Skip to main content

The time for spawning is very close!

Doctor Who
The Invisible Enemy

It’s a common and understandable refrain that, barring The Horror of Fang Rock, Season 15 is a bit of a dog’s dinner. Image of the Fendahl and The Sun Makers have their defenders, but the rest are frequently labelled failures or disastrously unfulfilled in their ambitions. Certainly, particularly antipathy is reserved for the pair of Bob Baker and Dave Martin-scripted contributions, The Invisible Enemy and Underworld.


In the case of the latter, I get it. I mean, Underworld commits the worst of sins, in that it’s unconscionably dull (after the first episode, which is quite good). The Invisible Enemy, though, could hardly be considered boring. The brickbats tend to come from other – and every – directions, such as its scant regard for scientific verisimilitude and internal logic, and most cardinal of all, its shoddy production values. None of which ultimately mar the story for me; I even genuinely think the giant prawn is a masterpiece of freaky mofo, OMFG design work. He’s the screen’s absolute best over-sized prawn until District 9 came along.


In The Television Companion David J Howe and Mark Stammers summarised, “Reviewers over the years have struggled to find a good word to say about it”. The Discontinuity Guide called it “An ambitious project which has the look of grand folly…” Wherever you glance at a series survey, be it Doctor Who Bulletin in 1985 (123rd out of 123 placed stories); DWAS in 2003 (145th out of 163), or Doctor Who Magazine (164th out of 200 in 2009) The Invisible Enemy is to be found languishing, unloved. I’m not intending to celebrate the story unconditionally here, but I do feel the balance deserves redressing slightly.


Leela: Never mind Doctor. I’ve found the answer. Knife them in the neck.

If there’s a true stumbling block for The Invisible Enemy, rather than perennial problems with the show’s effects or failings with coherence, it’s the Doctor-companion relationship. Leela had pretty much exhausted her potential by the conclusion of her trio of Philip Hinchcliffe-produced stories, and unlike the more generic companions, the combination of her fraught relationship with the Doctor and Louise Jameson’s highly mannered delivery make for a mostly unpleasant rapport between the mainstays, one that permeates the story. 


It doesn’t help that – and Bob Holmes was still script editor, so there isn’t much excuse – she continually drifts in and out of over-enunciated primitivism and more modern colloquialisms (“Doctor, what was all that?”) depending on the needs of the scene. Her harping on about her instincts has already become an annoying crutch, although it’s at least noteworthy that she’s knifing people left, right and centre here, as you tend to forget she’s still so kill-happy during the “softened” Williams tenure.


This presumably came at the height of Baker being a bit of an arse to Jameson, before they sorted things out during Fang Rock, and you get that sense of unvarnished frostiness throughout, underlined by a more detached than usual role for the Doctor, being as he’s either possessed or comatose for much of the first two episodes. He’s manoeuvred into more serious mode, which isn’t the most assured ground for a series unable to manufacture the necessary atmosphere to go with it. The result is a season that’s easily the most detached and remote of Baker’s era; there probably are some people who like the fifteenth the best of his seven, but I’d wager they’re few and far between.


Professor Marius: Yes, perhaps it is a matter of intelligence.

One thing about The Invisible Enemy, though, it includes several decent gags about Leela being thick. That the virus can’t take her over because she’s too dumb for it (although, later Baker and Martin – or Holmes – switch this around, revealing she’s carrying antibodies, which is convenient for the Doctor; I prefer her just being dumb). Except, as with the inconsistency of her dialogue, she’s also required to be smart for the sake of plot convenience (She takes cloning very much in her stride; “What will happen to me? The real me?”) Occasionally, a witty exchange will stand out, but there’s little of the vibrancy that can be found in the best Baker-companion relationships here; Leela notes literally of the mind-brain interface, that it is different like the land and the sea, and that “It’s very deep”, to which the Doctor responds “Yes, sometimes I don’t quite understand it myself”.


I can’t argue with accusations of logical failures here, be they why the virus doesn’t just take over the Titan crew off the bat, or infest the computer systems of Bi-Al and then open all the doors. Or the bizarre workings of cloning/the Kilbracken technique (and its moral ramifications) and miniaturisation. Or why the Nucleus wants to go supersize, where it will surely be less effective (who/how’s it going to infest at that size?) Or the Doctor’s arbitrary argument for putting a stop to the Nucleus (“But you want to dominate both worlds, micro and macro”). And maybe it’s just nu-Who fatigue, but the centrality of the Time Lords to everything is one over-sampled by the Bristol Boys; the Nucleus continually addresses the Doctor as “Time Lord”, and instantly seizes upon the prospect of dominion over space and time.


But, and it’s an excuse I wouldn’t be letting off, say, The Moonbase with, so it isn’t just that, I find it quite easy to suspend disbelief in the The Invisible Enemy because it rattles along so purposefully; there’s a snowball rolling down a hill effect to the cumulative weight of wild ideas, such that you’ll either go with them or reject them totally. I can quite happily go with them.


Actually, I note About Time did slate the story as dull, so maybe some people do find it that way. In counterpoint, Gareth Roberts charitably concluded in DWM 290, “But at least The Invisible Enemy is exciting” while comparing one Season 15 “effects-heavy run-around with no really memorable characters” to another, Underworld. Ah look, here’s Martin Rian-Tobias from In-Vision; “a rather run-of-the-mill threat to dominate the universe. But it’s fast, exciting and fun” (I’ll leave out his comments on K9; “one of the most juvenile elements ever seen in the series” was Craig Hinton’s summary of the story’s newcomer in DWB 83).


And I do really like the Mind-Body interface. It’s the kind of nutty leap that perversely meshes pseudo-science with the sheer nonsensical. I note that, while K9 treats this realm as a bona fide fact, Marius, clearly less smart than his pet, is less certain (“If it exists”).


There are appealing signs of Holmes’ jaded, used futurism too, in the dialogue (“A glorified garage attendant in some planetary filling station”, “Welcome to Titan, your welcome to it”, “He’s probably one of those good for nothing spaceniks”) but they fail to translate into the visuals. The greatest bugbear levelled at the story is fair; the design (and the lighting, of Bi-Al, not so much Titan and inner-Doctor, where it’s fine) mostly sucks, the creative use of phonetics aside (ISOLAYSHUN WARD), and it’s the clearest signifier of the shift between Hinchcliffe and Williams eras. From sub-2001 space suits to unadorned corridors, it’s cumulatively rather cheap and tatty, in contrast to the (mostly) pretty good model work. The possession make-up falls short too, lacking the necessary unsettling quality.


But there’s a good line in tension running through the first episode, which is largely devoted to Lowe (Michael Sheard) on the lam, until he’s taken over; the story begins inexorably and bleakly, and you could quite see the early stages spruced up and smartly turned out during the previous season. Indeed, structurally The Invisible Enemy bears some similarities with The Deadly Assassin, what with its out-there third episode, and positing the Doctor in a non-traditional position (he goes inside himself to save himself from a corrupting force that will override his sense of self). Like the later Underworld, The Armageddon Factor and Nightmare of Eden, and The Hand of Fear before it, the Bristol Boys are adept at shifting locations. Here we go from Titan, to Bi-Al, to the Doctor’s body…. and back to Titan again. As such, it’s Episode Four where the story falls apart.


Three, yeah it might have been more psychedelic. It would have benefited from some Michael Ferguson, Claws of Axos freakiness. But there’s enough strangeness on display to make up for the disappointment that “Into the land of dreams and fantasies, Leela” doesn’t lead to anywhere very fantastic at all (prior to this, the sight of “The mind, unsullied by a single thought” is the most outré the episode gets), aside from a clawed hand. And a winningly weird projected effects sequence with pillars and columns flying about.


The Nucleus of the Swarm: The age of man is over, Doctor. The age of the virus has begun.

I’m good with the caricatured, Germanic overplaying by Frederick Jaeger as Marius, although I know many (most?) aren’t. His final line is a stinker (“TARDIS trained” indeed), but the story needed a big performance. No one else makes any impression; Sheard is always good, but he has a nothing role once he is possessed. And, while the Nucleus has a very groovy, augmented vocal styling courtesy of John Leeson (something along the lines of a reverb “Boola goola boola”), and rocks like a daddy, he doesn’t actually show up until the finale, and then doesn’t get to do anything really impressive, aside from sitting on a tea tray (which is, actually, pretty impressive) and becoming worryingly aroused as he exclaims “The time for spawning is very close!


Episode Four essentially comprises Leela imploring the Doctor to blow everything up, including some Quatermass IV test footage, him resisting, and then submitting. Douglas Adams went the last part of that route more satisfyingly in The Pirate Planet a season later. Then there’s the odd moment where the Doctor takes off in the TARDIS without Leela; it isn’t particularly funny, translating more as filler than anything to savour.


The parallel between humanity’s great breakout and the virus’ is unsubtle to say the least, but Baker and Martin were never ones to nurse delusions of substance; they’re just good at stringing ideas together. Of which, they most likely fancied sticking The Ark in Space in a blender with Fantastic Voyage. I do quite get the disaffection for The Invisible Enemy, but I find it largely irresistible, warts and all. K9 arrives fully-formed, achieving an instant rapport with the other leads, mainly thanks to Leeson’s plaintive tones. Derek Goodwin keeps up the pace (as Louise Jameson, insightful as only a pyramid scheme seller can be, observed of the director). And it has a fantastic freaky-assed prawn.
















Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Mondo bizarro. No offence man, but you’re in way over your head.

The X-Files 8.7: Via Negativa I wasn’t as down on the last couple of seasons of The X-Files as most seemed to be. For me, the mythology arc walked off a cliff somewhere around the first movie, with only the occasional glimmer of something worthwhile after that. So the fact that the show was tripping over itself with super soldiers and Mulder’s abduction/his and Scully’s baby (although we all now know it wasn’t, sheesh ), anything to stretch itself beyond breaking point in the vain hope viewers would carry on dangling, didn’t really make much odds. Of course, it finally snapped with the wretched main arc when the show returned, although the writing was truly on the wall with Season 9 finale The Truth . For the most part, though, I found 8 and 9 more watchable than, say 5 or 7. They came up with their fair share of engaging standalones, one of which I remembered to be Via Negativa .

You know what I sometimes wish? I sometimes wish I were ordinary like you. Ordinary and dead like all the others.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) (SPOILERS) Bryan Forbes’ adaptation of Mark McShane’s 1961’s novel has been much acclaimed. It boasts a distinctive storyline and effective performances from its leads, accompanied by effective black-and-white cinematography from Gerry Turpin and a suitably atmospheric score from John Barry. I’m not sure Forbes makes the most of the material, however, as he underlines Séance on a Wet Afternoon ’s inherently theatrical qualities at the expense of its filmic potential.

You have done well to keep so much hair, when so many’s after it.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972) (SPOILERS) Hitherto, I was most familiar with Jeremiah Johnson in the form of a popular animated gif of beardy Robert Redford smiling and nodding in slow zoom close up (a moment that is every bit as cheesy in the film as it is in the gif). For whatever reason, I hadn’t mustered the enthusiasm to check out the 1970s’ The Revenant until now (well, beard-wise, at any rate). It’s easy to distinguish the different personalities at work in the movie. The John Milius one – the (mythic) man against the mythic landscape; the likeably accentuated, semi-poetic dialogue – versus the more naturalistic approach favoured by director Sydney Pollack and star Redford. The fusion of the two makes for a very watchable, if undeniably languorous picture. It was evidently an influence on Dances with Wolves in some respects, although that Best Picture Oscar winner is at greater pains to summon a more sensitive portrayal of Native Americans (and thus, perversely, at times a more patr

A ship is the finest nursery in the world.

A High Wind in Jamaica (1965) (SPOILERS) An odd one, this, as if Disney were remaking The Swiss Family Robinson for adults. One might perhaps have imagined the Mouse House producing it during their “Dark Disney” phase. But even then, toned down. After all, kids kidnapped by pirates sounds like an evergreen premise for boy’s own adventuring (more girl’s own here). The reality of Alexander Mackendrick’s film is decidedly antithetical to that; there’s a lingering feeling, despite A High Wind in Jamaica ’s pirates largely observing their distance, that things could turn rather nasty (and indeed, if Richard Hughes’ 1929 novel  had been followed to the letter, they would have more explicitly). 

You’re a disgrace, sir... Weren’t you at Harrow?

Our Man in Marrakesh aka Bang! Bang! You’re Dead (1966) (SPOILERS) I hadn’t seen this one in more than three decades, and I had in mind that it was a decent spy spoof, well populated with a selection of stalwart British character actors in supporting roles. Well, I had the last bit right. I wasn’t aware this came from the stable of producer Harry Alan Towers, less still of his pedigree, or lack thereof, as a sort of British Roger Corman (he tried his hand at Star Wars with The Shape of Things to Come and Conan the Barbarian with Gor , for example). More legitimately, if you wish to call it that, he was responsible for the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu flicks. Our Man in Marrakesh – riffing overtly on Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana in title – seems to have in mind the then popular spy genre and its burgeoning spoofs, but it’s unsure which it is; too lightweight to work as a thriller and too light on laughs to elicit a chuckle.

I tell you, it saw me! The hanged man’s asphyx saw me!

The Asphyx (1972) (SPOILERS) There was such a welter of British horror from the mid 60s to mid 70s, even leaving aside the Hammers and Amicuses, that it’s easy to lose track of them in the shuffle. This one, the sole directorial effort of Peter Newbrook (a cameraman for David Lean, then a cinematographer), has a strong premise and a decent cast, but it stumbles somewhat when it comes to taking that premise any place interesting. On the plus side, it largely eschews the grue. On the minus, directing clearly wasn’t Newbrook’s forte, and even aided by industry stalwart cinematographer Freddie Young (also a go-to for Lean), The Aspyhx is stylistically rather flat.

My Doggett would have called that crazy.

The X-Files 9.4: 4-D I get the impression no one much liked Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), but I felt, for all the sub-Counsellor Troi, empath twiddling that dogged her characterisation, she was a mostly positive addition to the series’ last two years (of its main run). Undoubtedly, pairing her with Doggett, in anticipation of Gillian Anderson exiting just as David Duchovny had – you rewatch these seasons and you wonder where her head was at in hanging on – made for aggressively facile gender-swapped conflict positions on any given assignment. And generally, I’d have been more interested in seeing how two individuals sympathetic to the cause – her and Mulder – might have got on. Nevertheless, in an episode like 4-D you get her character, and Doggett’s, at probably their best mutual showing.

The best thing in the world for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.

Marnie (1964) (SPOILERS) Hitch in a creative ditch. If you’ve read my Vertigo review, you’ll know I admired rather than really liked the picture many fete as his greatest work. Marnie is, in many ways, a redux, in the way De Palma kept repeating himself in the early 80s only significantly less delirious and… well, compelling. While Marnie succeeds in commanding the attention fitfully, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. And Hitch, digging his heels in as he strives to fashion a star against public disinterest – he failed to persuade Grace Kelly out of retirement for Marnie Rutland – comes entirely adrift with his leads.

Duffy. That old tangerine hipster.

Duffy (1968) (SPOILERS) It’s appropriate that James Coburn’s title character is repeatedly referred to as an old hipster in Robert Parrish’s movie, as that seemed to be precisely the niche Coburn was carving out for himself in the mid to late 60s, no sooner had Our Man Flint made him a star. He could be found partaking in jaundiced commentary on sexual liberation in Candy, falling headlong into counter culture in The President’s Analyst , and leading it in Duffy . He might have been two decades older than its primary adherents, but he was, to repeat an oft-used phrase here, very groovy. If only Duffy were too.

Just wait. They’ll start listing side effects like the credits at the end of a movie.

Contagion  (2011) (SPOILERS) The plandemic saw Contagion ’s stock soar, which isn’t something that happens too often to a Steven Soderbergh movie. His ostensibly liberal outlook has hitherto found him on the side of the little people (class action suits) and interrogating the drugs trade while scrupulously avoiding institutional connivance (unless it’s Mexican institutional connivance). More recently, The Laundromat ’s Panama Papers puff piece fell fall flat on its face in attempting broad, knowing satire (in some respects, this is curious, as The Informant! is one of Soderbergh’s better-judged films, perhaps because it makes no bones about its maker’s indifference towards its characters). There’s no dilution involved with Contagion , however. It amounts to a bare-faced propaganda piece, serving to emphasise that the indie-minded director is Hollywood establishment through and through. This is a picture that can comfortably sit alongside any given Tinseltown handwringing over the Wa