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Doctor Who - The Invasion of Time

BBC Worldwide // Unrated // September 2, 2008
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted September 19, 2008 | E-mail the Author
The Series:


 

Ever since I stumbled upon my first Doctor Who episode on the
local PBS station in the 1970's, I've been a fan.  Sure I knew that
the special effects were below par and that the stories often left something
to be desired, but more often than not the adventures were great fun and
the enthusiasm of the actors made up for any defects in the script. 
Not story exemplifies that fact nearly as well as The Invasion of Time,
recently released on DVD for the first time.  The script itself, an
eleventh hour affair written in two weeks when the previously commissioned
story was deemed too expensive to shoot, has a lot of problems and plot holes
but these are more than overcome by Tom Baker's wonderfully energetic performance. 
At the time I first saw it soared to the top of my all-time favorite adventures,
and while it no longer holds that top spot, it is more of the more fun and
enjoyable stories.



Background:




Okay, most of you probably already know this, but for those who aren't familiar
with the long running SF show, here's a bit of history. Doctor Who started
in 1963 with William Hartnell creating the role of The Doctor, a mysterious
and crotchety old man who traveled through time and space with his granddaughter
Susan, and two of her teachers.  They traveled in the TARDIS, a device
that looked like a small London Police Call Box on the outside, but on the
inside was an immense and spacious time machine.



The show was a hit but in 1966 there was a problem.  Hartnell became
ill and had to leave the show (though some say it was the new production
team rather than illness that caused the departure.)  In order to keep
the show going the producers and writers came up with an ingenious idea:
Since there wasn't much known about the Doctor (aside from the fact that
he was an alien) why not have him die and then regenerate his entire body
in the form of a new actor.  This turned out to be not only a good gimmick
to keep the show going, but also made the main character more interesting
and mysterious.  As the show went on, more details of exactly who and
what the Doctor was slowly emerged.  It turned out that he was a 700+
year old Time Lord (or over 1000 depending on which Doctor you're talking
to) from the planet Gallifrey who stole the TARDIS from a repair bay, which
explains why it doesn't always work as well as it should, and was on the
lam.  He did this because he didn't see eye-to-eye with the rest of
his race.  He much preferred to get involved and help people out when
he could rather than just sit back and watch things happen like the rest
of the Time Lords.



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As the years went on the show continued to be popular and the BBC went through
several actors playing the Doctor and even more traveling companions. 
This story features one of the most popular actors to portray the Time Lord,
Tom Baker.  



This Story:



The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Leela (Louise Jameson) land on Gallifrey, the
home of the Time Lords, where the Doctor makes an unexpected proclamation: 
he's come to claim the title of President of the Council of Time Lords. 
(He is referencing events that occurred in the story "The Deadly Assassin."  
Alas, this story hasn't made its way to DVD yet making things pretty confusing
for those who haven't seen it.  Those two would have made a great double-story
set, and it's was a blunder on the BBCs part not to have released them together.)




His claim is legal, and though The Doctor is acting very strangely he is
sworn in as president and given access to The Matrix, the depository of all
of the knowledge of the Time Lords.   His first act as president
is to have his companion Leela banished to the wastelands outside of the
Citadel where the Time Lords dwell, and then he sets about dismantling the
defensive barrier around Gallifrey.  When this is accomplished, a group
of aliens, the Vardans, partial materialize.  They've come to conquer
Gallifrey and take control of time.  Has the Doctor really betrayed
his people?



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I loved this story as a kid, and I was happy to see that it's just as fun
and exciting now as it was back then.  Make no mistake, it is a flawed
and uneven adventure, but for sheer sense of goofy fun, few stories are its
equal.



Tom Baker, at the top of his form in this adventure, really propels the story
along and makes it easy to overlook the flaws.  He's great at throwing
out hilarious lines in passing under his breath.  One such instance
comes when a guard remarks that, after being granted access to The Matrix,
The Doctor has access to the greatest source of knowledge in the universe. 
He replies "Well yes, sometimes I do talk to myself..."  Then there's
the time that The Doctor can't open a locked door with is trusty screwdriver. 
Baker looks straight in the camera and proclaims "Even the sonic screwdriver
won't get me out of this one."  



Those brief comical gags keep the show light and lively, and it's needed
because the heart of the story is pretty serious.  With Time Lords being
expelled into the waste lands and invaders controlling Gallifrey because
of The Doctor's betrayal, there are enough dramatic sections to keep viewers
interest.



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Storeroom
23A in the TARDIS





The first four episodes are pretty standard for a Who adventure, but the
show really shines in the last two episodes, where a twist occurs that throws
a wrench in The Doctor's plans.  (The cliff hanger to episode four is
very effective, especially if you're a long-time fan.)  The drama and
tension are ratcheted up a couple of notches in these last two installments. 
This story also includes one of my all time favorite sequences from the original
Doctor Who run where the Time Lord and his friends have to retreat into to
the Tardis and are pursued by aliens.  Even casual viewers know that
the TARDIS is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, but just how
much bigger is it?  This DVD is worth getting just for the answer to
that question.



While the show is very enjoyable, it is significantly flawed and only works
if you don't think about it too carefully.  There are more than a few
gaping plot holes in the story (it is established that laser weapons can't
fire in the TARDIS, except for K9 and the people chasing after The Doctor. 
Theirs still work.) and characters often do inexplicable things just to move
the plot along.  K9 also has become Super-Robot by this time and is
incredibly annoying.  Not only is he really, really loud when he moves,
but he's The Doctor's muscle, shooting people left and right and basically
being portrayed as a superior computer to anything of Gallifrey.  At
one point he even 'talks' to the TARDIS and says it's stupid!



Minor spoilers follow




With a few more rewrites this could have been a much better story, but as
it is there are many head-scratching moments.  Why does the Sontaran
commander spend the lion's share of two episodes looking for the Great Key,
and then decide to blow the planet up?  And what about Leela's departure
from the show?  She says that she's staying because she's fallen in
love, but there's no evidence of that before hand, and it would be a little
hard to believe that a Time Lord would want to partner with a savage. 
What's Leela going to do on Gallifrey anyway?  It would be like an inhabitant
of the Amazon rain forest moving to NYC.  Surely they wouldn't be happy.
 



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The end is one huge Deus ex Machina mess too.  The whole idea of one
gun being so powerful that The Doctor could "control the whole galaxy" with
it is ludicrous, and what happens to the gun, and The Doctor, is even more
idiotic.  



End Spoilers




Even with those flaws, this is an very enjoyable story that I had a lot of
fun watching yet again.



The DVD:






Audio:



This story comes with the original mono soundtracks which sounds fine. 
While none of the episodes have much in the way of bass, their range is passable. 
There are a few sections in the first series where the dialog is just a little
muddled, but it was undoubtedly recorded that way.



Video:



The Restoration Team has done another wonderful job on the video to this
show.  The full frame color transfer looks very good.  The colors
are bright and solid and the detail is very good.  While the image is
just a tad soft, it is much sharper than I remember it being when it was
shown on PBS years ago.  There is a bit of a mosquito noise in the sky
shots outside of the citadel, but aside from that digital defects are nonexistent. 
A very nice looking disc.



Extras:



This story comes with some nice extras, but overall I was slightly disappointed
that there wasn't more, considering that this is a two-disc set.  On
the first discs there is a commentary track by Louise Jameson (Leela), John
Leeson (the voice of K9,) script editor Anthony Read, and effects designer
Mat Irvine.  This is a good track where the group has a lot of fun (especially
Leeson who pops into K9's voice at the drop of a hat and often cracks up
the rest in the room) and relays some interesting information about the production.



Each episode also comes with an optional pop-up trivia track that's very
good, as usual.  While some of the information isn't that interesting
(like the date some scenes were filmed) most of it is well worth watching. 
They relate behind-the-scenes anecdotes, the history and filmographies of
supporting characters, and changes in the story from the original shooting
script.  Though I prefer to watch the episodes once through without
the trivia track since it can be a bit distracting from the show, it's a
great reason to spin the DVD a second time.



There is also the option of watching the adventure with updated special effects. 
The classic Who was never know for it's good effects, but this story was
worse than most.  The Vardans are sheets of tinfoil hanging from a string
(literally) and some of the other effects (like the ray blast near the end)
are embarrassingly bad.  The new effects don't distract the viewer from
the story as the original ones do and are a great improvement.  While
I'm glad they included the original version of the show, it was more fun
to watch with the redone effects.



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Top: The original SFX for the Vardans

Bottom:  Newly created effects




Disc two starts off with a series of deleted scenes, some of which are just
a sentence or two and none of which added much to the story.  There's
also a short (17 minute) making-of documentary that was very good where the
director, producer, and actors get together once again and give their impressions
of the story.  Unfortunately Tom Baker himself is absent from this and
all other bonus material.  The Rise and Fall of Gallifrey (10
minutes) looks at how the home of the Time Lords has been portrayed through
the years, and The Elusive David Agnew (5 minutes) is a pretty lame
joke about who wrote the scripts.  There is also a photo gallery and
listing from the Radio Times accessible on a computer's DVD-ROM drive. 
Overall it's not an impressive second disc.



Final Thoughts:



The critic in me wants to tear this episode apart for the sloppy writing
and incomprehensible plot devices.  The fan in me loves this story however. 
It's a lot of fun to watch, especially the last two episodes, and there are
some great moments that are rarely topped elsewhere in the series (the cliff
hanger to episode four for example.)  Tom Baker is at the top of his
game in this story and really manages to turn a mediocre script into a memorable
and enjoyable adventure.  Because of that, I'm giving this a very strong
recommendation.   


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