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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

15 Comments

  1. Carey
    December 1, 2011 @ 1:49 am

    "Simply put, the jokes in this episode are the sorts of jokes you write for eight year olds that you don't expect to get anything other than the broadest of humor."

    There's much truth in this: I watched this on it's first BBC transmission at that age, and thought it superb. From an eight year olds perspective, the story works brilliantly precisely because it is a succession of great ideas. And an eight year old probably has the length of patience identical to the length of time each of those idea are explored in. In that respect Baker and Martin succeed admirably with their brief.

    I will agree that the story fails to live up to my childhood memories (whereas Horror of Fang Rock does). And that is because of the flaws in design and acting. But even this can be explained by an event from the Curse of the Williams Era you left out: this was another victim of the cancellation of The Witch Lords, and was sped up in pre-production because it was the only script in any form close to being filmable after Dick's original story was cancelled.

    Not that I imagine that would have changed much, though.

    And K9 is fantastic: a sarcastic robotic dog. Whereas other sci-fi would have gone for cute, K9 went for something far more amusing. And benefitted accordingly, as K9 joined the rather short list of "things people always think of when Doctor Who is mentioned (along with Police Box; Bigger On The Inside; Dalek; Very Long Scarf and Sarah Jane). Indeed, for the original run, it was the last thing to join that list. Well, at least in a positive way. From here on out, the list becomes that of negatives directed toward the show, beginning with Wobbly Sets, and coming to it's peak in a few years with the sixth Doctor's "Clown Suit."

    Enjoyable entry as ever.

    Reply

  2. Iain Coleman
    December 1, 2011 @ 2:14 am

    One of the things that struck me about this story is that the spacecraft model work is surprisingly good, and the first episode does promise some pretty good quality space-opera action. Pity it's all downhill from there.

    Reply

  3. elvwood
    December 1, 2011 @ 5:31 am

    This is a key story for me, for a rather sad reason: it's the story after which I stopped watching Doctor Who regularly. Technically it's the second story to fit that description, since Fury from the Deep scared me so much I missed the rest of the Troughton era; but that was only a bit over a year. This time, while I casually watched the odd episode afterwards, I didn't eagerly sit down to watch it until the McGann movie, and then not again until The Christmas Invasion (we didn't have a TV in our house in 2005 so I missed the Eccleston series, which I probably would have watched otherwise).

    Seeing The Invisible Enemy again as an adult I was sort of relieved to see that it actually was that bad. As a 14-year-old with an unpredictable, sick parent I was struggling with TV and movie SF at the time – I had no interest in Star Wars either – and it was only the quality of the stories leading up to this that had kept me watching Who. I was unaware of the reasons for what happened with this story (in fact, I've just learned some of them from your well-written entry) and was in any case unwilling to cut the production team any slack.

    From now on, almost all of your entries will be about stories I've only seen as a fortysomething adult, or not seen at all. And that saddens me.

    But I'll continue to enjoy the blog anyway…

    Reply

  4. Dougie
    December 1, 2011 @ 9:09 am

    Titan Base is an impressive piece of modelwork for the period and a lot of thought went into the phonetic signage. But as a 14 year old, I thought Dr. Who was getting silly and twee. I didn't think it recovered until it was all Block Transfer Computation and Bidmead. (Now of course I love City of Death and Horms of Nimon, etc.)

    Reply

  5. jheaton
    December 1, 2011 @ 9:32 am

    Contra elvwood, this was actually the first Doctor Who story I ever saw, on the Chicago PBS affiliate back in July 1981, and it hooked me as thoroughly as something could. I just rewatched it the other day, and yes, it's not what you would call good, but I still had fun with it, because it's just so crazy: the way the virus transmission was shown on-screen, the miniaturized clones, the talking robot dog, all of it. I was 12 at the time, and what 12 year old doesn't like things that are crazy? I wonder what might have happened had a tuned in one week earlier and seen Fang Rock as my first episode?

    Reply

  6. Jesse
    December 1, 2011 @ 10:06 am

    as Moffat himself has pointed out, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances may be one of the scariest stories of the new series, but every other line in it is a joke

    I can remember being surprised, in the RTD era, when I started hearing those descriptions of Moffat as a "master of horror." I mean, obviously he is a master of horror, but I tended to think of him as the master of funny dialogue and clever plots.

    Reply

  7. inkdestroyedmybrush
    December 1, 2011 @ 11:36 am

    For the first time in a number of stories, philip has written a blog post that I can't disagree with on any level. He singles out Baker and Martin for exactly all the right reasons. I saw this when I was about 15 and thought that it was complete shit then, and I still do now. I knew when i was being fed stories that didn't make even the least amount of sense.

    So making K9 a long term companion was the fault of JNT? Perfect, yet another in a long list of things that i can blame him for. gack.

    Moffat understand, as all the best horror movie writers, that you leaven the horror with humor and you control the level of tension within the episode. That is why the best horror has always treaded closely to being so OTT.

    Reply

  8. Jesse
    December 1, 2011 @ 11:39 am

    In Don Siegel's autobiography, he complains that the studio chiefs stripped the humor out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. They argued that humor didn't belong in a horror movie. He concluded that they were pod people.

    Reply

  9. William Whyte
    December 1, 2011 @ 9:07 pm

    I have a sneaking affection for this, which even seeing it at older than 9 can't entirely squash. Without claiming it's good, let me have a shot at listing the things that are good about it:

    * Michael Sheard
    * Michael Sheard getting possessed in the first episode as a sign that things are serious.
    * The Doctor getting possessed! This is the first time anything has actually got to the Doctor since the Hartnell years, and more extreme than anything there. The episode 1 cliffhanger in particular is a doozy. In an ideal world this would be Leela's chance to fully shine, instead she gets duped into taking Michael Sheard to Space Holby City.
    * Pitched battles in corridors with laser beams! We haven't seen those in a long time — Planet of Evil had an army of humanoid monsters but they didn't shoot, so the last pitched battle in a corridor was when? Monster of Peladon?
    * The atmosphere on Titan base before the infected crew arrive.
    * … and all the other stuff they could have made more of but, as you note, didn't.

    I have a hard time thinking of this as bad, rather than simply not as good as it should be, right up until episode 3. And even in episode 4 the film work on the hatching tanks is effective.

    However, I grant all your criticisms: it's jolly rather than funny, it throws away its best ideas (imagine what the new series would do with a short-lived clone of the Doctor… oh, they'd marry it off to Rose or dissolve it), the design isn't great (though it's the first time we've seen white corridors since Revenge of the Cybermen, so it seems unoriginal more in the context of what comes after than in the context of what went before).

    At the same time… one of the best essays in About Time is Does Plot Matter? from volume 2. What is Doctor Who for? Is it important that it rigorously explores ideas, or is the plot a way of getting from one "bit" to another? And this story has lots of great bits, nicely placed at the beginnings and ends of episodes, and a noticeable structural similarity to The Deadly Assassin (part 1 cliffhanger = Doctor with a Gun, part 2 cliffhanger = descent into an entirely different environment); really, I think the big problem with this story, as has been illustrated by a lot of the comments above, is that it's a tremendously successful unthreatening children's story but it's not the same show as last season. It would have fitted in nicely in the after-Newsround slot on a Wednesday or Friday afternoon (out of Crackerjack season of course).

    Reply

  10. William Whyte
    December 1, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

    PS: technically, I believe it goes out on a pee joke rather than a poop joke. As the father of a five-year-old I can assure you this is an important difference. Pee jokes are relatively classy.

    Reply

  11. Wm Keith
    December 2, 2011 @ 12:26 am

    "Invisible Enemy" is desperately disjointed. It's almost more like "The Keys of Marinus" than any other Doctor Who story.

    Episode one, with its infections, possessions, and cold-blooded killing, is very, very scary, if you don't know what's coming next. As a child, I was so terrified by episode one that I opted not to watch the rest of the story. Thus putting "Invisible Enemy" in the same "too frightening" bracket as "Robots of Death" and "Seeds of Doom".

    Reply

  12. SK
    December 2, 2011 @ 1:27 am

    I haven't seen this story. I don't like Tom Baker: I can't stand the way his Doctor is more of a stand-up comic's persona, an exaggerated version of himself which even he doesn't commit to entirely, keeping one foot outside it so that he can grin at the audience, than an actual character — and unlike some I don't think his sheer charisma carries him through (perhaps it's because I know the actor offscreen was so horrible — I used to love Frasier but have been unable to watch it since I saw an interview with Kelsey Grammer, and that's probably my fault for not disassociating actor and character).

    So I'm prepared to believe everything you say, but there is one point I would like to pick up on:

    'The idea is actually almost identical to that of the Weeping Angels in The Time of Angels – a possession-based creature that attacks you by looking at you and slowly takes you over from inside your mind. But they do nothing with it.'

    Thing is, neither does The Time of Angels. Well, unless you count 'being really creepy' as 'doing something', and I admit that I think Amy's countdown is one of the best bits of the new series (though not quite as good as the 'trapped in the trailer' sequence in the previous episode). But it doesn't really go anywhere. The payoff for that whole plot strand is Amy having to go through a forest of trees and angels with her eyes closed. Oh, sure, there's all those lines in the previous episode about 'our thoughts thinking for themselves', but that ultimately doesn't actually play into the story at all: the threat from the angels to everyone but Amy is stubbornly physical (they'll break your neck), while to Amy it's much creepier because it's inside her head, but we never really get a sense of what that means (what would happen if she finished her countdown? Something bad, yes, but exactly what it is is never even hinted at, that I can recall). Really, the angels — for all the mythic atmosphere surrounding them — are, ultimately, standard 'they're coming for you and they'll kill you with their claws' monsters.

    (Which is not to denigrate the atmosphere — it's the best part of the story — but simply to point out that developing an idea like this kind of conceptual threat within Doctor Who is really hard and even Moffat can't manage it, really, so perhaps it's not so surprising that Baker and Martin don't try.)

    And how does it get resolved? The Doctor arranges for all the Angels to get sucked into a convenient hole in the plot, thus wiping the fact that Amy was ever infected from the timeline (I think, it's unclear) (in fact, he doesn't even really 'arrange' it, he just survives long enough that it happens anyway).

    The reason being that it's a really hard idea to work out how to resolve, especially within the constraints of a TV programme that has to have the character come back next week.

    You can have a conceptual threat… but you always end up having to resolve it in some way that doesn't really address the conceptual issue, whether that's giving it a physical form that's vulnerable to explosions or having a timey-wimey plot device to negate its effects.

    Reply

  13. Henry R. Kujawa
    April 15, 2012 @ 7:06 pm

    Nice rundown on the problems.

    Carey:
    "And an eight year old probably has the length of patience identical to the length of time each of those idea are explored in."

    I was just saying earlier today that when I was a kid, I always preferred half-hour shows. Less attention-span. Hour shows always got boring!!! Notable exceptions: THE OUTER LIMITS (which was just scary as hell) LOST IN SPACE (I related to Will Robinson and wished I had a family like his), and STAR TREK (which got even better as I got older).

    I developed my own crackpot theory about this. It has to do with how long it takes blood to circulate in your body, as far as how fast or slow time seems to pass to a person. Younger, shorter, smaller, faster circulation, time slows down, shorter attention span. See? Probably crazy… but what if it's not?

    "another victim of the cancellation of The Witch Lords"

    Thanks to the previous post, I noticed something… the way people keep being taken over, as the infection spreads, is like a latter-day vampire story. Beginning at least with COUNT YORGA VAMPIRE, some vampire films had people become vampires INSTANTLY on being bitten, rather than going thru a warped parody of the Jesus thing about dying and rising from the dead on the 3rd day. Also, Dr. Marius' accent & personality is not that far removed from Frank Finlay's version of Van Helsing! the story begins and ends in a dark, dingy place (Castle Dracula?) while the middle section is at a medical facility (Dr. Seward's Sanitarium?). Coincidence? Hmm…

    "K9 is fantastic: a sarcastic robotic dog."

    I LOVE K-9. Crazy but true: the first "Doctor Who" convention I went to in Philly, before things really exploded, the 2 guests were Terrence Dicks and John Leeson!

    Iain Coleman:
    "the spacecraft model work is surprisingly good"

    Actual Gerry Anderson leftovers from "1999". Not bad. Until that one ship wobbles back-and-forth like in a kid's cartoon just before it crashes. (Can't be an accident. "HEY, KIDS! WATCH THIS!")

    Elvwood:
    "I had no interest in Star Wars either"

    Unless I'm mistaken– ah yes, October 1977– this debuted 5 MONTHS after STAR WARS opened. Sheesh. Which in some people's minds, probably made it look worse than it was.

    William Whyte:
    "a noticeable structural similarity to The Deadly Assassin"

    Fascinating. Hadn't noticed that before.

    Wm Keith:
    "Episode one, with its infections, possessions, and cold-blooded killing, is very, very scary, if you don't know what's coming next. As a child, I was so terrified by episode one that I opted not to watch the rest of the story."

    Yes… which makes the look and tone of the rest of the story quite jarring, by comparison. I suppose what was needed here was a "hospital" that looked more like (dear God, dare I say it?) –"TERMINUS".

    Reply

  14. Henry R. Kujawa
    April 15, 2012 @ 7:14 pm

    Further… I can believe that Louise Jameson put her foot down when they did "HORROR OF FANG ROCK". Baker seemeed to treat her with a lot more respect in that. He treated her with virtually NO respect in this! In fact, he seemed, especially in part 3 (the "clone" Doctor) to be totally over-the-top when it came to rudeness. It hit me, watching it tonight– "My God– it's COLIN Baker!!" (Either that, or William Hartnell from "AN UNEARTHLY CHILD".)

    There were jokes at Leela's expense all the way thru this. Like when Marius would like to figure out why she's immune… "Sorry?" "Yes, perhaps it is a matter of intelligence…" (Surprisingly, they DO find out it's something in her bloodstream– but never go into enough detail to even bother spelling out what it is.)

    I almost found myself wishing she'd held onto that green jumpsuit for later "space" stories– but definitely, without the hat.

    Inkdestroyedmybrush:
    "Moffat understand, as all the best horror movie writers, that you leaven the horror with humor and you control the level of tension within the episode. That is why the best horror has always treaded closely to being so OTT."

    You have no idea how GOOD this makes me feel. I recently (almost unintentionally) wrote my first novel– a horror story– and a good friend pointed out that the first 2 chapters felt like something out of Abbott & Costello or SCOOBY-DOO. I told him, I knew what terrible things were coming, and wanted it to have "balance".

    Reply

  15. orfeo
    July 26, 2015 @ 6:42 am

    My goodness, that was really woeful. What scares me, though, as I move forward, is the claim that there is much more woe still to come in season 15…

    Reply

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