The Invasion of Time

Region 1

Region 2
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 97, starring Tom Baker)
  • written by Graham Williams & Anthony Read under the name "David Agnew"
  • directed by Gerald Blake
  • produced by Graham Williams
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 6 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The Doctor returns to his home planet of Gallifrey and, picking up where he left off in "The Deadly Assassin" (story no. 88), lays claim to the presidency of the High Council of Time Lords. However, Leela is at a loss to understand why he wields his new powers with such uncharacteristic callousness. What dangerous deals has he made with a secret invasion fleet prior to returning home? Has the Doctor finally gone mad?

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by Louise Jameson (Leela), John Leeson (Voice of K9), co-writer Anthony Read, and visual effects designer Mat Irvine.
  • "Out of Time" making-of featurette (17 min.), with Read, Jameson, Leeson, Chris Tranchell (Andred), Milton Johns (Castellan Kelner),
    and visual effects designer Colin Mapson.
  • "The Rise and Fall of Gallifrey" featurette (10 min.) with Read, Time Lord creator Terrance Dicks, and fans Alan Barnes and Gary Russell.
  • "The Elusive David Agnew" spoof featurette (5 min.) with Dicks and Read
  • Deleted scenes from Parts Five and Six (6 min.)
  • Optional new CGI effects
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery sound effects montage (7 min.)
  • Easter Egg featurette (1 min.) with Colin Mapson detailing the design of the matrix headband.

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Despite a host of humorous gags that miss the mark, this story teases viewers with some fascinating new twists and developments in character arcs, successfully raises the mythological stakes far higher than any other story this season until they are comparable with the most classic stories of any Doctor Who era, and proceeds along a solid plot that makes for good on-screen viewing. It might easily have topped the season, if only it had had an ending that dealt with what had been set-up in previous episodes instead of getting lost in padding, drivel, and out-and-out silliness.

It is too bad that the writing credits at the start of the show pay more attention to who will get paid for what, instead of the message that it sends its audience. I hate it when the producer and script editor are forced to hide behind a false name to satisfy finances and politics. It amounts to lying in my eyes. I think the general audience has a right to know who wrote the story they're watching. As it stands, you have to be a savvy fan with access to and interest in the research about the program.... or get the DVD with its featurettes, commentaries, and production notes.

Introductory Literacy

The opening shot of the story shows off some impressive model work, but not quite impressive enough to rival the opening of Star Wars as it was possibly meant to. What I dislike most about it is that background stars are restricted to the one corner of the frame that has no part of any spacecraft moving across it - revealing that a substandard split-screen effect was substituted for proper CSO / chromakey / optical printing, making for a very clumsily realized visual. It is surprising how common this becomes on Doctor Who even long after better techniques are fully developed.

But the opening sequence does introduce the Vardans and their mysterious relationship with the Doctor really well, utilizing Leela and K9's scene in the TARDIS console room expertly to ask questions that fill in the gaps of the Doctor/Vardan dialogue and keep the viewers hooked for another two episodes. It may look at first as though the recent stubbornly backward trend of ignoring the police box altogether and doing the TARDIS almost solely from the console room will continue, but there is artistic merit to the choice this time, and the cycle is finally broken when the police box makes a grand and perfect materialization in a large spare gallery on Gallifrey. The TARDIS's introduction isn't as totally perfect as possible, particularly as the centre column fails to move during its in-vortex journey from the Vardan ship, and the scanner is almost never used at all. But at least every episode of the story features someone going into or out of the TARDIS, with scenes in both the interior and exterior, and the juxtaposition of scenes makes that relationship crystal clear in episodes two through five.

Gallifrey itself is not introduced well. We simply cut to Andred and Castellan Kelner in their connected offices to listen to their bland, slow dialogue and the hypnotic background atmosphere effect. No establishing shots of the planet or the Capitol building, and a very undramatic and unsatisfying entrance for two of the story's most important characters and the main setting for the adventure. Their costumes are very distinctive, and I suppose viewers are meant to recognize these traditional Gallifreyan outfits from stories past and future to know where they are. Not all a classic story should be doing if it wants to be able to stand up on its own without requiring support from the rest of the series.


Tom Baker and Chris Tranchell make a bad combination for playing the jokes up too far, often dispelling the reality of the situation that they are supposed to be in, as well as the reality of Tranchell's character Guard Commander Andred. The script also insists on throwing Leela and K9 out of character for several gags that are short on humour and large on silliness.

Luckily John Arnatt's sleepy Borusa is capable of infusing the drama with a greater sense of seriousness, and Tom Baker is able to give his best opposite him. Their scenes together contain the heart of the fascinating character arc that makes this story's drama. Also very worthy of note is Charles Morgan as Gold Usher, who retains the air of religious authority he commanded as the Abbot Songsten in "The Abominable Snowmen" (story no. 38, also directed by Gerald Blake), and is instrumental in giving the grand Gallifreyan ceremonies near the beginning of this story their needed weight.

Milton Johns also gets his definitive role on Doctor Who as Castellan Kelner, imbuing him with an unadulterated lackey-ing sliminess as the most obvious statement of high-level Time Lord corruption in any television Gallifreyan story. Stunt-regular Max Faulkner also shines in his role as Nesbin, where he gets a look that makes him not so easily recognizable. He has one of the better, more serious parts in this story. Rodan is an interesting character, pretty much a prototype for next year's Romana, acting as an interesting counterpoint to Leela and Nesbin and a useful helper to the Doctor. Derek Deadman also delivers a solid performance, with not only many of his lines but also his delivery of them becoming favourites among fans wishing to emulate his character's race.

Shifting Plot Gears

Most of the outdoor location filming done for this story is really good. The scraggly trees, yellowy atmosphere, and sandy puddles are perfect for Gallifrey's abandoned outer wilderness. The real letdown is the soft-sand cliff of the quarry, doubling for the proximity of the capitol buildings themselves. Even if they couldn't do the planned split-screen thing, a pan across a model or some other more interesting background would have been better to look at. Sadly, the DVD's new CGI option does nothing to improve these sequences or further realize the exteriors of any Gallifreyan architecture.

Making sense out of the various escalations in the later invasion plot requires the viewer to pay attention to a lot of techno-babble. Early scenes use a lot of expert juxtaposition of well-written dialogue scenes to bring a lot of the points home, a style last seen at this level of effectiveness in the first episode of "The Green Death" (story no. 69). But later sequences really could use more model work. This would not only make the main conflict easier to grasp but also easier to enjoy and of appeal to a wider range of audience types. The situation in Gallifreyan orbit is at the core of the strategic motivations for most of the main characters, so it is of no small importance to the overall story. Sadly, the DVD CGI team doesn't really tackle this area of things. They improved the opening space shot by adding background stars, while leaving most other space shots empty.

Wanting to Superimpose...

There's a lot going on in the superimposed laser department this time, with some effort going into duplicating effects from previous stories. Before we look at the significant improvements from the DVD CGI team, let's thoroughly explore the original effects. Unlike "The Deadly Assassin" (story no. 88), this story contains no good reason why the effect of a Gallifreyan staser shot should not be seen beginning at the "barrel" of the weapon, and looking specifically at the way director Gerald Blake shot many of the laser fire scenes & especially episode two's introductory staser shot, a "barrel firing" effect is precisely what is needed. But instead of updating this type of effect, the original effects team chose to stick to the four-cornered white star-on-the-target effect from "Deadly Assassin", even though it meant that the effect was completely out of frame half of the time. Instead they fixed what wasn't broke - the sound effect - making it sound far more wimpy. No points earned for the stasers on this story. Season Twenty's "Arc of Infinity" (story no. 124) - in its original non-CGI upgraded form - shows how the standard Gallifreyan weapon should be updated: keep the sound effect from "Deadly Assassin", and upgrade the visual to a complete and proper beam.

K9 fares a bit better with his nose-blaster. He gets a typically good red beam for his commonly used stun effect, and even trades in his early sound effect from "The Invisible Enemy" (story no. 93) and "The Sun Makers" (story no. 95) to get what will basically become his standard stun sound, even though it is played slower and at a lower pitch than normal. But while some extremely flattering close-up shots of K9 firing while turning are achieved, the poor dog has to go without any superimposed laser beams at this point. A classic example of the trade-off between exciting dynamic cinematography and holding still for a decent BBC budget laser effect.

The Vardan beams are the one effect in this story not competing with or trying to match previous versions of itself from stories past. (Or future). They get excellent visual beams, and a decent sound effect. The designs of the alien invaders themselves are worth noting, and change several times during escalations in the plot. Most of their looks in the story are rather cool, achieved and used really well within the story. But there is one form in the mix that is disappointing as well.... For an even more complete dissection of this aspect of the story, read the In-depth Analysis version of this review.

The new CGI option on the DVD release is mostly occupied with improving on the various superimposition effects. Pretty much all laser beams are improved, including completely new beams where none could be found on the original. This is pretty much always an improvement, although in a few cases the extra effects are in danger of painting over performances of the actors which we would prefer to continue to see. The other most notable improvement is actually to some of the aliens we see, which is an update covering a lot of screen time. This does elevate many sections of the story and emphasizes the intriguing sci-fi concepts behind them that were already in the script and the dialogue. Nice. Sometimes we get a new glow painted over the picture where none is needed, particularly regarding the matrix headband, but I'd say 90-95% of the new effects are improvements, and I'll probably prefer watching the story with these on from now on.

Production Highlights

Dudley Simpson's score for this story is magnificent, the best it's been for a long time. Where the score for "The Mind of Evil" (story no. 56) might be the most important thematically for the Jon Pertwee Era, "The Invasion of Time" is THE important score for the Tom Baker era. Simpson creates some wonderful themes for the Vardans, and often on the organ once again, for Time Lord ceremonies and victories. Simpson also gets very creative in using low, harsh, powerful synthesizer sounds to represent the invaders, in addition to using them to play some newly-composed, easily recognizable enemy motifs.

But best of all, Simpson takes his theme for Tom Baker's Doctor, and instead of using it sparingly and in barely recognizable variations as he has done for several years running, this time he brings it out in all its glory and celebrates it often all throughout the score. I must credit this story as being the first to bring the Fourth Doctor's Theme to the level of my conscious awareness. Simpson satisfyingly plays the theme straight in many places, as well as coming up with many fun and easily recognized variations. This theme's juxtaposition with invader music during a chase sequence is particularly satisfying.

"The Invasion of Time" Parts 3 & 4 (5:37)
is available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who:
The 50th Anniversary Collection
all versions (2013-2014)

More info

Buying options

Set design is generally good. The panopticon and its clone gallery are quite satisfying, and the clockwork lead panels are absolutely brilliant. The corridors are unfortunately claustrophobically and unbelievably narrow, particularly since so many things stick out from the walls. It's enough to make a submarine look more spacious, but then strikes at the BBC caused a lot of unfortunate makeshift studio arrangements.

The biggest casualty in set design has got to be the deep interior of the TARDIS, which manages to look as though it has nothing to do with the console room. Yes, it is disappointing. Wildly different looking rooms in the TARDIS can be perfectly acceptable, but this medicine would go down much easier with a spoonful of sugar or something. If the team had thought to take the two standard-looking roundeled wall panels from the console room, and put them into the corridor entrances to each weird TARDIS interior room, continuity would be much more pleasing to us long-term fans, and the whole thing could have worked much better. Since the strike caused the console room to be shot in the same hospital where many of the TARDIS deep interiors were also shot, it shouldn't be that much of a stretch to cart those two panels in. If only someone had thought of it. When those sequences roll, there isn't much to differentiate the TARDIS deep interior with the external world, and much of the effect is lost.

Climax Lost

Of course, this story's biggest drawback is its nearly non-existent cop-out of an ending, which is doubly bizarre since the plot has built so nicely in the first five episodes that many excellent possibilities for a satisfying conclusion seem obvious. Rather than wrapping the important plot elements up satisfactorily, the script instead spends time trying to invent more gags and come up with anything and everything including the hospital's kitchen sink to fill up its allotted 25 minute time-slot. Exploring a new area is one thing, wandering aimlessly and losing the plot is another. It might have worked as is in an earlier episode, but in the final episode, the pace needs to be increasing, not slowing down.

There is a lot more to say about exactly how the ending missed the mark, and how it could still work if only a few minor things were fixed, but I'll save all those spoilers for the In-depth Analysis version of this review. Read it once you've seen the story and formed your own opinions.

Final Thoughts

It's sometimes difficult to know how hard we audience members should be on "The Invasion of Time". It's a last-minute script struggling to complete itself during a BBC strike, so there were a lot of understandable extra challenges for cast and crew. But somehow I think director Gerald Blake has to take a bit of flak for not having a stronger vision of it to guide him in knowing what bits of footage to leave out, and what additional footage was essential to making this story work.

Much as I like the CGI improvements on the DVD, what this story really needs and didn't get yet is a brand new edit. With a lot of the bad, distracting gags and fluffs removed, and additional visual aids in the form of exterior optical shots, it would no doubt be easier to improve the pace and maintain concentration on the central story. And there's a gem hidden in here, still begging to be revealed like the prize statue hidden in the block of marble, waiting for the chisel of a true artist to set it free.

Even with all of its faults, "The Invasion of Time" remains a strong, interesting and entertaining story, full of excellent highlights. It is not to be missed by anyone wanting to follow the mythology of the Doctor Who series. I gladly rank it as a strong second behind "The Sun Makers" in my list of season favourites.

Season Fifteen Rankings:

Best Story:

  • The Sun Makers
  • The Invasion of Time
  • The Invisible Enemy
  • Horror of Fang Rock
  • Underworld
  • Image of the Fendahl

Best Writer:

  • Robert Holmes
  • Graham Williams & Anthony Read
  • Bob Baker & Dave Martin
  • Terrance Dicks
  • Chris Boucher

Best Director:

  • Paddy Russell
  • Pennant Roberts
  • Gerald Blake
  • Norman Stewart
  • Derrick Goodwin
  • George Spenton-Foster

Best Music (during a Dudley Simpson monopoly):

  • The Invasion of Time
  • The Sun Makers
  • Underworld
  • Horror of Fang Rock
  • The Invisible Enemy
  • Image of the Fendahl

Best Laser Effects:

  • Underworld
  • The Sun Makers
  • The Invasion of Time
  • The Invisible Enemy

This story is becoming available on DVD and VHS video:
DVD NTSC Region 1
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC in the U.S.
NTSC in Canada
PAL for the U.K.

Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

Contact page


Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "The Ribos Operation"

Home Page Site Map Star Trek Sliders Doctor Who Tom Baker Era Episode Guide Catalogue