Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 232: The Invasion, Episode Six
A little after halfway into this episode, Ellie arrived at the flat. She didn't take a seat to watch with me, but couldn't fail to be at least a little invested in what was happening (mostly because every so often I'd point at the screen and excitedly exclaim 'Cyberman!'). With a couple of minutes to go, she joined me on the sofa and watched the end of the episode. 'Oh,' she spoke up, as the tips of the Cybermen's helmets began to appear over the steps outside St Pauls, 'Is this the really famous bit?'
I think it probably says something for this moment of The Invasion, that someone who has pretty much no interest in the 1960s era of the programme can identify 'The Cybermen at St Pauls' as one of those really iconic Doctor Who moments.
For me, though, it's not really all that. It's been years since I last watched The Invasion (probably not since the DVD was first released in 2006), and over that time, I'd built up the sequence of the Cybermen marching down the steps into this really big, bold thing. There's a brilliant photo taken on location of a silver giant stood on the steps, looking towards the sky with the dome of the cathedral in the background. It's an image that's so burnt into my mind that I was sure it matched a shot in the actual sequence, but it doesn't. If anything, the St Pauls moment forms just one tiny bit of that sequence, and it felt almost like an anti-climax for me.
Now, in part, this is all the result of forty years adding significance to the moment. As I say, if even Ellie can highlight it as an important bit of the programme's history, then it must be doing something right. Watching it without all that prior knowledge must be fantastic. And lots of the scene is - the moment that the manhole covers start to fly open and Cybermen start climbing out is brilliant, and it's odd just how right they look crawling out from under the streets. I think the feeling of disappointment at the ending has been added to by other factors, though…
The Invasion, as I've said before, is very much a follow up to The Web of Fear. Because of that, for some reason, I've got it in my head that London is deserted. Completely evacuated, like it was for the Yeti incident. It makes it tricky to panic when characters talk of the entire city being controlled, because I actively have to remind myself that there is a city full of people out there. When Watkins is told of Isobel's freedom, and Vaughn suggests that she's probably waiting at home for him, it felt odd to me - because it feels like the city should be deserted.
It doesn't help, then, when we get the establishing shots of the city in the seconds building up the Invasion. All the streets are completely deserted (that's the hazard of filming first thing in the morning, I guess!), and when we do finally get to see people falling under the Cybermen's control, there's only three or four of them, and we cut between them rapidly. Don't get me wrong, it's very effective, and I know that they don't have the budget for a whole host of extras being taken over by the strange noise echoing through the air, but it feels like as a key junction in an eight-part story… there should be more to it.
Oh, but it's not all complaints. There's loads packed into today's episode that I love - and 'packed' really is the operative word. When the Brigadier sends some men to intercept Vaughn's guards and free the professor, I was a little disheartened to see the action cut to after the battle, with its events relayed to Vaughn via Gregory. Knowing what Camfield can do with an action sequence, I was looking forward to getting to see it out on location, and it felt like a cop out to avoid showing it (I will say, though, that seeing the mini-battle between UNIT and the Cybermen in the sewers does make up for this a little. I love the clanging metal sound effect as a soldier batters a Cybermen's arm with his gun!). As the episode goes on, though, it soon becomes clear that it's cut to keep things moving - there's too much to get through!
It means there's one or two other places where the action cuts very suddenly, and it leads to a slightly disorienting effect (the one that springs immediately to mind if Jamie announcing that he's returning to his dream and then cutting to him being woken sometime later to carry on with the story. It's an effective way of letting time pass, but it feels very out of place to cut so quickly from one to the other), but it means we're moving at a pace rarely seen in the programme.
When we do slow down a little, it's for wonderful moments. The confrontation between Vaughn and the professor is perhaps one of my favourite scenes from the series so far - it's so well done on every level, from the writing, performance, and direction. Vaughn taunting Watkins with his charm is brilliant, actually handing the man a gun so that he can follow through with a threat of murder. The way he laughs when the bullets cut straight into his cybernetic body with no pain is simply fantastic: pitch-perfect in every way. The only thing that could have possibly made that better would be not finding out about Vaughn's partial upgrade earlier in the story, as it would have added a whole new layer to the scene.
One last thing, by the way: how right does the Doctor look, staring down a microscope in a UNIT laboratory? After everything I've said, I'm becoming a UNIT convert mighty quickly!