After five wonderful episodes showcasing the more fantastical side of Doctor Who, the somewhat blandly titled story “The Invasion” sees the TARDIS crew in the more familiar setting of contemporary Earth and in the more familiar position of battling some good ol’ fashioned baddies. There are certain images from Doctor Who that have almost subconsciously become part of British culture. The Daleks parading around London in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” is one of them; the Autons smashing their way through the shop windows in “Spearhead From Space” is another. Before the recovery of “The Tomb of the Cybermen,” the scene that the Troughton era is most famous for was without doubt the Cybermen emerging from the sewers in London in this story. Monsters on the doorstep? Arguably nothing works better, and that’s what “The Invasion” is all about. For all intents and purposes it’s a dummy run for a completely Earth-based Doctor Who; a Doctor that liases with the military in battling alien threats to Earth… sound familiar? Well in 1968, it wasn’t.
The previous season’s London underground classic, “The Web of Fear,” introduced us to a certain Colonel Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, a stiff-upper lipped English soldier; a man of action, a man of honour. “The Invasion” sees Lethbridge-Stewart return, duly promoted to Brigadier and placed in charge of the UK branch of the United Nations Intelligence Task Force (UNIT). In a refreshing change from the 60’s norm for Doctor Who, this story sees the Doctor and his companions actively work with the authorities in investigating the strange goings on; they aren’t arrested and locked up for two episodes or even quizzed about who they are and where they come from! The production team’s plan (as Patrick Troughton was scheduled to leave at the end of the season) was to establish the Brigadier and UNIT properly in this story, ready to become regulars in the forthcoming Earth-based season(s). From watching the surviving six episodes of “The Invasion,” it is clear that a lot of time, money and effort was put into creating UNIT. Their H.Q. that we see in this story, for example, is better than anything that we ever see in the Pertwee era; it looks almost like something from the lair of a Bond villain! The design is absolutely superb. There are also far more extras than usual used (many of them stunt men no doubt), plus a lot of military equipment and vehicles are also seen on screen. Unfortunately, every time UNIT show up in force their presence is marred by the most appalling incidental music imaginable; this sort of jolly whistling tune; I can’t even begin to describe how awful it is!
Sadly episodes 1 and 4 of this story are missing from the BBC archives, though in this case their absence isn’t as tragic as in some other cases. The BBC Video release of the story has Nicholas Courtney (the Brigadier) filling in the blanks with a little bit of narration, and as harsh as it may sound I was thankful that I wasn’t viewing the whole thing! The first four episodes of “The Invasion” are incredibly slow. Following Courtney’s brief introduction to the story, the video begins properly with episode 2 and it feels like nothing has been missed (although to be fair, come the end of the story I had absolutely no idea why the TARDIS was invisible – that’ll learn me!) That said, there is much to enjoy about the slow-moving story. Sherwin’s script allows a lot of time for the Brigadier to develop, and also to introduce one of the serial’s main guest stars, Isobel Watkins (Sally Faulkner) – a character that would have made a great companion in my reckoning. Moreover, the longer story gives the principal villain, Tobias Vaughan, even longer to be… well villainous, really. Vaughan stands out as one of the best human antagonists of the Troughton era; he’s right up there with Theodore Maxtible and the like. Kevin Stoney brings a deadly earnestness to the part and a frightening sense of self-righteousness which pre-empts iconic characters like Davros and Omega. I also found his henchman, Packer, incredibly amusing in that stereotypically ineffectual henchman kind of way. Peter Halliday plays it completely straight that works perfectly, particularly in his scenes with the more offbeat Pat Troughton.
My hat really goes off to Derrick Sherwin for some of the subtleties in his script. For example, I enjoyed listening to Vaughan rant on about how he believes in “uniformity” and “duplication”, all the while thinking to myself, “aha, he’s dropping clues about who Vaughan is in league with.” Well yes, of course he is – but he’s also getting away with using the same office set for several different locations! Genius!
However, on top of their slow pace, the first half of the story is also completely devoid of Cybermen. I assume that their appearance in the cliffhanger ending to episode 4 (very similar in nature to the emergence of the silver giants in “The Tomb of the Cybermen”) would have been a surprise to the audience, otherwise surely the story would have been called “Invasion of the Cybermen”? Surprisingly, this works rather well. Not only does it give the episode 4 cliffhanger that “Oh My God!” shock-factor, but I think it also makes for a better story. So soon after six episodes of “The Wheel In Space,” I seriously doubt that the over-used Cybermen could have sustained an eight-part serial. In fact, for the most part the Cybermen in “The Invasion” are little more than foot soldiers for Vaughan; visually striking and very intimidating, but without a charismatic villain like Vaughan the story wouldn’t be half as good as it is. Likewise, as exquisitely evil as Vaughan is, without the Cybermen to back him up his own plans of world domination would be rather laughable, even with his high-society connections. His little talking computer is hardly all that menacing either, especially from a 21st century perspective!
Nevertheless, the pacing of the story suddenly becomes much faster in the fifth episode. Not only do we have Cybermen lurking about in the sewers beneath London, but also we learn that Vaughan is planning to double-cross them. He has forced Professor Watkins (Isobel’s kidnapped Uncle) to build him a ‘Cerebration Mentor,’ a machine that generates emotional impulses. It’s just the sort of thing an android like Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Data would have been eager to get his hands on, but to a Cybermen it’s as lethal as gold. Moreover, aside from the action there are some brilliantly written character moments. I particularly enjoyed watching the Brigadier utter the immortal line “Well, you’re a young woman. This is a job for my men,” to Isobel which sent her running for the nearest sewer just to prove him wrong, and Professor Watkins’ emotive speech to Vaughan. The Professor says that he will help Vaughan because he knows he wouldn’t be able to stand up to torture and he certainly doesn’t want to die, but if he ever gets chance he’ll kill him – an incredibly brave and bold move by the Professor in my book. It also sets up a fantastic scene where Vaughan gives Watkins a gun and dares him to shoot. The bullets don’t harm Vaughan; he has the body of a Cyberman!
It is episode 6 which features the timeless scene of Londoners collapsing to the pavements, each of them trying to shield their ears from the Cybermen’s powerful hypnotic signal as the silver giants slowly emerge from the sewers and begin their invasion. Jamie has an immortal line at the end of the episode: “Doctor! The Invasion has begun!” I was half-expecting the Doctor to turn around and say something like “What? Already? But there are still two episodes left!”
The penultimate episode sees Zoe use her technical skills to blow up the Cybermen’s invasion fleet using British missiles, causing the surviving Cybermen to double-double-cross Vaughan and decide to just wipe out humanity full-stop with their ‘Cybermegatron’ bomb! I have to say, for all my whinging about the story being slow the final episode has to be one of the most action-packed episodes in the history of Doctor Who. Whilst UNIT valiantly try to hold off the Cybermen, the Doctor manages to persuade Vaughan to use his Cerebration Mentor against the Cybermen. Vaughan agrees, not to save the Earth but because he’s angry with the Cybermen for double-crossing him before he had chance to double-cross them! He takes enough of them out to allow the Doctor and UNIT to destroy the remaining Cybership, bringing “The Invasion” to its fiery climax.
I think the scene of the Doctor running down the alleyway as fast as he can, his coattails only the tiniest distance ahead of the Cybermen’s gunshots, is the perfect finale to the story. The Brigadier shouts “Down!” and the Doctor hits the ground. Suddenly the threat is over, and the Doctor is still on the floor, amusingly tidying up his hair because Isobel isn’t wasting any time in taking photographs of ‘the hero’! Brilliant stuff!
Since their introduction two seasons earlier in “The Tenth Planet”, throughout the Troughton era the Cybermen made more appearances than the Ice Warriors, the Yeti or even the Daleks. “The Invasion” marks their last appearance in the series until 1975, and also the first appearance of their new design; the basic tenets of which would remain part of their make-up right up until 2006’s “Rise of the Cybermen.” Their voices (when they utter their one line in the entire story) are atrociously bad, and the story’s rather unimaginative ‘conquer or destroy’ plot both go some way towards explaining why it would be nearly six years before they would appear on television again. “The Invasion” is a completely mixed bag. The simplicity of the plot is rescued by the brilliance of the characters; the over-used Cybermen are saved by their juxtaposition with contemporary London and for once, keeping their traps shut. Love it or hate it, “The Invasion” is one of the most important cornerstones in the history of Doctor Who. It’s a little glimpse of the Doctor’s near future, a teaser of what is to come…
Possibly one of the most "referenced" stories in the series' history.
Seems like almost every other episode of any story featuring UNIT mentions "that business with the Cybermen". Of course, the "Web of Fear" is mentionned quite frequently too in this context, but somehow I've always been more fascinated with "The Invasion". Probably because it's got the Cybermen in it and they're still my all-time favourite monster. So, imagine my delight when a copy of the story was finally released with episode 1 and 3 missing and some linking narration from good 'ole Nick Courtney (who almost seems wheelchair-bound or something since he never rises from his seat!) thrown in to fill the gaps.
But, even as I purchased this release, a slight shade of hesitancy passed over me. What if this was another notorious example of JNT's famous addage: "the memory cheats"? What if this story really wasn't all that it was cracked up to be and that all the talk that has revolved around it is really "just talk"?
Turns out my concerns were largely unfounded.
"The Invasion" is a thoroughly enjoyable epic. It's got that really "clunky" moment towards the end with Proffessor Watkins getting rescued and some pretty dodgy-looking model work with the Cyber-fleet. But, otherwise, it's a really enjoyable eight episodes. Well, technically six episodes - which means that maybe there was some awful padding in the two parts that no longer exist but I'll never be the wiser!
I know lots of you folks go on endlessly about how great the "old" Cybermen were. I've seen all the existing footage in "Tenth Planet", "Moonbase" and "Wheel In Space" and the unearthed complete story of "Tomb of the Cybermen" and I honestly think these stories have as many flaws to them as any of the Cybermen stories from the 80s. And, in some cases, I'd even take "Earthshock" or even "Silver Nemesis" over some of these older stories any day. But "The Invasion" is the exception to this rule. This really is a fantastic Cybermen story. Mainly because of the way the plot actually uses them. Their involvement in the adventure is kept a secret for the first four episodes so that when they finally break out of the cocoon, it's one of the best entrances a recurring villain ever makes. Also Tobias Vaughn and the Cyber Planner serve the same purpose Davros did in Dalek stories of the 70s and 80s. They handle the bulk of the expository dialogue, thus leaving the Cybermen to do what they do best: lumber around menacingly whilst being really hard to kill. The sewer sequences are an excellent example of this. And the march in front of St. Paul's Cathedral, for my money, is far more effective than when the Daleks coasted around London way back in the "Dalek Invasion of Earth" (if nothing else, we didn't have to endure that endless drumbeat pounding away over and over!). More superficially, this particular "look" for the Cybermen was also one of the better costumes they ever designed. And, it was nice to finally see Cybermen toting around rifles. Not sure why I like that so much, but it was still cool!
Another great strength to this story is the magnificient portrayal of the evil Tobias Vaughn. Kevin Stoney knows how to play his villains. So well, that it almost makes you wonder what the man is like in real life. And it's impressive to see that Vaughn isn't just a copy of Mavic Chen, but rather, a completely different interpretation. He's far more charming, if anything and considerably more calculating. But, like Chen, Stoney allows himself just enough OTT moments to make the villain fun in places. But he never goes too far with it. And there are definitely some really chilling moments for Stoney to sink his teeth into. Particularly the sequence where Watkins shoots him and we see the smoldering bullets in Vaughn's chest as he smiles evilly. Magnificient stuff.
I suppose, like many fans, I do find it a bit hard to believe that Vaughn would use somebody like Packer as his second-in-command. He seems a bit too incompetent and panics too easilly. Although, I have found that the complaints about Packer are greatly exagerated (as is the case with many of the things fans like to "niggle" about in the series). The only time Packer really seems like a boob is during the whole "escape through the lift shaft" sequence with the Doctor and Jamie. Otherwise, he does handle things fairly well, overall, and it's not entirely ridiculous that Vaughn would employ such a blatant sadist. Packer is there to handle Vaughn's dirtywork so that he can look "squeaky clean" in his public profile. This seems a logical set-up and doesn't push plausibility too far.
And then, of course, there's UNIT. A good first story. Although I do feel that Nick's portrayal of the Brigadier is still a bit rough in places. It's tough though, really. The Brig did become such a well-crafted character that it is a bit difficult to see him still a little unpolished in his early days. Even the first Pertwee story has a bit of this going on in it too. But it is nice to see the Doctor able to get some millitairy might to back him up. And, unlike a lot of later UNIT stories, the back-up is actually somewhat instrumental in resolving the conflict.
Which leads me neatly into commenting on the effectiveness of the final two episodes. These are the ultimate testament to Douglas Camfield's directorial skills. Aside from the afore-mentionned poor modelwork, I consider the execution of these last two episodes virtually flawless. Especially when you consider how much of the action had to be handled through just actors standing around in control rooms pretending to react to events being announced on radios. Somehow, we feel as though we are still part of all this action and tension and we can suspend our disbelief adequately as Douglas cuts away to stock footage and bad models. It's all rather impressive, really.
And when Douglas is able to handle some legitimately visual action, it's truly breathtaking. The Doctor and Vaughn sneaking through the compound and the attack from UNIT on the Cybermen are breathtakingly well-done. Particularly when you consider the budget limitations and the time period in which this was all shot. Camfield really surpasses himself here - and we can see why his status as a director for Who has become a bit legendary.
Finally, we hear alot about how wonderful Season Five of Who was. But I'm still more impressed with what I've seen of Season Six. This might simply be because I've seen a lot more footage from this season, but I'm more inclined to believe that there is a better variety and quality to the stories of this season. We have the wildly imaginative "Mind Robber", the fun little runarounds in "The Dominators" and "Seeds of Death" and the climactic grand finale of "The War Games". Sitting, quite beautifully, in the middle of all this is fantastic little contemporary epic called "The Invasion". Easilly, one of the best Cybermen stories - and an excellent Troughton tale to boot! Even with the conveniently written-in "break" that Frasier Hines gets in the last two episodes!
‘The Invasion’ is an unusual story for its era, but and impressive one which sets the tone for things to come. The contemporary Earth-bound setting is used to great effect and is a logical successor to the highly successful ‘The Web of Fear’. With a large cast, a returning ally, a superb villain and one of the era’s most popular monsters, it is a triumph on many different levels.
Production wise, ‘The Invasion’ feels for the most part very polished. The sets are very convincing especially Vaughan’s offices, the Professor’s house, the sewers and the UNIT HQ on board an aeroplane. The relatively large budget allows for excellent location work, most notably the scenes set in London during the Cyber invasion; the sight of the Cybermen marching impassively down the steps of St. Paul’s cathedral are iconic and easily as memorable as the Daleks gliding around London landmarks in ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’. The final battle between UNIT troops and Cybermen in Vaughan’s compound, filmed around a Guinness factory is also excellent, benefiting from the large cast of UNIT soldiers and Cybermen. Douglas Camfield’s direction is exemplary, giving the story a sense of scale; although we only really see London, Vaughan’s compound and the airfield housing UNIT’s temporary base both feel as though they are several miles away, an effect achieved by simple use of vehicles and the different painted backdrops in Vaughan’s offices. Although Vaughan’s offices are blatantly the same set slightly redressed, the script directly addresses this, with Vaughan smugly announcing that reproducibility and uniformity are the keys to his success, and this is just one example of the story papering over its limitations. Inserted film footage of missiles being launched is also used very effectively in the last two episodes, as the Brigadier directs the attacks on the orbiting Cyber fleet. Having said all that, the story is not perfect in this regard; as has been noted by several reviewers, the off-screen rescue of Professor Watkins is conspicuous, which I think is largely due to the fact that captain Turner announces his intention to rescue him, followed immediately by a cut to a scene directly after the rescue with the luckless Gregory explaining the loss of Watkins to Vaughan. An interim scene with the Doctor or the Brigadier hearing a report of the assault would have made this far less jarring. In addition, the model work is dire, with the Cyber ships looking like they are made out of cotton reels and bits of wire, and the shots of missiles crashing into them utterly unconvincing. Nevertheless, these are minor quibbles.
The cast is exemplary, most noticeable Kevin Stoney as Tobias Vaughan, making his second memorable impact as a Doctor Who villain. Vaughan is a superb villain from the start, his air of avuncular charm in episode one never quite masking the underlying threat he represents. The Doctor’s comments to Jamie about his blinking pattern hint that he is not quite human, but even without this, he seems menacing. The scene in which he tells Gregory to “take time. Take one hour” highlights this beautifully, since Gregory is clearly terrified of his superficially charming employer. In addition, Packer is clearly a thug from the beginning, raising the question about the sort of man who would employ such a person as his lieutenant. As the story progresses, Vaughan’s ruthlessness is gradually unveiled, especially during his scenes with Packer and Watkins, the former of whom he explains his plans to thus exposing his megalomania to the viewer (or listener, in the case of episodes one and four), and the latter of whom he bullies mercilessly, threatening to hand over Watkins’s niece to the tender mercies of Packer. By the end of episode four, we learn just who Vaughan’s allies are, and the true extent of his schemes becomes clear. In some ways, Vaughan works better than Mavic Chen, Stoney’s previous Doctor Who character. Chen seemed in some ways weaker, never adequately preparing for the fact that the Daleks would betray him, often seeming to need the guidance of Carlton, and ultimately descending into madness when his plans went astray. Vaughan seems much more in control of himself, despite periodic outbursts of rage. Most significantly, he realises from the very beginning that the Cybermen will betray him, and he always plans to betray them first, hence the cerebraton mentor machine. Finally, when his plans fall apart and the Cyber Planner announces that they will launch a megatron bomb and destroy all life on Earth completely, his reaction is not the deluded madness of Chen, but rather a desire for revenge as he is consumed by hatred. Another key difference is that whereas Chen was ruthless and callous, he never seemed particularly sadistic. Vaughan is also ruthless and callous, as his manipulation and dispatch of Rutlidge attests, but is sadistic as well. The scene in which he forces Watkins to shoot him and then stands laughing as the bullets ricochet off his cyber-converted chest is filled with a gleeful malice; he is simply proving that Watkins can do nothing to harm him, whereas he can easily harm Watkins.
The ever-loyal Packer is well acted by the underrated Peter Halliday (if anyone can get access to a copy of ‘The Andromeda Breakthrough’, I strongly advise them to do so to see why I think he’s underrated). He is basically Vaughan’s lapdog, but he is also his confident. Whereas Vaughan clearly considers Gregory disposable, there is always an impression that he thinks more highly of Packer, whose mistakes outnumber Gregory’s considerably. There is never any hint that Vaughan will kill Packer if he continues to let the Doctor get the better of him; this is possibly because Packer is also hinted to be partially Cyber-converted (although since Jamie twists Packer’s ankle in episode one, I’m somewhat dubious about this) and has been a part of the conspiracy with Vaughan from the start. In short, he is the closest thing that Vaughan has to a friend. Packer works as a villain because he is thoroughly dislikable, lacking the charisma possessed by Vaughan; he is brutal and sadistic, and there are truly unpleasant hints about just what he would do to Isobel and Zoe if given free reign. Even more than Vaughan’s, his death at the hands of the Cybermen is thus rather satisfying.
When I reviewed ‘The Wheel in Space’, I criticized the fact that the Cybermen in that story are little more than generic robots from outer space. Slightly hypocritically, I think this approach works rather well here. Again, the Cybermen are said to be after the mineral wealth of Earth, and whilst Vaughan and his men are partially converted, there is very little emphasis placed on the Cybermen’s need to proliferate by converting the human population. Indeed, the Cyber Planner’s announcement that, having been betrayed, they must “destroy life on Earth completely” seems to be a little panicky for a supposedly logical race. In addition to this lack of emphasis on their cybernetic nature, with Vaughan to speak for them they have little need to actually say anything. A Cyberman speaks in episode five as the UNIT soldiers face them in the sewers, but this is an isolated incident, a fact for which I am grateful since the voices used for the Cybermen here are even worse than those used in ‘The Wheel in Space’. So the fact that they work so well here regardless is testament to the direction; they seem more threatening here than ever before. Their bulkier look compared with their appearance in ‘The Moonbase’, ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ and ‘The Wheel in Space’ is impressive and makes them more intimidating than usual. The superb incidental music is sublimely creepy and the use of sudden stings whenever a Cyberman appears is suitably dramatic. From the moment a Cyberman bursts from its cocoon at the end of episode four, they just seem scary, and their impassive silence only emphasizes this. The scene in the sewers is absolutely gripping, with Jamie, Zoe and Isobel all seeming convincingly frightened.
The weakness of the Cybermen exploited here by Vaughan is a novel one, as he causes one to feel fear. The sight and sound of a normally emotionless Cyberman screaming and lurching is disturbing and the crazed monster seems even more unstoppable than its comrades since it literally cannot be reasoned with. The Cyber Planner (as I’ve chosen to call it) adds very little to Cyber mythology, but is of course used to maintain the surprise of who Vaughan’s allies are. And its voice is memorably alien at least. Douglas Camfield milks every drop of tension from the build up during the first four episodes, as the mystery of Vaughan’s operation mounts. Knowing in advance that the Cybermen are the villains certainly doesn’t detract from the thoroughly spine-tingling ending to episode three, as Jamie finds himself in a crate with a mysterious cocooned figure that starts to move…
Patrick Troughton seems to relish having a single villain figure for the Doctor to pit his wits against from the start, and his scenes with Kevin Stoney are great. Vaughan knows that the Doctor is more than he seems thanks to the Cyber Planner, and the Doctor knows that Vaughan is more than he seems because of his blinking rate, and the two play a game of metaphorical chess for the first half of the story, as they try to manipulate each other. It is also good to have a villain who has a genuinely good reason for not just killing the Doctor outright, since Vaughan is after the TARDIS. The contrast between Troughton’s slightly anarchic Doctor and his military friends is also rather charming, as he generally bumbles happily around whilst the Brigadier seems to regard him with a mixture of amusement and respect. As in ‘The War Machines’, it makes a refreshing change for the Doctor to quickly gain the support of the establishment. With the respect of the Brigadier established by the events of ‘The Web of Fear’, the Doctor need waste no time proving himself, which from a dramatic point of view allows him to play with helicopters and canoes and try and rescue Zoe and Isobel with the aid of military backup, resulting in something of a romp. As a break from the norm, the result is highly entertaining. Jamie fulfills his normal action role, and good use is made of his double-act with the Doctor in the early episodes, as they chase around after Zoe and Isobel and confront Vaughan. Their bickering over Jamie’s free radio prompts some nice character moments, emphasizing yet again just why the Troughton and Hines combination is a winning Doctor and Companion team. Zoe, having been largely responsible for the destruction of the Land of Fiction in the previous story, here helps to save the world, since her calculations allow the destruction of most of the Cyber fleet. Her cheerful destruction of Vaughan’s computerized secretary is another great Zoe moment.
Nicholas Courtney makes a welcome return as now-Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and really makes his mark here. In ‘The Web of Fear’, the constant paranoia about who the Intelligence was using as a pawn meant that all of the supporting characters were questionable right up until the end; here however, the viewer knows that the Doctor can trust the Brigadier from the start, thus skipping the need for the Doctor to earn everybody’s trust. Apart from the benefits of this as described above, it’s just rather pleasant to see the Doctor able to rely on an old friend aside from his companions. UNIT of course makes its debut here and is an interesting, and indeed sensible, concept in a world in which aliens invade Earth in a contemporary setting. Overall, ‘The Invasion’ provides UNIT with a baptism of fire and sets the tone for things to come.