The Android Invasion

Written by:
Terry Nation
Directed by: Barry Letts
Starring: Tom Baker
Year: 1975
Video Availability: Try

Oi! Nation! Come outside and get your bitch-slap! Now! I really dislike Terry Nation as a writer. Whereas some of the 80s writers - and obviously a certain couple with the surname "Baker" feature highly in this regard - were weak, at least they tried. Terry Nation serves up the same kid-friendly, cipher-rich, plotting-by-numbers toss every time. He held the BBC to ransom having struck lucky with the Daleks, getting first bagsy on all of their televised adventures right up until the end. Fair enough - he just knew some good lawyers. But why did they have to give him a chance to write a non-Dalek tale? This is Terry Nation's The Android Invasion, and it's the contents of my soiled underpants.

It opens quite well, with a UNIT soldier committing suicide. As I thought he'd already died in The Claws of Axos then it's a miracle he was alive in the first place. Pretty soon we meet the Doctor and Sarah (great rapport - look at how she bursts into giggles when he accidentally hits her with a branch) and they're being shot at by astronauts. No it's not the Autons - don't be a cynic! The Doctor's answer to it all is "let's try the pub", but Tom's quickly reminded he's on duty and so he pretends he wants ginger beer. As soon as the cameras stopped rolling he was on his back, pouring in the contents of the pump taps and gin dispensers.

The absurdities of the "plot" in this one are often discussed, from the aliens who recreate an entire English village that doesn't have any real relevance to their invasion plans to the sitcom clod who doesn't look under his eyepatch. I won't repeat them all here, but the similarities between this one and the same season's Terror of the Zygons is notable. Only one difference - one of them is superb, the other is half-arsed drivel from the pen of King Hack. Want a posthumous embargo on your Dalek stories, do you? GOOD! And take this crock of crap with you while you're at it! I won't be begging!

The fact that this is all an artifical mock-up could be said to be superbly post-modern as this really is a cheapo cast-off with sets that never convince. Small, sparse and shot on overlit video they look like Frank Spencer-troubling artefacts. But come on - Terry Nation hasn't even heard of "don't put the Tardis in peril during the first episode, it's dated and tired", let alone post-modernism.

This is rancid, turgid stuff, like wading your way through a treacle slimepool of televisual ineptitude. A robot who just happens to take his face off when Sarah happens to be looking! I mean, WHY? It's a cheap, tacky way to deliver a plot point - I mean, it's hardly as if the android was hot and needed a breather, was it? Add to this an awful model shot of the HQ and the "surprise" cliffhanger of an alien being revealed and it really does strain under its own substandard puerility. You know what, though? I still quite enjoyed it to be honest.
* * ½

Why doesn't anyone ask for the return of the Kraals? Their name even sounds like a Red Dwarf send-up, while the opening shot of Stygron in this episode is of his feet. That's right, Barry - focus on the obvious studio floor. That's Barry Letts by the way, he of flushing the show's credibility down the pan from 1971-1974, asked back to "direct". He's as good a director as he was a producer.

Benton makes a return appearance and it feels like ages since we last saw him, even though it's his third appearance in the Tom Baker era. Harry also puts in a return, and their redefinition as "friends that are now enemies" provides some of the serial's best moments.

Oh, Jesus frickin' Christ in an ashtray, Sarah's just gone and sprained her ankle. Nation, you are SHITE!!!! You really are the most lazy, ham-fisted, stolid, "Perils of Pauline" writer on the face of the planet. Sod not speaking ill of the dead, he's diabolical. Hinchcliffe should have just photocopied one of his old cheques to give him as payment. "But I've had this before" whinges Uncle Tel. "Yeah," says Philip, "and we've had that script before - GET OUT!"

Meanwhile, Tom's proposing to get plastered and check out the local talent for hire: "see you back at the pub. If I'm not there in an hour, try the tunnels." Just how brightly lit is Stygron's set anyway? The narrative similarity between this and Zygons is a clear lesson in how to direct Who - just compare the one to the other. This is flat, unimaginative and lacking in atmosphere, something backed up by the lack of incidental music. This is where the whole concept of a shallow monster season falls down - when made well, it transcends its limited scope. When it's quite shoddy like this indeed is, then it falls down with nothing else to attract an adult audience.

Sarah boasts of journalistic prowess here, claiming "I've found out their whole plan". Yeah, right - in a Nation script all she has to do is stand still and the baddies will soon come along and discuss their entire plan in front of her. Meanwhile, the aliens have set up a scheme to find out "how smart" the Doctor and his assistant are. What a unique plot development, the sort of thing not seen since The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Witty of Terry Nation that, to still be writing the same clack a decade later.

Stygron's underling talks like Zippy (no surprise, as it's the same actor) and Stygron claims that "what I create, I can also destroy." Wonderful stuff again from Terry there - the bone idle obligatory religious reference. If you're thinking that this whole review is one long TN witchhunt… then you'd be right. He's dire, never worse than here, and his villains - a race of robots so deadly their faces drop off when they fall down a particularly small hill - are pathetic.
* * ½

I'd make a cheap gag about Stygron looking down in the mouth, though the mask looks so tatty it doesn't even deserve it. Where were they made, a primary school's papier mache class?

I forgot to take notes for this one actually, as I was just open-mouthed at how dumb it all is. The climax sees the production run out of backgrounds and have to CSO some in. Next thing you know, Sarah's pretending to feel g-force while NASA stock footage plays out. You don't need me to tell you that's not very good television, do you…?
* *

Were you, like me, a bit of a sad git who occasionally watched Telly Addicts just to see if they'd show some Who clips? I remember they once showed the climatic sequence of this story on it, and while the audience applauded loudly I couldn't help but squirm at the childish "Doctor's robot punches over alien" ending. It took me some time to realise that the true extent of the embarrassment hailed not from what was on screen but the outrageously loud cymbal crash that accompanied the visuals - a realisation that kick-started a long-term hate affair between myself and Dudley Simpson. Terry Nation's crap, Dudley Simpson's crap, Barry Letts is crap - and all three are at their very worst here. The actors involved, Tom and Lis particularly, are really trying, but have such substandard material to work with.

This episode has the old desperate standby of a Comedy Colonel, and the old Doctor-thinks-its-Sarah-but-really-it's-an-android "twist" is here unimaginatively reversed. On a plus point, isn't John Levene likeable as Benton? It's just a pity that it's such a nondescript final story for him (and Harry). People say Jon's Doctor is arrogant, but he showed far more civility and warmth to Benton than Tom does here. Shame.

Next up, it's the old standby of the Doctor battling his own robot double, something that was dated and clunky back in 1965 with The Chase. Hartnell's double was probably more convincing, too. I don't know whether it's just because it stands out more in the Hinchcliffe era, but the slap-dash shoestring production here really sticks out like the proverbial. Did Hinchcliffe and Letts have a row about it? "Barry, I've been doing it this way - " "Philip, I've had lots of experience in these matters. Trust me, dubbing in a cardboard set on CSO always does wonders."

Stygron's absent for much of this episode but his re-emergence is hardly a surprise as I'd already forgotten he existed. Milton Johns does one of those "change of heart" attacks on the enemy as he realises he's been betrayed. You know, the sort of thing that happened in 500 other Doctor Who stories? And how scary is a man with foot high turn-ups anyway? Sadly, there's no goodbye scenes for Benton and Harry, just a lot of hat work from Tom and a shot of the Tardis dematerialising. How utterly depressing.
* *

There's been an almost two-year gap between me seeing this and Planet of Evil, so it's difficult to confidently proclaim "worst of season thirteen". What it is though, is substandard, an antiquated, derivative story that offers little in the way of sophistication. The poor production is also a disappointment, something not normally associated with the Philip Hinchcliffe years. Conceptually and thematically, this is probably the least appealing Tom Baker story of all.
* *