Make the most of The Invasion, because it will be nearly 50 years before anyone comes close to recapturing the magic and scariness of the 1960s Cybermen stories. They have very little screen time in The Invasion, but that is the approach for all of the Troughton Cybermen stories, and their effectiveness stems from being used sparingly, and kept in the shadows for much of the story. This is also the last successful redesign of the Cybermen for several decades (lace-up boots aside), and they work best in the sewers, glinting in the darkness. Only the Cyber Director in Vaughan’s office is a disappointment. Much like the Planner in The Wheel in Space, it is too far removed from the Cyber form to be identifiable as part of their race. The first time I watched this I assumed it was merely a communication device.
The Cybermen themselves provide the story with some of the greatest cliffhangers of all time, the sort of moments that give children nightmares: Jamie in a crate, lying beside a Cyberman (enough to make anyone shiver); a Cyberman bursting from its cocoon; a crazed Cyberman lurching through the sewers, screaming in pain; and, most famous of all, the Cyber army emerging from the sewers of London, marching down the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral. As in The Tomb of the Cybermen, we again see the effects of partial cyber conversion, with Vaughan’s men able to lift the full crates with ease, and Vaughan himself surviving two shots to the chest unharmed, but he really takes a risk with Watkins, giving him the gun. What if he had aimed for the head!
With the Cybermen held back for the cliffhangers and not much apart from that, the main thrust of the story is the Doctor vs Vaughan. Vaughan is one of the most believable, three-dimensional villains to ever appear in the series, brilliantly played by Kevin Stoney. His motivations are made perfectly clear, and his descent into mental instability is convincing. Stoney gives Vaughan a quiet, menacing charm, veering into rage when things are going wrong. The character works basically because of Stoney’s performance, because the script has him falling into the usual foolish things villains do to delay the resolution of the story. For example, he gives the Doctor an hour to think about whether to hand over the TARDIS or let Zoe get beaten up by Packer. Isn’t that a rather generous amount of time for a very simple decision? Speaking of Packer, what a great henchman he is, almost breaking the sound barrier when he gets flustered:
I want a man on each floor. (Falsetto) MOVE!
While the Cybermen are being held back for the big moments, and we are enjoying the Doctor trying to mess with Vaughan’s schemes, The Invasion is also busy doing some other important things. As I mentioned above, there is the partial Cyber conversion, the last time this will be utilised in a Cybermen story for a while, but also the arrival of the Cybermen is foreshadowed by a general sense of technology being dangerous or troublesome, and it’s all remarkably ahead of its time. Jamie enjoys playing his tiny radio, a piece of miniaturised technology (there really wasn’t much of that going on in the 60s!) that conceals a hidden purpose. A device running software that also has some ulterior motive that benefits the software creator: sound familiar? The Doctor is unusually hostile towards technology throughout the story, even the TARDIS at the start. Then we get the computer providing an automated answering service which is really a barrier to communication with the company (again, sound familiar?) which Zoe destroys. That is also a moment that really defines Vaughan as a villain. We cut to him in his office, laughing. Not angry at somebody coming along and outwitting his technology and destroying it. Not worried about this human who seems to have superior intelligence to himself. Laughing. At that moment we know that the Doctor is going to be dealing with a villain that is not necessarily going to behave in the usual moustache-twirling ways, and that makes him unpredictable and dangerous.
I mentioned above that the story is busy doing some other important things while the Cybermen are held back, so what else? The one thing that always gets mentioned is how The Invasion is a deliberate prototype for the Pertwee era, with the Doctor working with UNIT. It’s not difficult to see why this might have been judged to be the way to go for the next few years. In the end, everyone missed the point of why it works. The combination of the Doctor on Earth, working with UNIT, is effective here for a few reasons, most of which do not end up applying to the Pertwee era. UNIT is genuinely a secretive intelligence organisation here. This is Benton’s first appearance. Think how many times during the Pertwee era he gets sent off in plain clothes. No, I can’t think of anything either. UNIT doesn’t come back when the Third Doctor meets them. The army does. The Doctor working with the army, which is what UNIT provides us with during the Pertwee era, will immediately throw up problems, and the fact that he ends up stuck on Earth so basically has to work with them if he wants to get involved with alien threats is a far cry from The Invasion. This works in the same way as The Web of Fear: the Doctor arrives, gets caught up in a situation, works with somebody in charge, making use of their resources to help him defeat the monsters, and then moves on. The Brigadier is just a nicer version of a Hobson/Robson, cutting out all the tedious bits where the Hobson/Robson thinks the Doctor is the enemy and then proceeds to do lots of stupid things to delay the resolution.
So The Invasion is not just a prototype UNIT story. It’s the best UNIT story.
The Brigadier is of course much more enjoyable to watch than a Hobson/Robson. His moustache alone deserved to have its own credit, occasionally deciding to migrate to the left. Is this a political comment? Probably not, because his opinions seem to be more in line with the political far right when it comes to gender equality. His comment that “this is hardly a job for you… you are a young woman… this is a job for my men” provokes much huffing and puffing, and quite rightly so. But in a rather cynical bit of script writing, Isobel and Zoe end up making the Brig look good, when they are directly responsible for the deaths of the policeman and wimpy Perkins. And after all that, Isobel is a totally useless photographer! The Invasion gives us a lightweight play on gender politics, 1960s-style, with Zoe in particular never quite managing to be brilliant without the script being slightly patronising about that. She’s never allowed to just be a genius. She has to be a pretty girl genius who gets ogled by the men while she’s being clever. But for the 60s that’s probably about as progressive as we’re going to get. This leads to one moment in particular that is very funny and presumably unintentional. When Zoe is doing her calculations in Episode Seven one of the extras looks down at her cat-suited bottom, looks back up again, and shoots a significant glance to one of the others.
Balancing things out we have Jamie, who gloriously continues to be the exact opposite of a traditional male hero for most of the story. He spends about a quarter of The Invasion either asleep or recovering from being shot, and he gets to have a Jamie/Doctor scared-hug™. There is a very funny moment where Jamie gets in the back of Vaughan’s private car, goes straight out the other side and into the front seat! Have we ever had such a watchable TARDIS team as the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe? I don’t think so.
A quick note about the animation. The two missing episodes were animated by Cosgrove Hall, who were responsible for a significant chunk of my childhood viewing such as Dangermouse and Count Duckula. Of course it was always going to be magnificent, and it really brings to life some magical lost moments, most of all the helicopter rescue. Zoe says “hey look it’s Jamie” as he is descending the rope ladder from above. In his kilt. Presumably she recognises his socks. Sadly getting Cosgrove Hall to animate missing episodes was never going to be a repeatable exercise, however good the DVD sales were, which is a great shame, but in a way it is right that attempts to recreate missing episodes should have their individual approaches. Doctor Who at its best is a series of unique gems. It never stays the same for very long, and The Invasion, with its Cybermen glinting in the dark sewers of London, is a gem that shines brighter than most. RP
The view from across the pond:
There are some images that stick with us long after we’ve seen them. Even for those who were not fans of the classic series, who came to the joys of TARDIS travel post 2005, there are some images which they are bound to have come across and remembered. One of those is the scene of Cybermen walking down the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral or bursting forth from the sewers. As images go, these two are absolutely iconic and hail from the Patrick Troughton story The Invasion. Thing is, while these images are classic, they don’t convey just what else happens here to make this story so enjoyable.
The Invasion has the benefit of merging science fiction with the spy genre. Tobias Vaughn, played by Kevin Stoney, has all the trappings of a Bond villain. He has a secret room in his office (I often wonder how you hire a contractor to install one of them and what township permits one needs!) and is working with an even greater villain who remains in the shadows for quite a while. I had first encountered Stoney in The Prisoner and he has that bad guy role down quite well. His nasally voice and contemptuous looks just adds something to his underhanded nature. He can’t even intone his underling’s name without conveying a sense of annoyance. (To be clear, by his “looks” I mean those he gives his colleague, not his appearance). Added to the spy element, the military is called in and here’s where the episode breaks ground: we are introduced to UNIT. Yes, we start to meet them in The Web of Fear, but they were just a military organization at that point, they are not established as UNIT. Barring the fact that they are under the command of Lethbridge-Stewart, they are nothing more than a military organization. But by The Invasion, they are established; this is the real deal. Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart has been promoted to Brigadier and with that title, comes a new team; a team that will be responsible for the success of the show in the following years! We also get our first meeting of Sergeant Benton (corporal, then). The chemistry between the Brig and the Doctor grows and will cement the next several years of the series during which point Jon Pertwee was working with UNIT. Think that through: this story is effectively a prequel to almost the entirety of the Pertwee era.
The big bad of the episode, the Cybermen, were actually kept under wraps and don’t make an appearance until episode 4! This is one of those rare times where the creative talent behind the show got a title right. It’s an intriguing enough title to rope us in without giving away the punch line. We’re not talking The Invasion of the Cybermen where they try to spring the “surprise” of Cybermen appearing. A title needs to work as a lure. What sounds like a story you’d want to read: “The Thing in the Barn” or “The horse in the barn”. Both might be a little weak when the realization is that it’s a horse, but one will at least allow for a bit of surprise! The other just sounds like something one expects to see in a barn! The point of all of that is that the big reveal takes half the serial to actually capture us, so the story has to be solid enough to keep us watching for 4 weeks leading up to that unveiling! And the beauty is, it did.
Now if I have an issue with this story, it’s that it breaks a pattern we had seen developing. The events of The Tenth Planet took place in ’86 when the Cybermen blew themselves up. Each subsequent story fell into a reasonable timeline that worked in conjunction with their actions. The Invasion breaks that pattern by a long shot. Whether this falls in the 70s or 80s (per the Unit Dating controversy that exists) doesn’t matter. This appears to be taking place around 1979/1980. The first cyber-incursion and the detonation of their home world doesn’t occur for another 6-7 years. If we take it that this was the first attack, these Cybermen are drastically different from their Mondasian counterparts. But this is exactly the sort of plot thread that could be cleared up within the fiction of the series if the Doctor ever acknowledged he jumped around in parallel earths as we ultimately saw in Pyramids of Mars. In this earth, they invaded earlier; the result of which is what we see displayed here. Because, while we can assume this was an advanced fleet that arrived before Mondas, it explains very little about why those Cybermen have names, what their motivations are in that story or why our military was not aware of them. (Barring the obvious, real-world reasons that the writers didn’t pay attention or care about “continuity” back then!) Trying to make logical sense of some of the timelines in Doctor Who would make even the Doctor run away scared.
Which brings us to the other iconic scene from this story: Patrick Troughton doing his run while being shot at, as he leaps around an alleyway and explosions go off right behind him. Another classic scene from a classic episode. And that says nothing of Zoe’s new clothes, the Doctor’s photo shoot or the invisible TARDIS which we… um, don’t see in this story. I could have some fun with each of those for different reasons, but the invisible TARDIS is the one I really want to dig in to… perhaps on a weekend where I pick apart some of the science behind Doctor Who. For now, it’s about Cybermen and an invasion that kicked off an era. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Krotons