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Doctor Who: The Invasion – thoughts and observations

The Doctor and JamieIt was a brave move by 2|Entertain/BBC Worldwide to release this incomplete Patrick Troughton story on DVD.  The problem they are facing is that only 6 of the 21 Patrick Troughton stories are complete in the archives, the other 15 are missing at least one episode.  As I write this only two complete second Doctor stories are left to be released.  Their solution to this big problem was to hire Cosgrove Hall (famous TV animators behind the likes of Danger Mouse and Count Duckula) to recreate the two missing episodes, with hopes to do the same to other such stories.  Apparently The Invasion DVD didn’t sell that well, though, so plans for any more animated recreations are sadly on hold.  Or are they?  Rumours abound of the same being done for Power of the Daleks but that has zero surviving episodes, so I have my doubts.

Before I continue, I should say that I am writing this before we recorded Staggering Stories Podcast 48, where we discuss this story (or will!)  This is, in part, my way of gathering my thoughts before we talk about it.  It will also, I hope, expand upon that podcast slightly.

The obvious place to start is with the length of the story.  The Invasion is eight 25 minute episodes long.  The average (mode) is 4 episodes per Doctor Who story, so clearly this was twice as long as most stories.  It doesn’t drag as badly as you may think but there is quite a gap before we see the alien villains of the piece, at the end of episode four.  There’s a lot of messing around with our heroes gaining access to the human villain’s lair (more than once!)  Fortunately some great characterisations keep it enjoyable.

It’s a Cyberman story, let’s not try to hide that fact.  There aren’t in it very much and we certainly don’t get any kind of face off between them and the Doctor.  Instead we find the familiar (particularly in later third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, stories) concept of a power mad human using an alien invasion force to personally rule the world!  The obvious benefit of this is that you have the Doctor battling someone that can emote (snear, mainly!)  In this case we are presented with the evil Tobias Vaughn, played brilliantly by Kevin Stoney.  Vaughn is so perfectly archetypal that he wouldn’t look out of place in a James Bond film.  He’s an electronics mogal, a bit like a less evil version of Alan Sugar, who has somehow (rather glossed over) made contact with the Cyberman fleet in deep space and ‘done a deal’.  Vaughn gets a leg up on his competition with electronics technology donated by his allies and within five years has cornered the market.

You can see that Stoney is enjoying the part, especially on those many occasions where he says “Packer…” (during the commentary many of them, notably Nick Courtney and Fraser Hines, do their impressions of Stoney saying ‘Packer’!)  Like most evil genius villains he doesn’t really get to leave his lair, at least not until the very end and I don’t think he makes it off the grounds!  That’s a shame as it means he has little interaction with most of the cast.  If this were the Pertwee years you could be sure that the Brigadier would get to storm into his office and then have to slope off after getting a warning from some top ranking politician under the villain’s thumb!

That brings us neatly onto Tobias Vaughn’s human associates.  The most notable of these is, of course, Packer.  A sadistic thug who has the brains of a turnip.  At first I couldn’t figure out why Vaughn would want such an incompetent as his closest ally.  Then I realised that his lack of intellect was exactly the point – such villains as Vaughn often make the mistake of trusting someone too ambitious, someone who will inevitably stab them in the back to take over themselves.  Packer would never dream of doing anything like that – he knows he couldn’t replace Vaughn.  Packer’s loyalty reminds me of a hunting dog, waiting patiently (for the most part) for his master to unleash him on some unfortunate little animal that he then enjoys tearing apart.  In the end, though, Packer’s incompetence in capturing the Doctor indirectly leads to Vaughn’s downfall.

Other characters in Vaughn’s employ appear to be few and far between.  He has at least two large complexes, one in the country and another, a skyscraper, in central London.  Odd then that the only other employees we see are Packer’s security men (again in true Bond style) and a couple of scientist types.  Are these buildings otherwise empty?!

I’ve mentioned the Pertwee era a few times already and that’s no coincidence.  This is a prototype Pertwee story, plain and simple.  The United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT) is first introduced and Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart makes his second appearance in the series, this time promoted to his famous rank of Brigadier.  I haven’t seen ‘The Web of Fear’ (Lethbridge-Stewart’s first appearance) but by ‘The Invasion’ he seems to be the fully formed Brig who becomes a regular in the next season with Jon Pertwee – crappy stick on moustache and all!

The only other really important guest characters are Professor Watkins and his daughter Isobel.  Watkins has been kidnapped by Vaughn because he had a device that might give Vaughn power over the Cybermen.  Isobel is, effectively, a third companion – there mainly to give Zoe someone to get into trouble with while the Doctor pairs up with Jamie.

Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of it, though.  This story is echoed by many later Cyberman stories.  Let’s start with the brain washing.  At first it is key people, government types it would seem.  At the end of the story that is extended to the entire human population of Earth via a special circuit put into all of International Electromatics products (IE being Vaughn’s company).  Very much like the earpods in the New Who, alternate Earth, Cyberman creation story ‘Rise of the Cybermen’.  Then there are the sewers.  This is more like a call back to ‘The Web of Fear’ where the Yeti were also roaming around under London (in that case in the London Underground metro system rather than sewers). Once they’ve had a taste for the London sewers the Cybermen can’t seem to get enough, though – in Colin Baker’s ‘Attack of the Cybermen’, full of historic Who references, the Cybermen travel back in time so they can frolic in the sewers once again!

Then we have some pretty blatant cast holidays.  For an episode Zoe (and her story companion Isobel) are kidnapped and don’t appear in an episode.  Then we have Jamie unexpectedly shot (just a flesh wound, we are told) and missing from the final episode as he recuperates.  Zoe’s absence was so well written into the script that you hardly notice it is exactly one week she is gone for.  Jamie’s is rather less well done – he’s shot.  You’d think that would be a major plot point, something they’d play up for dramatic effect.  They don’t – it goes hardly remarked, just enough to say he was only very lightly injured.  At least in the final, pre-recorded location scenes, they did have the foresight to give Jamie a bandaged leg but I didn’t get the impression they’d really given it enough thought!
Another thing I thought was a little odd, poorly plotted even, was all that stuff in the first episode.  Namely the IE colony and the general ‘1984’ air to it that disappear in subsequent episodes.  International Electromatics go from being a sinister cult who controls a sizeable part of the country to a man in an office with some security thugs, albeit a sinister man in an office!

Another interesting but rather glossed over element is the partial cyber-conversion that some IE personnel have apparently undergone.  The first evidence of this are the super strong workmen who are shifting the inert cybermen (in their boxes) around.  Next was Vaughn’s laughing immunity to bullets.  I can just about imagine Vaughn agreeing, even being eager, to be ‘upgraded’ – so long as his mind is left unaltered.  He’d want the results – the physical superiority to match his intellectual superiority.  I’m less convinced he would trust the Cybermen enough to let them actually carry out the, no doubt, extensive surgery.  How could he have been sure he would have woken up without any alterations to his brain?  Perhaps he had some kind of insurance, a hold over them stronger than their merely needing his company, IE.  Sadly such details are glossed over, especially considering the story is over 3 hours long!

All these criticisms aside, it really is a good, fun story.  Patrick Troughton is a great Doctor and his teaming up with Frazer Hines’s Jamie really did produce one of the best Doctor/companion pairings of the entire series.  Wendy Padbury’s Zoe is by no means bad but she just can’t match the chemistry between Patrick and Frazer.  There are a lot of really good performances and characters, as previously mentioned.  That’s the real strength of this story – it’s not the slightly hackneyed plot and certainly not the deus ex machina resolution (would the Cybermen really be vulnerable to that?!).  No, watch this story to enjoy the characters.

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