Let me pin my colours to the mast early in this review – I love The Invasion.
When going through a run of Dr Who stories it’s one of those I will look forward to watching the most. Sure, it’s not without its faults but the complete package is terrific. It’s also the only story so far with missing episodes that have been animated for DVD release.
And yet in it’s probably the story in which the Cybermen are utilised the worst.
How can this be?
Doctor Who – The Invasion Review: What’s This One About?
The TARDIS lands in 1970s England a few years after the events of the Web of Fear. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe decide to visit Professor Travers but it turns out he has gone to American to live with his daughter Anne and has rented his house out to a Professor Watkins and his
niece Isabel (the truth being that the BBC didn’t want to pay the writers of the Yeti stories for the use of the Travers’ characters).
However, Watkins has gone missing, last seen entering the International Electromatics company headquarters a few days earlier.
One trip to the IE building later and the Doctor believes something just isn’t quite right with its smooth and sophisticated owner, Tobias Vaughan (played by Kevin Stoney). This is confirmed when the Doctor and Jamie are picked up on their way out of the building by UNIT, an intelligence organisation headed up by their old friend Colonel (now Brigadier) Lethbridge-Stewart.
As he confirms. there is something fishy going on with IE, and it turns out Vaughan is in league with the Cybermen and is helping them plan an Invasion of Earth.
What follows is a story mainly about the rivalry between Vaughan and the Doctor/UNIT, while the Cybermen – though they appear in a few iconic moments such as walking down the steps of St. Pauls – are relegated to background characters and footsoldiers.
Thoughts – Incidental Music
As I say, I love this story.
The first thing that grabs me about it is the incidental music, which is different to any throughout the history of Dr Who, mainly because it’s not done by the ‘usual’ guy, Dudley Simpson and instead is done by Don Harper. Harper uses different pieces of music to suit the different scenes and moods. His UNIT theme suits the military nature well, but the best bits are reserved for his general ‘mood’ piece and the hectic ‘stings’ used for the scenes with Vaughan and Packer in the IE office. Just terrific. Up until the absolutely top notch scores used towards the end of The End of Time Part 2 (in particular Four Knocks and Vale Decem) the music in the Invasion was by a
long way the best incidental music in the show’s history.
Kevin Stoney – Acting Superstar
But a story can’t succeed on incidental music alone, and the real reason this story is such a favourite of mine is down mainly to one man – Kevin Stoney. As Tobias Vaughan, Stoney puts in the best performance in Dr Who seen since…erm…Kevin Stoney when he played Mavic Chen in the Daleks’ Master Plan.
There is a similarity between the two stories as – at an epic 8 episodes long – the Doctor needs a more human enemy to work against. In Master Plan, Mavic Chen was the real villain of the piece though the Daleks themselves provided worthy backup. Here. the Cybermen can’t even come close to keeping up with Vaughan’s villainy. Indeed, Kevin Stoney manages to leave his previous performance as Chen completely in the shade here. He’s like a proper Bond villain, managing to be suave, debonair and charming at first glance, and 95% of the time manages to keep his cool with a sort of cat like purr to his voice. But just occasionally he’ll lose his temper, and when that happens you know he’s not a man to be messed with.
My two favourite scenes with Vaughan are the one where he asks one of his lackeys to revive a Cybermen just enough to ‘bring it out of it’s cocoon’ (it’s the delivery of the line – you have to see it) and the ultra tense scene where he demands that Professor Watkins shoot him. Of course, in that scene he’s aided not just by the spot on incidental music, but also great acting displays by everyone else in the scene as well.
I would go as far as to say that Tobias Vaughan is the best one story villain in the show’s history. The only other character that can touch him and perhaps surpass him is the Roger Delgado Master, but in fairness he had a lot more time to win me over.
Stoney would be back in Dr Who just one more time, and sadly he would be completely underutilised and hidden under a silly mask in Revenge of the Cybermen (the irony being that his character is paper thin while the Cyber Leader steals the show)
Naturally, Stoney was also present in one of the best congregations of actors ever seen – I, Claudius – and is just one of a number of reasons you should watch that show. But that’s another article for another day.
UNIT and the 1960s Vision of the Future
This story doesn’t just succeed because of Vaughan. What people might overlook is that this is the first proper UNIT story – the story that would officially set the tone for Dr Who for the next 4 years and save it from being axed. We accept Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart as part of the
furniture, so to speak, but to become such an integral part of Dr Who he and his UNIT team had to make a successful first impression, and they do that here.
The Brigadier was of course in the Web of Fear, but he was written in such a way that doubt was cast upon him from the start. Here, he’s the steady hand, the man behind the Doctor’s own private army. He’s played as more of the hero that we know and love.
Of course, there are differences between this ‘Pilot’ version of UNIT and what would become known as the UNIT Family a couple of seasons later. For a start, a lot of the work is done by the never-to-be-seen-again Captain Turner. And most interestingly of all, it seems to be set at a time where UNIT are far more hi-tech than it later becomes in the Pertwee era.
For example, they go about their business on a giant flying aircraft HQ that can land wherever it needs to. Also, it’s set at a time where someone in England can fly to Russia in under two hours. Obviously when this was written, people genuinely must have expected flight technology to have developed that much within 10 years (and with Concorde preparing to launch the year after, who can blame them). Over 40 years later and things haven’t come nearly as far. Oh well.
The Rest of the Cast
There really isn’t a failure among the human characters here as pretty much everyone does a sterling job of playing their parts.
First of all, it would be unfair to praise the acting of Stoney and ignore the contribution of Peter Halliday as his head of security, Packer. While he’s no doubt a dangerous man, Halliday plays Packer as a bit of a comedy sidekick to Vaughan, which I think gives him far more depth than if he was played as a colourless b00-hiss villain. In turn it also helps Stoney’s performance. Also, it works well because by this point, I think it’s fair to say that Frazer Hines has fully adapted to playing Jamie as the comedy sidekick to the Doctor and therefore the two double acts mirror each other.
Then there are the Watkins. I think it’s fair to say we can all breath a sigh of relief that the production team didn’t pay over the odds to bring back Professor Travers and Anne. Jack Watling’s over-the-top Music Hall style Old Man act just wouldn’t have worked against Vaughan. Edward Burnham plays his weak old Professor role beautifully. As I say above, his scene with Vaughan where he’s bullied into shooting him is just so good and he can take just as much credit for that as Stoney.
And while Anne Travers was a good in the Web of Fear – a sort of prototype Liz Shaw if you like – the problem with her character (and indeed that of Zoe) is that it doesn’t work as an Audience Identification Figure. Scientists know the answers to the questions companions usually ask the Doctor, and so it just doesn’t work. Instead, we have a late 60s socialite type in the form of Sally Faulkner’s Isabel Watkins. And she’s perfectly adequate in her portrayal.
Captain Turner is merely OK though in my opinion, as he loses credibility points for the ridiculous way he says ‘Is-o-bell!! Jaymeeeee!! Where Aaaare Youuuuuuuu‘ in the sewers. That’s probably the most BBC-English delivery of a line in television history.
As I say though, this is probably the weakest ‘Cyberman’ story of them all. Yes, their lack of emotion was always going to come a distant second to Vaughan’s charisma, but they are used so fleetingly that it becomes difficult to consider this a Cyberman story at all. They don’t appear until half way through and then are relegated to a few minor appearances in the sewers, a few shots of them walking through the streets and one final damp squib of a battle against UNIT at the Guinness Factory.
There’s an irony I suppose that when the Cybermen were at their most interesting (in the Tenth Planet) the story was crap and when they are at their least involved here, it’s probably the best story to have them in it.
It could be argued that this story works so well because the Cybermen are a sort of unseen menace, and that is certainly a possibility, but their overall execution here, from the crap unintelligible voices and their poorer new design, all the the way through to their weapon inconsistency – they start off with their usual chest weapons but by Episode 8 are going around with hand guns – they just seem to be a second thought. Also, we don’t actually get to see much of their Invasion at all. In that respect there should have been more to it.
By Episode 8, when they come more to the forefront as Vaughan realizes he’s in over his head, it’s fair to say the story takes a bit of a dip in quality.
This will be the last we see of the Cybermen for some time, and while they are part of a successful story, there’s no doubt they’ve been exhausted by this point in the Patrick Troughton era. In the space of 18 stories we’ve seen the Cybermen five times. For enemies without emotions, that’s more than enough.
- I’ve praised the music greatly but it’s fair to say that there’s a scene in which the director uses the music incongruously. In the scene where the Cyberman has grabbed Jamie’s leg coming out of the sewer, the completely wrong musical score has been used. It doesn’t sell the threat of what’s happening at all and takes away from the tension and the acting of the scene.
- And speaking of that scene, have you noticed that while Jamie, Zoe and Isabel believe themselves to be trapped between two sets of on-coming Cybermen, both sets are clearly coming at them from the same direction? And how does the policeman manage to get killed by the Cybermen considering he’s behind the three youngsters and walking in the same direction as them, and therefore wouldn’t come across a Cyberman before they do? And then the same happens with the UNIT soldiers. No, that just doesn’t make sense.
- But while I’ve criticised the director there, I’ll praise him for one of the great ‘jumping out of your seat’ moments in Dr Who history. Throughout the whole story we’ve seen Vaughan call up Packer on his video phone and seen Packer’s face on the other end. but in Episode 8, Vaughan finds a Cyberman on the other end of the line. Superb.
- The animation is very nicely done. Yes, it doesn’t really do much in the way of limb movement, and almost everything is a close up shot, but we can forgive them that.
- What I can’t forgive them though is that they appear to have Zoe in the wrong outfit at the start of the episode. Later on in the story she’s dressed up in the same glittery catsuit she wore in the Mind Robber and she hasn’t been back to the TARDIS at any point to collect it. So my assumption is that she actually wore that at the start of the story, and changed into a new outfit to be Isabel’s model from the start of episode 2. Sloppy stuff.
- Overall though, I’d sooner have animated episodes with plot inconsistencies than telesnap reconstructions any day of the week.
- Here’s another plot error though…what exactly are the Cybermen doing invading Earth a few years before their own ‘first contact’ in the 1986-set Tenth Planet. It’s not said at this point that they can travel in time.
- As I say, the story dips in quality a bit towards the end, not just because the dynamic with Vaughan changes and it becomes more about the Cybermen, but also because of the interminable amount of archive shots of missles being launched and rockets being fired. It just got repetitive and dull.
- Oh yeah, and how exactly are the Cybermen defeated? I know their Cybership is blown up and their plans thwarted, but there are supposedly hundreds of unseen Cybermen going around London, let alone the rest of the planet. One would assume the Invasion of an entire planet wasn’t so localised.
- There’s a scene in Episode 8 where the second in command at the missile base asks – in relation to Zoe – “Can’t we keep her on sir? She’s much prettier than a computer”. Zoe takes it in the spirit it was intended, and yet you’d imagine that said bloke would be fired for making a sexist remark in 2012.
- Finally, it’s a pity that Episode 1 is missing, purely for the scene where the guy who gives the Doctor & co a lift in his van is callously murdered by IE security. Even in a series which deals with death on a regular basis, that seemed quite shocking on the animation. Of course, the music helped.
Doctor Who – The Invasion Review: Final Thoughts
There are a load of reasons to watch The Invasion, from a stellar cast and brilliant music to the debut of UNIT and the iconic scenes with the Cybermen in London.
But most of all, there’s Kevin Stoney. The man is superb. A brilliant actor putting in a brilliant performance for a brilliantly written character.