Compare Frederick Jaeger’s performance here as Professor Marius to Sorenson in Planet of Evil. Both are fairly big performances – Sorenson’s werewolf transformation is hardly achieved through subtlety. But there was a sense that Sorenson was a realistic person being torn apart. No-one could say the same of Marius, who’s a wacky professor with a mid-European accent and a robot dog. Tom Baker is clearly enjoying what Jaeger is doing (‘Good for nothing spaceniks’, ‘Oh dear, he’s gone again!’), and so do I – but it sums up the difference between Hinchcliffe and Williams’ versions of Doctor Who.
More significantly, this introduces K9, the Doctor’s longest-serving companion. It’s the best robot dog in all science fiction, even if here he’s less officious and chirpy than he’ll become. Again, it’s a mark of the new emphasis on big, kid-friendly ideas executed for laughs: K9 would have been almost unthinkable in the previous year, but then the joy of Doctor Who is the flexibility of the format: if it didn’t go through these sea changes every few years it wouldn’t have lasted. My problems with this story aren’t that it’s played for laughs, it’s that, K9 aside, they’re not delivered very well. And because no-one is playing it with a straight face it’s not even as camp as Blake’s 7.
All the stuff with Michael Sheard hiding his infection behind massive space sunglasses and gradually taking over the medical staff of the Bi-Al facility is quite amusing, but it’s done in a fairly witless way: Baker and Martin’s script is obsessed with flat catchphrases like ‘Contact has been made’ and ‘For the purpose’. Humourless villains are a bit of a theme in the Graham Williams stories, but this isn’t even trying. And the plot is all over the place, with cloning, spaceship crashes, and miniaturisation thrown into the mix whenever the writers need a way to keep things going. I hate the Doctor’s clone wandering into the TARDIS, removing a bit, plugging it straight into the Bi-Al computer and expecting Marius to know what to do with it: there’s demystifying the Time Lords and then there’s making them just very ordinary. I also hate Leela being reduced to sitting on the floor (for the second episode in a row) and asking stupid questions, although even that’s preferable to Baker and Martin’s reinterpretation of her hunter’s instincts as clairvoyance: ‘I think I am needed elsewhere,’ she says mysteriously as she disappears off somewhere.
The direction is also quite bad. There are some attempts at stylishness, like the way the camera tracks into the advancing Swarm zombies. But the blocking of the action sequences is unambitious and static – the participants sort of stand still in front of each other, presumably so the electronic effects can be easily overlaid. There hasn’t been an episode quite this flawed since the last part of The Android Invasion.
Next episode: The Invisible Enemy – Part Three