...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Day 2133: DOCTOR WHO: The Invasion


You probably remember me telling you all about "The Evil of the Daleks" a little while ago: well, now for news of ANOTHER adventure for Dr Who where the BBC threw away some of the recordings!

This time it is the turn of Dr Who's OTHER famous foes – the rather rubbish CYBERMEN in "The Invasion".

Unlike "Evil of the Daleks", which only has Episode Two left, six out of "The Invasion's" eight episodes remain – in telefilm recording form – kept in the BBC's archive/bunker/disguised volcano base. These have been cleaned up and made back into video-looking recordings with the hard work of the Restoration Team and their VidFIRE computer whizzery.

For the two completely missing episodes, the BBC have turned to makers of "Count Duckula" and "Danger Mouse", Cosgrove Hall, to create "Re-Animated" versions!

Is it any GOOD though?


It is in fact BRILLIANT!

There is no sense in trying to pretend that the animated episodes are exact replacements for the missing live action, because Cosgrove Hall haven't done that but instead they have made very stylish – and stylised – black and white noir-cartoons (or "Noir-toons", you might say) that more than adequately stand in as an alternative way of seeing the episodes.

It would certainly be worth seeing a WHOLE STORY made in this way. There is a bit of a change of brain gear needed when swapping between re-animation and original (not a serious problem) that reminds you that in fact there are bits missing even though you've just watched them. A whole story animated would look just made to be that way!

(Rumours fly around the Internet that "The Power of the Daleks" would be the animators' story of choice – GO AND BUY lots of copies of "The Invasion" and maybe they will get the chance to try some Daleks!)

The animation isn't COMPLETELY perfect (Jamie and the Brigadier are not terribly well realised, and you will start to recognise the characters appearing in the same poses appearing a few times) but it is REALLY JOLLY GOOD. There is some exceptionally nice use of photographic backgrounds – or photos that have been drawn over or given a drawn over look – apparently lifted from the actual episodes. The use of light and shadow is excellent and adds hugely to the atmosphere, as do the occasional incidental touches like the fading wisps of smoke as a motorcycle patrol passes, or the camera work on Tobias Vaughn as he surveys London from his office window.

(Two very small boo-boos: one, that they admit to on the commentary, is putting Zoë in the wrong costume for the first part of episode one; the other is not getting Vaughn's lazy eye right!)

As a story, "The Invasion" builds slowly, pacing itself over the eight episodes but gripping you from very early on with its eerie thriller-type storytelling and sinister sixties piano music ("It's the Ipcress Files, I tell you!" cries Daddy Alex several times.). By the middle they are performing James Bond stunts and daring helicopter escapes before the Invasion itself, cleverly and convincingly staged to make you feel that events have gotten HUGE!

Thanks to ingenious plotting – and the power of Cyber-hypnosis – the story turns the ENTIRE EARTH into a "base under siege"! In this way, "The Invasion" is not only the prelude of the Twerpee-era of UNIT stories and Earth-invasions, but also the apotheosis of the Troughton-era of fighting off the monsters with a tiny cast against desperate odds.

Dating Doctor Who stories is notoriously difficult (at least until Mr Russell TV Davies got his hands on the series) and doubly so when UNIT and the Brigadier are around (as they are here, making his second and their first appearance)!

If you are NOT a Doctor Who aficionado: look away now!

The way this USUALLY goes is: in "The Web of Fear" (when we first met the then COLONEL Lethbridge-Stewart) Professor Travers and his daughter Anne between them date the even earlier story "The Abominable Snowmen" (to which "The Web of Fear" is a direct sequel) as both "1935" and "over forty years ago".

That means that "The Web of Fear" must take place in at least 1975.

Then in "The Invasion" (newly promoted) Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart refers to "The Web of Fear" as over four years ago – making "The Invasion" take place in at least 1979 and the UNIT era generally in the 1980's.

(And Sarah says "I'm from 1980" in "Pyramids of Mars" too!)


All this adding up is knocked on the head by "Mawdryn Undead" which DEFINITELY takes place in two time zones: 1977 and 1983 – and the Brigadier has retired some time BEFORE the 1977 part of the story.

i.e. the Brigadier RETIRES from UNIT before FOUNDING the organisation. (© Lance Parkin) So he's probably like MERLIN and lives backwards or something!

Okay, you can look again now!

The UNIT dating conundrum has puzzled less fluffy minds than mine, but it DOES mean that "The Invasion" certainly doesn't take place any LATER than 1980.

So this is in fact the EARLIEST CHRONOLOGICAL story for the Cybermen!

  • Their first appearance, "The Tenth Planet" is said to be in 1986. (The book re-dates this to 2000, but "Attack of the Cybermen" puts it back firmly in 1986.)
  • "Silly Nemesis" takes place in 1988 because it is the twenty-fifth anniversary of Doctor Who, er, because the Nemesis statue returns to Earth every twenty-five years.
  • Other adventures with Cybermen ("The Moonbase", "The Wheel in Space") have rocket ships in them and so take place in "the future", probably the twenty-first century.
  • "The Tomb of the Cybermen", "Earthshock" and "Attack of the Cybermen" all take place after the Cybermen have been in frozen hiding for hundreds of years on Telos.
  • Finally in "Revenge of the Cybermen" the Doctor talks of them being the last of their kind after the Cyberwars wiped them out.
Which means this is probably where everything starts to go wrong for the infamously inept Silver Giants.

In this story they have an invasion force poised to take over the world. Coo! Until they all get blown up by Dr Who's clever friend Zoë. For an encore, the UNIT people also use a Russian space rocket to explode the Cybermen's mothership.

The menacing metal morons actually manage to top this second time around (or first time around, since it's their first appearance) by getting their homeworld Mondas blown up in "The Tenth Planet".

A huge Cyber-fleet (probably the LIFEBOATS from Mondas!) is then exploded by the Nemesis statue as manipulated by the seventh Doctor in (guess what) "Silly Nemesis".

After this the survivors get a bit desperate – which REALLY is in keeping with their motivation, as EVERYTHING about the Cybermen (well the PROPER Cybermen) is about their desperation for survival. They try a couple of "Let us conquer the Earth" plots but quickly decide that a better plan is to go and hide in their Tombs until Eric Saward comes along and decides that they ought to bestride the galaxy.

That lasts about ten minutes before the Cyberwars wipe them all out again!

So all in all, the Cybermen are probably at their most powerful in this story, and it is probably not far off the best Cyber-story there is. Which is REALLY IRONIC because the Cybermen are hardly in it at all!

The first we see of a Cyberman is the cliff-hanger to episode four – half way in! Episodes five and six feature our young heroes (or in the Brigadier's Scooby-Doo-esque description "those crazy kids") tangling with them in the sewers before the invasion itself takes place at the end of part six creating all those iconic images as they emerge from the sewers and stride down the steps in front of St Paul's. And then – reprise aside – they don't appear AT ALL in episode seven! There is a VERY SATISFACTORY big fight in episode eight to make up, but really there are almost MORE Cybermen in "Silly Nemesis" (three episodes) than there are in this one!

Fortunately, that hardly matters because there is a MUCH BETTER villain – no, not the "brain in a hair-dryer" Cyber-director (though that IS pretty creepy if you think what it is probably made of) – I refer to Tobias Vaughn played with great aplomb and drooping eyelid by the great Mr Kevin Stoney.

The long running-time really plays to Vaughn's advantage too: with three episodes of build up, him all suave sinister surety, when he finally goes into a full on rant it is REALLY SCARY!

He makes a perfect foil to the emotionless Cybermen too – he has one of the widest ranges of emotions of any character in all of Doctor Who! Often amused and urbane, occasionally furious and frightening, even despairing when the Cybermen betray him. He is a MUCH BETTER version of Eric Kleig from "Tomb of the Cybermen" too – for all his much-vaunted Brotherhood of Logicians credentials, Kleig really hadn't thought things through. This time around, we get a villain who genuinely seems to be thinking two or three steps ahead – he's invested much of his research in Professor Watkins' machine in order to be ready to keep the Cybermen in line. (or more probably try to betray them before they can betray him!) But he's quick enough to recognise that getting hold of the Doctor's "travelling machine" would give him a handy escape route, a back up back up plan! And you get the feeling that he might just have pulled it all off if the Doctor hadn't turned up and inserted his usual spanner!

Which is GOOD, because having a serious and dangerous foe to beat is what makes the Doctor look really clever and heroic. Beating tin idiots from space is a doddle to the Mighty Trout by now, but thanks to Vaughn "the Invasion" becomes a classic battle of wits.

Troughton – often tired in his third season – is here back on top form, probably because it is such a good story. (Though he STILL manages to slip in THREE "oh my word"s; something that doesn't seem to happen at all before the third season!) Jamie and Zoë are both brilliant here too, and first time out as the Brigadier, Nick Courtney shows how jolly lucky we all were that the actor who SHOULD have played Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart in "The Web of Fear" retired sick and Mr Nick got the promotion. The way that the Brigadier can turn the charm on and off, and can switch from affable to icy clearly show the actor brings something special to the character.


Meanwhile, everyone else go out and buy yourself a copy of this classic Doctor Who story. MILES better than certain other stories (cough, cough "Rise of the Cybermen" – Daddy Alex says "surely you mean other versions of the SAME story") I could mention!

1 comment:

Will said...

The animations's terrific, isn't it? I didn't even notice the two mistakes you pointed out (I didn't even noticed Vaughn's lazy eye in the live action episodes and I've got one myself!), though I agree that the animated Brig doesn't look especially like Courtney.

The story does sag a bit towards the end - there are far too many different bits with missiles and rockets - and would probably benefit from being slightly shorter, but it's still the best Cyberman story.

I've always been more of a fan of villains that monsters, so having Vaughn rather than the Cybermen as the enemy for much of the story plays to my preferences.

I'd see some logic in doing The Moonbase and The Wheel in Space, but The Tenth Planet episode 4 certainly deserves the treatment. Whatever they choose to animate, I just hope there's more.