loop was a criminal act. Yet here he is, blithely shoving the Vardans in like there’s no tomorrow. Which, of course, there isn’t, at least for them. What gives here, guys? Looks like it’s okay to use a time loop as long as you mean well, or if the things you’re putting in are a bit scary. So the Doctor doesn’t even consider using one for the Daleks, ‘cos the Time Lords think the Daleks are big girls’ blouses, but if there’s anything that actually threatens the Time Lords, then in they go before you can say I could swear I’ve been here before. Hmmm. Time Lord morality, eh?
So all that's pretty crap, and what's worse, it's set within a very rickety narrative framework. Pacing isn't so much off as absent without leave: it all ambles along so slowly and aimlessly, without any kind of momentum or escalation, that we wanted to get out our embroidery.
Huge swathes of stuff are in there for no discernible purpose at all: take the outside bunch story, for example. Leela slowly and tediously makes her way outside - she's been banished, no, she's got away, now she's running down a corridor, oh, now she's met Rodan, they're outside in the sandpit, they're meeting the renegade Time Lords, Leela's being staunch, Rodan's being wibbly, arrows, targets, whahey lads, let's fight the invaders, everybody back inside, ooh look, there's the Doctor, oh no, Sontarans, back to the TARDIS, oh dear, everybody's dead. What was all that about? And what about those two - two! - separate shots of feet, shall we say, padding up the stairs?
Given the rambling plot it's difficult to distinguish the stuff that should be there from the scenes there to make up the numbers. And resolving the plot with not one but two deus ex machina endings (love to know what Freud would have made of the demat gun) is an act of sheer desperation.
Characterisation's a bit of a mixed bag. The Doctor, particularly in the Dr Evil bits, is very good, of course - the nightie's not really a good look though, Tom - but there's a kind of listlessness about the whole production that makes it seem as if he's performing in a vacuum. And even he's not perfect - the way he surveys the dead guards without blinking an eye hardly rings true, and as for "I'll miss you too, savage", we can only feel grateful that Tom and Lis rewrote her leaving scene themselves.
Leela's quite strong in parts: her response to Rodan's "And if I'm right?" of "Then I am wrong. And face the consequences" is a terrific moment, her leadership is great throughout, and we love the way she takes the piss out of the Doctor's sense of direction in the TARDIS. But there's far too much of that primitive savage stuff - how come she can't understand everything the Doctor says anyway, given that translation gift thingy that's operating? And as for the Andred thing, ugh. We don't think so, do we, girls? Leela deserves to die nobly protecting the Doctor, and it's an outrage to have that girly ending thrust upon her.
As for the secondary characters, Borusa's superb, Kelner's overdone (why would they have made someone that weaselly Castellan?), Andred veers between wet and dull, and the Vardans and the Sontarans are criminal. Why, by the way, are the senior Time Lords all getting on a bit? Aren't any of them early in a regeneration? It's lazy characterisation that fits humans, not Time Lords. We quite like Rodan, though, at least when she isn't being wimpy - her "Have you got a screwdriver?" line is a classic. The outsiders, on the other hand, are a totally wasted opportunity – the idea of Time Lords who’ve rejected the system and moved outside the Citadel is a fascinating one, yet all we get is an outtake from Conan The Barbarian.
Is there anything positive about Invasion of Time? Well, actually, yes. It's not very often that the sixth part of an adventure is the best one, but that's the case in spades here. All that TARDIS stuff is entirely spurious to the plot, such as it is, but it has terrific character interaction and it's bloody hilarious. And we like all those bits of the TARDIS, too. Roundels, schmoundels - all those dingy old bits of corridor are exactly what we imagined was in there. Great stuff.
So it perks up a bit near the end, then. But it's not by any stretch of the imagination enough to redeem things. Sad, bad and dangerous to know.
MORAL: Sometimes lying's okay. No matter what your mother says.
NO, THAT ONE'S FOR THE CHANCELLOR'S MOPED
We love the way they rummage through the box of spare keys to find one that fits the TARDIS. Haven't we all been there?
GOING FOR BAROQUE
The Doctor refers to the decor of his office as "a bit rococo". Rococo? Hardly, Doctor. Time to brush up on the art history.
We were pleasantly surprised when Rodan was introduced - look, they do have women on Gallifrey after all, and she's even doing a technical-type job - until we realised that the only reason they wrote in a female character was so she could scream and be girly outside. Sigh.
NOT TO MENTION THE ROD OF RASSILON
Someone was definitely having a laugh here, what with "If you can't pull off a simple palace revolt, what can you pull off?" and the Doctor saying "Do you know what this is?" while he opens his coat like a flasher.
THAT'LL TEACH YOU, YOU IMPUDENT YOUNG PUPPY
If Andred's pistol won't work, why does the Doctor stun him? And if he needs stunning the first time, why not when he comes round?
SOME CONDITIONS APPLY
State of grace? State of bollocks.
YOU SHOULD SEE HIM FLIPPING PANCAKES
Tom tries manfully to get the crown thing onto the back of K9's head, then gives up and slings it round his ears. However, later on it's on the back of K9's head.
Is it just us, or does the dirty mark on the Doctor's face while he's destroying the force field move from his right to his left cheek and back again?
Ugh, are those pop socks we can see as Rodan scrambles up the sand? Styly.
A CHORUS LINE
That's a horribly cheesy shot as they all turn their heads in sequence to look at the Sontaran.
WATCH ME, MUMMY
There's an unintentionally delightful bit as the Sontaran falling near the swimming pool does his best to make a pretty tame fall look fantastically interesting and dangerous.
I'M HOLDING IT FOR A FRIEND
That has got to be the biggest gun that the Doctor never carries yet.
THE OLD GREY VILLAIN TEST
Why do bad guys all say Doctorr?
THERE'S NO-ONE ELSE HERE. YOU MUST BE TALKING TO ME
We're always hearing about the "Even the sonic screwdriver..." line, but how come we don't hear about the Doctor looking straight into camera and laughing at the end?
Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK