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Fourth Doctor: The Invisible Enemy
Bob Baker and Dave Martin again, on something more approaching their usual form - i.e. not very good. Well, to be fair, some of the flaws are not the fault of the script-writers - like the poorly-executed scenes inside the Doctor's body, and the ludicrous giant prawn. But it was their job to give the Doctor something convincing to say when he comes face to face with this prawn, buried inside his own brain - and the best Bob 'n' Dave could apparently come up with is an argument that human colonisation is OK because they only seek to 'dominate the macrocosm', whereas the prawn's aggressive expansionism is not, because it will include the microcosm as well. It's rare to see Tom Baker deliver a performance that is lacking in fire and conviction, but here he does - and I'm not surprised. (Interestingly, references to him making public derogatory comments about the prawn have been edited out of the relevant section of the Wikipedia article, but are still (at the time of writing) visible on multiple Wikipedia copy sites). There are also a number of character actions that appear to be completely unmotivated, and remain unexplained by the script. Why, for instance, was Professor Marius so ready to help the Doctor and Leela in the first place? Why did he give them K-9 at the end of the last episode? And why the hell did the Doctor in his TARDIS seem momentarily to leave Leela behind on the Titan base, only to return seconds later and pick her up after all? Search me, on any of those.

And all of this is a pity, because on paper, the story should be pretty good. It starts out with some convincing enough characters; the device of not knowing who you can trust, and who's been possessed by an alien intelligence, is always a winner; visiting the inside of the Doctor's brain should be a moment of Extreme Fandom Squee!; and there are some lovely little details, like the 51st century phonetic spellings on signs about the place ('Imurginsee egsit', 'Isolayshun ward', etc.). It's hard to put a finger on exactly where it all went wrong, and why - but it certainly does.

That's not to say the story is completely without merit, though. I was actually watching it thanks to the good offices of Mr. steer, and knew literally nothing about it beyond its title at the time when I put it on. So it was a most joyous surprise - and presumably the reason why he had sent me this particular episode - to suddenly find myself sitting bolt upright on the sofa and squeeing 'OMG K-9!' (If you would like to diss K-9 in this journal, please read this thread first. Thank you. ;-) )

For me, it also happened to serve as my first 'proper' (i.e. post-childhood) introduction to Leela. I was a bit wary about this, as I'd feared she would be just 100% blatant 'eye-candy for the Dads' fodder. In fact, she proved to be stronger and more interesting as a character than I'd thought. But, all the same, she does demonstrate to me the fundamental problem with regular companions who are from any time and place other than contemporary Earth (at least if they're the only one - Susan and Vicki are fine because they're balanced by Ian and Barbara; ditto Jack because of Rose / Martha). That is, she becomes a 'one-joke' character, for whom almost everything she says or does has to reflect the fact that she's from a primitive, instinctual society. And it gets stale pretty quickly. Maybe I'll warm to her over the course of further stories - and I'm quite sure meeting her via Bob 'n' Dave wasn't exactly the most auspicious of introductions. But I'm not bowled over for now.

Fourth Doctor: Image of the Fendahl
Leela story number two largely confirmed my previous impression of her character, but at least didn't worsen it. The story this time was OK, but both the nature of what the Fendahl was, and the way the Doctor managed to defeat it at the end, felt very tenuous and poorly-explained. That said, there were some great supporting characters. Thea, the female scientist, won me over quite early on, and I also liked the way her name presaged her transformation into a goddess-like figure at the end. Obviously, the indomitable local 'wise woman', Ma Tyler, was cool too. But after Tryst in Nightmare of Eden and Professor Marius in The Invisible Enemy, I found myself rather annoyed to encounter yet another unhinged German scientist in Dr. Fendelman. One or two you could forgive, but so many amounts to a lazy, racist stereotype that gets very ugly very quickly if looked at too closely.

And, other than that, I don't have anything else to say about this story. It's just very middling - not outstandingly good, or outstandingly bad. Just fine.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 9th, 2008 10:00 am (UTC)
"That is, she becomes a 'one-joke' character, for whom almost everything she says or does has to reflect the fact that she's from a primitive, instinctual society."

They had the same problem with Jamie earlier on and mostly got round it by playing it for humour; I tend to think Leela fares a good deal better than that (and I have to admit to having quite a soft spot for her). But to be honest, I often find it quite exasperating with a lot of the contemporary Earth characters as well that their sole purpose is to explain the narrative on the assumption that you won't be able to understand it yourself (I won't mention a certain third Doctor companion here). I tend to think characters like Romana often work better as it's more difficult for writers to reduce them to that function (there's a particularly good character in some of the novels called Compassion, with a habit of dismissing the Doctor's comments by saying 'Obviously').

Mar. 9th, 2008 10:57 am (UTC)
Hehe - I like the sound of Compassion! But yes, I guess in general it is quite difficult to strike a really convincing compromise between companion-as-ignoramus-who-needs-things-explained and companion-as-strong-and-interesting-character. Romana, as you imply, probably does hit the sweet spot rather better than most, in that she has the same intelligence as the Doctor, but is younger and less experienced (and I shall be getting to know her better shortly, as I have just acquired the Key to Time box-set).

As for alien or historical companions, I suppose they provide an avenue for the show to explore when the audience has tired of contemporary Earth-folk. Maybe Leela worked better on that basis for her original audience than she does for me, since as far as I'm aware at that stage Jamie had actually been the last non-contemporary-Earthling, way back in 1969 (I'm not counting Sarah Jane's supposed origin in the audience's very near future relative to her first appearance). After eight years, she probably helped to introduce a note of novelty for them in a way which isn't really working for me so far.
Mar. 11th, 2008 02:31 pm (UTC)
I didn't really get on with "Image of the Fendahl". Many things about it just seemed to jar -- there's this whole "we can't possibly tell the police" bit that seemed totally contrived. However, I didn't watch it with close attention.

When I was younger the villain from "The Invisible Enemy" scared me immensely -- which just goes to show how little discernment I had. And yes the "please take my robotic dog and lifelong companion" was totally odd as an ending.
Mar. 11th, 2008 05:07 pm (UTC)
I didn't watch it with close attention

This would be one of your 'corner of the screen' viewings, then? I do the same kind of 'half-watching' thing sometimes while reading emails, but usually make sure I pick TV I don't really mind not following the plot of - like Poirot or something, where I'm really in it just for the period setting!

I think Image of the Fendahl is a bit like The Invisible Enemy in that it's good on paper (Gothic horror setting, malevolent primeval forces, well-defined supporting characters), but somehow not so much on screen. Still a lot better than The Invisible Enemy itself, though.
Mar. 11th, 2008 05:15 pm (UTC)
It's a bad habit to get into -- yes, you're right that Image of Fendahl is something I should perhaps go back and watch paying more attention. (But then, perhaps it does not really merit it).

Oh, for putting the gothic in Gothic horror setting try "The State of Decay", part of the "E-space" trilogy... it's quirkily amusing...
Aug. 26th, 2014 08:20 am (UTC)
Aug. 26th, 2014 10:34 am (UTC)
Yeah, I knew it must have been there once, in order to have left echoes on the copy-sites. It's probably best not to stray into the edit-wars which doubtless exist around its appearance and disappearance, though...
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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