Five Years Later – The Invasion

The Cybermen were introduced in the same storyline as the Second Doctor (The Tenth Planet, in which William Hartnell regenerates into Patrick Troughton towards the end of the story) and the two went together from then on. In his three years as the Doctor, Troughton did four further Cybermen stories, and when Troughton left the show, the Cybermen went too, only making one lacklustre appearance between 1968 and 1982 (the point where the production team started plundering old stories on a regular basis).

The Tenth Planet also set the scene for Troughton’s era in another, unfortunate way – the last episode (featuring the regeneration scene) was burned by the BBC to save storage space and only exists as an audio recording made off-air by fans with tape recorders. This, alas, happened to the vast majority of Troughton’s stories, with barely any surviving intact. (The institutionalised Philistinism at the BBC at that time was astonishing. They also destroyed live footage of the Beatles, classic sitcoms like Hancock and Steptoe & Son and even their coverage of the Moon landing. Because no-one could ever want to watch those things again. ITV were as bad back then, but at least they were a commercial organisation, not a public service broadcaster).

The Cybermen were a perfect fit for Troughton’s Doctor as well. Created by Kit Pedler (one of the many ‘idea men’ employed by the show over the years who were great at high concept but rotten at writing, qv Nation, Terry) they were an embodiment of Pedler’s technophobia – Pedler fearing that pacemakers and transplantation would soon lead to human beings becoming nothing more than robots.

This technophobia might seem an odd component for a Doctor Who story – after all, the series’ protagonist is a scientist with a hugely inquiring mind, and one early proposal for the show which had featured the Doctor disliking technology had been rejected by Sydney Newman because he “didn’t want the Doctor to be a reactionary”. But while the Doctor is a free-spirited inquisitive investigator, the format of the show is of necessity a more conservative one than its lead character would suggest. If you’re doing an adventure story in the SF genre, you’re going to end up with lots of evil mad scientists, nuclear explosions, robots running amok and so on. At some point, even the most technophiliac protagonist is going to come to the conclusion that maybe there are some things with which man should not meddle.

With later Doctors this attitude would be refined, so that more specifically there are things with which man should not meddle (BTW, apologies for the sexist nature of the cliche) – The Doctor is allowed to meddle all he likes, and so are the Time Lords, should they wish to – but Troughton’s Doctor presents what now appears a contradictory figure – one who’s instinctively progressive, liberal, and anti-authoritarian (another way in which the regimented, controlled, Cybermen provide the perfect nemesis for him), but who’s seen enough damage caused by technology that he’s lost any faith in its ability to do anything other than destroy. This actually places him (oddly for a man who finds himself allied with the military on more than one occasion) in close ideological sympathy with the hippie movement, many of whom also mistrusted technology for roughly similar reasons (napalm, DDT and the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation not giving science a particularly good image at the time).

While many of Troughton’s stories follow a predictable pattern – an isolated base under siege from some monster or other (one gets the feeling the production team had seen The Thing From Another World and decided just to do that over and over), The Invasion, Troughton’s last Cybermen story, departs from this formula only to set up another formula, one which would be followed for most of the next few years.

The formula – Earth in ‘the near-future’ (ie ‘the present day’ but with a little fudging ) gets invaded by some ‘orrible monster or other, aided by a human (or humanoid) ally on Earth, who the monsters double-cross as soon as the ally has completed his side of the bargain, before the invasion is repelled by UNIT (a multi-national armed force set up by the United Nations) with the help of the Doctor – quickly became even more tiring than the base-under-siege stories had, but here it’s a breath of fresh air, leading to some fantastic moments. The shot of the Cybermen marching down the steps in front of St Paul’s Cathedral is still one of those images that can send a shiver up the spine. And Tobias Vaughan (the head of International Electromatics, the Cybermen’s front company on Earth) is suitably creepy, thanks to a wonderful performance by Kevin Stoney.

In fact, all the performances are top-notch – Troughton is always great as the Doctor, and might be my favourite were more of his shows to survive (I always think of Hartnell, Troughton and the two Bakers as embodying the Doctor in their performances – everyone else is, at best, an actor playing the part of the Doctor, albeit sometimes playing the part very well), but Nicholas Courtney is great here as the Brigadier (in his second appearance – his first since being promoted from Colonel), and Peter Halliday is marvellous as the thug Packer, displaying an almost sexual excitement at being able to hurt people, and a childlike petulance when this pleasure is postponed.

There are tons of great moments in the story – my favourite is when for once one of the Doctor’s female companions gets to act like an intelligent human being, when Zoe destroys a computer by speaking an ALGOL program at it (and anyone who thinks this is unrealistic has never worked in IT – it seems to me *entirely* believable that a multinational computer company would develop a more sophisticated voice-recognition and natural-language parsing system than any yet invented, yet forget to block execution of arbitrary code by non-privileged users…) – and it’s visually gorgeous, thanks to director Douglas Camfield (and thanks to cutting corners where necessary – having Vaughan’s offices in different parts of the country be identical *almost* works as a reason to save sets).

However, like many of the early Whos, The Invasion is overlong at eight episodes – the first four of which don’t even feature the Cybermen at all. Several times in the DVD special features, people mention that the original synopsis by Kit Pedler only had enough material for a four-parter, and it does show. While I’m no fan of the one-shot episodes of nuWho, I do think that six episodes is the absolute longest a Doctor Who story should be, and even six-parters often felt padded. There’s only so many times the Doctor’s companions can be kidnapped, rescued, kidnapped again, escape, get exposited to, get into cases of mistaken identity etc in the average storyline (although at least this one features helicopters and boats in which to make daring escapes, rather than the ciched corridors so beloved of those who make fun of the show without watching it).

However, this very nearly *is* a six-parter – two of the episodes were ‘lost’ (the BBC’s euphemism for ‘set on fire’) – but the audio tracks were recorded by fans, sat by their TVs with tape recorders, and in an experiment for this DVD those two episodes were animated by Manchester cartoon company Cosgrove Hall (makers of Dangermouse, Chorlton and the Wheelies and the two Discworld cartoons among others).

While the results are TV-style limited animation rather than the full animation I would prefer, and obviously miss the physicality of Troughton’s performance in particular (the man had the best eyebrows since Alistair Sim), they work surprisingly well, and are certainly less jarring than the more common fan method of watching a video made up from photos taken on-set combined with the soundtrack. It’s a shame the DVD hasn’t sold especially well, as I’d like to see more of these done (especially as, since the animation’s all done on computer, a lot of the material that would be needed for other stories has already been created so the cost would be lower), but it doesn’t seem very likely at present…

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5 Responses to Five Years Later – The Invasion

  1. The Invasion, Troughton’s last Cybermen story, departs from this formula only to set up another formula, one which would be followed for most of the next few years.

    Cough! Splutter! The Dalek Invasion of Earth?

    I do think that six episodes is the absolute longest a Doctor Who story should be, and even six-parters often felt padded.

    Oh, yes! Except I’d be tempted to set the limit at four. Even with the six-parters I’ve seen faster-paced Andy Warhol films. Sometimes you feel that they’ve built the sets and they’re bloody well going to get their money’s worth out of them.

    Despite my succession of somewhat nerdy carps, I’m enjoying your mini-series. I enjoyed the Big Finish ones too, but I’m unlikely to ever listen to those. As mentioned I am watching (at least most of) the old episodes, and will blog about them myself eventually.

  2. Dalek Invasion Of Earth was set further in the future and didn’t have UNIT – it’s certainly an obvious influence on The Invasion, but it’s different from the Pertwee years formula…

    And thanks – but you really should listen to some of the Big Finishes. They’re immensely variable (well, they’re Doctor Who – of course they’re immensely variable) but the average quality is probably overall higher than the TV series ever was except during a couple of peak periods. The Seventh and Eighth Doctor ones are mostly pretty poor, but the Fifth and Sixth are far superior to their TV incarnations.

    Big Finish have a thing where you can download the first episodes of some of their stories for £1 – I’d check out a few of them (whichever ones of my reviews have sounded most interesting to you) if I were you…

  3. Well theoretically yes. But their idea of 2150 seems uncannily similar to the 1960s, except for people saying “it’s 2150, isn’t it?” at regular intervals.

    And more importantly it started the whole iconography of Naz… sorry, I mean aliens parading in front of London landmarks.

    But if we were to go any further I’d have to admit that my watch-through still hasn’t finished the Hartnell era so I’m yet to see The Invasion! Once I’ve finished (which by current rates will be on my twelfth incarnation), maybe I’ll look again at which of the Big Finishes you recommended.

  4. To be honest I’d listen to the Big Finishes *in place of* most of the Fifth and Sixth Doctor stories – the Seventh and Eighth Doctor Big Finishes are often hugely flawed in an adolescent gritty fanfic kind of way, but the fifth and sixth are *at worst* fun and enjoyable, and at best are as good as any drama in any medium. Stuff like Doctor Who and The Pirates or The Kingmaker or The Council Of Nicea or Jubilee is infinitely better than The Trial Of A Timelord or Resurrection Of The Daleks.

  5. From my somewhat imperfect memories (not having seen any since they were first broadcast), things actually picked up with the Fifth Doctor.

    If the early Tom Bakers were classic, the later episodes were irritatingly self-aware and ‘wink-winky’, plus at times quite New Agey. (Lots of cheap synths trying to sound like flutes – ugh!) Though Davidson himself was sadly lacking in charisma, let alone the required quirkiness, the actual storylines got better.

    By Colin Baker I’d left home and had an alcohol habit instead of a TV. Whenever I did see an episode I always figured I wasn’t missing much. Sorry if you’re a fan of his!

    I did see more of the Sylvester McCoys, which at their best did turn up some good ideas. Unfortunately they never seemed able to develop or even present them well, they just really dumped them raw in your lap. (I’m often amused how many ‘innovations’ get credited to New Who that actually started out with McCoy.) At their worst they were just like the later Tom Bakers only more so.

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