Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 434: The Android Invasion, Episode Two
Oh no. Oh, no, no, no, no, no… I can’t think of anything worse. This may actually be the most nightmarish thing to have ever happened in Doctor Who. People talk about the Hinchcliffe years as being dark, but… this? An entire village, trapped eternally on a single day. July 6th… the day before my birthday. If I lived in Devesham, I’d wake up every singe day, and my birthday would never arrive. Boo. Course, it would also mean that I’d be an android duplicate, having undergone a painful process aboard the spaceship of an evil alien, but still… I’d never get my presents!
The Android Invasion is blowing a bit hot and cold for me at the moment. On the one hand, there’s loads that I’m loving. This episode continues with some of the strange mystery that we started building up in yesterday’s episode, and I’m finding it more and more like something out of The Avengers (the Doctor’s reaction to finding that calendar would surely give us the title of the story, too: The Village Without a Future), and that’s no bad thing. It’s nice, sometimes, to get away from the usual Doctor Who fodder and have something a bit different.
But then, on the other hand, this episode isn’t getting away from being generic Doctor Who at all - in fact, I think it may be the epitome of it in places! What I actually mean is that this story seems to be drawing inspiration in places from the programme’s past. Specifically, the past of just a few stories ago, because there’s an awful lot in here which feels like a sub-par Terror of the Zygons. I don’t know if that’s intentional, or simply a coincidence, but both Terry Nation on writing duties and Barry Letts as director seem to be aping elements of the season opener throughout this episode.
On the writing side, the local pub (well… the local inn) is being used to spy on the operations of the outsiders to the village. In Zygons, the hidden camera was in the eyes of the deer head, whereas here it’s in the centre of the dartboard (it’s a good job the Doctor didn’t damage it with his triple bullseye!). This then sort of leads into the similarities in direction, where a shot of the Doctor looking down the camera lens and being watched on a monitor in the Kraal’s spaceship is almost identical to a shot of Benton doing the same with the Zygon spying device. Then, while I’m glad that they’re trying to conceal the look of the aliens for as long as possible, we seem to follow the same process as in that earlier tale. Our first glimpse is a close up of the face (In Zygons it was a more extreme close up on the eyes, whereas here you get the full face peering through a hole in the cliffhanger to Episode One), this is then followed by a shot of the creature’s hand on the controls of the ship. At least the reveal is done well, again, with the face of the creature appearing as Sarah undergoes her processing.
That’s not to mention the fact that this is a story about a species of aliens we’ve never seen before, who are able to create perfect facsimiles of human characters, and have created a version of Harry who’s hostile towards the Doctor and (especially) Sarah. It’s not just minor similarities - there’s whole ideas which are shared between the two stories. It seems odd that the production team have let this happen so close together (only eight episodes between the end of Zygons and the start of this one), but I wonder if that’s a peculiarity of Zygons being held over from Season Twelve? Had it been shown earlier in the year, as planned, this story may not have come as such a close resemblance.
Of course the big moment today is the cliffhanger. Sarah Jane falls down a slope… and her face falls off! She’s an android! It’s another one of those moments that you just know about when you’re a Doctor Who fan, and I’ve probably seen it a thousand times. But I’d always assumed that it was supposed to be a shock to the viewer more than it actually is. Earlier on in today’s episode, Sarah trips and falls, spraining her ankle. I’d always figured that a similar thing would happen at the end of this episode. She’d stumble, fall to the ground… and then when the face pops off, it’s a huge surprise! I didn’t realise that by the time this cliffhanger rolls around, we’re supposed to know that she’s a duplicate.
I wonder if I prefer the version of events that I’ve had in my head for all these years? By the time of this scene, we know that they’re making android duplicates of people, we know that Sarah has gone through the process, and they’ve laid more enough hints to the fact that this isn’t the real Sarah. It suddenly makes sense of the Doctor’s new obsession with ginger pop (in yesterday’s episode, when he steps out of the TARDIS, offers some to Sarah, and she makes a point of saying how much she hates it I wondered if they were just trying to pad out some time - the whole exchange felt odd!), and seeing Sarah accept it is all the indication we need that she’s not herself.
But then they also add in the fact that she can make a phone call. The Doctor makes a point of checking several phones to make sure we know that they’re not working, and even highlights it as being odd that Sarah can manage to phone in to him. It’s made clear that her story doesn’t quite add up about her escape from the aliens. And then the Doctor’s main deduction is that the duplicate is wearing a scarf… when he’s got Sarah’s scarf in his pocket still from earlier. Actually, that last one is the cleverest idea (and, I have to admit, I didn’t spot it!), but it feels like overkill to add yet another clue.
That said, it’s nice how neatly that ties in. As I say, I didn’t spot the scarf thing, but it’s nicely woven in daly on when the Doctor takes it from her to lead the sniffer dogs off her trail. That chase also gives us a chance to look at the Doctor’s new clothes (the second coat to be introduced in as many stories!), which is quite nice. I much admit that I’d forgotten just how soon this grey coat is introduced. I knew he wore it in this story, and the next, and the one after that, but in my mind I’d never realised just how quickly he started adding these new bits to his costume. To my mind it had always been the corduroy jacket, the brown frock coat introduced in Pyramids of Mars, which then evolved into this one, before heading back to a different brown one, a new grey/beige one for Season Seventeen, and his Season Eighteen look. I rather prefer the way it’s actually turning out, with the Doctor able to swap his coats around on a whim - it gives the impression far more of him choosing clothes as opposed to a costume, and that’s a nice touch.