The Invisible Enemy
|Dates||Oct. 1, 1977 -
Oct. 22, 1977
With Tom Baker, Louise Jameson,
John Lesson as the voice of "K9".
Written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin.
Script-edited by Robert Holmes.
Directed by Derrick Goodwin. Produced by Graham Williams.
|Synopsis: A virus seizes control the minds of humans and attempts to even control the Doctor....|
A Review by Keith Bennett 13/7/98
This story more often than not seems to appear on lists of Doctor Who fans' least favourites, and indeed it is not the greatest ever made, but it has a certain appeal. The early scenes of the spaceship getting taken over by the Nucleus, the ship docking and so forth are great, and the story is entertaining in itself. Fantastic Voyage is an entertaining film, and I've always found the thought of travelling inside someone's body to be quite interesting, so it's nice to see Doctor Who give it a try. K-9 also makes a good start in this, his debut story, and Frederick Jaeger is very entertaining as Professor Marius.
On the negative side, however, is the seemingly sparcely populated Bi-Al Foundation, the emptiness never in more evidence than when the crash happens -- just Professor Marius and a couple of his pals arrive, making it seem not so much like a ship has crashed into the place, but they've got a broken air conditioner. Even worse comes a bit after, when a medic is seen just going about his duties, as if nothing has happened. This all gives the story a rather cheap look (and I won't mention that piece of wall K-9 "breaks" off to use as a barrier). I also have a bit of a problem with Leela in this story, although I'm not sure why... Something about her lines and the way she delivers them grates on me a bit for some reason. And what of the crazy prawn that has invaded the Doctor's head?? Well, give me this curious Doctor Who villain to the... um... to the... er... to the Merkur anyday! But really, the Nucleus isn't that bad, even if only good for a bit of a chuckle.
Overall, The Invisible Enemy is a pretty entertaining and nice try that suffers from a few quite evident weaknesses. 6/10
A Review by Chuck Geers 26/5/00
The Invisible Enemy will always hold a special spot in my heart as the first Doctor Who story I ever saw. It was a rainy Saturday night in the early Eighties when my brother Andy and I stumbled onto this strange show with horrible effects and a cool plot. We watched it at first to laugh in a MST3k way. Soon it was apparent more was going on here than we first thought. It was good enough for us to tune back the next week, and then for the next 17 years. While my opinion of Doctor Who has been upgraded from strange to brilliant, my opinion of The Invisible Enemy has not been upgraded.
The Invisible Enemy is a great idea for a story badly executed. All the scenes with the miniature Doctor and Leela are embarrassing, far beneath the level of Doctor Who's typical storyline. It is the stuff of comic books, and bad comic books at that. I remember my brother and I quoting and laughing at several horrendous lines for weeks afterwards. If I was to call him today and ask, "what did you tell them?" he would respond, "I think I told them my liver was disintegrating I think." As far as most of the effects, even for Doctor Who they where far below average. When K9 blast part of the wall to create a barrier it is obvious where it had been precut.
However there is a lot in this story that I love. It introduces K9. That alone makes it a mandatory view. When K9 joins the TARDIS crew it is truly a great moment. Tom Baker is at the height of his Doctor Who career. At this point he could carry any story no matter its content or effects budget. The next season he starts his over acting phase and is never quite the same. Leela is still one of the best companions ever, dumb and violent the perfect combination (also worked for Jamie). The plot is different from any before or since, ingenious.
Overall I would recommend The Invisible Enemy with a few words of warning. It gets silly and many of the special effects fall flat, but the acting and history in this story make it worth it. For me the nostalgia of this story will always overshadow any problems with it.
Contact has been made by Mike Jenkins 22/6/02
Certainly not the most memorable story created by the Bob B/Dave M Team, it's nevertheless full of dynamic ideas, reminiscent of the Isamov classic 'Fantastic Voyage.' K-9 shines with his usual charm, the professor is the spitting image of goofish intellectual playfullnes, Leela is appealingly tame and Tom is better then ever. Shoddy effects and ridiculously poor realizations leave the brimming concepts by the wayside while the rest of the story drags itself furthur into the garbage heap. Yet aside from that, I have found most criticisms of the story unjust. It's due largely to the fact that it was preceded by a story almost universaly hailed as a classic (Horror of Fang Rock). The classic line 'Contact had been' defines the 1950s traditional sci-fi approach being taken. Yet the humor and craziness of the era do not fade away. But unfortunately, as it is with Doctor Who, some of the most interesting stories fail to deliver. A story is a terrible thing to waste.
Contact has been made by Michael Hickerson 14/9/02
A lot of shows try to take us inside the minds of the main characters to try and show us just how and why a person acts the way he or she does. But The Invisible Enemy takes this concept one step further by literally taking us inside the mind of the Doctor.
The idea of miniaturizing a person and having them go inside another to fight off an infection isn't necessarily a new one nor was it one when The Invisible Enemy aired all those years ago. "Fantastic Journey" had done it almost a decade before. If anything The Invisible Enemy seems like it's trying to keep up with not only what's come before with the miniaturized Doctor and Leela going into the Doctor's brain, but also with the hot new trend at the time it aired -- namely kid-friendly robots from the monster hit "Star Wars." Thanks the George Lucas's epic space-opera, Whovians were inflicted with the character of K-9, a robotic dog that had huge potential, but most it was squandered as the robotic dog became a crutch for the writers (get the Doctor and his companion into a good deal of trouble and call K-9 to bail you out). I suppose Bob Baker and Dave Martin deserve some credit for trying to put together a variety of interesting sci-fi elements in a Doctor Who story. Certainly, on paper their script would seem ambitious and interesting -- a self-aware disease seeks to take over the universe. But unfortunately, the story for The Invisible Enemy comes off as a kind of goulash instead of the rich stew that it could have been.
Over the years, The Invisible Enemy has got a poor shake from fans and as I watched it this time around, I honestly tried to go in with fresh eyes. It can't be as bad as I remember it being, I kept telling myself as I dusted off my old video-taped copy. But I'm sorry to report that this time around made no difference -- The Invisible Enemy is still as disappointing as it was when I first viewed it all those years ago.
A lot of the blame lies in the script. The story is a greatest-hits of a lot of other sci-fi movies of the time and it seems obvious at times that Bob Baker and Dave Martin (never the strongest of Who writers) are getting bored and tired of writing for Who. The typical Baker and Martin Who script (build up to the tension and have a plot point or twist come every five minutes, leading up to the culmination of the suspense with the cliffhanger) seems a bit pedestrian here. There are some decent enough ideas such as the virus itself and what it wants to do. But it's so caught up in other silliness and so much bad science that it strains credibility with the viewers. Also, it appears as if Baker and Martin had very little idea what to do with Leela as a character and write her as such. She's a savage who lives on instinct, which they try to make use of by having the Doctor take her along to track down the virus inside his own brain. But after seeing the character so expertly written by Robert Holmes and Chris Boucher in her first three stories, the Leela here is a pale comparison. (Indeed, the character had gone so far downhill that the first time I saw this story, I hoped the Doctor would pull the trigger at the end of episode one and end the character's tenure on the show).
Also, there's the Doctor's attitude toward his traveling companion. Again, in stories by Holmes and Boucher, we see the Doctor and Leela relationship as one of a teacher/student. Both have things to learn from each other and the team is a good compliment. However, here, the Doctor is rude and downright abrasive to his traveling companion. There are several scenes inside the Doctor's brain where the Doctor belittles Leela for no apparent reason, other than to make himself look superior. I find this totally out of character for the Doctor and these scenes are cringe-inducing in the extreme. It's almost as if Tom Baker's dislike of the character is spilling over into the show.
Add to that a rather motley bunch of supporting characters -- the only really interesting one is Professor Marius and even that character never rises much above being one-dimensional. Yes, it's a good showcase for Frederick Jaeger, who creates a character so different from his one in Planet of Evil that it's hard to believe it's the same actor.
But the script is a sloppy one. I'm not one who will usually question the show for scientific inaccuracies -- unless they're screamingly obvious as they are here. For one thing -- the Doctor and Leela are injected inside the Doctor, but no question is made of how they breath or how they can move freely about inside his brain as such. Also, the idea that the clones are somehow connected to their real life counter-parts and can feel what they feel is brought up at convient times for the script and dropped at others. Finally, there's the internal time of the story. At one point, Marius states the Doctor and Leela clones only have ten minutes -- heck, he even keeps a stop-watch of the time going. But the passage of time become erratic with the script -- to point they turn off the stopwatch in the background on the off-chance that we'll forget the self-imposed time limit and not think about the sloppy script-writing.
Unfortunately, it's one of those things that is not easy to forget -- since they make such a huge deal about it early on in the story.
But the real kicker for this one is the vast dichotomy of the special effects. Let's face it -- Doctor Who will never be Star Wars with cutting edge special effects. But there are times when the special effects can be truly cringe-worthy and that is the case here. The scenes inside the Doctor's head scream CSO, while it's far too obvious which section of the wall K-9 will destroy with his laser nose. But the biggest criminal is the Virus itself, once it escapes the Doctor. Without a doubt one of the most unintentionally hilarious moments in all of Who is the cliffhanger to episode three as the Virus grows to become a giant shrimp. At this point, any fear or suspense is gone because, quite honestly, every time the thing appears on screen I'm laughing too hard to take it seriously. (It speaks wonders that Tom Baker and company are able to play the scenes where they are required to interact with the giant prawn of death with any amount of seriousness).
And while the story does feature some bad effects, it does have some good ones -- for Doctor Who. The space ships look decent, even if it's obvious they're on wires. Also, the shuttle docking features some nicely done miniature work as well.
But on the whole The Invisible Enemy is just a badly done Doctor Who story. There is little to recommend about it and overall it's a major disappointment. This is the point at which the Tom Baker years take a bit of a downturn in the overall quality of stories -- and the return to the great stories we saw early on will be a long ride, all the way to season 18.
The Invisible Value by Tim Roll-Pickering 25/9/02
Although this story is now best remembered for the introduction of K9, which alone can either make this story a classic or one to forget in the eyes of many people. However there is a lot to commend The Invisible Enemy for as it shows a high degree of imagination and goes some way towards portraying a futuristic society, most obviously in the "fonetick" spelling used. Above all there is an attempt to convey the fact that this is indeed a space based story through more than just the modelwork. However the date of 5000 for the story is rather unconvincing, suggesting as it does that mankind will be confined to Earth for another 3000 years and so this part of the futuristic setting just does not add up.
The plot involving the nucleus of the Swarm is a reasonably imaginative one and takes the series into the previously unexplored area of microverses. Unfortunately the technology available in 1977 was utterly insufficient to show a miniature world, so we are left with CSO and unconvincing sets posing as the Doctor's innards, Furthermore a large part of the plot is thus forced to take place at normal size with increasingly tiring battles between the infected humans and the non-infected. As a result the story is unable to deliver properly on what could have been a very interesting concept.
Productionwise the story is let down by relatively cheap production values which show themselves up heavily in the sets and costumes. The Nucleus itself does not look at all terrifying, even when it is still at miniature size, whilst the effects of the virus are all too obviously just stuck on to the actors' faces and hands. The modelwork is, however, exceptionally good and it is a pity that it is let down by the rest of the production.
The acting is generally weak, with only Tom Baker, Louise Jameson and Michael Sheard (Lowe) giving their usually dependable performances. Many of the cast seem to be wandering through the production utterly uninspired, whilst Frederick Jaeger (Professor Marius) contributes a hideous German accent that makes the character exceptionally comical. And then there is K9...
Introducing a robotic regular was becoming a clich?in 1977 but it would be foolish to criticise the series for jumping on a bandwagon that happened so quickly when Star Wars began. K9 is an interesting idea, clearly aimed at children but there's a certain charm about the dog. However he is all too clearly intended as a computer rather than as a mobile gun and when he gets used as the latter he becomes increasingly ineffective. However his addition to the TARDIS makes for a very different companion from before and it is good to see the production team trying something different. Unfortunately this is not enough in itself to save the story from being a wasted opportunity. 3/10
A Review by Ewen Campion-Clarke 23/1/03
When I first saw this story, my TV developed a fault, forcing me to watch it in black and white. The idea of journeying-to-the-centre-of-the-brain was quite popular that week - Danger Mouse went through four episodes of this just like the Doctor. Looking back, I was surprised I could take the middle segment of the story seriously as a cartoon mouse and gerbil beat the Doctor and Leela into the controlled brain of a main character (in their case Colonel K) to find the evil squatters at the heart. While Time Lord and Savage fought phagocites and evil clones, DM found himself fighting literal funny bones as well as getting lost inside the body. However, this story has K9 in it, so it must be taken with all the respect it deserves.
Looking at it today, I do notice how disparate the episodes are. The first one is a sort of 1970s Event Horizon with a ship full of well-rounded characters (well, as well-rounded as you can get with one minute of dialogue between them) being plunged into chaos then, possessed, begin to kill off their innocent co-workers as they return. The scenes of the spacesuited carriers hunting down the crew room are more eerie than when they reveal their infection (presumably capitalizing on the success of The Ambassadors of Death). I do wonder, though, why the infected spacemen begin to grow silver fur around their eyes. Why? If, for example, they were beginning to mutate into giant prawns, it would be more scary if you asked me. Of course, seeing the pregnant prawn in the final episode, it would not have done to story any favors to show the mutation complete, but it could be mentioned in passing.
I'm surprised I liked the fourth Doctor so much during my childhood. His only competitor was the Seventh, but all the stories of the fourth Doctor seemed to have him possessed or evil. The Invisible Enemy, The Invasion of Time, The Face of Evil - his uncharacteristic anger during the Horror of Fang Rock included. Of course, now I know the Seventh Doctor is the manipuative, evil and amoral Time Lord, but back then he seemed like Davison at his most niave. Well, I had only seen Season 24 at the time.
The second episode has a cool ER 5000 feel to it and maybe the story could have been better if they'd concentrated on that angle, with Leela wandering round the hospital and seeing how different the hospital of the future is from now. The Doctor suddenly cured for five minutes long enough to re-explain the plot confuses me even now, but I am easily-confused. Oh yes, and while the explanation of the Kilbracken technique explains the clothes, it doesn't explain why they are linked telepathically to their hosts - and if so, why isn't the cloned Doctor infected?
The Fantastic Voyage in part three is supposed to take less than eleven minutes. I suppose it could work if you think of every few scenes happening at the same time, or if the clones' reduced size increases their lifespan, but the idea of time running out is clumsy. Why not simply have the virus ready to take over in ten minutes unless they are stopped. While I was intrigued by the Doctor's airy claim that his telepathy was curtailed when the Time Lords kicked him out (and the fact he instantly changes the subject when Leela asks him about it) I didn't really feel the clones knowing they were going to die whatever happened worked. Leela seems very cheerful despite the fact she will be dead in five minutes.
The scene where the Doctor argues with an intelligent virus about sensible ambition inside his own brain feels very normal considering three episodes ago he was discussing strategy with a blob of jelly on the steps of a lighthouse. The death of the clone Doctor and Leela could have been very dramatic but, well, it isn't. It's shot terribly: the Virus shouts that it has won; the Doctor falls over, shouting 'get out of my brain'; Leela runs in and falls over; the Doctor turns see-through; a gunshot; and then all that's left is a smoky hole in the ground and Leela's knife and hair. Knife and hair. That don't dissolve. Give me strength.
The fourth episode tries to pull itself back into reality - and this is no mean feet with the pregant prawn burbing in the background. Why couldn't it be red? WHY? The Doctor taking the piss out of the monster normally works in alleviating tension, but there is no tension here in the first place. I was surprised the scene shown in the novelization when Marius tries to infect the Doctor and fails isn't in the program. Assuming it never happened, that would explain why they think he can 'be consumed' when he is clearly immunized. Back to Titan for a race-against-time, the third in the story and better. K9 breaking down could have worked better if this didn't happen so often but it does re-state the Doctor's 'never trust gimmecky gadgets' philosophy. Him leaving Leela and K9 behind was quite exciting the first time, but it's supposed to be comic relief. Also, there's a terrible bit of editing - Lowe fires at the Doctor, who drops the box of antibodies, smashing it and forcing him to use Leela's plan. What we see is a shot of the eggs bubbling while we hear Lowe firing, so the box of anti-bodies seems to disappear and we have no idea why the Doctor chages tactics.
Finally, Titan is destroyed (surely wrecking the solar system's balance and not a good thing) and the Doctor gets out his Sedan chair in his new control room to match the hatstand and using the scanner alcove and a bookshelf. K9 fits in quite well, and it would have been simple for the TARDIS simply to have gone wrong while trying to return the marvellous metal mutt to Marius (ooh, aliteration). Instead there is the annoying scene with Leela acting like a four-year old to the Doctor's brooding parent. 'All right, Leela, you can have K9 but you'll have to feed him and take him for walks because a dog isn't just for Christmas, especially when you're a time traveller'...
The Invisible Enemy isn't perfect. But it entertains for the two hours needed to watch it.
A Review by Paul Rees 28/7/03
The acting here is of variable quality. Tom is as commanding as ever, whilst Leela is perfectly adequate (she's never been one of my favourite companions). Frederick Jaeger, however, gives a less assured performance: his fake German accent means that it is impossible to take his character seriously. A shame really, given that he was so good in Planet of Evil.
The plot itself is interesting, if a little incoherent. The idea of the Doctor becoming infected with a virus which threatens to take him over is a good one; the idea of himself and Leela being cloned in order to walk around inside his brain is a masterstroke. It has to be said, however, that this actually makes little sense: why do the Doctor and Leela clones automatically inherit the originals' mannerisms, knowledge and experience? Surely such things can't be genetically encoded?
Whatever; the scenes which take place inside the Doctor's head are entertaining and well-realised, even if the use of CSO is painfully obvious at times. The scene where Leela is attacked by white blood cells is, however, unintentionally hilarious. The fight scenes are also unconvincing.
The set design was good, the only weak links being (1) the unconvincing crash of the shuttle into the station - with the subsequent polystyrene rubble; and (2) the crack in the wall which is apparent well before K9's attempt at blasting it.
Overall, then, an entertaining story but not a classic. One to sit back and enjoy rather than think about too much. 7/10
Prawn Crackers by Andrew Wixon 1/9/03
For a long time it seemed to me that The Invisible Enemy (misnomer, surely - but then again The Really Really Really Tiny Enemy hasn't got the same ring to it) was held up as the whipping boy for all the perceived flaws and excesses of the Williams era. A little odd, given that it's only the second story of his tenure, but I suppose you could argue that, like Ark in Space, it sets up a signpost for the next three seasons - goofy space opera, silliness, and K9.
This seems unfair to me, partly because - sensitive readers may wish to stop reading now - this doesn't seem to me to be that bad a story. Sure, the science is incredibly iffy (there's breathable air inside the Doctor's brain? I suppose one could argue the 'real' Doctor and Leela are magically supplying oxygen etc to their clones, but still...). And it's hard to decide which manifestation of the nucleus looks more stupid. But it's got a good central concept, moves with tremendous pace, the special effects work is pretty good, the Titan sets are outstanding, and it's quite well directed. It also has those little quirky touches - the remedial spelling, K9 - that just make a story interesting.
And in many ways this is a story looking over its shoulder at the Hinchcliffe era. There's the movie pastiche element, most obviously, Fantastic Voyage retooled with typical inventiveness, but beyond that there's the overall theme of transformative possession, a leitmotif of the Hinchcliffe years. Certainly the metamorphoses gone through by the Doctor, Marius, Lowe, etc, aren't anything like as extreme or horrifying as those of Noah or Keeler in earlier stories, but this seems partly a conscious directorial decision. This story could have been a lot darker and more disturbing. One area where it does fall down compared to its predecessors is in the main villain - compared to almost any other villain in DW history, John Scott Martin dressed as a prawn just doesn't cut the mustard.
One element of the story that seems to have come out of nowhere is its energetic surrealism, it's stuffed with extraordinary images and ideas that could quite easily burn themselves into a small child's head. Well, okay, I'll own up - this is the second DW story I remember seeing on original transmission, as a very tiny child. Watching it again over twenty-five years later, I was astonished at how much of it exactly matched my memories of it. That has to be worth something.
So I find it hard to rip The Invisible Enemy apart, mainly because I really don't think it deserves it. It's fast, it's fun, it's colourful and above all it's full of ideas. And there's nothing wrong with any of that.
(Leela looks pretty schwing in that green PVC jumpsuit, too.)
Defending the undefendable! by Joe Ford 13/9/03
I had a friend over this weekend and we spent the days watching some old Who. What we do is choose a story that one of enjoys and one of us hates hoping to sway the opinion of the person with the negative feelings. I visited Matt in London and endured Terminus but alas it did not change my mind about that mindless four parter (more like cemented my hatred) much to his dismay and I did not alter his firm objections to The Invisible Enemy.
Episode one opened with an agreed opinion, the modelwork surrounding the Titan base was quite well done, especially for Doctor Who and ESPECIALLY for the Williams era. Matt immediately leaped on the production values slagging off the interior spaceship sets and the plasticky spacesuits. He pointed out just how much the show had gone downhill after the exceptionally strong run of stories from The Deadly Assasin to Horror of Fang Rock. I had to agree, this story does not match anything in that run in regards to direction, production or acting but for some obscure reason I still found the first twenty five minutes highly engaging. Maybe it was the eerie way Tom Baker played the possessed Doctor, how the camera chose creepy low angles to higlight the paranoia of the scene. Maybe it was because the sets were gloomy and detailed (love all those pipes on the ceiling... goodness! A Doctor Who set with a ceiling!). Maybe it was because Robert Holmes was still in the script editors chair and had helped craft an atmospheric, claustrophobic scene setting episode. Yes, the virus makeup was daft, yes the pacing is a little off and yes Michael Sheard doesn't make the most convincing action hero (all pointed out by Matt) but it still held my attention. Plus the cliffhanger with the Doc approaching Leela gun in hand actually leaves you wondering if he will actually shoot her.
Fast forwarding the credits we leap straight into episode two and I remain impressed as the Doctor actually pulls the trigger and Tom Baker puts in some good work as he tries to control the homicidal instinct of the Nucleus. Dudley Simpson's score is refreshingly creepy and simple instruments in isolation contribute well to the sense of unease. I am a little confused as to how Leela and Lowe manage to pilot the TARDIS to the medical centre but the show is littered with such plot holes so choose not to quibble on the matter. Matt doesn't like the sets on the medical centre or the exterior papier mache asteriod it is based on. I point out the budget cutting Terminus sets that he admires but I cannot sway him. Things are too bright for the supposed horror themed posession story, well acted scenes such as Lowe attacking the medical staff one by one are hampered by over exposure. A shame, because the script is clearly asking for a darker director, lots of close ups and creeping shots around the deserted corridors. Marius appears and Matt is mortified by his cod German accent, I cannot see any difference between this stagey peformance and Tryst (Nightmare of Eden), numerous Master disguises, THE SEC-UR-IT-Y CHIEF and many others. Yes it's obviously false but he is quite an amusing character with lots of personality and witty lines. We both agree on K.9.'s initial appearance (poor) but agree he brightens up when they actually find a use for him in later stories. Has the story lost the plot when the Doctor starts babbling on about clones and shrinking people and injecting them inside his mind? Matt certainly thinks so, I however enjoy the way the story dares to career off in such an unexpected direction. The Lowe/siege plot is getting a bit trite so why not perk up the story with some science and imagination? Dodgy science aside (as much as many people would like to see Louise Jameson in the buff it might have offended Mary Whitehouse if Leela and the Doc had been cloned naked!) the FX are quite good, the bubbly effect is disorienting and the cliffhanger promises some fun in the next episode.
Matt is bored. The cloned Doctor and cloned Leela are wandering about the Doctor's mind in an array of mixed FX (ie dodgy sets and some nice video FX... especially the pins thrown at the camera in slow motion... very nice). His trouble is he thinks Leela is one of the weakest companions and finds her character in season fifteen to have lost any of the appeal Holmes and Boucher created in season fourteen. She is, however, one of my favourites and I find the scenes between her and Tom's bossy Doctor a joy. His lines like "That is why my brain is so superior to yours!" and "Oh just a passing thought!" are a delight. They have already had a number of amusing script moments in the story but this episode highlights their atagonistic relationship at its best. Love the scene where they stand between the mind and the imagination, they throw the dialogue at each other so fast it's breathtaking.
I'm losing Matt the further we head into this episode, the crack in the wall is bad enough but the dodgy laser bolts, K.9's inability to shoot straight (and yet still hit his target!), the snarling threats by Lowe and chums, the bulging white balls that attack Leela and clone-Lowe and the infected Marius force him to claim this story has reached an embarassing-moment-every-minute stage! Once the Doctor confronts the Nucleus which is basically a rock with a wiggling arm and his reanimation as a giant squirming prawn Matt is sliding in his seat to protect his eyes from this afronting material. Alas, I cannot defend the programme at this point, he is perfectly right. All I can say is that the voice of the Nucleus is really effective. But he's right... the production values are sabotaging the story.
Fortunately (in my eyes) episode four has shown a huge upswing in quality. Okay the prawn with its wiggly arms and legs is a total farce but the direction seems to have picked up all of a sudden. With the Doctor and Leela on the trail of the Nucleus the is suddenly a more dramatic narrative to follow. Before this however there are some witty scenes between Marius and the Doctor as he wakes up and there is that glorious moment where he takes off leaving Leela behind, realises his mistake, lands again and she jumps in. Wonderful. We're back on Titan and treated to some more glossy modelwork, shadowy corridors make chase scenes with Lowe and the baddies more punchy and the camerawork seems to adapt to this enviroment well injecting the so far absent tension. Even Matt has perked up a bit. Leela is always good for a laugh and suggests they blow up the base about five times and in a fun Tom action scene he rigs the door of the Nucleus to a blaster and an oxygen tank. Special effect one of the explosion (replacing the base with piped flames) sucks. Special effect two (showing the landing pad going up in a big exploding BOOOM!) rocks. Doc takes the credit and they nick K.9, can't say I'm happy about that at this stage and the story fails me at the last minute by ending on a totally awful line. Shan't repeat it, too embarassing.
Yes there are production mistakes and the direction is a bit sloppy but this story has enough 'moments', unexpected plot turns and funny bits to hold the attention. It's no classic, maybe it wouldn't even make it into the top one hundred if I made a list but it IS far more engaging than my dear friend Matt and you Invisible Enemy baiters out there believe.
Move over Terminus, this shaky production has you beat!
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 27/12/03
The Invisible Enemy is a mixture of both the good and bad. Bob Baker and Dave Martin`s script can at best be described as imaginitive - the idea of entering the Doctor`s body hadn`t been explored before. The model work is similairly some of the best of the series. Unfortunately not a great deal that is positive stands out in the story`s favour. The staff at the Bi-Al foundation are dressed in such a way that they look as if they`ve stepped on to the set of a very cheap panto production. Frederick Jaeger`s performance irritates largely due to his fake accent and the inclusion of K-9 seems tacked on (especially when he boards the TARDIS). Add to this a threat in the guise of a prawn which can`t move and you have one of the more forgettable tales of the Tom Baker era.
A Review by Brian May 12/5/05
The Invisible Enemy is a story with interesting concepts, but unfortunately the realisation falls flat. The Discontinuity Guide gets it right when it says the finished product has "the look of grand folly", for indeed the story is dependent on special effects - something a programme like Doctor Who should never do! It feels like an attempt to keep up with the science fiction Joneses, namely the Hollywood blockbusters such as Close Encounters and, especially, Star Wars, and also the home grown TV rival Space 1999. Alas.
But wait a minute. I can't make a sweeping generalisation that all the effects are crap. There are some good ones - the exteriors of the Titan base are very impressive. So too the Hive, with the slime-coated eggs bubbling about inside, looking decidedly nauseating. The shuttle landing on the base in part one is also admirable, as indeed are all the shots that feature this craft. Spaceship models have been one of the few areas in which Doctor Who has managed to hold its low budget head up proud - I give you The Space Pirates, The Ambassadors of Death and Frontier in Space as previous examples; and a few stories later, Underworld would do the same thing (the only good thing it did, if you ask me, but let's not go there...) In any case, there's some good stuff.
This is all countered by some less than impressive visuals, but the effects team should be given their dues anyway. I'm certainly not going to praise the effects work for the journey inside the Doctor's brain, but I'm not going to condemn it either. What we see on the screen, if not totally convincing, is quite inventive. An obvious CSO backdrop detailing a screen of silver things spinning in a black void is very surreal. However, being less kind, we have the woeful asteroids and the model shots of the Bi-Al Foundation. And then there's the Nucleus! The micro-version, a rotten potato with silver globes for eyes and a waving claw is bad enough, but the macro rendition is laughable! A warped hybrid of prawn and seahorse, it's one of the more embarrassing entries in the programme's pantheon of monsters. The story also fails in other areas of design and direction. The costumes are fairly bland, as is the eye make-up and the boring white corridors. Derrick Goodwin doesn't really do that good a job in charge, the most infamous case being the pre-cut segment of wall which, according to The Television Companion, was a result of his calling for re-takes; the fact this unfortunate and embarrassing scene could have been avoided doesn't do Goodwin any favours.
The writing is varied; Bob Baker and Dave Martin were always better at ideas than actual stories. There are some exceptions to - The Claws of Axos and The Mutants in particular - but overall they were better at conceptualising rather than realisation. The idea of the virus, its transition from the micro to the macro world, Leela's immunity, and the nod to Fantastic Voyage with the journey inside the Doctor is all fascinating. There are some brilliant moments, like when the Doctor likens humankind to a virus in episode one, which is hauntingly echoed in the Darwinian argument the cloned Doctor has with the micro Nucleus at the end of part three. But the writers' difficulty in fleshing out these ideas means that the entire story is wanting.
However, before I go further, I must sidetrack slightly and give one part of this adventure high praise - the first episode. It is excellent. It's a strong and suspenseful build-up; Tom Baker is terrifically creepy when the Doctor is possessed - his "most suitable" and "a good place, a good place" is chilling, as is his " Kill her!" rasp. Leela gets some good characterisation, particularly when she tries to stop the Doctor from leaving the TARDIS. There's a great exchange that reflects just how different these two individuals are:
Leela: He's still warm.Tom Baker and Louise Jameson give this their all, creating a remarkable moment. And the cliffhanger is great, too.
Doctor: Don't be gruesome.
Leela: I am a hunter.
Doctor: You're a savage!
Leela: Perhaps, but I am not ashamed of what I am!
Unfortunately, episode one eventually comes to an end. And what is doubly unfortunate is that episodes two to four come next!
There's a lot of poor scripting - in episode two, Lowe accompanies the Doctor and Leela to the Bi-Al Foundation in order to protect the Nucleus. At this point Leela doesn't suspect he's infected; all Lowe had to do was shoot her in the back and keep the Doctor on Titan for the breeding process. Of course, there'd be no further story then, but it leaves an awkward feeling that the journey to the hospital could have been contrived in a better way. Similarly, in the same episode, the writers make a great effort to get the heroes besieged in the medical ward - the shuttle crashes into the Bi-Al Foundation, isolating the protagonists. To make this clear, K9 says the floor they are on is "completely cut off". But then we have Lowe and the infected staff reaching the ward via the service shaft. And then the Doctor clone makes his way to the TARDIS, which is waiting at the base's reception, just as easily. And in episode four, everyone gets there fine!
The whole tone of the story is wrong, too. It's the first recorded Graham Williams adventure, and it shows. It's too bright, too jokey and just feels bland. Robert Holmes is still script editor, but apart from the first episode, you can't really discern his influence. Frederick Jaeger hams it up as Marius in a performance that leaves you cringing and asking if this is the same actor who had previously graced Doctor Who with stunning efforts (The Savages, Planet of Evil). Among the guest cast, nobody really stands out. Michael Sheard, who played so many nice, gentle, doddering types in his number of Who roles, starts out as yet another one, but then is transformed into the villain. However it doesn't suit him. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson struggle after the first episode, mainly because the script doesn't serve them well. Just look at Leela, who struts about firing laser guns, delivering such macho drivel as "Come and get him!" It's quite tragic seeing such a fine actor as Jameson having to spout this offal.
There are some nice moments. K9 gets a good debut; he's not as cutesy as he would later become and makes a solid contribution, being a useful mechanical ally and not just an attempt to get more kids watching. The phonetic English writing is an imaginative idea. But overall The Invisible Enemy is pretty dull. The script had big notions but the writers failed to deliver a story to match. The production is overambitious, with effects that simply could not be realised on a Doctor Who budget, and the lazy direction does not help at all. After a brilliant first episode, the rest is a disappointment. 3.5/10
A Review by Finn Clark 25/11/09
The Invisible Enemy is rubbish. That doesn't make it the worst ever Doctor Who story, of course. It's not even the worst Season 15 story written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, but it's probably the first time Doctor Who ever looked stupid, cheap and laughable even to its contemporary audience.
In other words, it's the Graham Williams era. To get in the obvious attacks early, the unprofessionalism is shocking. Derrick Goodwin's direction. The Prawn. The shot where K9 shoots the wall, which is clearly a retake in which they've shoved back the chunk they'd already blown out once. I'd heard about the latter, but nothing could have prepared me for seeing it. It's not merely unfit for broadcast, but possibly the most insulting two-fingered salute to the audience in the history of the show. You'll break down and sob if you compare it with Talons of Weng-Chiang, which in production terms had been made only a few weeks earlier.
However, that said, there are things I like in here. It's a Baker-Martin script, but despite this is still better than the production makes it look. In particular, it has in abundance their greatest asset: ideas. They used to read magazines like Scientific American for inspiration and here they went berserk. This is easily their maddest story, with three different locations (Titan Base, the Bi-Al Foundation and the Doctor's brain) and a microscopic enemy that sends clones of the Doctor and Leela on a remake of Fantastic Voyage. Four episodes, three locations. That's practically The Keys of Marinus. That's without taking on board the existential nightmare of knowing you're a clone with only ten minutes to live, even if that's something that the story actively avoids addressing. Normal clones don't feel pain when their originals' heads get bashed, for instance. I should also note that I enjoyed some of the dialogue. I liked the Doctor comparing mankind to a disease at the beginning, while Leela made me laugh in episode four. "Shall we try using our intelligences?" "If you think that's a good idea."
It even introduces one of the show's most iconic characters in K9. Personally, I'd say that this is tied with The Three Doctors as their best script. Had they written this a couple of years earlier, its possession and metamorphosis would have fitted in perfectly with the Hinchcliffe house style and we'd have had a more competent production, although admittedly they hadn't been lucky with The Hand of Fear. The problem as usual is that Bob and Dave aren't the best at turning their ideas into TV drama.
On top of that, Goodwin didn't understand visual effects, so would leave shooting them to the last minute when there wasn't time to sort out problems. Hence the amazing pre-collapsed wall, presumably. Some excellent work went into this effects-heavy story, but too often the implementation let it down. The spaceships are lovely and yet they wobble when they fly, while the shuttle crashing into the Bi-Al Foundation looks appalling. Similarly, when K9 shoots Leela, I couldn't tell what I was meant to be looking at. Was he supposed to have hit or missed? Had Leela ducked under the ray beam, or had she collapsed as a result of being shot?
All that said though, the worst visual effects failure is of course the Prawn and its friend the Claw-in-a-Sack, both of which - needless to say - I loved. Now that's entertainment. Appalling, but hilarious. Note the way the Prawn boogies as it's blown up to macro-size at the end of part three, as if waiting for some mischief-maker to dub funky beats on to the soundtrack. Next time you watch this scene, play rock and roll at the correct tempo for optimal comedy factor. I'm not even being frivolous here, since the scenes on the Bi-Al Foundation have been made to look so amateurish that, by the end of episode three, the story's almost dead on its feet and it's a relief even to see an offensively stupid-looking disco-dancing prawn. At least that's not boring.
What is it with Graham Williams's directors, by the way? Look at the non-Goodwin alternatives. Despite being neither blind nor mad, he used Pennant Roberts every year. Norman Stewart he used twice, despite the first attempt being a disaster and the man himself protesting that he wasn't fit to be a director. Nightmare of Eden drove Alan Bromly into retirement. Uh, back to The Invisible Enemy...
Of the regulars, Tom Baker has got bored and gone to sleep, only waking up when he gets a scene with K9. Otherwise, he's on auto-pilot throughout. However, John Leeson immediately nails his prissy smug K9 voice and you'd never guess that he was also voicing the Nucleus. My favourite though is Leela, despite a few bewildering line readings from Louise. I'm a huge fan of both the actress and the character. A knife-wielding savage who wears next to nothing and goes around stabbing people in the neck on Saturday evening on BBC1... you can tell it's the 1970s, can't you? Note also her intelligence. Despite the jokes made at her expense, she's the one who asks all the right questions and if she hadn't been there, the Doctor would have been dead meat.
While I'm on the subject, I should praise the way Bob and Dave made these people Leela's distant ancestors, which plugs a potential plot hole. If that hadn't been the case, we might have been asking why neither her genes nor the knowledge of them were showing up in people's DNA or K9's memory banks. Mind you, it's odd that the year 5000 bears no resemblance to the 51st century backstory of Talons of Weng-Chiang, only two stories later. Maybe the Great Breakout was simply everyone fleeing World War Six. One day, I'll also have to see how this matches up with all those Steven Moffat stories. The bio-tech of Mr Sin is a good fit with The Girl in the Fireplace, I suppose.
All things considered, The Invisible Enemy is arguably a lot better than it might have been. Despite appearances, even the production factors are not infrequently impressive. Titan Base looks great, while the Doctor's brain is a psychedelic tour-de-force. Killer disco balls! Flying Greek pillars! (Logopolis prophecy, perhaps? Maybe even the birth of the Watcher?) Similarly, K9 himself is a triumph, the model spaceships look great and I particularly appreciated the crackling space organism that zaps passing ships. The 'IMURJINSEE EGSIT' signs are also a nice detail. I don't even mind the disease turning everyone into Fish People. The Prawn is of course unspeakable, but it's funny. No, the problem is that everything on the Bi-Al Foundation looks like nothing but BBC actors on a white studio set, without even a shadow of the tension and fear that we should have had. Infection and "contact has been made." People promising to kill each other. This could have been terrific and it's no fault of Bob and Dave's that episode two and significant chunks of episode three are complete failures as television. I liked their ideas, but nothing else. However I was much happier whenever we were on Titan Base or, better still, inside the Doctor's brain. It's a cut-price Deadly Assassin!
This is by no stretch of the imagination a good story, but I don't find it offensive the way I do Pennant Roberts. Well, apart from K9 shooting the wall, obviously. In some ways, I even like it.
The Prawns of Doom by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 13/8/11
Now here we have a monstrously unpopular story, detested by just about everyone and usually mentioned in the same breath as The Mutants, The Time Monster and Delta and the Bannermen. I've referred to The Invisible Enemy in several of my reviews and not once was it particularly complimentary but if I'm honest I don't mind it all that much. Having watched it again I found it strangely enjoyable in a guilty pleasure kind of way. Bob Baker and Dave Martin were always rather hit and miss, and this is definitely a miss. You can stow this one with The Mutants and The Three Doctors. That should give you some idea of the level at which this story operates. It's difficult to tell if any of the actors are taking things seriously and all bets are well and truly off once the psychotic prawn turns up. It's poorly written, it's horrendously designed, it's garish and the fact that it's sandwiched between two high quality classics only serves to highlight its failings even more.
Yet beneath the surface silliness there's a subtle nastiness to it. The themes of viral infection, possession and the rather sterile look of some of it hints at something infinitely less silly and considerably darker than what we are presented with here. Dudley Simpson's music is also particularly effective in contributing to this, those menacing opening chords of episode one being a particularly good example. I have to say that the CGI effects on the DVD release have actually improved things considerably; it looks a lot better and it's more enjoyable to sit through. Okay, so special effects aren't what Doctor Who is supposed to be about, but one of the very worst aspects of this story is its production values. The new CGI effects remedy some of that considerably. The majority of it is still borderline painful to look at, but at least we can now marvel at the spacecraft and the blaster beams. If only they could have done something with the prawn...
Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are bouncing off each other nicely by this point and she is continually developing as character. Tom Baker is clearly not impressed with the Nucleus and it shows in his performance. Fear wasn't really part of the Fourth Doctor's emotional range but here it isn't just a lack of fear, it's a very apparent derision. If the Doctor ain't scared of the monster, then we aren't either. Professor Marius is a charming character and it's hard to dislike him despite his crazy accent and a performance straight out of the Idiot's Guide to Stereotypical Germanic Scientists. Kudos really should go to Michael Sheard who is the one person who seems to be taking this production seriously and he's clearly giving it 500%. I'm not going to get onto the subject of K9, I don't have much opinion on him either way. The script is functional but it doesn't sparkle and it has its fair share of typical sci-fi clunkers.
Most of the sets are overlit. This is especially a problem in the Bi-Al Foundation, as the sets are all white. I know it's supposed to be a hospital and therefore clinical and sterile, but the lighting just makes it look plasticy and cheap. Titan 3 isn't as bad, but I still think they could have lowered it even further. That face makeup for the virus victims is ridiculous; it undermines any attempt at menace. The costumes also leave much to be desired, with the worst offenders being those absurd green jumpsuits. The science upon which The Invisible Enemy rests is best not held up to close scrutiny. That whole business with cloning the Doctor and Leela is madness. Having them enter the Doctor's brain in pursuit of the Nucleus is obviously some kind of misguided homage to Fantastic Voyage.
I suppose in a way you have to admire The Invisible Enemy for its confidence. It almost has a swagger to it, an air of 'yeah so what, piss off'. Journeying through the Doctor's brain is a perfect demonstration of this. It may not have been entirely advisable, considering the budgetary restraints, but the story pisses all over such limitations with an abandon that verges on reckless. Leela and Lowe being attacked by balls of cotton wool isn't exactly a scintilating victory for realism either. The first form of the Nucleus is awful but in a more subtle way than the later version. It's essentially a sack with a claw. The giant prawn is excrutiatingly terrible, has zero mobility and as the main monster of the piece is simply an embarassment. Heaven only knows what the production team were thinking and what motivated them to believe they could get away with it.
Awful? Yes. Entertaining? Definitely. I know, it just doesn't make sense does it?
"Jumping the Prawn" by Thomas Cookson Updated 29/11/23
2005 was a genuinely exciting year for me. RTD's revival re-energized my hunger for discovering more of Classic Who. Discovering The Seeds of Doom and The Talons of Weng-Chiang for the first time was truly exhilarating, leaving me insatiable for more.
But several unfortunate, moribund finds at the library and market (Time-Flight, Warriors of the Deep) quickly brought home the culture shock of realizing why the show ended ignominiously. I couldn't comprehend how a show capable of such brilliance declined so horribly.
I found Kim Newman's BFI book Doctor Who: A Critical Reading of the Series a sharp, cathartic take on the decline that dispensed with dusty fannish apologetics. Kim designated Horror of Fang Rock his demarcation point. Whereafter, a few false dawns aside (City of Death, Kinda), the series degenerated into self-parody, then televised fanfiction that had no business being boradcast. Kim acknowledged The Invisible Enemy was more a sub-par follow-up to a golden run, than any nadir, confessing K9 was his pet peeve.
I didn't watch The Invisible Enemy until 2007, thanks to short-lived Youtube uploads. By then it didn't really bring any culture shock and seemed ordinary Tom fare and endearing enough (in ways The Twin Dilemma would obnoxiously refuse to be). But perhaps it's worth pondering was Kim Newman right? Was this where Tom's era downscaled from extraordinary to ordinary, and began losing its magic?
Superficially, this story seems closer to the slickness of Hinchcliffe than the shoddiness of Underworld. Despite production values being cheaper than Talons', this still looked conceivably set in the same universe as The Ark in Space. Tom seems professional in the role here, still taking everything seriously. Any script inspiring Tom's respect in the material is surely doing something right. Kim argued Tom overstayed his welcome, and probably should've regenerated at Fang Rock. I feel the series still needed Tom to hold everything together for viewers amidst budget cuts and increasingly shoddy productions.
I've watched this with flatmates who praised it (notably, they'd rubbished Scott Pilgrim). I think despite tacky effects and consciously kid-friendly moments, Tom's presence gets your inner child behind it, making the flimsiness somehow cool and the visual absurdities work, like 1970's children's entertainment never went out of fashion.
Tom's Doctor was many fans' childhood best friend. Likewise, Davros, Morbius and Pratt's Master resembled cathartic avatars for our local bullies and psycho kids. Unfortunately, Mary Whitehouse believed Hinchcliffe was inspiring such creeps and demanded changes. There's an inescapable sentiment that this story represents Whitehouse's victory. Perhaps given the BBC's failures selling Hinchcliffe's episodes to Europe, they hoped making a tamer show would make Tom's star-power more exportable. Here the only noticeable change is an absence of anything bloodcurdling or any auteur directing (likely Blake's 7 was poaching the talent). Nothing much suggests a spanner's been put in the works. However, despite the highly ambitious concept, the final result resembles disposable filler.
Amidst the chaotic enforced changeover of producer, this story seemed prioritised for expedience's sake, being rattled out quickest, rather than crafted to perfection. Occasionally it has moments that defy criticisms of being low-effort. Any extra frills resemble Holmes's script-doctoring, which inspires some confused impressions of why those spikier moments add up to less than the sum of their parts. Like we're watching an understudy do the magician's act, trying their best, but they're just not the effortless maestro.
I've usually come away entertained, but never quite loving it. It starts grimly, with the astronauts turned possessed, cold-blooded killers, gunning down former comrades, pursuing their prey relentlessly. The atmosphere conjures the frontier wilderness of space, with a gripping, compelling set-up. Tom comes under malevolent influence, commanding him to kill Leela. His inner conscience resists, refusing to shoot. His internal struggle beautifully demonstrates his moral strength and integrity.
This itself demonstrates we were yet to truly hit rock bottom. The Twin Dilemma left fans used to taking the Doctor's side, groping for nauseating excuses for strangling Peri (like her 'ingratitude' after Androzani). Regarding Peri as a lesser cipher, downplaying her mistreatment. Comparatively, Leela's become a firm favourite. We care about her and root for her. Likewise, the Doctor values and respects Leela too much to let himself harm her.
Tom's hairy, fish-scale makeup conveys an insidious, unnatural sense of bodily perversion. The story builds tense desperation during the ward besiegement, but it's a jeopardy the story keeps switching off whenever Tom goes fetching TARDIS components. The cloning-shrinking procedure and the action split between Leela fighting in the besieged hospital and her clone ducking Tom's 'passing thoughts' abides nicely by the show's surreal reality-bending, permissive televisual language. It's television in an engaged children's playtime state. But when playtime's over, it's forgotten quickly in a way Talons wasn't.
Tom's star-power transcended age-groups. K9 being pitched to the kids unfortunately will make Tom get competitive. I sympathize with the feeling K9's presence hijacked a once thrilling show into something safe. He's given little bonding material with Leela except condescending explanations of who's been cloned. The shoot-outs feel endearingly reminiscent of pre-prepared Ghost Train thrills. Jameson's spirited performance keeps us invested even whilst Leela survives amateur mistakes. However, K9's slowness and the invaders' cartoon inability to shoot him straight renders this all light-weight.
Daft fight scenes are usually part of Classic Who's package. Lower-grade filler that appetizes us for greater stakes ahead. Unfortunately, here they feel done to excess as an ends in themselves. Maybe it ramps up the chaos too fast and struggles to keep it going on a cheap 1977 budget. So inevitably it doesn't have near enough strong, memorable impact. That it keeps any momentum going is a minor miracle.
However, only upon entering Tom's body is Hinchcliffe's absence really apparent. The ambitious production conveys the sense of being sealed and bottled within a body's ecosystem. We can assume bodily oxygen diffusion's keeping them breathing. It just isn't as nightmarish as Zeta Minor's landscape. Certainly, the antibodies aren't. Our journey becomes a drawn-out blur, preluding an era that'll feel half-composed of inconsequential dream sequences and purgatories.
It's assumed children watched for Tom's jokes. But they were one component of the thrill of children's television that dared us with more harrowing, mind-expanding storytelling. When Tom's acting the comedian in Planet of Evil, the backdrop's deadly serious, conveying a sense you can't quite trust the levity. Here, Tom's humour no longer emphasizes that stark contrast or tension, rendering this journey less compelling.
The micro-macro world-bridging is almost Hartnellian and pre-empts Anime's Macross franchise. But somehow this becomes a leaking vessel for those concepts, rather than fertile new direction. Within pulp conventions, it perhaps makes sense these clones are unafraid, self-sacrificing reflections of their noble originals.
I think Leela was more human than that, and were these clones more demonstrably worried about their mortality ("Better make most of the next six minutes"), this'd be far more thrilling. Their final self-sacrifice would matter, dramatically. Instead, cloning our heroes subtly shrinks the odds and stakes, lessening incentives to root for either's goal, despite the 'original' Doctor being his weakest since The Daleks. The intrusion of Sheard's clones raises stakes slightly. But ultimately, we don't get anywhere near The Deadly Assassin's memorable cat-and-mouse hunt. Sheard gets dispatched too quickly and easily.
Leela's strength was hand-to-hand knife combat, where she put herself most at risk. They've seemingly toned this down and made her forte laser gunplay now. Getting away from her core instinctive strength, and making her too overpowered. The plot emphasis on her immunity feels blurred by her invincibility in general.
There's the vague sense, like RTD's era, that we're not supposed to believe this too much. It's just childhood fantasy heroism. It can pile on the stakes, and our heroes always survive. The complacency of a new team relaxing into an inherited winning formula. The show perhaps believes its heroes' invincibility too much now, without their resilience feeling properly forged in fire anymore.
In 2005, discovering The Seeds of Doom and Talons reignited my hunger for the show's forgotten characters and euphoric thrills. I was insatiable to see more of this dangerous universe of thrilling adventures and delights. This is one Tom story that leaves you feeling that, after seeing it, you've pretty much seen them all.
They've gotten the Tom Baker formula checklist down pat, but it's derivative. We've seen more thrilling voyages into Tom's psyche (The Deadly Assassin), miniaturisation (Carnival of Monsters) and body-horror (The Ark in Space).
The nucleus' lair isn't really foreboding. Hinchcliffe might've had an unseen nucleus taunting Tom from the shadows before pouncing. The nucleus' design very effectively conveys a filthy, lethal-to-touch contaminant. But he's quickly overexposed (and overlit), as is his immobility, diminishing his threatened interstellar reach. He suddenly seems no galactic threat. This 'intelligent virus' never feels as cunning as Sutekh. His drawn-out exposition dump threats are headaches.
In part four, Leela gets a great rescuing-the-Doctor moment. But maybe it's over too soon. Afterwards, she has little to contribute besides bored petulance, diminishing her immaculate prior development. Perhaps what's also lost is any genuinely strong binary opposition between humanity and virus. The Doctor and Nucleus both invoke humanity's 'viral' colonialism, but frankly this feels arbitrary. The onscreen action tells us differently.
We're not shown Earth's imperialism crushing all under heel. We see possessed humans used for that purpose, but mankind's generally shown benevolently: officers risk their lives to save others; medical personnel (and Leela) are determined to cure the sick. Perhaps this proves the virus wrong, but that feels accidental.
I can enjoy this more than my nit-picking may suggest. But it does represent the subtle cost of appeasing Whitehouse. A golden age prematurely ended, and Doctor Who no longer being must-see television.
Our heroes felt more mortal under Hinchcliffe, their courage more potent. Risking everything to confront the virus directly with antibodies before changing tactics last-minute, should feel like a desperate, climactic, gamble. Perhaps it'd be more tense if the Doctor had to go by rocket, due to a stolen TARDIS component. Only one way in and out. The clock ticking.
Upon arrival, the nucleus's agents develop stronger immunity to firepower, like the Borg. But somehow they don't achieve the same infamy. They never become quite the hydra foe they should be. This isn't quite the terrifying zombie hive it should be. The writers shrewdly have K9's batteries fail mid-jeopardy, but I suspect Hinchcliffe might've preferred his self-sacrifice over the indignity of Leela pulling him to safety by leash.
Previously, Tom's victories necessitated desperate, furious, crucial action where he got serious. This feels like a flippant climax to a flimsy story. Like the plot's rushing itself to the finish line before it collapses. It's mostly fine but somehow ends too prematurely to feel cathartic, because Tom wasn't really challenged.
Maybe to be truly climactic, Tom should've had to survive wading through their hatchery, like in Genesis. Maybe that's what's missing. It lacks that foreboding momentary sense the Doctor may lose. Like Frontier in Space or Planet of the Daleks ("It failed!"). Genesis made universal doomsday feel like a genuinely believable prospect. Not until State of Decay and Logopolis will such stakes return.
This ultimately offers few surprises. It ends mostly as expected. Marius's goodbye unrehearsed and rushed. Prodding us to find K9's inclusion cute. Perhaps it should've carried a bitter pill whereby Marius dies, leaving K9 in the Doctor's care. Safeguarding his creation as a memento of him.
A human cost makes the setting's events poignantly memorable. But the threat here isn't existential enough to make these characters any more than cliches. We never get to like this environment enough to fully care.
This should be the ultimate space-station-disaster story. Yet after a run where our heroes only narrowly escaped being massacred along with Gharman's rebels or the lighthouse crew by lucky timing, this feels cartoonish. Maybe critics who argue there's too many pulp space tropes are right. The Android Invasion had bigger plot holes, but felt more grounded and compelling.
It's basically bubblegum. Though quite good bubblegum for its age. Perhaps 1970's bubblegum is always being better. The show could still coast on this fare, but the time of legends feeks over.
It does mark a sad sense a seamless golden age has ended. That this show can't achieve its full potential anymore.