Anyway, the story. Although the original Tenth Planet has more to say, and is serious competition, this has to be my favourite Cyberman story, and one of the few times they were used well, or indeed scary. I've always had a problem with Cybermen, given that for one of Who's premier league monsters their bad appearances outweigh their good, but here they're terrifying. That's a major moan with Invasion detractors, of course, in that they don't even turn up until episode four, missing the point that less is more. But that's all to worry about later, as Derrick Sherwin's script (from an idea by co-creator Kit Pedler) follows up the continual linked storyline that began with The Wheel In Space. It begins with some questionable comedy involving an invisible Tardis and mooing cows, but pretty soon we realise all is not as it should be on Earth. One of my favourite scores, to me Don Harper's menacing, distorted incidental music is one of the very best pieces recorded for Doctor Who, though is so unorthodox it's another valid reason why some wouldn't like it.
I've never "seen" this opening episode before, so it strikes me as a lot more exposition-heavy than I'm comfortable with, but it works well enough at establishing the premise, the Doctor returning to Earth with what amounts to a totalitarian society in place. That's an aspect of the story that isn't particularly reinforced in later episodes, so missing this one does make a difference to the oppressive feel of the work. The Isabel subplot in particular is a large plot contrivance, though as she and Zoe spend most of the story taking photos of each other in sexy poses like some prelude to a good lesbo shag session then I find it perfectly excusable. What really strikes me about this story is that it's Doctor Who carving out its future rather than looking back on itself. If a modern Doctor Who had the Doctor calling on a private address and making friends with a contemporary member of society for the duration of the story then it'd come across as fanwank of the highest order - here's it's just a passable and acceptable quirk..
Anyway, I love the opening of this one, with "Accept the situation, Jamie. Nothing else we can do" a Mighty Trout standout. Less commendable are the Zoe/Isobel scenes, with Sally Faulkner clearly acting the stage school brattish Padbury off the screen. As much as I'd love to do Zoe - and by God, I really would love to - she's not the best actress in the world, and her twittish overacting is possibly the worst performance she ever gave here. Worst scene has to be her vandalising a computer, causing her and Isobel to adopt stagy laughter in response. Tobias Vaughan (Kevin Stoney, excellent) even watches and laughs himself. "Tee hee, they've blown up my expensive computer equipment, what a great laugh!" Yet Sherwin's script sees a clear improvement in the script quality, with even what should be functional lines given polish to make them things like "I expect a little more coherent reply than an enigmatic shake of the head".
Though we met The Brigadier (or Colonel as he was then) in The Web of Fear, this is the first real UNIT story. Thankfully, they and the Brigadier are a credible organisation, light years away from the childish imbeciles they became by the time of The Three Doctors. Also to be greatly bigged up is Douglas Camfield's sensational direction, all low angle shots and grubby film stock giving it the feel of film noir, which it perhaps never deserved. Yet despite the presence of ten foot computers, this one has a great look - dated, but still valid.
There's a real grand scale at work here, with helicopters and trains driving all over the country like some cinematic British thriller. Experience of the story lets me know that the limited budget of the programme can be witnessed later in its run, though so far it only seeps through with the "exactly the same as your office in London" scene. I guess watching this serially on winter Saturday nights in 1968 might have bored audiences slightly, as there's still no real indication as to what the story's about. However, viewing it as an entire entity it compels far more. Particularly of note in these opening episodes are the slyly graphic references of violence from Vaughan and his underling, Packer, with "She's a pretty girl, it'd be a shame to spoil all that".
Actually, let me take back my earlier remark about cheapness creeping in later. Here we get Jamie's "Hey, look, a helicopter" - not the last time someone in the story claims to see such a vehicle off-screen - and the Doctor viewing a photo blow-up through a telescope. For now, though, it gets by.
If you wanted to be really crude you could say that the cliffhanger/reprise to this one looks as if Jamie's walked in on someone having a wank. However, even for me that's a low point, so I won't. Yet the unusual piscine analogies that have cropped up in the story get a bit rocky with Vaughan's corny "This Doctor's far too clever a fish for you to net".
As the fourth longest Doctor Who story (behind 60s stablemates The Daleks' Masterplan and War Games, making the mammoth The Trial of a Time Lord even more of an oddity given that it was presented to audiences in 1986) then it could be accused of being overlong, but for me never drags. Yes, there is padding, but out of the four 8+ episode stories then only The Daleks' Masterplan really feels like having episodes hacked out would have improved it. The eight-part structure of The Invasion allows the story to change gears half way through without it seeming like a harsh grinding. Sorry, that was a corny analogy, wasn't it? I've been listening to Sherwin's mackerels to catch a sprat line too often. Anyway, having said all this, episode four is possibly an episode that improves the story by being missing. A cyclical, mindless filler, it furthers the story not one iota, and you're left with the realisation that nothing has really happened since episode two. Only the appearance of the Cyberman as the cliffhangers keeps this one above the below-average rating it nearly warrants:
Maybe on reflection this could have worked better as a six-parter, but we're in the thick of it now and for the remainder of the story it's fun all the way. Maybe a lowpoint is the doorway to the Cybercontroller, which fails to close satisfactorily (18'08m in), the cheesy policeman or the Brigadier and his "those crazy kids". Absolute highpoint here has to be when one of the Cybermen is infected with fear and goes on the rampage. Logical metal killers is scary enough, but one that goes around the sewers flailing, like Leatherface from Texas Chain Saw Massacre, yelling "yeeeeeeeeeeuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" Well, that's some seriously scary stuff - in fact, I nearly bloody shit myself to be honest with you.
Watching The Invasion makes you constantly call into question whether extraneous padding can be considered to be worthwhile characterisation or just padding full stop. There's a lovely scene here that doesn't really add a great deal where Vaughan stands unharmed after being shot three times. We already know he's got a Cybernised body, so we don't learn anything new, but I'd really miss it if it wasn't there. I must admit, this one lets the pace slip again, with The Mighty Trout spending the episode looking into a microscope and pretending to do something scientific, but with the real time (ish) nature of events I suppose they have to let Jamie have a sleep. There's also a lot of close ups of Cyber Arses on the march here, almost as if they're on a gay pride rally. Something for everyone. Despite the flaws in the pace of this episode, that first-class cliffhanger - a clear homage to The Dalek Invasion of Earth, but effortlessly exceeding it - ensure this one nearly touches perfection…
The story sees an unusually physical role for the second Doctor, with him pushing over Packer in episode three, rowing a canoe in episode four and driving a jeep in this one. He returns to Vaughan's HQ for what must be the fiftieth time, but as it's drawings the plot elements together then it's commendable, despite Vaughan's clichéd "Doctor, what an unexpected pleasure!" After six episodes of dragging his thespic feet a little, TMT comes off the ropes for a confrontation scene with Stoney which, while not achieving the peaks of earlier bouts when he was still hungry, still pleases greatly. It's astonishing to think that this is only two stories on from the dire The Dominators (and only one before The Krotons, come to that), and - War Games aside - this is a rare peak in the shaky season six.
One of the worst things in Who - the military stock footage - tries to convince that the Brigadier and his saps have ballistic missiles at their disposal, though Zoe's a kinky sex kitten in a spangly cat suit you'd just love to peel her out of. For me, that keeps the episode afloat, even if, yet again, the story has let its previous build-up of tension foolishly dissipate.
"A mess of uncoordinated and impossible ideals!" Great stuff, as is "they destroyed my… dreams", but in a lesser actor's hands Vaughan would have become just another ranting megalomaniac. So much of the story's success relies on Stoney - can you imagine what a washout it would be if it was Stephen Thorne in the role? Sadly, though, the picture goes all crackly even by 60s Who standards, when we're made to follow the trajectory of a "Russian rocket". This is where Who's budget is really found wanting, one of the two climaxes to the story being no more than a soldier talking about what he can see on a radar screen. It's an unsatisfying conclusion, the resolution to two months of adventure being no more than a quick bang. How like real life. Thankfully, there's Stoney and TMT in the other climax, one that involves UNIT taking on an entire Cyber army… well, five of them, at any rate. Camfield's direction is tremendous here, with even racing up some factory steps a major plus point.
On the downside, Don Harper's UNIT score is jingly-jangly and at odds with the rest of it, and the Cyberman that falls off the roof is hilarious, but not in a good way. The Doctor jumping from a flaming arse at the dramatic conclusion? I'm on two minds about it, as I am the "giggle, wheeze, we can't find the invisible Tardis, ho ho" pay-off. Look out for the UNIT extra during the "long twelve minutes" who appears to be about to piss himself, too. When it all comes to pass, this is the third time I've sat through this story. The first time I thought "pretty good, but so what?" The second time I thought it was as good as a classic. This time, I'm starting to think I was right in the first place…
Maybe better when watched an episode at a time, rather than practically all in one go like I did here, The Invasion is an excellent Doctor Who story that somehow falls short of total greatness. Nevertheless, it must be one of the forty or so best productions the original series ever did.
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