Doctor Who Reviews: The Invasion

It seems to be a common myth that any Doctor Who stories with more than six episodes tend to drag. In theory, it’s a good point. You’re looking at three, four, maybe even five or six hours worth of one Doctor Who story, which is a hell of a lot. Funny thing is though, in practice, virtually all of these stories such as The Daleks' Master Plan, The War Games and of course, The Invasion all hold up really well.

The Invasion takes us from the fantasy mists of The Land Of Fiction and plonks us back in the groovy summer days of the Sixties (let’s not even start on the continuity debates of when the UNIT episodes are set). The eight-parter acts as a dummy run for the Pertwee years in which The Doctor helps UNIT with an Earthbound threat against the whole of humanity. In this case, it’s the dreaded Cybermen, who, this time are apparently at the beck and call of suave entrepreneur Tobias Vaughn, the head of International Electromatics.

Oddly, for a Cyberman adventure, they don’t really figure much in the story at all. They’re not even seen until the end of Episode Four, and when they do finally show up, they barely get any dialogue. That said, maybe less is more, since the sequences that they are in have acquired an almost legendary status. The shots of them marching outside St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the all-time iconic images in Doctor Who. Similarly, the final battle between UNIT and the Cybermen is a much-celebrated sequence in the show's history. Even the Cybermen themselves have undergone yet another makeover, with slightly larger heads, new blaster guns and rather silly voices that threaten to undermine their terror factor.

Still, that’s nothing compared to the Cyber Planner or Cyber Director or whatever it’s called. The Cyber Director is Vaughn’s conduit with the Cybermen, reporting to him from behind a large wall panel that never wants to open or shut properly. To the untrained eye, it resembles a badly stacked rack of dinner plates, with a couple of party balloons thrown in for good measure. It also has the daftest voice imaginable – think of Miss Othmar, the unseen teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons, and you know what I mean. It only seems to have two main topics of conversation: “Whaa. Whaa. Whaa. The humaaans must be destwaaaaad.” Or after Vaughn’s put an order through, the plates wobble, the Director makes a noise like a farting computer printer and then says: “It has been agweeeed!”

In the end, The Doctor mainly locks horns with Vaughn himself. Vaughn is the Alan Sugar of his day, an entrepreneur with power-mad ambitions. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a 1960s version of The Apprentice, although judging from his choice of second-in-command, I can’t imagine that the criteria for winning could have been too high. Vaughn has put the plan into action by slyly including barely detectable circuits into his electronic gizmos, so that when activated, all users will be distracted by the piercing signal, thus paving the way for the Cybermen to rule supreme. Vaughn also has delusions of grandeur, frequently breaking off mid-episode to muse on how he will be able to rule the world. Inevitably, he fails to recognise that he’s just a pawn in the Cybermen’s game, although for a while, it looks like he could be a genuine force to be reckoned with.

For one thing, he manages to put on a front of genuine charm. He offers Jamie the latest in transistor radios. He urges a Cyberman to be brought out of its cocoon with the air of a baron inviting his guests to come in to his swanky dinner party. He even laughs when Zoe wrecks his state-of-the-art answering machine.

However, all this masks a ferocious temper and a sadistic streak that breaks through with unnerving regularity. He practically breaks his desk in two after giving it a hefty thump when grilling Rutlidge over UNIT’s actions. There’s also that creepy sequence when he goads Watkins into shooting him. Watkins pumps bullet after bullet into Vaughn’s chest, but amazingly, the deranged businessman is laughing his head off as he lives. Whether Watkins should have aimed for the head is another matter, but it only goes to show the power that Vaughn apparently holds.

Which all falls apart like smoke as the Cyber Director turns on him in the last episode, forcing him into an uneasy alliance with The Doctor. Vaughn’s motives are interesting – he considers himself the only man worthy to lead the world, which he regards as a mess of uncoordinated ideals. Delusions of grandeur? Or is he really a genuine benefactor? Whatever the motive, Vaughn’s many-faceted character makes him one of the most memorable Sixties villains, and he’s played perfectly by Kevin Stoney, who makes a welcome return after his earlier appearance as Mavic Chen in The Daleks’ Master Plan.

His lackey kills me though.

Not literally, of course, since Peeeeaccckkahhhh couldn’t even swat a fly properly, let alone kill someone in cold blood. Peeeeaccckkahhhh is the king of useless lackeys, managing to balls up every single task that he’s given with clod-hopping inefficiency. Given endless chances to capture The Doctor and Jamie, he’s reduced to a naughty schoolboy who’s caught out by the headmaster. We do see the cracks in Peeeeaccckkahhhh’s personality, though. He bites his nails to the quick. He sweats like a pig at the first sign of trouble. Heck, it even looks like he wears a rather dodgy toupee (look at the scene outside the lift in Episode Three). He’s meant to be a sadist, but in the end, he provides more comedy gold than Al Murray could ever dream of.

Both of these characters, and the Cybermen provide enough headaches for the newly-established UNIT team. The idea of having a dedicated taskforce to deal with alien threats is a fantastic one, and in a way, pre-empts Torchwood (except without all the sex and gratuitous violence). It’s headed perfectly by Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, played brilliantly by Nicholas Courtney. Lethbridge-Stewart belongs to that rather charming era of civil manners and stiff upper lips. He’s shrewd, clever, if a little prone to blatant sexism, dismissing Isobel’s offers of help with casual nonchalance. Even Benton shows up here, while his second-in-command Captain Turner provides some unintentional humour at times (“Cheeky!” he responds to Isobel’s nickname of ‘Dolly Soldier’ in the voice of Graham Chapman’s Colonel character from Monty Python’s Flying Circus).

Talking of Isobel, she epitomises the Sixties to a tee. Kooky. Mini-skirts. Pro-feminism. She makes a great companion to Zoe, as they both form an unlikely friendship. The scenes of her proudly demonstrating her ancient gramophone and the concept of old-fashioned photography to an incredulous Zoe are amusing, and again, hark back to a simpler time, which was free of ipods and mobile phone cameras. The whole eight episodes seem to draw on Sixties thrillers such as Blow Up and The Ipcress File, not to mention Don Harper’s twangy Sixties jazz music.

All of which is brought to life by Douglas Camfield, who by now has this action-packed sci-fi adventure jape down to a fine art. Every single shot is well judged, making the Cyberman look even more imposing thanks to clever camera angles. The set-pieces are too numerous to mention. In addition to the aforementioned classic sequences, there are the scenes in the sewers, the tense stakeout of the Cybermen by The Doctor and Vaughn, and the moody introductory sequences when The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe hitch a lift into London.

And luckily, these can be enjoyed again in animated form, thanks to those good people at Cosgrove Hall. The animated Episodes One and Four are excellent substitutes for the missing tapes, and overall, they add a neat, film-noir interpretation to the story. The likenesses are very good indeed, and they capture Troughton’s facial expressions to a tee. Troughton himself is on good form throughout the story, and his many sparring matches with Vaughn display that perfect combination of unassuming goofiness and total authority – the best line of his is easily the “We’ve got the Professor”, as he smugly grins at Vaughn like a little boy that’s just scored 100% in his first O-Level paper.

Ahead of its time? Very possibly. The Invasion lays down the groundwork for the Pertwee years in fine style. It also shows how irritating machines can be, too. Who knows, maybe your MP3 player secretly houses a circuit that threatens to take over your mind. And how many times have we been faced by a fool computer answering machine that brushes off your urgent request to make an important phone call with a casual “Party not available. Good day.” And the big boss entrepreneur is still big news in 2017, as dinosaurs like The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den continue. Still, at least the entrepreneur in The Invasion heads for an almighty fall by the final episode, so maybe the current economic climate may hold some nasty surprises for all smug money-making machines yet.

The Invasion is hugely entertaining, pre-empting the early '70s in fine style. Admittedly, the budget doesn’t allow the story to reach its full potential – the Cyber ships look like cotton reels on strings, while the big battle between Vaughn’s men and the UNIT troops is reduced to a panicky monologue by nervy scientist Gregory. Despite that, the story rewards repeated viewing, even at eight episodes long and stands as one of the highlights of the season.

* And you can read all about the 1970s take on Doctor Who right here!