I'm in the middle of a wholesale reappraisal of the contents of my flat, including my collection of VHS tapes. This has led to my playing The Invasion of Time, which works rather well as background to walking in and out of the room. One notices the strengths more: Castellan Kelner in the hands of the master of unctuous officialdom, Milton Johns, alternately conspiring against his president and grovelling to feed him jelly babies; the Outsiders' dismissal of Rodan's survival skills reducing her to tears and apologies; the scenes of chamber politics and close-ups which play to the theatrical roots of studio drama and given Tom Baker the chance to deploy a range of performance which he had little opportunity to do in Doctor Who; and Louise Jameson's domination of the location scenes in Outer Gallifrey, which redeem Leela from the burden of the leaden and belittling dialogue she is given to speak in scenes with the Doctor.

Yes, the Vardans are badly-realised, there are too many chancellery guards not paying attention to staying in character, and there are characters set up for usefulness - such as Gomer and Savar, whose discussion about wavelength fluctuations in part one foreshadows both the Vardans' source of power and their weakness - who are in the event underdeveloped. However, the first few episodes aspire with some success to dramatise some 1970s popular concerns - the source of political power and authority, and the limitations of the welfare state - though little effort is made to disguise the convenience with which the Doctor can stop and divert the action with an "apt phrase", which undermines the whole.

Some Doctor Who fans of the late 1970s and early 1980s were obsessed with Gallifrey, to the extent of wishing for a season entirely set there. We were mostly would-be technocrats then; but we'd all missed the message. The Invasion of Time is about the corrosive effects of a consensus of the highly educated, unable to stand up to ideas spread by broadcasting or brute force (and the Sontarans, led by a Cockney Stor, are here working-class warriors rather than the bachelor colonial officers they are elsewhere) without innovative thinking. The anticlimax is that the status quo ante is restored at the end, with the gimmick of the Demat Gun suggesting an epic which has run out of ideas.

ETA: There's also the confusion that Derek Deadman's Sontaran mask is noticeably different between the location film footage and the studio videotape scenes. In studio, the nose appears larger and narrower and the eyes are surrounded by dark make-up which doesn't appear on location. The effect is that Stor's genetic inheritance includes some of the vampire Count Orlok from Nosferatu; what this does to my class-warrior reading of the Sontarans is beyond the scope of this post.


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