Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Invasion written by Derrick Sherwin and directed by Douglas Camfield


This story in a nutshell: The Cybermen invade!


Oh My Giddy Aunt: It's nice the Doctor mentions Professor Travers because it feels as though the Troughton era has developed a continuity of its own (mind you it would have been great had either the Doctor and Jamie mentioned visiting Polly and Ben whilst they are in the area). If a trio that looked like the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe turned up by the side of the road asking for a ride to London would you give them a lift? He hates computers and refused to be bullied by them and he gives a droning answerphone message a piece of his mind. As he should. As well as his general naughtiness he is also the cutest of the eleven incarnations too – when he asks for a cup of tea and a patatcake biscuit I just wanted to give him a big hug. It's those moments of gentle charm that really separate him from the others. I love that he thinks the Brigadier is going to issue him a tank! Vaughn can see right into the heart of the Doctor, past his clumsy exterior to the genius that lies beneath. Packer however lacks that subtlety and when the Doctor acts like a frightened child he is completely hoodwinked, which aids their escape. It's fascinating to strip away all the cuddly bluster and witness the second Doctor as a scientist, poking his nose into the IE equipment and discovering their method of attack. He’s the only actor I have ever seen make looking into a microscope an experience, just watch his facial expressions when we catch up with him in episode six. And despite his intelligence he still has time for a paddy. He comes across as a cowardly man at times (all his ‘oh my giddy aunts!’ and comedy running) but its at moments like when he walks into Vaughn’s headquarters unprotected to discover the strength of their forces that you realise just how brave he is. It's great how Vaughn has thought through every possible contingency once the invasion has begun but the Doctor walking into his lair completely floors him. The second Doctor can also be the most unpredictable of Doctors. Its clear that he has been observing Vaughn very closely and he does the equivalent of poking him all over psychologically, sitting like a naughty schoolboy winding up a teacher. The Doctor is fantastic in the last episode – snapping at how vainglorious Vaughn is, tiptoeing around being hunted by Cybermen, skipping hysterically away from explosions and ducking as a bazooka shoots over his head and takes out a Cyberman! Troughton is such a physical actor and I was laughing my head off as he posed so regally for Isobel’s photos in the aftermath of the action.

Beautiful Brainbox: There are lots reasons why I prefer the Doctor/Jamie/Zoe triumvirate to the Doctor/Jamie/Victoria one that range from the extremely amusing chemistry between Wendy Padbury and Patrick Troughton (its more of a pupil that has outgrown the master vibe than the paternal affection the Doctor had for Victoria - which was sweet but didn’t really go anywhere) to the fact that you get all the lovability with this trio and some added friction that keeps things more interesting. In Wendy Padbury’s Zoe you have a character who is both a great identification figure for the kids (because she does ask all the right questions), a screamer who can get herself into trouble (she sure does plenty of both) and also a strong female character who can outthink even the Doctor (which she demonstrates in practically every story. Somehow she is both brave and cowardly, clever and daft and with a performance this enthusiastic by Wendy Padbury I could have easily have happily enjoyed her for another season or two. Pairing up Zoe and Isobel was a great idea because they both have very distinct personalities and yet together they enjoy a certain frivolous chemistry that is very appealing to watch. Certainly it is long past time we saw Zoe let her hair down and having her enjoy herself modelling for Isobel is great fun. There’s a lovely moment where Zoe tells Isobel if there is trouble to be found the Doctor and Jamie can’t miss it and we cut to the two of them comically running down a road away from sinister pursuers – it sums up this three way relationship of naughty schoolkids beautifully. Isn’t it wonderful that brilliant, beautiful rulebound Zoe has been turned into a bit of an anarchist by the Doctor? She relishes destroying the IE receptionist simply because it wont give her the information that she wants! When it comes to enter the potentially hazardous sewers Zoe sends Jamie down first like a canary down a coal mine! How completely awesome is Zoe when she goes with the Brigadier to Henlow Downs and calculates the trajectory of the missiles to cause a chain reaction of explosions in the Cybermen’s spaceships. She rushes from desk to desk and vehemently believes in her figures and then when her work is done she is sits on one of the desks and swings her legs flirtatiously at the soldier boys. Its this mixture of brains and beauty that makes her so damn appealing.

Who’s the Yahoos: Jamie enjoys teasing Zoe (‘You look like a chicken with all those feathers!’) but she knows with his simple mind there will be a chance to even the score at a later date. Hines and Troughton are so naturally funny together at this point they even manage to squeeze in a laugh during a cliffhanging moment of tension – the way they dash around a corner and back at the climax to episode two is fantastic. Jamie is still adolescent enough to make idle threats when it is clear that Vaughn has the upper hand in every respect. Brilliantly Jamie likes to think that he is a superior male but Zoe and Isobel run rings around him and he has to tail after them just in case they need protecting. It might be a little awkwardly directed but I like the idea of a story where the companion can be shot in the calf and kept out of the action for two episodes (real reason – holiday time for Frazer Hines!). It adds a little touch of real world danger to the story and ups the stakes.

The Guv’nor: The very first appearance of the Brigadier as we know and love him after Nick Courtney flirted with the series in The Daleks’ Masterplan and The Web of Fear. The Doctor is as delighted to be reunited with his old friend and there seems to be a level of respect between them after they faced the ‘Yeti do’ together which is quite infectious to watch. It's wonderful that Sherwin has thought about the events in The Web of Fear and looked at creating an organisation in response to alien threats to Earth. There is subtle shift in the programme because we aren’t just waiting for the Doctor to save the planet, we are helping ourselves too. This tug of war between whose method is right would be one of the selling points of the Pertwee era to come. ‘This is no job for a girl like you!’ says the Brigadier showing off his sexist attitude once Isobel has done all the thinking for him! He later asks Zoe if she fancies any coffee and everything we have seen about this character suggests that he is expecting her to make it! The Brig is a gentleman whose chivalry extends a little too far into sexism, that’s part of his charm. The gentle moment of reflection and romance between Isobel and Jimmy before the invasion begins reminds exactly of what the Doctor is fighting for.

Villainous Vaughn: It comes as no surprise that the two finest villains of the black and white era were both played by Kevin Stoney but what does shock is just what polar opposites these characters are. Mavic Chen was a delightfully egotistical, theatrical and melodramatic dictator who expressed himself with grand gestures of treachery to his own people. Tobias Vaughn is equally power mad but everything is contained and quietly menacing, silky smooth threatening gestures and stillness. He’s the sort of villain that is amused when two young girls stray into his lair and destroy his equipment and issues his threats as an amusing joke to himself. Vaughn only loses his temper when he thinks that control is slipping away from him but otherwise he has a look of content smugness locked on his face when addressing people. All this violence malarkey is a bit beneath him so he merely issues the threat of violence and has his personal pack animal Packer get his hands dirty for him. Unfortunately Packer turns out to be the incompetant better half as the Doctor continually runs rings around him and it is hilarious to watch Peter Halliday getting into more and more of a tizzy as Vaughn lashes out at his useless lapdog! I bet those scenes were marvellous fun to play. Once Vaughn loses his temper he is a little like Violet Boregard from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – screaming uncontrollably that he always gets what he wants! Only somebody with such a high opinion of himself could talk so brazenly about using the Cybermen’s might and then discarding them. When he calls through to the Ministry of Defence to his puppet Rutledge, Vaughn is momentarily taken aback by the pretty young thing at reception so maybe there is some blood pumping around that body after all. The relationship between him and the Cybermen is a tenuous one at best – they know he will betray them once the invasion is completed and he knows that they will betray him. The fun is waiting to see who will make the first move. Like a good Bond villain he gets to survey the Capital and declare that soon it will all by his. Frankly I would have been disappointed if he hadn’t. The sequence where he abuses Watkins is one of my favourite villain moments in Doctor Who – he loses it at Gregory, pumps fear into Watkins and enjoys a little psychological torture by giving him a gun, smacking him round the face and goads him into filling him full of lead. He stands there laughing his head off with smoking bullet holes in his chest and you know this is a very special brand of villain. He’s like a psychotic version of The Meddling Monk and his ‘to do list’, Vaughn sits quite contentedly ticking off the step by step elements of the invasion. Once the Cybermen finally make their move Vaughn is like a defiant child refusing to eat his dinner, stamping his feet and refusing to taken out of the picture. He does the only thing a child knows how to do when they are trapped, he lashes out and destroys the Cyberplanner. Vaughn is a broken man, powerless and angry and concentrates all of that violent emotion to bringing down his former allies. Even when he is on our side he’s still terrifying! He starts ranting on about how the world is a mess of unco-ordinated ideas and that it needs a single mind to rule it – I think I can guess where he gets his inspiration from! Any method of killing a character as strong as Vaughn was going to feel anti-climactic but the way the Cybermen burst through the warehouse doors and gun him down is so sudden it works a treat. RIP Vaughn, you loon.

Dolly Bird: Isobel Watkins can join the elite of guest characters who were custom made to be new companions but never quite made it. I would say that she is one of the most qualified to join the Doctor given that she is fiery, resourceful, independent, plus also a little bit useless and flirtatious. Sally Faulkner walks a fine line between being punch the air brilliant and slightly irritating, making Isobel flawed whilst still being quite likeable and having presence. She’s certainly more enjoyable than some of the characters that actually made it as companions such as Dodo, Adric and Tegan although her 60s glam would have felt out of place in the deadly serious season seven. Her habit of writing everything on a wall is a wonderful quirk but in practice it would make my husband break out in hives! I do however take issue with her choice of music which seems to stretch to the 60s poptastic heights of ‘The Teddy Bear’s Picnic!’ Her burgeoning relationship with Jimmy Walters adds a little touch of romance to the tale and I loved her line ‘Are you stinking rich?’ when he asks her out on a date. I know a few girls that would ask that exact question. Isobel gets the right hump when the Brig tells her that her photographs of the Cybermen that she risked life and limb for to get for him look like fakes! It's great that Isobel gets a happy ending, heading off with her dolly soldier and an exclusive photographic contract.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Let’s see how the Cybermen will react to fear!’
‘Is this what you wanted Vaughn? To be the ruler of a dead world?
‘Five years…and in less than five seconds…
‘Yes well this is going to be a long twelve minutes…’

The Good:
· For a start I think I should mention how grateful I am that enough people care about this crazy little show to go to the lengths of animating the first and fourth episode of a missing story like this. As much as I enjoy listening to the soundtracks some of them don’t always translate particularly well onto audio because they are so full of silences where the atmosphere would be generated by the visuals (I would say The Celestial Toymaker and The Wheel in Space suffer the worse for this). Having something as atmospheric as the animation on The Invasion to look at makes this story feel as complete as it is ever going to be unless more episodes are discovered (and I always giggle when more are discovered like the recent episodes of Galaxy 4 and The Underwater Menace because it always makes me think of Ian Levine’s apoplectic fit in the Lost in Time DVD when he guarantees that because he has searched so thoroughly for them no more episodes will ever be discovered, so there) and it allows you to enjoy the story as a whole. The Invasion episode one is another one of those episodes that enjoys a fair amount of silence and the narrator is forced to work overtime to describe everything that is going on – in this version of the story we can enjoy those evocative silences with the correct (and highly evocative) imagery to back it up. Oh and don't listen to Levine's explosive nonsense about adding new imagery and not sticking precisely to the shooting script when it comes to animating this tale - a little creative tinkering never hurt anybody and some of the extra shots are astonishing.
· You have to admire the way that Sherwin brushes the explanations about The Mind Robber under the carpet with a hefty ‘hooray we’re all back to normal!’ moment of blissful ignorance. After the imaginative high jinks of the previous story it would have been disappointing had they felt the need to give us a reason behind it all (although you know Eric Saward would have felt compelled to) and as a result it is a chillingly ambiguous one off. Plus the juxtaposition of a world of fictional characters being destroyed one minute to a rocket being fired at the TARDIS the next is pure Doctor Who – the leap from one genre to another is enough to give you whiplash.
· Episode six shows what a fun idea turning the TARDIS invisible was as the actors get to indulge in some funny business.
· Is there anybody out there who doesn’t love Don Harper’s score for this episode? I can remember the first time I watched The Invasion I had his cues going round and round in my head for days. If you are going to produce a contemporary thriller style Who you need the music to back up your intentions and the wonderfully underhanded and ominous score Harper provides gives this story a unique, almost cinematic, flavour. The way he rests the camera low and lets the Cybermen slowly emerge with St Paul’s dominating the background is what makes this shot so epic.
· Benton makes his first appearance in Doctor Who in true spy film style as he follows the Doctor and Jamie in a black motor. You couldn’t really ask for a more stylish introduction to the show. Had he been the one to try and make a run for it in the sewers it could have been Benton who was a smoking corpse and we would have missed out on sadistic Benton from Inferno, smart Benton from The Three Doctors and some hilarious commentaries courtesy of John Levene! Mind you he throws grenades like a right Nancy boy.
· Isn’t it odd that Doctor Who has always been known for attempting to stretch a tiny budget as far as it can go and yet any material surrounding UNIT automatically feels as though Doctor Who has the budget of a feature film. If you look through the series as a whole (right up to their latest spectacular The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky) the UNIT stories are filled with extras, ammunition, vehicles and resources the likes of which you rarely see elsewhere! Given that this is their first outing it needed to be an impressive introduction and all the stops seem to have been pulled out. There is a secret base inside an aeroplane, helicopter rescues, armed soldiers filling back streets, henchmen with machine guns, canoes in backwaters and a pitched battle between the Cybermen and UNIT with grenades, flame guns and bazookas. I’m not sure about the jaunty UNIT theme though – its much better in season seven.
· Douglas Camfield’s direction is as dynamic as ever but what really drew my eye was the location work which he makes look effortlessly filmic simply by finding exciting angles and methods to shoot it. He creeps down back alleys and onto train tracks to give this story a gritty feel and isn’t afraid of using handheld camerawork or dramatic low angles to spice things up.
· I love the end of episode three which is almost entirely shot in silhouette. That’s the strength of black and white television because it wouldn’t look half as effective in colour.
· Given that in days to come the Cybermen will be vulnerable to any old tat from badges to arrows this is the first and only time a truly ingenious threat has been thought up. Emotion as a weapon is a fascinating concept and it highlights the main selling point of the creatures in the bargain – the chilling idea that they have surgically disconnected themselves from feeling. A deranged Cyberman shrieking hysterically in fear is a terrifying concept on its on but once you shove it down in the dark, dank sewers you’ve got Doctor Who gold. Monochrome was made for the shots of sleek, metallic Cybermen struggling with each other in the sewers as bombs explode around them! Isn’t it so like the Cybermen to crush any kind of resistance with their hypnotising beam before they even begin the invasion? I love the shock moment when the Cyberman’s face fills Vaughn’s communication screen – its surprise moments like that that really make the Cybermen work.
· I love the way this story doesn’t only take the usual approach of telling the story from the point of view of the heroes. We do get to see their reaction to the invasion but we are also treated to a fly on the wall perspective of the villains preparing for the moment to strike. We are as much involved in Vaughn’s story as we are the Doctor’s and that is rarely the case in a Doctor Who story.
· The end of episode six is an absolute peach – the Cybermen apparently taking over the world. Compare and contrast to how it was attempted in Army of Ghosts and see how a little sixties subtlety and paranoia can do it a hundred times better. Well I say subtlety, having the Cybermen marching down the steps of St Paul’s isn't exactly subtle but it looks a damn sight more memorable than superimposing lots of little CGI Cybermen all around the world. The build up has been so good that this sudden release of excitement is edge of the seat stuff.
· I thinks it's wonderful that after all the noise and action of the final battle with the Cybermen the most tense moment of the entire story comes in a long silent sequence as our heroes wait to find out if the Cybermen have managed to drop a bomb. It's not your usual kind of Doctor Who climax (especially when the first attempt to shoot down the bomb fails) and it is conveyed tensely through reaction shots and realistic procedure.

The Bad: Anybody who wanted to call this story padded could happily do so, especially in the early episodes where events reciprocate like Zoe and Isobel searching after the Doctor and Jamie and then the Doctor and Jamie searching after Zoe and Isobel. This might all be tedious if the actors and the director weren’t on razor sharp form but with Dougie Camfield directing and Troughton, Courtney and Stoney on board this material is never less than enthralling. In particular the scenes of the Doctor and Jamie escaping up the lift shaft are total padding but its so beautifully paced and shot in shadows that it is gripping to watch. Old Billy Rutledge is the first of a new breed of officious obstructers that would plague the Pertwee era – from Walker Parliamentary Private Secretary to Dr Lawrence and Stahlman. And a bloody annoying lot they all are! Thank goodness the Cybermen hardly speak because this is the most incomprehensible they have ever sounded. A lot has been said about the off screen rescue of Professor Watkins and the only reason it is so apparent is because elsewhere so much of the action is painstakingly and expensively put on screen. Besides you can’t really complain about a scene that was scripted but unfilmed because they ran out of time. The Cyber fleet going up in flames is hardly spectacular but what else could they achieve at the time? Watching an empty dummy Cyberman take a dive off a roof might have sounded like a good idea in theory…

The Shallow Bit: If you get a chance check out the colour photos of this story and Zoe’s outrageously bright red costume with lime green feather boa! The psychedelic seventies has invaded Doctor Who a few years early! With the Brigadier, Jamie and Jimmy in one room together I was rather spoilt for choice! Black and white TV is a gloriously moody medium but it does annoy for just one moment when Jamie descends a ladder and the camera is right up his kilt but the darkness obscures any detail! That Cyberman emerging from the sewers tries to cop a feel up Jamie’s skirt and the good Captain smothers it back down to prevent him!

Result: Will wonders never cease – a Cyberman story that I really, really like! It's one of only a handful of times that I find them an effectively menacing presence in the show. Because the story takes the psychological approach, both in how they subdue the human race and their antipathy towards emotion which when infected snaps their logical minds and turns them into deranged rogues. There are a stack of compliments to be handed out to The Invasion and I’m not sure where to begin! Douglas Camfield is still to my mind the finest director the show has ever been fortunate to book and this is one of his best stories – the imagery is memorable, the action is exciting and the story is shot in unusual ways that gives it a contemporary visual dimension. Then there is the top notch team of the second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe who all get stellar moments and have developed a supremely watchable chemistry by this point. UNIT is an idea that could have bombed spectacularly but given the resources of this blockbuster they manage to pull it off with real style and Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier is the perfect face to front this military outfit. Brilliant guest characters like Isobel, Jimmy, Packer and Watkins add a human dimension to the story that is vital and the luxurious length of the tale allows the actors to explore the roles. Whilst I think the whole story is pretty special, episode six happens to be one of my all time favourite single episodes of Doctor Who. Starting with a rogue psychotic Cyberman menacing Jamie and Zoe in the sewers and ending with them bursting from the sewers and marching down the steps of St Paul’s – it's the show at the top of its game. Is this story padded? Yes. Does it matter in the slightest? Nope. The Invasion is a story that deliberately takes it time to build up tension and when the big event finally comes you have some of the most exciting moments of the entire era. Its not one to rush your way through but I find that an episode a night before bed really gets me excited about this story – especially with the brilliant cliffhangers. I can completely see why the production team were sold on this format to push the show in a new direction, its riveting. An expensive blockbuster with one of the finest ever Doctor Who villains in Tobias Vaughn, The Invasion is awesome and to prove how the era wasn’t limping home in the sixth season its only the third best story of the year: 9/10

2 comments:

Paul said...

No arguments from me. It's one of my favourite stories ever. I love when the Doctor and Jamie realise they've been cornered by the two men and the Doctor sits down on the kerb, gets out a pack of cards and starts playing Patience! Sublime stuff...

Martin Hudecek said...

In some ways this is better than the War Games, but of course its not as essential viewing.
The Mind Robber seems a lot tighter, but then it was really a 4 parter put into 5 installments.
I don't think there is much padding at all.. it really does a great job at fleshing out Vaughn and Packer. The Cybermen are not terribly interesting in their own right but are used very effectively. The Cyber Planner is much better done than the Wheel in Space version.