Monday, December 12, 2011

Meanwhiles and Neverweres (The Invasion of Time)

Wingardium Leviosa!
It's February 4th, 1978. "The Mull of Kintyre" has finally been unseated at the top of the charts by Althia and Donna's "Uptown Top Ranking," a nice little reggae number. It makes it a week before Brotherhood of Man unseat it with "Figaro," a song widely accused of ripping off ABBA, who, coincidentally, knock it off a week later with "Take a Chance on Me," which has a three week run before Kate Bush storms to number one with "Wuthering Heights," which is, quite frankly, a fantastic song, doubly so for having been written in the space of a few hours by an eighteen-year-old, which is the sort of thing that makes those of us who are pushing 30 feel desperately old and like we have wasted our lives. This song is also worth pointing to on the grounds that the New Romanticism movement is generally dated as kicking off at least a year later, which makes this a bewilderingly massive hit a good year or two before the movement that it obviously belongs to actually existed. Bonnie Tyler, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Rod Stewart, Blondie Electric Light Orchestra, and the Bee Gees also chart, the latter with "Stayin' Alive."

While in real news, Ian Smith, prime minister of Rhodesia, agrees to transfer power to black majority rule, attempting to end a saga that we've been following since The Myth Makers. It doesn't work. Electrical workers in Mexico City unexpectedly discover the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in the middle of the city, which is the sort of thing that just doesn't happen in most of our lives. Larry Flynt is shot and paralyzed in the US, a hijacking of a bus on Israel's Coastal Highway by Palestinian terrorists leaves 38 civilians dead, and China lifts a ban on works by Dickens, Aristotle, and Shakespeare.

While on television, and speaking of Shakespeare, we have one of the most overtly Shakespeare-inspired Doctor Who stories in the entire run as the Doctor nicks Hamlet's whole "acting mad to confuse everyone" plan. The result, like most of Season Fifteen, is a mixed bag. This is a tremendously rough, transitional season that saw a non-trivial number of viewers change the channel and not come back as long as ITV was actually on the air. Under Hinchcliffe the program reliably got viewers in the ten to twelve million range. Under Williams, barring a massive ITV strike, the show was solidly in the seven to nine million range - still fine ratings, but a visible drop.

And while we've been staying positive about this season, let's be clear, it's not hard to understand why the viewers gave up. The entire aesthetic apparatus of the show imploded on short notice, the level of basic competence that could be expected in the production plummeted, and the artistic goals of almost every story this season have not extended much beyond "oh God, let's just get this made." And this story is no exception in that department - a recurrence of the industrial disputes that happened almost annually at the BBC and the fact that the original script had bottomed out spectacularly (by legend it was abandoned after it was found to require a night shoot in a stadium full of cats) meant that this script was assembled under pressure and with lots of decisions being made because all of the sensible ways to accomplish something were off the table for whatever reason.

But while Season Fifteen has felt like a drunken stumble in panicked pursuit of a viable aesthetic, that doesn't mean it hasn't managed to get closer to one. There has been a coherent move over the course of these last six stories from the baroquely postmodernist horror of the Hinchcliffe era to a more aggressively materialist postmodernism of satire and rebellion. It's been horrendously rough, and this story still shows plenty of the problems of that transition. The most infamous ones being the effect used for the Vardans, the bewilderingly sloppy TARDIS chase sequences of the final episode, and the fact that the whole thing is appallingly mispaced. But we've been doing this dualism for several entries now, and if you're not bored of it, I certainly am. So instead of focusing on that, let's look both at the things within this story that do work (and there are several) and at the thing that, in hindsight, is its most problematic element.

First the good, which is something that can be praised about this story and, for what it's worth, the last one: this is unabashedly television that assumes that its viewers are intelligent people. This story goes further than any other to date in terms of the patience it demands of its audience. It's not that unusual to withhold key details about the premise until several episodes into a story. But it's tremendously unusual to do so in a format where we're left uncertain for two of the six episodes what the Doctor is doing or whose side he's on.

Typically in a Doctor Who story the audience's level of knowledge, while not equivalent to the Doctor's, is primarily related to his level of knowledge. We're not privy to his thought processes, but since he's the moral center of the series we do use him as our benchmark for how to evaluate other characters. The audience is, by default, assumed to like the same characters the Doctor likes and to dislike the same characters the Doctor dislikes. Occasionally this is subverted - a character the Doctor initially appears to like turns out to be bad, or a character the Doctor has been dismissive of comes good - but even there the Doctor remains the audience's main frame of reference for making sense of the rest of the story.

But for two and a half episodes here, that gets completely inverted. It's not, of course, that the Doctor actually appears to be the bad guy. Even if you don't know the premise of the story going in, the Doctor is still the moral center of the story. Assuming he's gone bad is like assuming he's going to die as a result of the cliffhanger: stupid. But just because the audience knows the Doctor is playing some sort of larger game doesn't mean the audience knows what's going on. From the audience's perspective all of the reference points are scrambled.

As Miles and Wood frequently point out, the best cliffhangers are the ones in which the suspense is not over the next event in the plot but over the significance of a revelation - i.e. not "what's going to happen," but "what does that mean?" A prime example comes in the best cliffhanger of the story, which is in no way the sudden appearance of the Sontarans in episode four, but rather the Doctor cackling madly as he introduces the Time Lords' "new masters" at the end of episode two. This is interesting not because of the possibility that the Doctor has gone bad but because of the complete mystery as to what the heck he's doing - the question of what could possibly have motivated the Doctor to act like this.

But what's really impressive about The Invasion of Time is that it sustains this approach over two and a half episodes. Until the Doctor's conversation with Borusa in episode three, the audience is left in a continual cliffhanger-like state of trying to figure out the significance of what they're seeing. Far from, as Lawrence Miles bizarrely asserts, being the point where the show stops trying to take the viewer to interesting places, this is a phenomenally successful attempt to recapture that sense in a world where everybody knows the premises of the show and where the Doctor is a reassuring figure, as opposed to the cranky and potentially dangerous man he was when the show started and was most firmly in that mode. By throwing out the normal storytelling apparatus of the series - following the Doctor - this story gets the audience spending two and a half episodes trying to figure out its rules. The last time the program spent that long playing "what are the basic principles of this setting and this story" it was in black and white.

There's a sophistication to this storytelling that's actually well beyond what anything save for arguably The Deadly Assassin managed in the Hinchcliffe era. This is a story that requires that the viewer pay attention, and that requires continual guessing and re-evaluating of guesses. It's cerebral and demanding of its viewers. In many ways, this is the most triumphant rebuke of Mary Whitehouse to date: a story that depends almost entirely on the exact processes of interpretation she ignores. This is a story that depends on the fact the the viewer is not simply treating it as a documentary about imaginary people but as something bound by a series of tropes, conventions, and narrative rules that are at least as important, if not moreso, than the events actually happening on screen in terms of understanding the show.

This is all particularly powerful in the context of what Miles and Wood compellingly argue that this story is about. They point out that the sorts of events that take place in this story would have been mostly associated with the rise of African dictators like Idi Amin or, a year or so after this story, Robert Mugabe. By setting it on Gallifrey, a planet obviously inspired by Oxford and Cambridge, the story positions the sort of event that happens in areas far removed from the UK in the heart of British culture to considerable effect. By making the storytelling challenging and complex the viewer is forced to confront the chaos and ambiguity that surrounds a revolutionary coup and a change in power and is compellingly reminded that not only could it "happen here," they'd be hard-pressed to keep up with it and notice it was happening in time to stop it.

The other very satisfying aspect of this story is the way in which it plays with the audience's understanding of Tom Baker's Doctor. By this point Baker, more than any other Doctor including Pertwee's, is played to be beloved by the audience. There are a lot of parts to this - the fact that Baker's Doctor is overtly funny in a way none of his predecessors - not even Troughton - really was, for instance. But also in terms of the show's basic visual grammar. Baker gets close-ups and a central position in the shot in ways his predecessors didn't, and has had a considerably smaller supporting cast than any of them did. (This is particularly clear in comparison with The Underwater Menace and the clip going around of Troughton asking Zaroff why he wants to blow up the world. Watch how Troughton flits around the edge of the screen, allowing Zaroff to occupy the center of the frame, then compare to Baker in this episode. Baker's performance is far closer to Furst's than it is to Troughton's.) A fundamental aspect of how Doctor Who works in the Williams era is based on the assumption that watching Tom Baker is a fundamental part of the audience's pleasure.

So in this story, when the audience is routinely left not understanding what they are watching when they watch Baker, there's an interesting tension. Because we like watching Baker so much it becomes deeply unsettling watching him pretend to be the bad guy. Baker is the only Doctor thus far that it's really possible to imagine in this story simply because he's the only one charismatic enough to make it disturbing in this way. Again it's worth comparing to Troughton, who plays bad several times. But when Troughton plays bad it's always disturbing because his character is just mercurial enough that it's plausible. We know the Doctor won't turn out to be evil (except in Power of the Daleks, where we really do basically know nothing whatsoever), but with Troughton we're never completely confident that he'll turn out to be good either.

Baker, on the other hand, we love and trust, and so watching him pretending to be a villain for an extended stretch unsettles in strange new ways.And Baker plays it fantastically, delivering an unequivocal reminder that whatever problems his increasing ego caused the production, he was at east partially justified in his egotism. He plays the Doctor's madness in such a way as to keep him firmly the Doctor we love, turning all of the things that are normally pleasurable about the Doctor into unsettling subversions of the character.

That said, the story has a massive flaw. Well, it has several, but in hindsight the biggest by far is its introduction of a very different sense of continuity than the series has ever displayed before. In some ways this is closely related to the story's primary strength. What's best about the story is the way in which it plays with people's expectations of what Doctor Who is. What's worst about it is the way in which it relies on the series' history in lieu of actually establishing any urgency or investment.

The telltale moment is when the Sontarans, who have not appeared in over three years and who aren't particularly A-list monsters, get trotted out for a "surprise reveal" cliffhanger. This cliffhanger is, in truth, an appalling moment. Its entire impact is based on the fact that the story had, mere moments earlier, appeared to be over. In truth the sudden appearance of the Sontarans is nothing more than a desperate story extender; having failed to stretch the Vardans out over four episodes the writers had to add a two-episode Sontaran run-around, one of which is just a tedious chase sequence. And the effects on them are particularly bad. Most people cite the Sontaran that breaks a chair and nearly falls into the swimming pool, but for my money the real great moment is when Stor dramatically puts his helmet back on and flagrantly fails to get the eye holes to line up with his yes.

But more broadly, the use of the Sontarans has little to do with their merits as an alien species. Holmes had never even designed them as a species - Linx was a Master surrogate, not a debut of a monster. No, the reason they're being used is purely that there's a decent chance much of the audience will recognize them, thus adding excitement to what would otherwise be a cliffhanger amounting to shouting "Oh hey, there's another two weeks of this!" The fact that the Sontarans are a relatively uninspiring race that are in no way what people want to see invading Gallifrey (the Daleks or the Cybermen would be the far more obvious choices for that) is, in this case, almost completely irrelevant.

This gets at the real problem in this story, however, which is the Time Lords. As I've previously said, this season takes a nail gun to the coffin of the Time Lords as an interesting and imposing race. Much of what Jan Rudzki wrongly accused The Deadly Assassin of being finally happens here, as the Time Lords firmly become hapless and squabbling dupes. When Paul Cornell brings back the Vardans in his novel No Future, he has the Doctor mock them as the only race ever to be outwitted by the Sontarans, which rather spectacularly misses the fact that the Time Lords are also outwitted by them in this story -  a rather stark failing on their part.

But more broadly this is when we finally get the Time Lords treated as business as usual. There is no sense of mystique or occasion as we return to Gallifrey. It's nothing more than a recurring guest planet. Last time we went to Gallifrey it was an awe-inspiring event of such size that it ripped apart the Doctor and Sarah Jane. This time its magnitude comes only from its invocation of the series' past - the fact that it's a return to a previously popular event. This, more than any of the changes to Time Lord society (and virtually ever idea The Invasion of Time has is vastly inferior to what The Deadly Assassin seemed to hint at. In particular its conception of the Matrix is painfully dull, turning the vast and subjective history of the Time Lords into a sort of Presidential Wikipedia) is what finally kills off any sense of grandeur that the Time Lords might have. The series does not ask us to care about them as anything more than a familiar set of funny costumes.

And if we may be permitted to peek ahead slightly, this, and more broadly the approach to the series it represents, will prove to be disastrous for the series in the long term. This is the first time the series has simply assumed that because something has been seen before it will be cool to see it again without thinking that anything else is required. It's an approach that will characterize the worst moments of the series in the 80s, but perhaps more importunity, it's an approach that's just boring. It amounts to a tacit admission that the series isn't as good as it used to be and thus that it is recycling past ideas not because they worked well but because they represent a nostalgic yearning for what it used to be.

The sad thing is that the series is finally starting to show that it is just as good as it always was and that it does have bold new ideas. But unfortunately, the worst ideas of this story ended up being the ones with the most impact. But to fault this story for The Arc of Infinity would be like faulting The Time Warrior and The Deadly Assassin for this story. And if nothing else, this story, and for that matter Season Fifteen in general, deserves some credit. It was made under astonishingly trying conditions that rival those of the overworked start in inadequate studio conditions that characterized Season One. The fact that it often seemed satisfied just to get to the finish line and make it to the screen is unfortunate, but we shouldn't forget that getting twenty-six episodes made this season was a challenge. To pull it off while also reinventing the show in response to considerable political pressure is a phenomenal result. That the result is one of the hardest seasons to watch is unfortunate. But my God, it could have been so much worse. And next season, frankly, it gets so much better.

Which leaves us with one more obvious thing to talk about, which is Louise Jameson's departure. Some companions are easy to like. Leela, on the other hand, is easy to love. For all of the many very valid complaints about Leela, from the implicit racism of her conception to the tedious marginalization of her in the latter episodes of this season, Louise Jameson consistently turned in one of the most impressive performances ever done with the companion role, displaying an adaptability that rivaled that of Patrick Troughton in terms of the raw ability to find something dramatic to do in a given scene. There are companions who did better with good material than she did, but few if any who have done as well with material as poor as she reliably made sublime. Her departure is at once lousy and a perfect summation of the character: rushed, poorly considered, badly upstaged by Tom Baker, and yet dignified for no reason other than the sublime skill of Louise Jameson. And though it's hard for the audience not to get pulled along with Baker's giddy grin as he stares at the camera in the final shot, the fact remains - if only for the actress, Leela is definitely a character who will be missed.

19 comments:

  1. I agree with you that the first couple of episodes, the ‘It could happen here’ with a suspicious Doctor and an unseen enemy, are generally interesting – a story where Tom Baker goes mad and wants to run everything; however could the producer and script editor have thought up that one? – and also with your critique that Gallifrey itself is suddenly far more bland than last season’s gothic nightmare. But I think the rest of it swings far more wildly from great bits to terrible ones, even if some of that’s understandable as the script contradicts itself through no-one having had time to read it through in the five minutes flat they had to throw it together.

    Of all the Doctor Who stories I saw as a boy, this is the one that’s had the biggest drop for me from love to distaste, and that’s down to a very different conception of “its most problematic element”. While some of your points about continuity are telling, I’m not convinced on all of it; adding the Sontarans, for example, doesn’t work so much differently than if they’d just been another new race, and while they have their poor moments, they are at least a step up from the Vardans. As unseen, scheming cameos, the Vardans work; once they’ve appeared as shimmering cellophane or even as underwhelming soldiers, they’re not just disappointing to the children watching but, in Parts Three and Four’s suddenly very feeble plotting and characterisation once the Doctor’s ‘Caligula’ character piece has worn off, there’s very little for the adults hoping for “sophisticated storytelling” to enjoy, either. Those middle bits are simply a very poor excuse for a political thriller (Kelner too silly, Andred too callow in his journey from instant fascist to earnest heroics, the Vardans with no character at all), and imagine the story finishing at the end of Part Four: ‘I’m the Doctor, and after all running around, I’ve done something clever “off” with K9. Bye!’ So something was needed to inject a bit of life into it at that point. Just a shame that by Part Six the wheels have come flying off, and not just in that it’s nothing but even more running about…

    To be fair, it’s helped enormously by Tom Baker and John Arnatt both being so tremendously watchable, and both together are fabulous, even when given duff material. Angus MacKay was a still better Borusa, but he had terrific dialogue to work with and was written as a brilliant political operator; Arnatt’s best comeback line now is “Then let him rot in a black star,” which is hardly magisterial eloquence, and now admits to being utterly transparent. But take him away – when he has a week off for Part Four – and the whole thing becomes almost unwatchably dull.

    For me, the biggest problem with continuity at the time – rather than looking forward to the even more tedious Gallifrey of the ’80s – was that it made such inconsistent demands on the viewer. Just ignoring what’s gone before is one thing, but The Invasion of Time requires you to have remembered The Deadly Assassin (plausible, as it was only a year and a bit earlier, plus a repeat half-way along) in sufficiently tiny detail to know about the Matrix, the Doctor having stood for President to rescue himself, the Eye of Harmony being under a particular bit of floor – without which a grenade destroying a galaxy makes no sense whatever… But to have at the same time forgotten such details as Presidents not being elected if they can help it, Chancellors often being expected to become Presidents, the Great Key on open display, and so on. Even within the later story, it makes clear that Borusa is only a stand-in Chancellor, but without some arcane ceremony confirming him – and with the previous incumbent dead and unable to pass it on – how does he know ‘the special secret that only Chancellors know but are expected to forget should they become President’? And what magic powers does the Key have to stop the Sontarans invading Time, anyway?

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  2. [Concluding…]

    But it’s not the continuity that made me turn against all this, nor even making Leela the butt of the jokes or having her invade a vast city with a band of six (I always have “First, we take Manhattan…” in my head as she directs her forces in a frontal assault on a Capitol that must surely be of equivalent size). You’re quite right about Louise Jameson – with even less to go on here than John Arnatt – always being worth watching.

    The thing that really changed my mind about this story, though, once I was old enough to start thinking about it, is the climax. It’s a car-crash for both casual and long-term viewers. It just feels wrong that the whole thing is resolved by the Doctor and a big gun – an ‘ultimate weapon’, indeed, and for the only time in the series, an ‘ultimate weapon’ that he deliberately designs and plans rather than just finding or cobbling together in desperation. And he doesn’t even resist the temptation not to keep using it – that decision is made for him by a handy deus ex machina. Suddenly he’s just like the monsters he fights. This story starts with the ‘Doctor turning bad’, but the writers don’t even notice how he really turns bad at the end. I liked big guns and this story when I was six. These days I realise neither make good Doctor Who.

    In retrospect, the whole resolution of The Key to Time seems like a remake of this to get it right, with the Doctor – spoilers! – not using but throwing away ultimate power and being the Doctor instead of Rambo.


    A question for readers of About Time 4: “For only the second time in the programme’s history (no, you figure it out), The Invasion of Time is a story with a dummy ending…” So, do they mean The Daleks or The Ark, both of which have earlier false endings?

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  3. What always bothered me is that in Deadly Assassin, the Doctor says "I can't take you to Gallifrey, Sarah Jane." While here he just pops in with Leela in tow. It really made it seem like he just dumped Sarah Jane off on purpose.

    I do realize that in this story he brings Leela so that she can go organize resistance while he's taking over. Still, since I re-watched that stretch that particular stretch just after Elisabeth Sladen died, it felt like adding insult to injury a season and a half later.

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  4. I'm not sure I agree with you about the Matrix in this story. It's displayed not just as knowledge, but as the sum total of the knowledge of the wisest race in the universe; when the Doctor connects with the Matrix, it practically destroys his mind trying to hold it all. Again, I think we can all agree that there are failures of execution left, right and center in this season, but I think that as a concept, this works.

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  5. I had pretty much the same reaction as most here with this story. As a kid, I didn't take to seeing the Doctor appearing as a villain, and even then I thought it was odd for the episode to be resolved by the Doctor building a gun and shooting the bad guy (pretty much as incongruous as if Batman had decided to shoot the Joker - it goes against what the character stands for). I was always annoyed that the Doctor couldn't take Sarah Jane to Gallifrey, but could take Leela.

    The Vardans were rather lame as well.

    However, I can't agree that the Sontarans are uninspiring aliens. I've always been quite fond of them and their martial culture (always liked the bit about the probic vent forcing them to face their enemies). I also don't agree that Holmes had never designed them as an alien race, I recall reading (hearing?) somewhere that Holmes had created a detailed background for the Sontaran race (I think this is mentioned on one of the DVDs, possibly THE TIME WARRIOR). I'd say they had more thought put into their creation than quite a few of the classic monsters, and being a clone race always struck me as an inspired idea.

    That said, my problem with them in THIS story is that they have never been portrayed as a species that could be considered a threat to the Timelords. They have some high tech weapons and the ability to quickly replenish their numbers, but that doesn't amount to much against a race that can put your homeworld in a timeloop or erase you from history.

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  6. Oh, clearly Holmes came up with the Sontarans as a culture, and he thought through the culture considerably. But he still did so in order to create one character - Linx - not a recurring set of swappable villains. In that regard it's not actually until A Good Man Goes to War and Strax that anyone got back to doing the Sontarans as Holmes originally did - that is, as a culture that produces individuals instead of as a monster species.

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  7. I still think Styre is an individual character too. It's really only in this story that they become generic baddies.

    So, Season 15. No-one loves it, but it's interesting that it consistently tries to find chinks in the Doctor's armour. He's possessed in The Invisible Enemy, he's genuinely tortured by the skull in Image of the Fendahl, and in Invasion of Time he spends two episodes being brilliantly untrustworthy. The problem is that Tom Baker as an actor is so untouchable that it doesn't come across as a theme in the season -- it's just a series of things that happen to him. Next season they give up on making the Doctor vulnerable and go back to breezy effortlessness again.

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  8. Styre is hampered by being played by Kevin Lindsey and being written by Baker and Martin. The former makes him come across very much like Linx, and the latter means that he has no distinguishing character traits of his own. I agree that he doesn't become "generic baddy," but I think the lack of distinctive characteristics of Styre vs. Linx made it possible to do the generic baddy story with them here.

    Also, an excellent point about trying and largely failing to find vulnerabilities in the Doctor. And about next season. Not to tip my hand excessively, but I'm three stories in and it's got the best opening three stories of any season since Season Ten.

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  9. What do you think of Kaagh in "The Last Sontaran" and "Enemy of the Bane"? Generic baddie or something more?

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  10. It seems to be a recurring feature of DW monsters that they're more interesting when there's just one of them in an episode; we've seen that for the Sontarans, but it's also true for the Slitheen ("Boom Town") and arguably even for the Daleks ("Dalek").

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  11. I'm three stories in and it's got the best opening three stories of any season since Season Ten.

    That's because they saved the Baker and Martin story for the end! Though I think it's a good Baker and Martin story too.

    What the Sontarans lose in Invasion of Time is the sexual ickiness. They were initially the slimiest of monsters, very into the physicality of bodies (reminiscent of Mel Gibson's dead-eyed fascination with the actual mechanics of ripping people apart as seen in Braveheart and The Passion...), but in Invasion of Time and The Two Doctors they could as well be robots. The public school Sontarans of the new series miss the point, but Strax is a step back in the right direction.

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  12. It could be simply that Kevin Lindsay was sexually icky, of course, but he doesn't come over that way in Planet of the Spiders...

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  13. When I saw this episode as a kid I was never bothered by the fact The Doctor could bring Leela to Gallifrey and not Sarah Jane because I always figured Leela wasn't entirely human. After all, she was born and raised exclusively on another planet where society turned out a completely different way and had been disconnected from the main branches of humanity for generations. Even if the Sevateem aren't technically a different species because they haven't had enough time to evolutionarily diverge (though that was my initial reading of "The Face of Evil"), I assumed they were a kind of special human at the very least.

    Other than that small bit of fanwank I don't think I have anything to add. I pretty much agree with the majority of points everyone's made, though you all were much kinder to this serial than I would have been. It's a frustrating end to a frustrating season (and Leela's departure is the most maddening part of it for me anyway), but at least now I can look forward to taking a look at two of my favourite years in all of Doctor Who!

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  14. Oh yeah, forgot to mention how poorly Leela was written out of the series as well. She was not a character I particularly liked when I was young (though I have softened my view of her over the years), but even then I was disappointed with how abrupt her sendoff was. At least it wasn't as bad as the one Dodo got, I guess.

    What annoys me about the treatment of the Sontarans is the same thing that bugs me about the Cybermen, namely that they are rarely used to their full potential, and that what makes them interesting is the thing that often does not get examined. They just get slotted as generic villains who could easily be replaced by any other invading race without missing a beat (would it have made any difference if the aliens controlling the Vardans turned out to be Kraals? Or Ogrons? How about in THE TWO DOCTORS?).

    Likewise with the Cybermen, the notion that they convert us into their own kind seems to rarely be examined (does REVENGE OF THE CYBERMEN even make it clear they are more than just robots, apart from having "Cyber" in their name?), when it is their defining and most-horrific feature. Well, that is a rant for another time.

    Overall, I do like what they've done in exploring the Sontarans in the new series though. I hope they do more like they did with Strax (for a cloned race, there seems to be a degree of phenotypic variance between its members. Might be nice to learn more about how their society works, how many clone types there are, etc. Lots of story potential in exploring their background).

    On a somewhat related note, I wonder if there is a clause somewhere that states the Doctor must taunt them about their interminable war against the Rutans at least once in every story they're in. It seems like he always gets one, "Oh, so the war with the Rutans isn't going so well, is it?" jab in. :)

    I look forward to your thoughts on THE KEY TO TIME season. I just watched the DVDs this week, so for once I won't have to rely on my memories of something I haven't seen in a decade. Can't wait to see what your thoughts are on POWER OF KROLL and ARMAGEDDON FACTOR (I like the former much more than most, and disliked the latter, but we'll save that for another day as well).

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  15. First time commenter, long time reader. :-)

    I personally think they shouldn't have hired Baker and Martin for the penultimate serial; Williams should've known by then that they had... difficulties.

    I sort of wish the production teams would keep their solicited and/or rejected scripts on file, because had they done so, we could've gotten both a much more interesting Gallifrey story AND a better send-off for Leela.

    Two stories, in fact: "Fires of the Starmind", by Marc Platt (yes, THAT Marc Platt), where a disembodied alien race uses Gallifreyan data storage to invade Gallifrey (sound familiar?), and "The Lost Legion", by Douglas Camfield, which centered on an alien war in a French Foreign Legion outpost and ended with the death of the current companion, to be burned on a funeral pyre at the story's end (originally meant to be Sarah Jane, but which somehow seems more appropriate for Leela, doesn't it?)

    In abstract, at least, they sound promising (I still don't know WHAT Williams and Read were thinking with that killer cat story), with "Starmind" probably needing more fleshing-out and "Legion" most likely needing an Agnew-ian overhaul, but they still would've been more satisfying than the cheap "Underworld" and the pulled-out-the-ass "Invasion of Time"...

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  16. In Hand of Fear the Doctor believed that to take Sarah to Gallifrey would mean that she would have her memory wiped just like Jamie and Zoe.

    The Doctor really liked Sarah and couldn't bear the idea of this happening again. By Invasion of Time he knew that the Time Lords were more omnipotent and less likely to be so proscriptive.

    Plus he doesn't care as much about Leela as he did Sarah Jane.

    That's what I reckon....

    This is a hard story to love but I do think it has a sense of the flawed genius about it. The scale is epic. The opening model shot in part 1 is a huge nod to that George Lucas movie... (um... what's it called? you know it.....)

    The last few eps are a car crash but...... I wonder if any of those Killer Cat things will ever get into the remake of this (in 20 years from now)? :thought bubble:

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  17. "But more broadly this is when we finally get the Time Lords treated as business as usual. There is no sense of mystique or occasion as we return to Gallifrey. It's nothing more than a recurring guest planet. Last time we went to Gallifrey it was an awe-inspiring event of such size that it ripped apart the Doctor and Sarah Jane. This time its magnitude comes only from its invocation of the series' past - the fact that it's a return to a previously popular event. This, more than any of the changes to Time Lord society (and virtually ever idea The Invasion of Time has is vastly inferior to what The Deadly Assassin seemed to hint at. In particular its conception of the Matrix is painfully dull, turning the vast and subjective history of the Time Lords into a sort of Presidential Wikipedia) is what finally kills off any sense of grandeur that the Time Lords might have. The series does not ask us to care about them as anything more than a familiar set of funny costumes."

    Well, yes, but what's interesting here is how it is reflected in the aesthetics, and nowhere more clearly than in the "coronation" scene.

    We've gone from a gothic, Oxbridge world of decaying spires and vaults, to a concrete monstrosity which looks like a polytechnic and has all of the bloated self-importance. The coronation is hilarious - complete with overdressed ninnies carrying the 'ancient relics' on inflatable cushions! The Gold Usher making booming announcements to about a dozen people in an empty concrete wigwam. And it's also an interesting comment on Britain, of course.

    And to top it all off - not only is Gallifrey now a shabby, ugly piece of self-mockery, they will (almost literally) let any old rabble in, in the form of Leela... I'd say that was more meant as a (snide) comment on the higher education motif from "Deadly Assassin" than on 70s Britain, though.

    That may be because I tend to see "Invasion of Time" to be rather like a satire on a polytechnic vs. "Deadly Assassin" as a satire on Oxbridge, and mainly because I can't take the coronation seriously. It just looks and feels exactly like Backwater Poly's chancellor being inaugurated, complete with all the absurd and misplaced pomp.

    "It's an approach that will characterize the worst moments of the series in the 80s, but perhaps more importunity, it's an approach that's just boring."
    It's also an approach that will be heavily relied upon by Russell T. Davies. "It's the end of narrative itself! Daleks! Explosions! David Tennant doing his Weepy Thing! Rose!. Defecate, yawn, repeat next year.

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  18. What infuriated me most about Leela's departure was that there was a much better way of easing her out just sitting right there in the script! She had quickly developed a rapport with the leader of the renegade Timelords who lived in the wasteland, and halfway through episode six, he took a laser blast for her and died. He could have easily made a dying request for her to replace him as leader of the renegades and she, based on what we know of her culture, would almost certainly have felt obligated to do so. That would have given us an exit with a wonderful juxtaposition with her debut: Leela thanking the Doctor for teaching her about civilization and then saying she will return the favor by teaching his people about the benefits of getting back in touch with nature. But no, she has to fall in love with a drippy douche-bag with whom she shared almost no screen time before falling in love with him!! Tragic.

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  19. Somewhere near the end of this series (a long way off I know) I think there needs to be an appendix article that looks at the leaving of companions. It seems like the vast majority have kind of terrible drop offs.

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