Category Archives: season 15

The Invasion of Time

The Invasion of Time picks up where The Deadly Assassin left off, with the Doctor exploiting Gallifrey’s ridiculous legal system again, this time to become President of the Time Lords. Why would he want to do that? Well, that’s where the mystery lies.

I'm still not entirely sure what the Doctor's plan entailed. Keep the invaders out by letting them in?

I’m still not entirely sure what the Doctor’s plan entailed. Keep the invaders out by letting them in?

It’s clear from the start that the Doctor is not behaving his usual self. This is the most crazed, absent-minded and bizarre he has ever been portrayed. Tom Baker’s ability to perform a masterful display of confusion, anger and misdirection is used by the writers here as an important plot point, since he must shield his true intentions from the invading Vardans. He does it brilliantly.

The Doctor offers the Vardans a jellybaby.

The Doctor offers the Vardans a jellybaby.

Sadly, the Vardans are not well developed villains. Aside from learning they can transmit themselves across energy waves and read minds (while appearing as shimmery tinfoil apparitions), it is later revealed that they are in fact human (what?). Once defeated, it’s as if the story ends and a new one begins, as they were actually being used by the Sontarans. It’s a tacked on ending, culminating in a chase through the corridors of the Tardis, which look like an old school or a warehouse and not in the least bit alien.

Sontarans are all supposed to be identical clones. That doesn't work out so well.

Sontarans are all supposed to be identical clones. That doesn’t work out so well.

The writing is witty, with plenty of funny lines from the Doctor and others, but it can be a bit too light-hearted for the situation. While the mystery lasts, the early parts of the story are quite good. I always enjoy some universe-building in sci-fi, and seeing the capital city of the Time Lords is a pleasure. We even see the wastelands arounds the city this time (albeit this is just some plains filmed through a red filter), and meet the Doctor’s old mentor, Borusa. For a season finale, it’s a suitably “big” storyline. What could be bigger than the Time Lords’ own planet threatened? But sadly it’s not very well thought out and doesn’t end well. Stor, the Sontaran captain, threatens to destroy the entire galaxy with a grenade he’s holding. Just think about that for a second: the entire GALAXY? Did someone tell the writer “quick, make up the biggest threat you can think of for the ending, don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense!”.

Completely out of the blue, Leela remains behind with Andred. I will miss her.

Completely out of the blue, Leela remains behind with Andred. I will miss her.

Finally, another sad note is the departure of Leela. I actually saw this coming, but I had expected her to remain in the wastelands and help the savages outside. Instead, these are quickly forgotten about and instead she falls in love with Andred the guard and stays behind with him. So stupid, and what a waste of a meaningful exit. She also keeps K-9 with her, which might actually mean something, except the Doctor leaves with a box with the words “K-9 Mk.II” written on it. Oh dear.

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Underworld

There are some interesting ideas in Underworld. The Time Lords being gods to an ancient species who destroyed themselves and now seek a new home to repopulate their race is an intriguing concept. Set at the fringes of the known universe, the story also deals with stellar phenomena like planets forming within nebulae, and a second ship of colonists who have survived beneath the surface, only to serve as a slave race for a computer called the Oracle.

The Minyan ship is trapped beneath the rocky debris, almost becoming the heart of a new planet.

The Minyan ship is trapped beneath the rocky debris, almost becoming the heart of a new planet.

Sadly, it is at this point that the story takes a turn for the dull. Part 1 is quite exciting, I like the industrial design and the production values are good. But once beneath the surface, it’s a tedious sequence of chases through caves while the two groups fight it out. They don’t even use real caves, the vast majority of the episodes take place on a chroma key backdrop with some caves pasted in afterwards. It doesn’t look good.

Trapped after a cave-in. Don't worry, K-9 to the rescue - puppy power!

Trapped after a cave-in. Don’t worry, K-9 to the rescue – puppy power!

It’s not really explained how the Oracle came to be, nor from where the two robot guards originated. I like the idea of mission directives becoming ancient prophecies over thousands of years, but it isn’t well explored, nor is the idea of the Time Lords as gods, or the Doctor attempting to correct the mistakes of his people. Tricking the Oracle by swapping out the canisters with the explosives is also a pretty cheap way to end the story. There’s an attempt to tie the events into mythology, but it falls flat.

The Doctor mocks the Oracle. "You are NOTHING!"

The Doctor mocks the Oracle. “You are NOTHING!”

It’s not that there’s nothing to like, it’s just that the good ideas are not expanded upon satisfyingly, and the story somehow manages to drag even with just four parts. Some of it is good, but I was pretty bored in the middle.

The Sun Makers

Science fiction can be a powerful tool to convey ideas and opinions, by taking real world issues and abstracting them into a fantastical context. This can be done with subtlety and grace, or, in this case, as bluntly as a sledgehammer.

The Doctor and Leela stop Cordo from throwing himself off a building.

The Doctor and Leela stop Cordo from throwing himself off a building.

It’s an Orwellian nightmare, a farcical depiction of capitalism and religion gone mad, and I bloody loved it. An all-powerful company that works its people to the bone and charges them for the privilege of breathing, and even of dying! Its characters are obviously written as archetypes: a cackling ruler who revels in suffering, a snivelling servant with delusions of grandeur, and the downtrodden workforce wallowing in self-pity. Perhaps it’s too ridiculous to be believable, but that makes it all the more compelling. However silly, its themes are as relevant now as they ever were.

Gatherer Hade and The Collector.

Gatherer Hade and The Collector.

The writing is sharp, witty, intelligent, and the Doctor and Leela are on absolutely top form here. I have decided that Leela is my favourite Doctor Who companion of all so far, cemented finally by her scene with the underground rebels, in which she shows bravery, loyalty and honour in the face of cowardice. Meanwhile, K-9’s stun gun is used as a convenient get-out device, much like I predicted. However, I cannot be angry at that lovable little dog – his droopy tail when he’s told off is just adorable.

Leela leads a rescue attempt for the Doctor.

Leela leads a rescue attempt for the Doctor.

Despite the fact that the story is set on Pluto, the setting is decidedly Earth-like (although this is explained away in the plot). That said, I found the on-location filming to have a realism to it that worked really well here, even when it was just some corridors or the roof of a building. But, ultimately, it’s all about the plot, the ideas and the characters within it. This, really, is what science fiction is all about.

Image of the Fendahl

The third story from writer Chris Boucher again features an extended cast of likeable characters, and delivers another spooky mystery. However, this time, I feel the plot gets too tangled up in itself. I must admit, I was drifting off a little around part 2 or 3, and it never fully grabbed me.

The gestalt entity of the Fendahl, inhabiting Thea's body.

The gestalt entity of the Fendahl, inhabiting Thea’s body.

I’m not sure I could adequately summarise the plot. It mixes alien mythology with exogenesis and an energy lifeform preserved inside a glowing skull. Somehow, energy from an erased planet has passed through generations of space to find Earth, possibly guided our evolutionary path in order to make us viable hosts. Meanwhile, a cult has, for some reason, taken to this lifeform, the Fendahl, as a goddess, sacrificed a woman to host the creature, and then been betrayed when the Fendahl hypnotises them and turns other people into giant slugs? Which are also psychic but killed by salt. M’kay!

Leela saves the Doctor from the glowing skull by knocking him away and he falls on top of her. Though this could have easily led to some cliched sexual tension, there is none. The Doctor is all business. Well, business and jellybabies.

Leela saves the Doctor from the glowing skull by knocking him away and he falls on top of her. Though this could have easily led to some cliched sexual tension, there is none. The Doctor is all business. Well, business and jellybabies.

When the Doctor is basically pushing the plot forward by spouting technobabble, while the others look on in confusion, something has gone a bit wrong. Tom Baker manages to bring this nonsense to life, but it’s the human factor that makes the best moments of this serial. Whether it’s healing a shocked old woman by talking about fruitcake, or more solemn moments like handing a gun to doomed Max and saying “I’m sorry”, it’s these moments of humanity that make the Doctor such a compelling character. No theatrics, he quietly deals with it and moves on. Sometimes, people just can’t be saved.

Earlier, Max shoots Fendelman in the head. Off-screen, admittedly, but that's pretty dark for a family show in the 70s.

Earlier, Max shoots Fendelman in the head. Off-screen, admittedly, but that’s pretty dark for a family show in the 70s.

Image of the Fendahl is not averse to some dark themes, nor does it shy away from death, but it’s also quite funny in places too. It’s this mix of darkness and humour that I think plays so well, even today, and makes for some of the most entertaining episodes. The plot may have bored me a little, it may have been overly hokey and mystical for its own good, but at its heart remains a formula that works.

The Invisible Enemy

It’s the 50th century and mankind has ventured out into the solar system, but when a routine shipping vessel is attacked by a strange lightning cloud in space, the crew undergoes some bizarre changes.

The shuttle experiences a space anamoly. Somehow, electricity carries a biological virus, because... erm.

The shuttle experiences a space anamoly. Somehow, electricity carries a biological virus, because… erm.

I must say, for a story that deals with people becoming possessed by a virus that threatens to spread throughout the solar system, this is surprisingly breezy. The humour that has developed over the past few seasons is still here, but there is no real sense of threat or urgency to go with it. It’s all a bit lighthearted, while the plot is brisk and somewhat flakey. One moment they’re fighting for their lives against the infected crew, the next they’re whisked off to a hospital, the next they’re making shrunken clones of themselves and running around inside the Doctor’s brain. Weird.

For a lot of this story, the Doctor is either possessed or unconscious. It makes a change.

For a lot of this story, the Doctor is either possessed or unconscious. It makes a change.

This lightheartedness is also apparent in the show’s newest companion, the robo-dog K-9, who may as well be called Scrappy-do. K-9 is one of the few classic Doctor Who things that I’m aware of, so it’s nice to see where he came from. With his handy built-in stun-gun, I suspect he will be used as a convenient get-out clause whenever the pot calls for it… but that remains to be seen.

The paper print-out looks like a little tongue, aww!

The paper print-out looks like a little tongue, aww!

For the most part, the production in this story is actually really good. Some of the model work is excellent and the sets have a good futuristic style to them. The odd spelling on some of the signs caught my eye (“shutle” and “egsit”) – I’m assuming it was intentional, perhaps showing an evolution of language. Can anyone shed any light on this?

The villains are not very memorable, aside from the fact that the infected people grow hairy hands (wha-?!) and mutter catchphrases like ”we serve the purpose”.

The villains are not very memorable, aside from the fact that the infected people grow hairy hands (wha-?!) and mutter catchphrases like ”we serve the purpose”.

Elsewhere, however, things take a turn for the corny. The laser and electricity effects throughout all look a bit rubbish, the nucleus parasite costume is hilariously wobbly, and then there’s the frankly bizarre trip though the Doctor’s brain cells, in which the carbon clones are apparently able to walk around unhindered in the microscopic world. Sure, that was funny when Futurama did the same thing, but in a more serious sci-fi, it comes across very corny.

The laughably bad parasitic nucleus is made larger in the embiggening booth.

The laughably bad parasitic nucleus is made larger in the embiggening booth.

While I do appreciate a change in tone now and again, this was a bit weak. Full of “big” ideas but it rushes through them without consequence or drama.

Horror of Fang Rock

You know what would be genuinely new? If the alien of the week WASN’T a savage killing machine. If it was a friendly or benevolent creature who simply misunderstood what it was doing and didn’t intend to kill or enslave. Sci-fi is more interesting when it isn’t just man versus beast. However, it wouldn’t really be a “horror” then, and for what it’s worth, Horror of Fang Rock does do the traditional horror setup pretty well.

The Doctor and Reuben look out to sea atop the lighthouse.

The Doctor and Reuben look out to sea atop the lighthouse.

The shipwreck is slightly too convenient a way to get another group of characters together into the lighthouse, especially after the timing of the Doctor and Leela’s arrival has already pushed convenience to a point. These characters are mostly unlikeable, from the money-minded businessman to the hysterical fainting woman, so it’s no great loss when they are offed by the monster.

Disguised as Reuben, the creature effortlessly kills Lady Adelaide.

Disguised as Reuben, the creature effortlessly kills Lady Adelaide.

I have to say that Leela is an absolute star in this, with such fantastically blunt lines as “you will do as the Doctor instructs or I will cut out your heart” (she really means it, too!) and later giving the hysterical woman a slap around the face for screaming. With a strong sense of loyalty and no fear of death, she is the most interesting companion the show has had so far. The Doctor also takes his lighthearted humour to new levels, at one point exclaiming “good news” before calmly pointing out that everyone is probably going to die by the morning.

The cast of soon-be-deads.

The cast of soon-be-deads.

And he’s right. The creature kills everybody, except for the Doctor and Leela, which is pretty bleak, isn’t it? The stakes are raised when the creature is identified as the first of an invasion fleet, but thankfully the Doctor manages to destroy the arriving mothership using a laser beam made from the lighthouse beacon and a large diamond (from a bag of diamonds that he hilariously discards).

The Doctor has a lovely chat with the Rutan, before killing it with fire.

The Doctor has a lovely chat with the Rutan, before killing it with fire.

With a voice like a Dalek and the appearance of a soggy cabbage with tentacles, the Rutan creature turns out to be not such a scary beast – but they sensibly keep him hidden until the end, and use his shape-changing ability for misdirection. In that respect, it’s quite effective and keeps the tension up. This is a pretty solid story, then, elevated to something much better by witty writing. Over the years, I’ve watched this show gradually replace melodrama with irreverence, adding wit and charm to horror and fear, and now it handles stories like this with confidence and conviction. There is warmth within the cold.