Doctor Who complete reviews: The Invisible Enemy
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
Time to meet the Tin Dog, at last. But could he have had a better opening story..?
After the highs of seasons 12, 13 and 14, season 15 is something of a mish mash. 1977 was a turning point in the way in which Doctor Who was written and made, especially after the Whitehouse scandal. After three-odd years of gritty drama and high death counts, the tide was about to turn in favour of a more light-hearted approach.
When Graham Williams took on the mantle of the producer, he was faced with a yawning black hole which had previously contained deep, dark scares. Naturally, the answer was staring him right in the face with mad boggle eyes. Tom Baker, now in his fourth season, with his own brand of off-the-wall humour was going from strength to strength. So why not harness that humour and fill the void? The next three seasons would see an increase in humour, which by and large was both sophisticated and entertaining.
The problem with season 15 though is that it’s being pulled in different directions at once. On the one hand, it’s hanging on by a thread to the dark side with two last gothic horror masterpieces. On the other, it’s slowly starting to present the type of story that would take place in the next two seasons. On the whole, most of the season works, with only a couple of undercooked stories that don’t quite stand up as well as they could. One of those is The Invisible Enemy, which just about sums up the uncertainty of season 15 in a nutshell.
"Be warned – if you’re thinking of devising a drinking game to accompany this story, you’d better make sure that it includes a health warning, since the “Contact Has Been Made” repeat will result in many iffy tummies the next day"
The four parts almost read as different stories with different types of mood and genre. The problem is is that the end result’s untidier than my 13-year-old self’s bedroom. Invisible is being pulled in all sorts of different directions, and so really doesn’t have any identity of its own. The only thing it is remembered for is of course, the introduction of what would later be classed as a “shooty dog thing” – but more on him in a minute.
It gets off to a reasonable start for sure, with one of the last notable uses of that old Hinchcliffe/Holmes favourite – possession. In this case, possession is rife in The Invisible Enemy, to the point where practically every character is taken over by the Nucleus of the Swarm. You can tell when someone’s under the influence in two ways. One is that the characters develop silly tin-foil eye make-up, like they’ve been held hostage by a colour-blind eight-year-old girl with a make-up bag. It’s a wonder that characters can see out of all that gloop, to the point where they should really say: “Contact lenses have been made” to give them that important vision boost.
In the end though, every character says: “Contact Has Been Made”. In case you hadn’t realised, Bob Baker and Dave Martin are back behind their twin typewriters. And by now, they’d started the unofficial bid to be the Kings Of The Catchphrase. Following “Eldrad Must Live” in The Hand Of Fear and preceding “The Quest Is The Quest” in Underworld (and not to mention the 'Gallifrey is in Ireland' running gag), “Contact Has Been Made” is repeated ad nauseum throughout the story. Be warned – if you’re thinking of devising a drinking game to accompany this story, you’d better make sure that it includes a health warning, since the “Contact Has Been Made” repeat will result in many iffy tummies the next day.
Even The Doctor’s not immune to this hypnotic jape, as he’s hit right in the eyes by two blasts of lightning. It must be said though that Tom Baker’s very good at acting the bad guy. When The Doctor is mentally possessed by the Nucleus, he’s all wide blank eyes, hairy hands and evil hissing. Look at the way he urges Meeker to “Kill her… Kill her!” when the crewman is on the hunt for Leela. That’s far scarier than the ultimate form of the Nucleus of the Swarm. And Dudley Simpson’s eerie, creaky motif for the possessed helps to raise the stakes too.
Unfortunately, after a promising start, the whole thing comes crashing down in part two, which could almost have been written by a different team. The tension has completely vanished, to be replaced by an unappetising mix of weak humour and clichéd ranting. After the superior setting of the Titan Base, we’re whisked off to the Bi-Al Foundation, a futuristic hospital manned by snotty drones in green shrink-wrap and headed by a mad professor and his tin dog.
And there, the warning bells start. In fact, The Invisible Enemy provides raw deals for two returning guest stars, who had appeared to great acclaim in season 13. Quite how much Frederick Jaeger and Michael Sheard were offered to appear as Marius and Lowe is anybody’s guess, but the pay must have been very appealing, since both roles are pretty thankless. Marius is a clichéd, ranting scientist with a clichéd, ranting Germanic accent. “Total vayste of time!” is one of the first things that Marius says, and he’s never said a truer word. Marius, for all his scientific brilliance, is about as formidable as Mr Boo from Jamie And The Magic Torch. He’s reduced to either giving away plot details in a clunky, hammy fashion, or moaning about what a great inconvenience the arrival of The Doctor and the possessed Swarm groupies is.
Michael Sheard, Who veteran and all-round good egg, gets a similarly poor deal with Lowe. Initially a meek ‘n’ mild Laurence Scarman type, Lowe is inevitably taken over by the Swarm and instead becomes the blueprint for ranting Grange Hill nightmare Mr Bronson. Without the wig.
"Baker and Martin don’t seem to be able to write for Leela at all, making her stupid, sulky and whining"
Sadly, all Lowe gets to do is to strut around barking angry threats at everyone he comes into contact with. “SURRENDER The Doctor!!!” “I SHALL DESTROY THIS CENTRE!!!!” “KILL THE REJECT!!!” What’s more, every line is delivered with greater pitches of anger by Sheard, to the point where I expect him to suddenly stop and curl up in a sobbing ball. Sheard does his best for sure, but he’s got very little to work with here, and you can see him battling against the odds to bring some sort of credibility to the character. In the end though, you kind of think that one of the Bi-Al workers turns out to be Danny Kendall or Ant Jones.
So the drama factor of part one has been replaced by clichéd booming and comedy that’s actually not very funny. Leela, in particular, is a casualty of this, and it’s sad to think that she’s degenerated from a capable, intelligent woman to become a “Wah-wah-waaaahhhh” comedy savage. Interestingly, Baker and Martin don’t seem to be able to write for Leela at all, making her stupid, sulky and whining. Good job that we have Louise Jameson in the role, since she still has that knack for turning dross into gold. Despite the ropey lines and whinging given to her, Jameson makes Leela a hugely likeable character – it’s just odd that she cited Horror Of Fang Rock as being a poor script rather than this one and Underworld.
"I actually quite like K9 – who’s to say that The Doctor can’t have his own pet? It shows that the creative team still had the brains and imagination to give The Doctor a different type of companion, and it’s telling that K9 is still fondly remembered to this day"
The most important element in part two – for better or worse – is of course, K9. The tin dog is very much a love or hate figure. Adults and purists sneered at the silly lump of metal, while kids loved it. I actually quite like K9 – who’s to say that The Doctor can’t have his own pet? It shows that the creative team still had the brains and imagination to give The Doctor a different type of companion, and it’s telling that K9 is still fondly remembered to this day. It also helps that John Leeson provides the endearing vocals for the dog – he gets the voice absolutely spot-on with that cross between a stuffy university don and a speak-your-weight machine. It’s true that K9 ultimately becomes surplus to requirements by the end of season 18, but he’s still a fun new innovation which is fondly remembered by overgrown five-year-olds to this day.
By the time part three’s come around, it’s time for a change of tactics yet again. It’s another homage, this time to the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage, in which characters are shrunk to miniscule size and exit via tear ducts. However, with a more depleted budget than ever before, the end results are a bit hit ‘n’ miss. On the plus side, Barry Newbery’s designs are excellent and actually quite realistic. There’s also a few interesting visual concepts such as the floating pillars – hmm, visions of the Master’s TARDIS, perhaps?
The downside is that there are various visual goofs that look ridiculous. Louise Jameson has often said that the only time that Leela screams is in The Talons Of Weng-Chiang, but in fact, she shrieks a lot in this story too. It’s not altogether surprising that she’s blanked this from her memory though, since getting attacked by a giant mouldy gobstopper isn’t exactly high on dignity. The cloned Lowe also succumbs to this fate, and it just looks ridiculous. And why is it that when the cloned Doctor and Leela disintegrate, Leela is reduced to a wig? The rumours that Leela is actually as bald as a coot are yet to be proved.
Two of the story’s biggest visual stinkers happen in this episode. One is a very obvious chunk of wall that’s blatantly been blasted before in Take One. But the ridiculous thing about this is that it’s meant to represent a barricade against Lowe and his cronies. Just one problem with that – it wouldn’t keep out a determined guinea pig – all Lowe has to do is just step over the polystyrene chunk and he’s there.
"After the memorable baddies of the Hinchcliffe years, the Nucleus is a big fall from grace"
And then there’s the Nucleus itself, a giant lobster thing that’s about as mobile as a 10-ton weight. Mercifully, the Nucleus is kept off the screen for the first two and three quarter parts, but when it starts boogieing on down to what sounds like a Jean-Michel Jarre B-side at the end of part three, it’s not good news. These fears are only heightened in part four, when the clunky lobster has to be ferried out by two luckless extras. The Nucleus is so bloody lazy that it needs everyone else to do its dirty work. After the memorable baddies of the Hinchcliffe years, this is a big fall from grace. And even The Doctor’s having a good old laugh on Marius’ table at the start of part four as the giant lobster waggles its arms about like a man in a storm of wasps.
Part four is supposed to tie up all the loose ends. Which it does, but it’s so formulaic and by the book that it reads like a checklist rather than a TV programme. Furthermore, the chemistry between The Doctor and Leela is at an all-time low. The Doctor’s been barking angrily at Leela throughout the story, and part four is no exception – he even takes the credit for her imaginative idea to blow up the Titan Base, the crafty git. He’s also not averse to feeding Lowe to the hatching Swarm – normally The Doctor doesn’t like it when the baddies are brutally killed, but on this occasion, the Time Lord just shoves the stunned Lowe into the tank like a scrap of meat to a pack of dogs. Hmmmm.
After a long run of high quality stories, The Invisible Enemy has a hell of a lot to live up to. But given the standard of stories that have gone before, The Invisible Enemy suffers all the more because of its very obvious shortcomings. There’s a good idea at the heart of the story, but the execution, more often than not, is too slapdash for the tale to work. The script too has some good ideas, but they’re buried beneath a pile of clichés and unworkable concepts. It’s a brave attempt, but in the end, The Invisible Enemy just doesn’t quite work.
John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.
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