4 out of 5
Directed by: Douglas Camfield
The first Doctor Who serial – or the first in my memory – to achieve a significant level of scope and impact that reached beyond the immediate location of the TADIS and its crew, The Invasion, while a classic, nonetheless suffers a bit from some of the usual DW issues: roundabout plotting to stretch to the episode count and a vague badguy plan that makes the threat of that baddie somewhat underwhelming. At the same time, it’s got a ton of great stuff going for it, including the first legit team-up of the doc and the now-promoted Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) of UNIT – which ends up figuring quite large in Doctor Who lore hereafter – some interesting gender balancing; a lot of great music cues and dynamic camera work; and, if I may spoil something from a 60s TV show, makes the Cybermen – our eventually revealed baddies – feel properly frightening, especially once the script sort of backtracks to fill in that vague planning.
The Who-crew land a damaged TARDIS in London, hoping to find Professor Travers (from previous yeti adventures) to assist – a sort of random tie-in, but a nice callback all the same – and the end up doing the “let’s get separated from each other” shuffle for a while, visiting ‘International Electromatics,’ where Travers’ associate, Professor Watkins, has apparently gone missing. This, combined with IE’s dominating position in the world of electronics, piques the doc’s interest, who heads to IE first, with Jamie – stymied by a robotic secretary at its front entrance – and are then picked up by UNIT, who are also investigating IE, causing Doc and Jamie to miss Zoe’s turn to visit IE, which she crushes when she outsmarts that same secretary with her knowledge of Algol (!). All of these folks have had the opportunity to meet IE’s big bad boss, Tobias Vaughn, who can hardly contain himself from doing badguy monologuing, but let’s the audience in on it when he’s alone and starts barking orders about a pending invasion at a computer hidden in his wall.
The computer belongs to the Cybermen; they’re stationed up in space, preparing for some world domination, and using Vaughn to help organize it. The ‘why’ of that arrangement is what feels a bit weak – not to mention all the running around the Who crew does while the episode puts this together – but eventually, they sort of go back and fill us in on how the arrangement came to be, and once we get there, it’s all too clear that the Cybers are just biding their time to take over any way, with our without Vaughn’s assistance; he too will be assimilated. From about the midpoint on, then, the episodes become fantastically thrilling, building up to some pretty intense battles, as well as the relatively frightening first few scenes of the invasion, with people overtaken by the Cybermen’s controlling radio signals. And Jamie ends up being damseled much more often than Zoe – he gets in the way, while she ends up being integral to a key attack on the Cybermen.
Some rough-edged amusement remains throughout: while a lot of the music is quite dramatic and quite good, there’s a reused military theme for UNIT which is all jaunty and seems wholly inappropriate when they’re engaged in life-or-death struggles, and a couple of what should be important scenes are wholly excised from the narrative, just cutting to the moments after. Given that there was some budget applied – some good modelwork with explosions, all the Cybermen costumes – and how much time was spent on the setup episodes to make this in to eight parts, it feels weird that they didn’t pace those scenes in to the episodes. I’m also not sure I can forgive the Doc’s petulant statement of hating computers when he can’t get past the robo secretary; this seems like a very short-sighted mindset for a character from the future. Although if this turns in to a shtick where the doc expresses dislike for something complex, only to be shown up by a companion like Zoe, I’m for it.