Wednesday, June 21, 2006

My Review of Doctor Who's: "The Invasion"

Written by Derrick Sherwin And Kit Pedler
Directed by Douglas Camfield

Vaughn: “Doctor you have five minutes. Five minutes.”
Packer: “They won’t give themselves up. They’d be mad to.”

Okay we’ve had about four different encounters with the Cybermen since their debut in “The Tenth Planet” but this is possibly one of their most talked about serials in the series history but the real question is, is it their best? If I hadn’t seen “Earthshock”, I might have been tempted to say yes but it’s still a good serial to boot.

Basically “The Invasion” is the Cybermen equivalent of “The Dalek Invasion Of Earth” as our nefarious foes have big plans for London but not the kind you’d endorse. While the Daleks take great delight in killing, the Cybermen are more of a converting persuasion.

When the TARDIS gets hit by a random missile and is sent crashing to Earth, you’re just hoping that you get something a little out of the ordinary. Even for Doctor Who, an opening scene like that feels out of the ordinary. This is where this episode does success because in spite of its flaws, it doesn’t feel like an average episode.

I make no bones in preferring the Second Doctor over his First incarnation and throughout this story, Patrick Troughton is an absolute joy with his manic energy. He’s the kind of Doctor you want to travel with and with companions as excellent to watch as Zoë and Jamie, there’s an overall sense of fun as well as danger to proceedings.

The Cybermen are setting up an army to take over the earth but they need an ally of the human kind and there’s always going to be some gobshite willing to aid the schemes of a dangerous race and they don’t come any more foolish than the Managing Director of International Electromatics, Tobias Vaughn.

Actually I’m willing to scrap that because while Vaughn is foolish enough to work with the Cyber Planner, he’s also one of the nastiest pieces of work on this series and is played to perfection by actor Kevin Stony. Vaughn not only has no qualms with helping the Cybermen succeed in their invasion but he’s clever enough to set up his own plans with the help of hot headed right man Packer.

Packer is an impatient sort of bloke who seemingly enjoys nothing more than the idea of killing both The Doctor and Jamie but is also stopped in his tracks. Vaughn quickly deduces that The Doctor could be a potential help to his own scheme but persuading the Time Lord isn’t his strongest point.

To top it all off Vaughn also has Professor Watkins unwillingly working on a weapon he can use against the Cybermen. With the Watkins subplot added into the mix, there’s a justification for the constant presence of Isobel, a would be photographer. Actually I quite like Isobel and throughout the story I was under the impression that she was being groomed to join The Doctor, Jamie and Zoë.

Isobel worked perfectly with Zoë when you watch their scenes together. Zoë got to be quite girly and posed for photographs and she and Isobel also had great fun in wrecking one of the computers of International Electromatics. Plus her scenes with the UNIT crowd and her determination to get her uncle back made her quite sympathetic as well as fun. I was a little disappointed when she didn’t get to travel in the TARDIS at the end.

Of course there are two other big issues in themselves. First off there’s the Cybermen. I personally prefer them and The Master over the Daleks most days and while they are brilliant here, why did we have to wait so freaking long for them to show up? The controller was fine but waiting until the end of the fourth episode really was a sore point.

I know you have to build up the anticipation but you also run the fear of alienating viewers by holding out for so long and this serial was largely in risk of that. It also didn’t help that we had to go through long scenes of Zoë and Isobel getting kidnapped and The Doctor and Jamie breaking in and out of International Electromatics as well.

Then there’s the invasion itself. Starting in the sewers is grand because it does add a suitable creepy factor to matters but because it starts a little too late in the serial, it feels sort of too short for my liking. The Cybermen spend ages scheming and are almost defeated in quite a short space of time.

Last but not least there’s the UNIT situation. To me they are a plus and this serial does set them up in a more effective way than “The Web Of Fear”. It’s great to see Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart instead of Colonel. Doesn’t Nicholas Courtney totally convince in the role of Brigadier too? He’s certainly got that authorative feel to him as a character.

This is the very serial that also debuted Corporal John Benton (destined to become a Sergeant). He’s not given a hell of a lot to do but John Levene is a likeable presence throughout and the seeds are definitely sown here for the Jon Pertwee era when UNIT would take a far bigger role in the series. It also helps that UNIT play a good role in taking the Cybermen down as well. There’s nothing worse than some of the later serials portraying them as tin soldiers.

Also in “The Invasion”

This was an eight part serial and it was in the Patrick Troughton that serials were given the one title. I guess it made things easier for the writers.

Packard (to The Doctor/Jamie): “And next time, read the notice on the door.”
Jamie: “Oh don’t tell me you can read as well. What else do you do?”

Because episodes one and four of this serial are missing, the DVD release (November 2006) was clever in doing animated episodes for those parts. They’ve got a very noir feel to them.

Isobel: “Well they can’t have got themselves into any sort of trouble, can they?”
Zoë: “Oh you wouldn’t say that if you knew them. If there’s trouble to be found, The Doctor and Jamie can’t miss it.”

Originally this serial was supposed to feature Cybermats but the writers opted out of using them. I can’t really see what use they would’ve been anyway.

Vaughn: “I should of course be angry with you. You’ve thwarted my elaborate security precautions twice. I’d like to know why.”
The Doctor: “Oh that’s quite simple. I hate computers and I refuse to be bullied by them.”

Isobel: “But why kidnap us? Why didn’t they just turn us over to the police or something?”
Zoë: “I don’t know. Anyways we’ve got to get out of here.”

This was originally supposed to be a four parter but got doubly when the original idea for the next serial was dropped.

The Brigadier: “Central control would think I’m mad.”
Isobel: “Well the answer’s simple surely: go and get some proof.”
The Brigadier: “And how can I prove that in the sewers of London that there are creatures from outer space waiting to attack us Go and get one?”

Cyber-Planner: “Is all in readiness?”
Vaughn: “Of course.”
Cyber-Planner: “There is one hour to invasion time. Countdown will start from now.”

Tobias Vaughn has popped up in the New Adventures book “Original Sin” in a Cybernetic body and his other schemes against UNIT have included funding the BOSS computer (“The Green Death”) and Operation Golden Age (“Invasion Of The Dinosaurs”).

The Brigadier: “Bomb? You mean the Cybermen are?”
Corporal Benton: “Yes sir, something called a Cyber-megatron bomb. They’re going to wipe us all out sir.”

Jamie: “Bye.”
Isobel (re the TARDIS): “A police box? I don’t believe it.”

Apparently there’s a four year distance between this story and “The Web Of Fear”. This story is also a few months before “Spearhead From Space” too.

Okay eight parts is way too long for a serial and as a result there’s a fair amount of padding you have to go through when watching “The Invasion”. There’s no denying that this is one of the best Cybermen and/or Second Doctor stories but it’s twice longer than it should be and that is problematic.

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