Sooner or later every classic hero must turn evil – if only for a while; if it’s good enough for Anakin Skywalker (who might have stretched the point a little) and Superman, it’s good enough for Doctor Who, and the 1977 six-parter The Invasion Of Time opens with Tom Baker’s Doctor in some kind of nefarious deal with aliens for absolute power on Gallifrey and beyond.
Since the rebellious Doctor’s obligations as absent president-elect of the council of time lords were a long-standing source of stories and amusement, all the Doctor need do in Invasion to assume power in his homeland is return and claim it. Why, therefore, is he conspiring with the Vardans, an alien race who are capable of travelling down any wavelength and materialising at the other end?
After these dark machinations – during which an unusually mean Baker sets K9 on Leela (Louise Jameson) as a guard dog to keep her away from his scheming, the Tardis arrives at Gallifrey and the Doctor immediately sets about assuming his long-neglected role, thundering like a tyrant at all who seek to delay him, including chancellor Borusa (the excellent and Gielgud-esque John Arnatt) and the toadying turncoat Castellan Kelner (a delightfully servile Milton Johns).
Once inducted into the ‘matrix’ (not that one, obviously), the Doctor will have access as president to all the knowledge and power of the time lords – and his very first act as prez will turn out to be the ultimate treachery…
It’s hard to say any more about the plot of Invasion Of Time without spoiling some nice surprises to Who fans unfamiliar with the story, but it has to be admitted that Gallifrey will soon be overrun with both Vardans and the potato-headed Sontarans, whilst Leela will be found organising a resistance movement outside the citadel with the bow-and-arrow technologies available to those Gallifreans who rejected time lord society and went to live wild.
The signs that Invasion was written as Louise Jameson’s final adventure with the Doctor are all there – there is a putative ‘assistant-in-waiting’ in the form of the rather Bryant-esque Hilary Ryan as Rodan, a bored and effete Gallifrean traffic controller whose potential inclusion in the Key To Time adventures was eventually re-written and re-cast as Mary Tamm’s (and later Lalla Ward’s) Romana.
John Nathan Turner is still waiting in the wings as production assistant in the credits to Invasion, whilst script-editor Anthony Read and producer Graham Williams give Jameson a chance to change her mind about leaving Who by not making too much of Leela’s departure-motif – a less-than-tepid romance with a Gallifrean guard called Andred (Chris Tranchell). Ultimately Jameson stuck to her decision to leave the sexy savage behind her, and therefore the moment that reveals her attachment to Andred comes so late and unexpectedly in Invasion as to seem a grafted-on afterthought.
Commissioned Invasion writer David Weir’s difficulties with the Who idiom led to an eleventh-hour script reboot, with Read and Williams writing the script themselves as the pseudonymous ‘David Agnew’. Notwithstanding this unpromising start, Invasion reveals itself to be a fun story that alleviates the bloatedness of many Who six-parters by re-invigorating the plot with added Sontarans fairly late on.
Stories set on Gallifrey always risked to be turgid and bogged-down in the kind of tedious intergalactic bureaucracy that did equally little for the Star Wars prequels, but director Gerald Blake keeps Invasion aloft with a jocular spirit and good pace. Though Tom Baker’s comedy asides to camera may rankle with Who purists, this was a story that needed to be leavened with surprises and off-beat touches, and they are thankfully plentiful.
Production values drift from the sublime to the ridiculous throughout Invasion – high points include the quality model-work of effects supervisor Colin Mapson and model-maker Matt Irvine, though, as ever, it is perhaps the low points that yield the most fun: the use of an old mental hospital as the labyrinthine interior of the Tardis in one protracted pursuit sequence bespeaks the customary budget-constraints, whilst the under-processed tin-foil Vardans are possibly Who’s cheapest-looking villains ever, despite the fierce competition. The fin-helmeted, red-caped Gallifrean guards once again resemble refugees from Flash Gordon, but there’s a pretty good Sontaran-eating plant in the Tardis’s little-seen conservatory by way of compensation.
As frequently occurs with archive Who releases, one can choose to switch on enhanced CGI effects, which have a respectful, contemporary feel, and obviate the guffaw-factor of the tin-foil Vardans in particular.
Casting and performances are all excellent, with the possible exception of Derek Deadman as Stor, the slowest-talking, wheeziest Sontaran ever. Deadman’s delivery is one of the few things that slackens the pace of the later part of Invasion. He takes ages to say anything, all delivered in the aspirant monotone of Ron Moody’s Fagin. Combined with panda-eye make-up, one does have to get out and push a bit when Stor is on-screen. Unfortunately, the Vardan voices are equally unmenacing. Where’s James Earl Jones when you need him?
The first disc of Invasion contains the serial itself and an enjoyable commentary from a slightly scatty Louise Jameson, K9 voice-artist John Leeson (who clearly loves dropping back into character at the faintest opportunity), effects artist Matt Irvine and script editor/writer Read.
Disc 2 provides an informative documentary called ‘Out Of Time’, which can only be criticised for its meagre 17-minute runtime, as well as moderately interesting deleted scenes and a ten-minute exploration of Gallifrean stories in the Who canon, featuring contributions from Terrance Dicks amongst many others, and also a prank featurette about fictitious Invasion writer David Agnew. The continuity excerpts are pointless for all but the most sectionable Who completist, but the PDF Radio Times listing is a nostalgic nugget, and there’s also an extensive and interesting photo gallery.
Invasion is not necessarily classic Who, but it is an enjoyable romp – a higher-than-usual number of the laughs are intentional, and the traitorous aspect gives Tom Baker the chance to really let rip with a heretofore sporadic dark side.
Even if inadequately motivated, Jameson’s departure from the series ends Invasion on a bittersweet note, and the serial heralds the last batch of pre-JNT Who, before an over-reliance on comedy and adventure gave way to an over-reliance on very abstruse science-fiction stylings. If you’re only ever going to buy one Who archive DVD, make it Genesis Of The Daleks, but if you’re collecting the catalogue, you won’t begrudge the money for The Invasion Of Time.