Doctor Who (Classic): S06E03 “The Invasion”

Season 6
Directed by Douglas Camfield
Written by Derrick Sherwin, Story by Kit Pedler

While that last serial was a brisk five episodes, we are afforded no such luxury here.  At eight episodes, it is the longest serial of the show since “The Daleks’ Master Plan” (which went on for twelve) and third longest the show would ever do (not counting “Trial of a Time Lord” as one) behind this very season’s finale.  It’s also the second to last time the show would feature any missing episodes, with the first and fourth no longer being in existence.  So, not only do we have that bit of good news, we also have the start of another era as this was the first serial to get an animated reconstruction back in 2006.  Done as a proof of concept with a surplus budget, the project proved to be a failure and no more attempts were made for seven years until the release of “The Reign of Terror” on DVD.  The animation is quite ugly and choppy, but they clearly tried with all the emphasis on shading and lighting effects and any animation will always be better than the slideshow format.  I’d even go so far as to say that it’s better than some of the early ones they did after trying again a few years later which were likewise ugly and choppy but went for a far more limited animation than was attempted here.

Speaking of new eras, it was the beginning of Terrance Dicks’ tenure as script editor and he would serve until 1974, the longest tenure of anyone on the show.  With Dicks’ tenure came a shift in the style of the show that would become fully evident beginning the following season.  This serial as a result acts as both a proving ground and a set up for the Third Doctor’s run.  “The Invasion” introduces the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT) and John Benton (John Levene had already played both a Cyberman and a Yeti) as well as bringing back Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart from “The Web of Fear” as The Brigadier four in-universe years later.  The Brig and Sergeant Benton would form a core part of the supporting cast as members of UNIT for years to come.

It was also a send off of sorts for the Cybermen.  As the Daleks had been for the First Doctor, the Cybermen had been the big recurring baddie for the Second Doctor, called upon to pick up the slack when they were pulled from TV.  This would be their final appearance until 1975.  It certainly lessens the feeling of burnout from having five released in just over two years (or from a retrospective position, five out of an eighteen serial stretch) be relating to the Cybermen.  Also lessening that feeling of burnout is the fact that they don’t even show up until the dramatic reveal at the end of episode four.  Their appearance actually comes as a relief after four episodes of vague threats and teases.

Having just narrowly escaped from the Land of Fiction, The Doctor and his companions appear over the moon with a missile heading for them, escaping only at the last second to land on Earth in 20th Century England.  I think this second brief jump might actually be the first time on the show The Doctor moved the TARDIS in space without actually time travelling.  They go searching for Professor Travers of “The Abominable Snowmen” and “The Web of Fear” looking for help repairing a part in the TARDIS and while he is nowhere to be found, having left for America a year prior with his daughter, they do find the niece (not even trying to hide the thinly disguised substitute are you writers?) of a colleague of his, Professor Watkins.

He has been taken by International Electromatics, a monolithic company that wields a huge amount of power.  People have been going into their base and coming out strange.  The head of the company is a suspicious, inhuman man who the show claims is charming, but frankly I don’t think they hide it all that well.   The head of IE is scheming to use the might of the Cybermen to take over the world and then either use a machine to wipe them out or use the TARDIS to scarper.  He’s the latest in a line of villains who thinks they can outthink and control the monsters of the week and predictably, things are not going to go well.  I do love that the arrival of the Cybermen teased out by the Doctor and his companions being recognized from when they visited Planet 14 and how I’m sure it would have been more of a fun twist if I had actually watched the serial live, but at least I got to experience the NuWho episode SPOILERS “Dark Water” when paid tribute to this serial by going for a similar effect in the end reveal and ripping off/homaging the shot above (still a great moment, episode, and season though) END OF SPOILERS.

It’s an interesting idea essentially cleaving a long serial in two.  The far shorter “The Ark” did it before, and here there were certainly ideas enough for one.  Evil megacorporation with leader carrying out secret project and able to exert control over certain people in strategic positions throughout the government is a compelling one.  A bit too “The Enemy of the World“, but that one was a bit lacking in execution so I wouldn’t have objected to a redo.  The stymieing of the investigation into them and the power of IE is never truly felt though and too much becomes an obvious time killer as people waltz in and out, most of the time effortlessly.

The cocoons that the Cybermen burst forth from here have taken a more rubbery design that far less creepy and more amusing than anything else.  Their redesign is far more slick though and while I can’t say I needed more butt definition in the costumes, they certainly have come a long way in quality from their awkward beginnings.  The episode ending scene of the Cybermen crawling out of the sewers and swarming the streets of London (as hinted in the shot above and in the talk about the NuWho homaging) is great as the invasion finally begins with all the paralyzing discordant electronic noises only adding to the effect.

The Doctor and his companions must prove the Cybermen exist and while the action picks up significantly, it is here that I wish the full weight of IE’s power had been established.  It could have made for some great conspiracy thriller stuff, but instead they  bring along the Professor’s niece as a photographer in what turns out to be a waste of time.  This is also a nice time to remind everyone that the Cybermen were seen walking out and about among the street where they were sighted by plenty of people, but I guess UNIT is too incompetent.  The last two episodes pick up considerably, with a much better sense of pacing and especially tension.  I rather like that they are ultimately defeated through joint Russian/British cooperation with no actual drama about Cold War relations, using a Russian missile to blow the heck out of the Cybermen spaceship in an effectively suspenseful scene.

As a whole, “The Invasion” was like many of the Second Doctor’s serials far too long for its own good.  What it did have, that it’s brethren frequently struggled with, was build.  The first four episodes may have been a bit rocky, but from the final moments of the fourth one on, there was a sense that the show knew where it was going and building in quality.  It certainly left me feeling better than the normal “great episode 1 and sometimes 2, good if rushed conclusion, lots of padding in between”.  As a proof of concept, well it seemed to be successful considering it did point the way to Season 7, but it was also supposed to be evidence that these kind of stories could be made cheaply.

This was the most expensive serial the show had produced to date.

Grade: B-

Stray Observations

– Professor Travers and his daughter were originally set to be used in the serial, but they would have needed to pay the writers who created them (and who were reticent to allow them to be used in the first place) to use the characters
– A bit of “Kilroy Was Here” graffiti shows up in the elevator shaft
– I did mention the reveal above not coming until episode four and how it was very obviously spoiled for me beforehand.  It would have also been spoiled by readers of the Radio Times who published a picture of the Cybermen in accompaniment of the listing for the serial.
– Derrick Sherwin is the only credited writer to later go on to become a producer on the show.
– This Week in Cliffhangers: None really as the crew simply flies off in the TARDIS after waving goodbye

Next Up: The next episode of classic coverage picks up with “The Krotons” on November 5th, however coverage of new episodes of Doctor Who will continue every Sunday.