Monday, 30 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Invasion (Revisited)

A warm welcome to Nostalgia Filter on this special day! What makes it so special, you ask? Well, if I've got my sums right, this is the 1000th Post on this blog! I'm so grateful to be here writing for you all after six years and countless changes, and I'm also really glad that this anniversary has fallen on a corker of an episode...
See here for my previous look at this story.

An iconic image, for sure. Which is why it's been reproduced
with every other design since.
Doctor Who - Season Six, Story Three - The Invasion
Written 2/10/15

We've finally reached the end of Cyberman Month, and we end it on a bang - The Invasion is a blistering eight episodes long, and is the home of a number of important Doctor Who firsts. Despite being remembered as the story where the Cybermen march on St. Paul's, the story actually spends half of its 200 minute runtime as a slow-burning conspiracy thriller, the Cybermen not being revealed until the cliffhanger of Episode Four. This is not a bad thing though, as it's this quality which makes it stand out, and which would lead it to have a profound effect on the show come next season.
     Upon landing in 1970s England, The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe discover that their old friend Professor Travers has gone off to America, with Professor Watkins and his niece Isobel taking their place. Watkins has been kidnapped by International Electromatics, a mysterious and powerful company owned by the mysterious Tobias Vaughn. Vaughn is colluding with an alien force in order to rule the world, but when The Doctor and Jamie discover that said alien race is the Cybermen, they realise far sooner than he does that they will simply toss him aside once their invasion begins. With the help of Vaughn and The Doctor's old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, founder of UNIT, The Doctor foils the Cybermen's plot to kill all life on Earth.
     I am of the opinion that the vast majority of the longer stories in the Classic Series could be shortened or broken up into smaller, more compact affairs - this is mainly due to the way I started with the shorter serials in the 80s and how used I am to the way TV is today. The same is true of The Invasion, although I don't think you could scrape more than an episode from its runtime when you really break it down. The first four episodes, in which the Cybermen only appear for a few seconds, works as a standalone story with a cliffhanger at the end, in which two characters get kidnapped, and rescued. Episode Four feels climactic in that way, and this aides the pacing no end. It also unfortunately leaves all the padding to the fifth and sixth episode, meaning that the Cybermen's reveal isn't really capitalised on.
The reveal of the first Cyberman in the story is
arguably better animated.
     And that's true of the Cybermen throughout this story. Their redesign is great, even if it seems a little weird to stick the huge rectangular earmuffs onto the side of the Cybermen's heads. The Cybermen here don't really have their own agency within the story, spending the vast majority of it as footsoldiers for either Vaughn or their Cyber-Planner, an obscure computer brought forward from The Wheel In Space. It's because of this that this doesn't really stand out as a Cyberman story, with the far more interesting (and relevant) villain being Vaughn himself. Played by Kevin Stoney (who last appeared as the traitorous Mavic Chen in The Daleks' Master Plan), Vaughn is a wonderful calculating villain, methodical and intelligent, his only failings being his incredible hubris in thinking he could control the Cybermen and his over-reliance on his underlings to do all the important things for him.
     Seeing as we have been addressing some of the sexism present in these stories, let us now turn to the biggest bit of padding in this story, an attempt at addressing sexism which ends up falling on its arse. Soon after the reveal, photographer Isabel insists that she wants to go and see these Cybermen, wishing to go wandering in the sewers to take photographs of them. This escapade, which Zoe ends up supporting, inevitably goes wrong when a group of Cybermen attack them in the sewers, leading to UNIT having to engage the Cybermen directly. It's a dual blow to the entire purpose of the scene, because ultimately Isabel is made to look a fool when it all goes awry, and Isabel's attempt to point out the Brigadier's sexist attitude doesn't work when the thing she's suggesting is ridiculously dangerous and irresponsible for two lone people to go and do.
     This episode sees the return of The Brigadier, previously a colonel, from The Web of Fear. Since his escapade with The Doctor in the London Underground, he's set up the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, known to us and to Doctor Who history as UNIT. The organisation, with and without its founder, would continue from this point to make appearances even to the present day, with their last appearance being in the Series Nine premier. The first appearance of UNIT shapes the story - The Doctor now has assistance to his endeavors, be they through the use of superior infrastructure or simply through the precise application of military force. This created a whole new dynamic for the show which the Third Doctor would come to rely on almost exclusively in his first few years, with The Doctor and companions both working with and having moral complaints with UNIT and its members.
     Cybermen Month has seen me watch several pieces of animated Doctor Who, and I'll be doing the same thing next week when I review The Ice Warriors. This was, in fact, the first serial to be given this treatment, with episodes 1 and 4 being animated by famous British animation company Cosgrove Hall. It's surprising it took this long for this to have become a thing. The animated episodes are of course not perfect substitution for the original, and it can be argued that there is a lot of detail in the direction lost with the move towards animation. But the animation also allows a lot of the feel of each episode to be set by Cosgrove Hall's expert art design, and it really makes the beginning of the serial that much more tense for it.
     The Invasion is not a story which particularly highlights the Cybermen in terms of their mythology or history, beyond being their earliest chronological appearance within the show's universe. It is, however, an excellent Doctor Who story, a brilliant tense thriller with minimal padding, a really enjoyable villain and a story format which would go on to transform the show and bring it into the world of colour. I hoped with Cybermen week to give a thorough idea of where the Cybermen came from, as well as to go back and learn more about the Troughton years. If I can have anything happen for you, dear reader, as a result of this, it's that you go and see The Invasion. You really won't regret it.


NEXT TUESDAY: We shuffle back a season as we begin looking at stories starring The Ice Warriors.

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