Monday, 31 August 2009

The Invasion

Previous viewings - many

The Invasion is The Tenth Planet of the Troughton era - it's a story from the next era, with this era's Doctor. By coincidence, they both have Cybermen in them too! This time I understand rather than simply a change in story styles as dictated by the producer, the budget has been cut necessitating the creation of UNIT and present-day Earth setting that will become the norm next season. The restrictions placed on the format aren't so great however that they would destroy the show, in fact if this story is anything to go by, a change in format might be a cracking good idea to revitalise Doctor Who when it's getting perhaps a little tired.

Eight episodes is a lot to fill up when your characters are stuck in one planet and one time. The Invasion manages this by splitting it up into two 4-part stories: the first four episodes, with the Doctor tackling Vaughn the Bond supervillain and his empire, and the second four with UNIT taking on the Cybermen and their spaceship. Not distinct enough to be standalone, but divided enough that there are no major issues with pacing and that each segment has a different feel, as well as strengths and weaknesses.

I enjoy The Invasion more every time I see it. It's a good action-packed story with memorable characters and plenty of funny bits - something that sounds simple enough but a surprising amount of stories don't have these three essentials.

The story begins in animation, as I'm watching the DVD. It's interesting to come to the animated episodes after so many missing episodes represented by audios and the occasional reconstruction. It's constantly in motion which at least keeps the story visual and moving, however it lacks the authenticity of those other formats and is a bit too blocky, with repetitive facial expressions. By the end of the episode I'm no less gasping for live action as I would be if I had experienced the episode using other means, so I guess it's interesting to fill the gaps in the story but I wouldn't enjoy a full story animated unless more money was spent on it. It's just another form of reconstruction really, albeit a more marketable one.

The TARDIS is damaged after a missile is fired at it in the 20th century. The Doctor decides to look up Professor Travers, though I'm not sure why as they must surely risk altering his timeline if their arrival predates The Web of Fear. They hitch a ride from a nervous driver who is on his way out of the grounds of the International Electromatics compound. The man warns the TARDISeers that people have gone missing after going to work for IE, a major electronics manufacturer. The group skulk around as they try to get out of the heavily guarded area. A visual sequence that makes me wish it was another episode missing and not the first, despite the animation. It does a good job of establishing the threat without dragging our heroes into danger quite yet - having them briefly travel with a guy who gets shot as soon as they part company. This puts us on our guard but allows the TARDISeers to continue on their merry way for now.

With Travers in America, the travellers meet Isobel Watkins, niece of Professor Watkins, who has gone to work for IE. Unimpressed with IE's answering machine, the Doctor and Jamie head off to find Watkins while Zoe models for photographer Isobel. Although the plot is moving along, I'm not sold on the Doctor requiring the help of an Earth scientist he has never met to repair a part of the TARDIS, why can't he fix it himself? It's the one flaw of an otherwise excellent episode.

At the IE building, we're introduced to chairman Tobias Vaughn and his brutal yet dim security chief Packer. Kevin Stoney goes on to give the best villain performance of the series - he even eclipses Patrick Troughton in this story, I'd say, and that's saying a lot. Like Salamander last year, Vaughn is the megalomaniacal supervillain the Bond series never had, although Vaughn doesn't need to take over the world, from his perspective he effectively has already - boss of the world's biggest corporation and we don't see anyone else with any kind of authority in the company - he just wants to take his influence one step further. The best thing about Stoney's performance is the sheer charisma he displays; Vaughn isn't so original a character, in fact he's really quite unoriginal, but his voice seems to command attention and when I watch I feel almost captivated. Also I like the way he says "Packer!"

As the Doctor and Jamie leave, they're apprehended by some people who take them to a plane, the headquarters of UNIT. Nick Courtney is back as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and we can actually see him this time. Being an exception to the 'closed-minded military' rule we see on TV so often, the Brig is a likeable character although Courtney doesn't quite have the rapport with Troughton as he will do with Pertwee. Curiously, whereas in the Pertwee era we very much see UNIT through the Doctor's eyes, here we're allowed to make up our own minds as UNIT get loads to do even when the Doctor is nowhere around. Clearly UNIT are supposed to make an impression, as at times the story seems more like a pilot for a UNIT spin-off than Doctor Who.

Looking for the Doctor and Jamie, Zoe and Isobel go to the IE building, where Zoe causes their enquiry computer to blow up by asking it to solve nonsensical mathematics, which is perhaps my favourite Zoe scene ever. Just awesome. However as we get deeper into the story, with Zoe and Isobel being captured by Vaughn, we're led into a couple of episodes as padding, with the Doctor and Jamie going back to rescue them. Episodes 3 and 4 see Vaughn and Packer take centre stage - two characters, should be no problem, however the plot has to come to a standstill as I wait for the TARDISeers to escape, which doesn't happen until the middle of Episode 4. There are some good scenes in the meantime, including the Doctor meeting with Watkins, Jamie calling the Doctor "a crafty wee beggar", and Vaughn shouting at Packer (a lot), in fact any Vaughn scene is both powerful and funny because of Kevin Stoney, but this is some of the most blatant padding since the latter episodes of The Daleks, serving only to showcase Vaughn as the villain before the Cybermen take over the story. The UNIT helicopter rescue is cool, though since the episode is animated it somewhat diminishes the impact.

Anyone who has watched The Wheel in Space already knows the Cybermen are around, because that light bulb Vaughn has been talking to is the Cyber Planner. However it's still a great moment when that first Cyberman breaks out of its cocoon. They've been redesigned yet again, being the first Cybermen to have the "headphones". These are certainly the most physically imposing version of the Cybermen so do their job in this story.

The Brigadier tries to get something done about Vaughn, but Vaughn has a hold over his superior so he has to find proof the Cybermen exist. Jamie, Zoe and Isobel go to to the sewers to photograph a Cyberman, while the Doctor fades into obscurity for a couple of episodes while he works out some calculations (seems to be a common occurrence in the Troughton era!). I guess this is the closest we'll get to seeing what The Web of Fear looked like - underground and both directed by Douglas Camfield. Unfortunately it didn't leave as much impression as even the audio of the aforementioned story, despite being an exciting sequence it turns out to be futile as the pictures they get look like fakes. Sure, a UNIT private lost his life to get them out, but lets all shake hands and forget it happened. A totally misguided direction to take the story in.

Better is Vaughn putting his plans into action, testing a device Watkins has been making on the Cybermen, which increases its emotional capacity. In a terrific scene, Vaughn instructs his scientists to make a Cyberman feel fear. As the Cyberman screams, I feel really sorry for it. The main thing it does is give credibility to the fact that Vaughn thinks he can outwit the Cybermen - if this scene is any indication he certainly has a shot at taking them on.

Vaughn is thwarted when Watkins is rescued by UNIT - strange that the incident happens off-screen given the length of the story. Vaughn decides to bring his plans forward, sending out a signal which knocks out everybody in the world (except UNIT and its staff because of a gadget the Doctor has invented), while the Cybermen come out of the sewers and march through London in force. The classic cliffhanger of the Cybermen walking down the steps at St. Paul's Cathedral is great not just because of the image but the sound of the siren, which would have been more effective than the Cybermen theme from The Moonbase which would probably have been the alternative.

With all the padding out of the way, we come to Episodes 7 and 8, my favourite episodes of the story bar Episode 1. It sees the Cybermen ditch Vaughn, UNIT get plenty to do, and the Doctor confront Vaughn and persuade him that the Cybermen must be destroyed. Strangely the Cybermen aren't actually in Episode 7, although you never notice because the threat mostly comes from their spaceship. UNIT personnel are dispatched to Russia to complete a planned rocket launch to fire missiles and intercept the Cyber fleet. This is UNIT at their most credible - getting stuff done themselves rather than simply being military backup for the Doctor. They seem like a real organisation.

Meanwhile at the IE building the Doctor finds Vaughn panicking as the Cybermen decide to cut him out of their plans. The Cybermen attack the headquarters, killing Packer, which prompts Vaughn to decide to get revenge on the Cybermen for betraying him. The Doctor and Vaughn actually make quite a good team, with Vaughn being as good an ally as a villain. As UNIT arrive at the IE building, Vaughn gets blown up by the Cybermen. A nice moment stands out - as UNIT go after the Cybermen, the Doctor composes himself as he is photographed by Isobel. Such a Doctorish thing to do.

With the Cybermen defeated, the TARDISeers return to the field the TARDIS landed, with the repaired component, and leave for their next adventure. Jamie is limping having been out of action for all but this scene in Episode 8. I'd say this isn't one of Jamie's best stories, mainly because he's not the type of character who works well opposite the military.

The Invasion justifies its high reputation up to a point. It's exciting but there is padding, and too many plot points are treated quite oddly - the sewer incident, Watkins's rescue, a capture/escape/recapture too far in the early episodes. However this story has the best villain ever and Kevin Stoney's performance makes up for a lot. It might have been better if it was a monster other than the Cybermen, as they steal Vaughn's thunder somewhat undeservedly. Zoe gets lots to do although Jamie is a little sidelined, and extra characters like Packer and Isobel merit the sizeable screentime they get. Best of all, I can't wait to see more of UNIT!

Horror quotient - The Cybermen in the sewer is not scary at all. Vaughn is actually the scarier of the villains in this story!
Comedy quotient - Plenty there too. When he realises he can't outrun those chasing him, the Doctor stops to play cards. Hilarious!
Drama quotient - Any story that has moments where I feel sorry for the Cybermen deserves kudos. This is overall an action-driven story, with some of the plotting coming at the expense of drama, but it's eight episodes long and it has its moments.

A highlight of the era, which bodes well for the next one. However some issues with padding, and some setpieces which turn out to be fruitless, lose it a point.


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