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Who Review: The Invasion of Time

The Doctor is behaving very strangely. First he leaves Leela and K-9 in the TARDIS while he consults with a group of aliens. They then travel to Gallifrey, where the Doctor demands to see Chancellor Borusa, and claims the Presidency, which is his by right after the death of the last President-elect, Chancellor Goth (see “The Deadly Assassin”). He orders that the induction ceremony take place as soon as possible, and that his chambers be redecorated to his specifications. This includes lining the walls with lead. Things go from strange to stranger when the Doctor orders all aliens expelled from the Citadel, including Leela. She is forced out into the wastelands, an environment that is all too familiar to her. Then the Doctor orders K-9 to take down the transduction barrier that protects Gallifrey, and laughs when three aliens materialize to take over control of Gallifrey. Has the Doctor turned traitor? And if so, why? Is Leela’s loyalty in the Doctor, despite his actions, misplaced? Or is there more to the Doctor’s apparent insanity than meets the eye…?

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

“The Invasion of Time” is credited to David Agnew, but there is no David Agnew. This was a pseudonym oft-used in the BBC when a script editor wrote a story. Since writer and script editor are two separate jobs, and it wasn’t permitted for one person to be credited for both on-screen, it was common practice for the script editor to use an assumed name as his writer credit. In this case, “David Agnew” is script editor Anthony Read and producer Graham Williams.

The premise of the story is good and original. The last time the Doctor was seen to be turning on his friends was in “The Evil of the Daleks.” In that story, the Second Doctor had a falling out with Jamie–though it was all part of a plan to trick his adversaries. Here, the Doctor needed to get Leela out of the way for her own good, which is why he ordered her to be banished. And, of course, the whole point of allowing the aliens to invade is to have them reveal themselves so K-9 can identify their home planet and beam them back home. The twist comes, however, when we learn at the end of episode four that the Vardan invasion was a ploy to lower Gallifreyan defenses to let the real invaders in: the Sontarans.

The appearance of the Sontarans was a genuine surprise. We hadn’t seen them since the Fourth Doctor’s first season story, “The Sontaran Experiment.” And my, haven’t they grown since then! They must have been eating their Weetabix, because they have developed eyelashes, and become quite tall. The problem with this is that the Sontarans are supposed to be a clone race, so these Sontarans should look like every other Sontaran. Not only that, but these Sontaran costumes are just not very good. The original 1975 costume was far superior. I’m not sure if this is the fault of the budget, or bad design, but whatever, it’s a bit of a let-down.

The last couple of episodes are essentially devoted to the Sontarans chasing people down corridors, and then chasing the Doctor and his friends around the TARDIS. I honestly don’t recall much plot going on in these final episodes, apart from Time Lady Rodan making a rather snazzy looking Demat Gun (a very powerful weapon forbidden by the Time Lords) that the Doctor uses to kill a Sontaran (which is itself a big surprise, given how much the Fourth Doctor hates guns and violence). The blast from the Demat Gun gives the Doctor amnesia concerning the events of this adventure, though I’m not entirely sure why that’s necessary. After all, that’s a very specific amnesia: not total, and not temporary. From a story perspective, if the Doctor is going to forget a certain event or story, there ought to be a reason. And I can’t think of a single one.

Leela is in her element working with the wasteland tribe to plan an attack on the Citadel. For one last time she gets to be the Sevateem warrior, firing arrows and throwing knives. It’s also kind of cool to see more of the TARDIS, including the swimming pool and the art gallery. But this does come off as padding to make what really is a four-part story into a six-parter.

And then we have Leela’s departure, which is simply lame. LAME. Louise Jameson, who played Leela, wanted her to be killed off, since that would be a fitting and noble exit for her character. In the end, the production team decided killing Leela would be too traumatic for the children in the audience. Instead, they contrived a romance between Leela and the Time Lord guard Andred, something that no-one would have seen coming. For all the screen time they have together, there’s not a moment when they spark, or seem to show any interest in each other aside from a mutual desire to stay alive. Would Leela seriously give up travelling with the Doctor to stay on Gallifrey with a guy she hardly knows? I don’t think so. K-9 stays on Gallifrey, too–again, for reasons not entirely clear. But never mind, somehow the Doctor has K-9 Mark II in a box ready to break out for next season!

As I said, this isn’t a bad idea for a Doctor Who story at all. Even bringing the Sontarans in as a double-twist is good. There’s just such a lot wrong with the costumes, the sets (the Doctor’s lead-lined door seems extremely flimsy), the acting (especially the extras), and the overall execution of the story. If anything, watch it for the first four episodes, but after that, feel free to wander off and make tea or check your email. You won’t miss much. If the Doctor can forget anything ever happened in this story, I’m sure we can too.

Who Review: The Time Warrior

A Sontaran spaceship crash-lands on Earth in the Middle Ages. Linx, the sole occupant of the craft, is discovered by Irongron, a robber baron, and his men. Unable to effect repairs without help, he cuts a deal with Irongron. Supply a place to work and raw materials, and he will provide weapons by which Irongron can fight his neighbor, Lord Edward of Wessex, and take his castle. But these medieval supplies are not sufficient. Linx needs technical know-how, but for that he must steal from another time…

Meanwhile, back in the 20th century, the Doctor is helping the Brigadier investigate the mysterious disappearance of scientists from a top research center. Sarah Jane Smith, a journalist, infiltrates, posing as her scientist aunt. Sarah’s curiosity gets the better of her when she sneaks aboard the TARDIS, just as the Doctor gets a lock on a signal that seems to be the cause of the disappearances. Not long after their arrival in medieval England, Sarah is taken captive by Irongron. Not only must the Doctor rescue Sarah and send all the scientists back home, he needs to put an end to Linx’s tampering with Earth history before he finishes the repairs to his ship…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Season 11, Jon Pertwee’s fifth and final season as the Doctor, gets off to a cracking start with what is arguably one of the best stories of his era. I certainly consider this my favorite Third Doctor story, and one of my all-time favorite Who stories. “The Time Warrior” was written by Robert Holmes–who has already proven himself as one of the best writers for the show–and was broadcast over Christmas and New Year, 1973-1974.

Aside from the story, which we’ll talk about in a moment, “The Time Warrior” is notable for some firsts. There’s a new title sequence, featuring a new “diamond” logo that will be a distinctive hallmark for years to come. We are introduced to Sarah Jane Smith, who will become one of the Doctor’s most beloved companions. This story also introduces the Sontarans, a clone warrior race with unforgettable potato heads. And it’s in this story that the Doctor first mentions the name of his home planet: Gallifrey.

The premise of the story is simple enough, as I described above. Since it’s only a four-parter, it doesn’t need to be overly complex, and it ends up working well. Linx and Irongron form a typical bad-guy alliance, where neither trusts the other, and plans the other’s demise once they get what they want. The Doctor and Lord Edward, on the other hand, form a typical good-guy alliance, based on trust, and working for their mutual benefit. There’s a lovely twist at the beginning where Sarah Jane is convinced the Doctor is working for Irongron, and works with Hal, Lord Edward’s archer (played by Jeremy Bulloch, who later played Boba Fett in the “Star Wars” movies), to capture him. Sarah’s initial conviction that this is all some kind of costume pageant is also beautifully played. Linx’s passion for a fight, and his disappointment with Irongron’s lack of courage heightens the tension in their shaky allegiance.

Character is one of Holmes’s strengths, and there’s no shortage of them here. Irongron is the blustering robber baron with a devious mind, and no patience for fools. Bloodaxe, Irongron’s loyal companion might be dismissed as a fool if it weren’t for his unshakable faith in his master, and his agility with the sword and the compliment. Lord Edward is a bit of a wet blanket, so it’s hardly any wonder he’s an easy target. His wife, Eleanor, however, is made of stronger stuff. Linx gives us one of the best new Who monsters in a long time. The concept of the Sontarans is pure genius, and Linx is perhaps one of the Classic Series’ best monster designs, as demonstrated by the part one cliffhanger, when Linx removes his helmet for the first time. Kevin Lindsey’s portrayal is perfect. His occasional poking out of the tongue is a small detail that adds so much to the character, and the strong rasping voice is just right for the stocky soldier. As for Sarah Jane Smith–wow! I can only imagine what it must have been like seeing her entering the scene for the first time, full of confidence and curiosity, a complete contrast with previous companion Jo Grant’s initial encounter with the Doctor. I was a few months shy of four when this story first aired, so Sarah Jane was a fact of life in my earliest Who memories. It’s no wonder she commonly appears among the top few on all-time favorite companion lists. Elisabeth Sladen’s performance is pitch-perfect, and absolutely convincing.

The show is not without its dodgy moments. Perhaps the one that makes me cringe the most is when the Doctor and Sarah Jane pose as monks to gain entrance to Irongron’s castle. They tell the guards they are there to collect alms from Irongron. The guards let them pass, and when they’re gone, the guards laugh at the idea that Irongron might give them anything but the end of his sword. I don’t know who they got to play these two guards, but their dialog comes out sounding like a bad high school performance of Shakespeare. And their laughter is so obviously forced, perhaps they weren’t paid enough to be believable.

I’ve also encountered criticism of Professor Rubeish, the almost-blind scientist who is whisked away by Linx, but doesn’t succumb to his hypnotism because of his poor eyesight. While the other scientists go about their work like zombies, Rubeish walks about freely, doing his own thing (like crafting a monocle from a piece of glass and some kind of machine Linx just happened to have in his makeshift workshop), and Linx doesn’t seem to care. This is a valid criticism, though Rubeish does seem to keep out of Linx’s way, and does prove to be useful to the Doctor in helping to break the hypnotic spell, and get the other scientists back home. So he’s not a complete waste of space.

As I said, “The Time Warrior” is a classic, and one of Robert Holmes’s finest. In my estimation, it is required watching for any Whovian. Aside from the story, the performances, and the drama, there are some classic lines. For example, when the Brigadier makes a smart remark to the Doctor about his recent detour to Metebelis Three (see “The Green Death”), the Doctor explains: “A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting!” Then there’s Irongron’s description of the Doctor: “A longshank rascal with a mighty nose.” Yes, this story is well worth your time.