Aired 4 February – 11 March 1978
Returning to Gallifrey, the Doctor demands to be instated into the position of President of the High Council of Time Lords after inexplicably signing a treaty with enemy aliens. After banishing Leela to the wastelands and disabling the planet’s defence barriers to welcome an invasion, the hidden agendas of both the Doctor and the Vardans come into question as another familiar presence lurks in the shadows.
The Fourth Doctor has always managed to carry a bit of a darker persona about him no matter how jocular or frivolous he at times seems, and the first half of ‘The Invasion of Time’ wonderfully exploits this aspect of the character as it seems that he has turned against his own people. Baker excels in bringing out a truly frightening menace as events progress, and the manner in which he scorns his former mentor, Borusa, and verbally abuses his companion, Leela, gives credence to the prospect that he really has forsaken the Time Lords in favour of the Vardans whom he manically and gleefully introduces. Of course, there is a method to his madness, and moments such as his pained look as he must keep his pretense up as Leela begs him to let her aboard the TARDIS ground events in realism and prove that he truly is still the same character even as he assumes the most powerful position upon Gallifrey with malice in his eyes.
Even though Leela is very much not the focus in what is her final episode, Louise Jameson still manages to command full attention whenever she is on screen. Hers has been a sometimes-tumultuous but ultimately very rewarding time with the Doctor as he has broadened her horizons far beyond the culture and traditions of her Sevateem tribe. She has always had a fierce loyalty for the Doctor, and that is never more apparent that when she steadfastly and staunchly refuses to lose faith in him even as he acts deplorably both to her and in general. She again proves her bravery and compassion as she finds a natural fit amongst Gallifrey’s outsiders and joins in the bigger fight with gusto, her unwavering faith paying tremendous dividends as she gives one final reminder of what a tenacious, loyal, and intelligent companion she is. Even if her decision to stay to explore a relationship with Andred doesn’t feel completely earned, a more primitive woman enmeshed in Time Lord society to any extent certainly opens the door for unique storytelling opportunities should that decision ever be made.
Fortunately, ‘The invasion of Time’ also makes very good use of the always-limited budget in certain areas, giving a grand sense of scope to the Panopticon and giving an immense sense of decorum to the induction process. While also exploring parts of the TARDIS never before seen and bringing the Outlands to life wonderfully, this is a tale that spares no expense in rounding out familiar locales. At the same time, the few Time Lords thrust into focal roles as events unravel are believable and add again help to flesh out the proceedings sympathetically and understandably. With such a prolonged sense of mystery regarding the Doctor’s true motives, even K-9 is thrust into an anti-hero role as he helps brings the protective transduction barriers down, and the unfolding chess match between the Doctor and the Vardans adds yet another strong layer of intrigue to the story, the Doctor trying to discover the aliens’ home planet to trap them in a time loop and the Vardans trying to allow the Sontarans a clear path to invasion and victory. Even if the superb costuming of the Time Lords leaves the realization of the Vardans feeling a bit lacking, the surprise revelation of the Sontarans as a hidden player also works very well, their plan fearlessly daring as they attempt to take Rassilon’s relics from Gallifrey to wreak havoc across the universe.
Unfortunately, for as many sequences that there are throughout the tale that exude a sense of lavishness, there are just as many that feel rather lackluster by comparison. While this can apply to certain portions of the Time Lord citadel and academy, this is perhaps most egregious as the story approaches pantomime levels in the woefully underdressed TARDIS corridors in an odd chase sequence that questions the validity of déjà vu. The Sontarans also fall rather flat once introduced, the audacity of their plan the only redeeming factor as the costuming and physical presence lets them down. Considering how quickly the script was written, though, the intelligence in each scene from beginning to end has to be commended, and it’s a shame that the direction doesn’t match the ambition and that the budget couldn’t be allocated more evenly throughout the production to give a greater sense of cohesion. Still, with spectacular core performances that explore the ever-present but rarely-utilized darker side of the Fourth Doctor as Leela bids farewell, ‘The invasion of Time’ certainly holds plenty of merit that makes it well worth repeated viewings.