Doctor Who Project: The Invasion

Doctor Who Project: The Invasion
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Ah, shut up, you stupid machine!

On tuning in to “The Invasion” (Production Code VV), you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching ITV instead of the BBC. That moody, suspenseful, jangling music! The sense of dread and dark shadows caused by the angular camerawork! Is this Doctor Who or Danger Man? Only seeing Patrick Troughton instead of Patrick McGoohan puts the matter firmly to rest.

Patrick Who?

While writer Derrick Sherwin (working from a story by Cyberman creator Kit Pedler) grounds events firmly in the realm of Doctor Who, there can be little doubt that director Douglas Camfield kept abreast of his contemporaries’ work. The style breaks new ground for the show, bringing a more modern feel to the framing and pacing, and carrying on from his earlier work on “The Web of Fear.” Indeed, in many ways, “The Invasion” serves as a sequel of sorts to that show about Yeti in the London Underground, as the Doctor and his companions Jamie and Zoe arrive in contemporary London and seek out Professor Travers, himself a veteran of “The Abominable Snowmen” and “The Web of Fear,” for help in repairing some faulty TARDIS circuits.

Prior to reaching London, however, there’s a little matter with a missile. Upon materializing in orbit around the dark side of the moon, the TARDIS finds itself under attack and just barely escapes a missile fired at it from an unknown lunar base that has a spaceship guarding it. The TARDIS makes an emergency materialization on a farm in the English countryside, and, in the first of many curious non-sequiturs in this eight episode story, the focus turns directly to fixing those circuits, with no more worry paid to the source of the missile. The Doctor and friends hitch a ride to London from a truck driver, who quickly pulls off the road to hide. The TARDIS has arrived inside The Compound run by The Company, and when the driver realizes that they are not part of The Community, he endeavors to sneak them out. The weight given those words echoes, perhaps unintentionally, another ITV product, The Prisoner. There’s a very real sense of danger and the unexpected, rather new for Doctor Who, compounded by the driver being gunned down in a most violent fashion by toughs in dark glasses and motorcycle helmets after he has gotten the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe out of harm’s way.

And then, in an exceedingly odd transition, we’re treated to a fashion show.

Invasion of the Feather Boas

Professor Travers has left for America and sublet his flat to Professor Watkins and his niece Isobel, a model and aspiring photographer who immediately begins taking pictures of Zoe. Figuring one professor is as good as another, the Doctor attempts to find Watkins, who is in the employ of, yes, The Company—International Electromatics, a massive corporation whose computer and electronic equipment can be found all over the globe. Leaving Zoe in the company of Isobel, the Doctor and Jamie head off to International Electromatics’ headquarters in London, where they are greeted by an uncooperative computer. It all feels very much like “The War Machines,” which similarly used location shooting (and a menacing computer in a giant building) in contemporary London to very good effect. The past few stories feel claustrophobic in comparison to this one; even though “The Dominators” and “Fury from the Deep” feature some location shooting, quarries and beaches provide less of a tangible link for the audience than actual street scenes.

In a wee spot o' trouble

After being caught sneaking around the IE building, the Doctor confronts the head of the company, Tobias Vaughn, who informs the Doctor that Watkins is indisposed. The Doctor finds Vaughn quite suspicious, particularly because he doesn’t blink enough. And he’s not the only one with suspicions about Vaughn and IE. An old friend returns, complete with a promotion and a headquarters built into the back of a military cargo plane: Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, now head of UNIT for the United Kingdom.

What unit did you say you were with?

The United Nations Intelligence Taskforce formed in the wake of the Yeti incident some four years earlier, and this organization responds to strange and unusual phenomenon around the globe. Headquartered in Geneva, the local branches have a nominal responsibility to their host governments, but the taskforce as a whole has global authority. They’ve been monitoring IE because of the strange behavior of people who enter their building. They’re just, well, different afterwards. Which might be a problem, as Zoe and Isobel manage to get caught in the IE building after trying to find the overdue Doctor and Zoe. The episodes devoted to infiltrating the IE compound where they have been taken drag on somewhat, the only blemish on an otherwise tightly paced story. There’s much running around and climbing elevator shafts and hiding in railway cars, not to mention the seemingly obligatory helicopter scenes, all well presented but ultimately not driving the plot forward in meaningful ways.

Tools of the Cyberman Invasion

Four episodes in, you see, and we still haven’t discovered the force behind the titular Invasion that Vaughn keeps prattling on about to the intricately alien device in a secret room adjacent to his office. Said device warns Vaughn in no uncertain terms that the Doctor is known to be hostile, having been encountered on Planet 14, and should be eliminated. At this point in the series, that’s not a random callback to some off-screen adventure; there have been enough direct links to earlier stories that the reference has to be to a particular story, a particular foe.

For those paying attention to the opening titles, Kit Pedler’s name should ring a bell or two. Throw in workmen at IE with seemingly amazing strength and people being mind-controlled and, well, it all adds up. Planet 14 could only be Telos.

New Look Cyberman

The Cybermen have returned, this time in a much-upgraded model from “The Wheel in Space,” with new headpieces featuring concentric ovals on the sides near the handlebar and smaller, more compact chest pieces. They still have death rays, though later in the story they run around with handheld flame weapons as well for some reason, and they apparently lack the ability to control people without assistance from a giant spaceborne transmitter. Their voices, too, have changed since their last outing, with much less modulation and a more tinny timbre.

The chronology of the Doctor’s interactions with the Cybermen remains quite jumbled, with the original Mondas Cybermen appearing some ten years into the future from the time of this story, “The Moonbase” and “The Wheel in Space” Cybermen at least fifty years if not more, and the Telos Cybermen a good thousand or so years ahead. So how the Cybermen of the 1970s know the Doctor ventures into hand-wave territory, but their references to, and fear of, the Doctor resonate regardless.

One constant here is the inability of the Cybermen to land on Earth without some form of navigation guidance—in “The Wheel in Space,” their invasion plans were thwarted for lack of a beacon on Earth, and here, Vaughn has set up giant deep space radio communication stations for the Cybermen to home in on. Neatly, the Cybermen have been making surreptitious deliveries of dormant Cybermen for years, corresponding with an increase in UFO sightings near the IE compound in rural England, a very contemporary reference for the UFO-obsessed late-1960s.

The Cybermen plan on invading Earth by controlling the minds of all humans, and Vaughn has provided the means of focusing the mind control broadcast from space through “micro-monolithic circuits” placed in every electronic device and computer IE has sold, including more than ten million portable transistor radios and devices in every military installation on the planet. It’s a clever ploy, and one the Doctor spends much time trying to unravel, but one that also turns out to be a massive red herring.

Key sights on the London Package Tour

So you’ve got Cybermen emerging from the sewers by the hundreds, marching in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral much as the Daleks toured London in the twenty-second century (by way of 1964), but they’re just for show. Though the Cybermen do initiate the mind control pulse—which, as in “The Wheel in Space,” can be thwarted by wearing a neuristor-based depolarizer on the back of the neck—their real plan is just to destroy Earth with a “cyber megatron bomb” for some reason. And the reason is never given, and no one seems to wonder why.

The entire Troughton era posits the Cybermen as pure evil, with no nuance or dimension or depth. They’re just monsters, a far cry from the existential foes of “The Tenth Planet” who wanted to convert humans to their model of existence. To be fair, much of “The Invasion” does tease the existential, bodily peril of conversion, with Vaughn insisting that though his body is cybernetic (hence, the lack of blinking), his mind will remain human, and threatening his sadistic henchman, Packer, with a cyber-makeover if he doesn’t behave. But by the end of the story, the Cybermen don’t want to convert anyone. They just want to blow the planet up. Even the Daleks wanted to use Earth as a big spaceship, at least (and that’s a low bar to hurdle).

Angry Cybermen (if Cybermen could be angry)

Vaughn and the Doctor team up at the end to shut down the homing beacon for the Cyberman invasion fleet, but in the end, UNIT saves the day by sending someone to Moscow to requisition a Soviet moon rocket, fitting it with a massive nuclear warhead, and firing it at the Cyberman headquarters spaceship (first seen at the beginning of the story near the moon) to destroy it. Now that’s some pull, demonstrating the global reach and authority of UNIT, especially since they sent a mere Captain to set it all up.

For all the pleasure of seeing Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart return here, it must be said that Nicholas Courtney isn’t given much material to work with. He’s forever waiting for someone to tune in a radio dial, with very little in the way of action or interesting dialogue. He does get a few combat scenes at the end of the story, when UNIT storms the International Electromatics compound, and gives the order to fire a bazooka at least twice, but it’s an inauspicious return for a character who will become quite integral to the series.

Of all the characters, Zoe (Wendy Cadbury) comes across as the strongest in this story. She has fun and silly moments, running around with a feather boa, posing for a fashion shoot, and destroying a computer merely by talking it to death with illogical commands, but she also shows real disdain when her capabilities are questioned. Far from being the “screaming companion,” Zoe uses her computational abilities to quickly plot trajectories for missiles to destroy the vanguard of the Cyberman invasion fleet. And she even finds time to change back into the sparkly jumpsuit from the prior story.

Jamie’s role dwindles here, despite the length of the story. Frazer Hines is absent for the last episode, save a brief bit at the end (vacation, ostensibly), and he spends a few episodes asleep, though still present. Apparently he’s developed a fear of heights, which contradicts the prior story where he had no qualms about climbing a mountain using Rapunzel’s hair for a rope. It appears that the UNIT soldiers doing all the shooting and Cyberman-chasing infringed on Jamie’s usual role as man-of-action.

And there’s quite a bit of action, much of it violent. The Doctor has no qualms about grabbing Vaughn’s defense against the Cybermen, an emotion generator, and killing them when confronted, and he gladly goes along with the plan to blast the Cyberman invasion fleet out of existence. The Second Doctor’s pacifism is situational (as, indeed, the First Doctor’s was against the Daleks)—against pure evil, there can be no prevarication, it seems. Patrick Troughton gets to run and climb around with the best of them, hopping through a gauntlet of explosions at one point and dropping to the ground as weapons are fired over his head. And the Doctor’s scientific side comes out strongly here, with several scenes devoted to his exploration of the workings of the illogical micro-monolithic circuits.

All in a day's work

Speaking of circuits, the initial impetus for sticking around after the missile attack, repairing those faulty TARDIS circuits, never gets resolved, at least on screen. And it’s a hallmark of the second half of this story that major scenes (rescues, escapes, combats) all take place off-screen. For an eight episode story, there’s a lot of rushing in the final four episodes.

Plot inconsistencies (and the essential meaninglessness of the entire invasion storyline) aside, “The Invasion” heralds a new look for Doctor Who, with tons of location work, a focus on Earth, and a simultaneous reverence for and disregard of established canonicity. Who cares how the Cyberman chronology fits together, because time travel! (And, to be fair, it’s a ripping good story with a decent pace and lots of explosions and shooting.) Only on closer analysis does “The Invasion” show its seams; in the moment, watching week to week for twenty-five minutes at a time, it just sings.

(Previous Story: The Mind Robber)

(Next Story: The Krotons)

Post 47 of the Doctor Who Re-Watching Project

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