The Invasion of Time part 1

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  • #63398
    Craig @craig
    Emperor

    The second entry in our Female Time Lord retrospective. Broadcast at the start of 1978 (so we just missed its 40th anniversary) The Invasion of Time features Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor, is a six parter, and it was the climax to the 15th season of Doctor Who.

    After signing a treaty with enemy aliens the Doctor, along with Leela and K9, returns to Gallifrey and demands the Presidency of the High Council of Time Lords.

    Anything could happen in a season finale but, for our purposes, it features Rodan, a banished female Time Lord (or Time Lady depending on who or what you read, or your own perspective – this is gonna get complicated).

    Between the first Doctor and the fourth the whole idea of Time Lords and Gallifrey had been established and, some would say, got out of hand. But I believe the Time Lords had all been “male” up until now.

    It is written by “David Agnew”, which was a BBC pseudonym used for work produced in-house. In this case “David Agnew” was Anthony Read (the script editor) and Graham Williams (the producer).

    For the best viewing experience this story is available to buy with lots of extras. You can get it from Amazon for less than 8 of our British pounds – other retailers are also available (except the BBC, which has sadly closed its online store). It may also be on your Netflix, Prime or Hulu, or whatever else you subscribe to.

    Remember, we’re discussing this story one episode per week, as it was originally broadcast. If you’ve seen it before, for the convenience of anyone approaching this for the first time, NO SPOILERS for subsequent episodes please.

    #63409
    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    This was surprisingly good, considering it was written in two weeks flat when another script didn’t come up to scratch. I do remember watching it – I’d have been in my early teens and at least one scene is engraved in my memory – and so I’m going to try and avoid spoilers. I believe this has got a reputation as a mediocre story, but the first episode certainly isn’t mediocre.

    Some nice model work with the spacecraft. The Doctor is clearly Up To Something – by now the audience has long learnt that Tom Baker’s Doctor may be unpredictable, but he is always on the side of good.

    My golly, but K9 is noisy. In fact, the entire soundtrack is noisy, what with whirring special effects and actor’s boots clomping across studio floors. I notice that we can’t yet see the aliens who are the villains – maybe they couldn’t make the costumes in time. As Steven Moffat once said, the best kind of script is the one that says ‘the spaceship cannot be seen’ or ‘the aliens are invisible.’ 😉

    I love Louise Jameson’s indignation that the Doctor doesn’t trust her, when she’s just proved his point. There’s a faint hint that K9 knows what’s going on, and that he and the Doctor need to keep Leela in the dark for some reason. The TARDIS also seems to be a bit in the dark; I like the way that K9 sneers at her inability to talk.

    Gallifrey! Milton Johns! Oh, wonderful. The moment you see Milton Johns you know you’re going to have a nasty, oily, sneaky character to watch out for. A creep. [I hasten to add that the actor himself is a lovely man, very generous and with a good sense of humour.] Commander Andred clearly doesn’t like this Castellan – an early sign that he might be a good judge of character.

    You can see where Steven Moffat got the ‘the army are the failed Time Lords’ thing; they’re clearly the second class citizens in this set up. And we see yet another style of Gallifreyan writing – they seem to have almost as many types of writing as we do.

    I’m not sure why we see Leela in the swimming pool, but that may be because I’m a woman and the scriptwriters were men. >:)

    I note a certain amount of trouble with the ceremonial cloaks, which is quite separate from the soldiers’ problem with the Doctor.

    Ooh, shouty! And Tom Baker does shouty so well. Not to mention cutting. And he doesn’t like the Castellan either, but he’s quite happy to use him.

    And we see more Time Lords. More male Time Lords. Solely male Time Lords, though Rodan did at least get a name-check earlier. One of the things I missed in Day of the Doctor was the other ceremonial colours – everyone was in Prydonian purple. But there’s a nice bit of gossip, and I can’t help thinking that the Time Lord in orange is on to something important with his little ‘hobby’.

    Okay, this was the start of every scriptwriter in trouble going completely overboard on Rassillon. The Sash of Rassilon. The Staff of Rassilon. The (missing) Great Key of Rassilon. Yes, Rassilon was early established as a complete egomaniac. There’s probably a Cuddly Toy of Rassilon somewhere…

    And the poor background artists have to look serious when carrying a blow up plastic cushion… I suppose someone thought it futuristic. But that missing Key is clearly what the Vardans are after, judging by the way they almost jump out of their seats when they see it’s not there.

    Charles Morgan (Gold Usher) is very good, isn’t he? Pitch perfect ceremonial. With just a hint of dislike.

    Well, at the moment, I’m glad we’re watching this one.

    #63420
    JimTheFish @jimthefish
    Time Lord

    I’ve gone on record before as disliking Gallifrey stories in general and it’s probably this one that I’m usually thinking of as the worst culprit. True, as @bluesqueakpip says, it was something of a rush job but I’d disagree with Pip in that I think it shows in almost every aspect of the production. The set design is awful and if there’s one place that really should blow your socks off visually, it’s Gallifrey. The costumes look tired, the technology, for the most advanced race in the universe, looks ridiculous. Even the TARDIS console room is looking decidedly tatty too. (Although this could be something to do with the relocation for a lot of the filming thanks to industrial action shortly before.)

    Performances are not much better. Baker is deep in his ‘phoning it in’ phase but is better when he’s going his ‘Doctor on autopilot’ stuff than in the scenery chewing ‘I’m dead unhinged me’ stuff later in the episode. (Although it’s good to see that Time Lords are not immune to voting in nutjobs as president. Maybe in the next episode we’ll see the Doctor tweeting his random thoughts into the Matrix.) In other performances, Andred is terrible, the other Time Lords are mostly OK. Milton Johns is as great as ever at playing the spineless toady and Lou Jameson shines as Leela (as she pretty much always does).

    Apologies for the misanthropy, but to me this is a good illustration of just how bad BG Who could be. OK, it’s not Timelash bad, but it’s not that much better, in my view.

    Pah.

    #63423
    janetteB @janetteb

    Ah. This is “my Doctor Who”, the stories I watched as they were screened in Oz. The first story I watched was the Zygon one but I am not sure whether I was watching repeats or not. ABC used to show the new series then run repeats of previous series for about six months. Hence we got to watch and rewatch the same stories every year. I think I watched this when it was first shown or the following year on repeat. I started watching Dr Who in my mid teens when my brother was at Uni and watching it during Uni breaks. Thus I have a deep affection for these stories as they lightened the dreariness of my teenage years.
    So while I agree that this story is deeply flawed I still love it. Leela is one of my favourite companions.I enjoyed the relationship between her and K.9 I would argue that Baker is in his prime here, really chewing the scenery and relishing every line. He is larger than life, bonkers and brilliant he is also very much the rebel, poking fun at the pomposity of the time lords.
    Yes the sets are notoriously bad, from those blow up plastic seats to, well spoilers..
    So, as to mystery, I rather liked the invisible enemies, it sets up a sense that they are going to be extremely bad when we do see them. (I don’t recall how far this episode goes into the story)
    Cheers
    Janette

    #63424
    blenkinsopthebrave @blenkinsopthebrave

    What great fun! Actually, I do not remember this from the day, but what I like about it is that it seems so obviously based on allusion to either Oxford or Cambridge cultures or/and the Church of England. And because I do not remember it from its original screening,could the story be alluding to “The Manchurian Candidate”?

    No idea, but looking forward to the next instalment.

    #63430
    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @jimthefish

    I think you ought to choose the Romana I story, because otherwise this Retrospective is in danger of turning into an ‘All The Stories JimTheFish Really Hates Retrospective.’ 😀

    Sorry you don’t like it – I agree about the sets, which definitely had a ‘someone find the plans from Deadly Assassin’ feel about them. The costumes were probably dragged out of storage as well – but the tech is supposed to look clunky. Engin mentioned that the Time Lords aren’t the greatest at any technology unrelated to time in The Deadly Assassin – though he put a typically Time Lord spin on it. Can’t remember whether its this or a later story where the Doctor mentions that he’s visited other planets that are far more advanced.

    I’d disagree that Tom Baker is phoning it in – he looks like an actor having fun playing ‘conflicted, possible villain’ rather than his normal Doctor. ‘Scenery chewing’ and ‘Tom Baker’ are kind of synonymous, really, don’t you think? 🙂 There’s an old joke about him (which you’ve probably heard). A young and somewhat exasperated director once told him ‘Tom, you can’t even walk through a door normally!’ To which Tom replied: ‘I don’t want to walk through a door normally. I want to walk through a door interestingly.’

    #63433
    JimTheFish @jimthefish
    Time Lord

    @bluesqueakpip

    Yeah, sorry if that came across as on the overly grumpy side. (For the record, I did watch the rest of The Aztecs and did quite enjoy it — but just couldn’t find that much to say about it.)

    OK, let me try this again and hopefully be a bit less 12th-Doctor-ey about it.

    where the Doctor mentions that he’s visited other planets that are far more advanced

    That’s interesting. Don’t remember that and I kind of like it as a concept. The idea that they conquered time and then just gave up on technology sounds very Time Lord to me. Very arrogant and complacent.

    ‘Scenery chewing’ and ‘Tom Baker’ are kind of synonymous, really, don’t you think?

    Oh, definitely. OK, maybe ‘phoning it in’ is the wrong way to put it. Maybe I’d say this story is a good example of something that marred a lot of the Graham Williams years — an inability to channel Baker or put a dampener on his worst excesses. This should be the responsibility of a number of people, primarily the producer and the director but the companion helps too. Baker works best when his Doctor’s bluster and arrogance is being undercut and gently mocked by his companion. Liz Sladen was a master at this, as was Lalla Ward, when her time came. Lou Jameson was able to do this too on occasion though I think Baker found it easier to overshadow her by playing the ‘you’re just a savage’ card. And here the Doctor and Leela share barely any scenes at all, letting Baker pretty much off the leash.

    Now, I don’t mind the essential humour of Baker’s Doctor — used to love it, in fact. It worked best in the Hinchcliffe era, when it was reined in and provided a nice counterpoint to the gothic horror.  But here it’s too much, as it often would be in the Williams era. Tonally, it only really worked when both Lalla Ward and Douglas Adams came on board, with Adams’ writing working perfectly for this approach and Baker being willing to become part of a double act in the ‘battle of wits’ with Ward.

    When I watch this I don’t get much of a sense of Baker taking the story itself seriously. It’s just a backdrop for him to grandstand against. I don’t believe in the Vardans. I don’t believe in the reality of Gallifrey. And largely this is because Baker isn’t that bothered about trying to sell it to me. It feels more pantomimic than anything else.

    #63475
    JimTheFish @jimthefish
    Time Lord

    Have we abandoned this one? Hope it wasn’t my uncharitable kicking that’s the reason. It strikes me that a story about a mentally unstable president being influenced by outside agents to screw up your planet couldn’t be more topical at the moment…

    #63476
    janetteB @janetteb

    @jimthefish I think Craig has been distracted by that annoying R.L stuff. Hopefully he will find time to put up the next episode soon. Otherwise we could just watch it and start the discussion about Ep 2 here.

    Difference of opinion is always good. I am currently setting up a Cult TV classics club locally with the aim of getting people expressing differing opinions on old shows for the purpose of podcasting. If everyone agrees then it will make for a very boring recording. Early Dr Who will of course be featured.

    Cheers
    Janette

    #63477
    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @jimthefish – I was assuming that Craig had that annoying thing known as Real Life to deal with and would get round to Episode 2 eventually.

    The audio commentary! It has John Leeson, Louise Jameson, Anthony Read (half the scriptwriter) and Matt Irvine (special effects).

    Louise Jameson adored working with K9, mainly because John Leeson would act him out on his hands and knees (or do a crouch). Louise notes that little bits, like her tickling K9 under the chin, only came about because she had John to play off. This is one of the reasons for the rise of mo-cap for CGI characters, BTW. Beginning with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Andy Serkis, directors discovered that actors give much better performances when they’re in a scene with other actors. Funny, that. 🙂

    Keeping the audience in the dark was part of the ‘hook’, according to Tony Read. Though he admits the speed that they had to write it meant that it was a bit ‘all over the place’. Some character stuff never got written in.

    Okay, the problem was that the writer commissioned to do the six-parter for this slot simply couldn’t get the ‘idiom’ right – he produced a good script, but it just wasn’t Doctor Who. Bob Holmes and the other ‘go-to’ regulars weren’t available, being busy doing other work. Hence ‘David Agnew’ – also known as the Script Editor Tony Read and Producer Graham Williams frantically putting something together. And yes, they DID haul the set plans and costumes out from The Deadly Assassin – it was a case of ‘What do we have? Oh, all the Gallifrey costumes and plans…’

    Tony Read remembers that he basically had ten days, and the BBC were sending a motorcycle dispatch rider every day to pick up that day’s finished work. No email back then – he didn’t even have a fax as they were rare for private houses. Graham Williams was acting as script editor back at base, sitting down and discussing with Gerald Black (director) what could realistically be done from Tony’s script.

    This explains things like the TARDIS screens being blank/closed. They didn’t have time to do those effects – the location work had to be done after the studio filming, rather than (as was normal) before.

    Apparently one of the bloopers that wasn’t recorded (or kept) was Louise Jameson doing a belly-flop into the TARDIS swimming pool. Louise Jameson also recalls that one of the problems off-screen was that almost every person asking for an autograph would offer the actors a jelly baby. And would be very disappointed if she and Tom didn’t eat at least one of the things. By the end of a long day at the Longleat exhibition, she was definitely feeling quite sick – don’t know about Tom.

    Interesting that the commentators find the set quite good – it’s multi-height, which was apparently difficult to do at the time.

    Much admiration for Milton Johns and John Arnatt – especially John Arnatt’s still, economical performance, which really plays up the ‘Prime Minister’ aspect of Borusa. They note that John Arnatt is giving a ‘stage’ rather than ‘TV’ performance, but agree that they don’t mean that in a critical sense; he’s like a Prime Minister having to be the PM to this lunatic Doctor. Louise argues that Doctor Who is a heightened form of acting anyway – much closer to the technique needed for the proscenium arch than to the naturalistic soap style.

    Praise for the lighting director, Mike Jeffries, who allowed the story to be underlit, in keeping with the ‘has the Doctor gone mad’ storyline. This was not BBC practice at the time; bright lighting was the style. The lighting (which was lit for multi-camera work) somehow seems more like the nu-Who single camera lighting. Matt Irvine notes that there are some very early electronic effects with the screen – which was probably obtained by twiddling a few knobs and going ‘ooh, that one looks good’. The levitating Matrix helmet was colour separation overlay.

    As @jimthefish notes, it was quite a heavy sort of script for 5.30pm on Saturday.

    #63478
    JimTheFish @jimthefish
    Time Lord

    @bluesqueakpip and @janetteb

    Of course. RL can be a bitca sometimes. Was in no way having a pop at @craig. Just wondering what the state of play was.

    That commentary sounds really interesting, Pip. By all accounts, it sounds like it was a hair-raising experience production-wise. Certainly being a script-editor on those old studio treadmill days must have played hell on the old blood pressure.

    As to acting styles, yes I think that’s totally true. Like most studio-based TV in those days, oild school Who definitely has much more of its DNA in theatre. AG Who takes its cues from cinema far more.

    #63479
    janetteB @janetteb

    @bluesqueakpip thanks again for the fascinating run down on the commentary. Friends who help at conventions got to know John Levine from his guest appearances and speak very highly of him. (They recorded an interview with him for their blog) Sounds like he would have been fun to work with. Can imaging how sickly those jelly babies would be.

    @jimthefish did not even think you were 🙂 R.L is annoying most of the time. Scripts were often dashed off at the last minute because the original script did not work, often because the script writer’s concepts were simply impossible to convey with the special effects available and budget.

    Cheers
    Janette

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