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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.

22 Comments

  1. Alex Wilcock
    December 12, 2011 @ 4:09 am

    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. Alex Wilcock
    December 12, 2011 @ 4:10 am

    [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. Deinol
    December 12, 2011 @ 9:28 am

    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. John Seavey
    December 12, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

    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. Keith
    December 12, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

    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. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 13, 2011 @ 12:36 am

    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. William Whyte
    December 13, 2011 @ 6:29 am

    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. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 13, 2011 @ 6:35 am

    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. BerserkRL
    December 13, 2011 @ 8:13 am

    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. BerserkRL
    December 13, 2011 @ 8:16 am

    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. William Whyte
    December 13, 2011 @ 9:10 am

    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. William Whyte
    December 13, 2011 @ 9:11 am

    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. WGPJosh
    December 13, 2011 @ 10:37 am

    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. Keith
    December 13, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

    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. Matthew Blanchette
    December 14, 2011 @ 7:52 am

    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. ABM's 106cm gut
    December 14, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

    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. Gnaeus
    December 15, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

    "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. Alan
    December 16, 2011 @ 9:41 pm

    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. Deinol
    December 19, 2011 @ 9:08 am

    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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  20. John
    June 30, 2014 @ 6:04 pm

    Obviously ancient thread, but just watching Episode 5, and was noticing that the Doctor's interactions with Rodan late in the episode seem like a pretty clear preview of the Doctor's relationship with Romana next season. Has anyone discussed this?

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  21. Nicholas Tosoni
    November 19, 2014 @ 8:59 am

    Within the context of the Time Lords as they appear on the show, consider the core "trilogy" as "The War Games," "The Deadly Assassin," and "Invasion of Time"

    (I set "The Three Doctors" to one side just for now, since my argument considers only the instances in which the Doctor has encountered THE TIME LORDS(TM) on their own turf.)

    At the end of "The War Games," he meets the Time Lords and has to watch helplessly while they erase, with just a wave of the hand, Jamie and Zoe's memories of their adventures with him…and how they grew and changed on those adventures.

    He parted ways with Sarah Jane in "Hand of Fear" because he was terrified of the same happening to her. As far as he knew, they were still the same coldhearted Olympian gods.

    In "Deadly Assassin," he saves his people and sees them outside of their godlike posturing. In gratitude, they promise that they won't erase his companions' memories should he bring them to Gallifrey. (Probably.)

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  22. orfeo
    August 15, 2015 @ 5:39 am

    Well, I liked this a lot for 5 episodes, and in fact I'd say I liked it a HELL of a lot for about 3.

    Time Lords hapless and squabbling? I don't know about that. Cardinal Borusa is frequently quite marvellous, and one of the things I appreciated most was a feeling that were multiple interesting characters. A lot of the script is excellent. I especially liked the frequent use of cutting between scenes so that another character either says the same thing that was just said, or says the complete opposite.

    Yes, it does fall away badly at the end (not just Leela's departure, pretty much the whole final episode is a disappointment), and there are other issues such as there never being an explanation why the Doctor felt the need to cooperate with the Vardans in the first place, as apparently they couldn't attack Gallifrey without help. But in many ways it felt to me like one of the better efforts in a while.

    Also, I have to disagree with the notion that this is the first time that something was brought back (the Sontarans) just because that would be a cool idea. Around the Pertwee era there were a number of cases of using a hook/gimmick to get people to watch, particularly with season openers. The one that sticks out for me is shoehorning the Daleks into "Day of the Daleks" where they are the least effective part of that story.

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