The Invasion [Classic Doctor Who]

Doctor Who has long been my favorite show, but in recent years rewatchings of old episodes have been few and far between.  But lately I decided to spend both some of my birthday and Christmas spending money on some of these adventures, and enjoy them with one or two of my nerdier daughters.

(Daily Doctor Who #260)

The Invasion

Starring Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor.
Companions: Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon and Wendy Padbury as Zoe Herriot.
Featuring Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and John Levene as Corporal Benton.
Written by Derrick Sherwin.  Directed by Douglas Camfield. Animation recreation produced and directed by Steve Maher.

Format:  8 episodes, each about 25 minutes long
Originally Aired:  November – December 1968 (Episodes 11-18 of Season 6)

At eight episodes, The Invasion is the longest Cybermen story that we’ve had in Doctor Who. It was the their fifth appearance on the show, with just over two years since they’d debuted, and it became their finale appearance for the next seven years. Two of the eight episodes remain missing from the BBC archives, but have now been re-created via animation.

Spoilers Ahead!

There is a lot about The Invasion that is legitimately classic. It’s got the Cybermen, of course, who are not actually fully revealed until the end of Part 4, but are still effectively built up. It’s got some creepy scenes of our characters skulking around in the sewers, being menaced by the Cybermen. And of course it’s got the famous shot of the Cybermen descending the stairs of St Paul’s Cathedral–maybe one of the most iconic images the show has ever delivered.

For the first time, the Cybermen were not a menace in the future, or on an alien planet, or on a space station…they were here, they were now, they could be lurking around any corner and under any manhole.

The other thing the story did was introduce UNIT, after testing the waters the previous year with the modern military presence featured in The Web of Fear. Back leading UNIT is Nicholas Courtney as Lethbridge-Stewart, now promoted to Brigadier.

Courtney is an interesting actor–he’s able to convey a genuine sense of military authority in his voice and body language, so that one can believe he’s the type of guy who is commanding such a significant operation. But he is able to do this without resorting to bluster, and the script thankfully has only respect for the job he is doing–the character is free of the buffoonery that you occasionally got with him later on.

Indeed, except for the panicky Private Perkins, all of the UNIT soldiers acquit themselves quite well. It’s good to see the stalwart John Levene making his debut as Benton, at this stage still a corporal. He’s got a likable everyman quality to him that made him a charming presence as the show continued. All of this set the stage for where the show was going, with the Doctor exiled to earth working as an advisor to the soldiers tasked with defending the earth from the extraordinary threats that menaced it. Patrick Troughton’s second Doctor is a lot more good-natured about it then the Third Doctor ever was, but then he wasn’t in trapped, so it’s understandable.

Beyond UNIT there are other interesting members of the cast. Kevin Stoney is good and kind of crazy as Tobias Vaughn, although the character himself has not aged well–at least not in terms of Doctor Who, anyway. Back then, the “collaborator” character was still relatively new to the show (although Stoney himself had played the first major one with the Daleks a few years earlier, in The Daleks’s Masterplan). So it’s patently obvious from the beginning of the story that Tobias Vaughn’s confidence is badly misplaced, and that is most certainly doomed. But it might have been more suspenseful in 1968, and at least Vaughn realizes his mistake somewhere along the way and does a good job fighting back against the Cybermen before he is killed.

Sally Faulkner as Isobel Watkins is also a bright presence in the serial, giving Jamie and Zoe a modern-day connection. The three end up running around a bit like teenagers, refusing to listen to their elders and getting into trouble. Zoe even gets to do some modeling! It’s a little silly, but it’s a fun contrast with all the military drama going on.

The biggest flaws with The Invasion have to do with plotting and pacing. The early episodes feature the Doctor and his friends breaking into International Electromatics no less then three times, often getting chased, getting captured, having to escape, etc. The later episodes feature some odd gaps in the storytelling which betray the show’s limited budget: we get to hear about the fantastically exciting scene of UNIT rescuing Professor Watkins rather than actually seeing it, for example, And then the climax of the story is told with people in control rooms pressing buttons and waiting tensely, and then announcing what has happened, giving the story a bit of a lackluster conclusion.

But even with those problems, The Invasion has enough going for it to make it an enjoyable, earth-bound alien invasion epic. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are one of the series’ great ensembles, and UNIT and the Brigardier really are an effective addition to the show’s mythology. Combine that with the Cybermen at their most classic, and the story is still a winner in spite of its problems.

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