Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 234: The Invasion, Episode Eight
I think the biggest problem I have with a story like this is that after eight episodes, the ending still occurs in the blink of an eye. It’s an issue that I’ve been having with the series dating all the way back to The Daleks (which, incidentally, feels like a lifetime ago); you’ve got so many episodes building up, raising the stakes, and then they run out of time and the solution is all too simple.
Toady, it comes in the form of the missile launch. Around the halfway point, the Doctor declares that they have two options to stop the Cybermen from dropping their bomb – shut off the radio link at Vaughn’s complex outside the city, or blow up the Cybermen’s spaceship. The brigadier boldly announces that the Russian rocket won’t be ready for at least ten hours, which leaves them only the one choice.
Dutifully, the Doctor and Vaughn (now fighting against the Cybermen, not for the good of humanity but because he hates them; another lovely little touch) set off for the compound to knock out the radio signal. This mission accomplished, the Cybermen move their ship in closer to Earth, rendering the whole operation pointless. It’s ok, though, because the Russians have found a different way of preparing the rocket, so it’s primed and ready to go. Hooray! It hits the Cybership, defeats the ruthless, inhuman killers, and everyone gets back to normal, with Zoe pursuing a new career as a model.
Oh, I’m not complaining really. As much as the tension is dissipated in a matter of seconds, like so much of the story, it’s not about the payoff, it’s about the journey. So what if the Doctor and Vaughn’s trip to the IE compound is ultimately a waste of time? It looks gorgeous. Camfield’s direction really does seem to be at the best when he’s working outside on film, and it looks stunning for the whole sequence. The entire section takes up a fair bit of screen time, as we move into the big ‘UNIT Vs the Cybermen’ battle that I’ve been waiting for. Any disappointment at the lack of Cyberman action in yesterday’s episode must surely be made up for by the fight sequence here.
There’s plenty of behind-the-scenes photos of this filming, with cameramen sprawled out on the floor, shooting up at the Cybermen looming over them, so this scene is one of those which sits pretty prominently in my mind. If anything on this watch though, it makes me long to see the Yeti attack on Covent Garden from The Web of Fear. If it’s anywhere near as good as this, it would be a great treasure to see returned. The location really helps this scene, too – it’s that kind of industrial landscape that’s always fascinated me, and to see the two sides fighting surrounded by all the crumbling brick buildings and the huge metal girders is fantastic.
I think the main thing I’ll be taking away from The Invasion is how it’s altered my perception of what to come. I’ve mentioned it already during this story, but as regular readers will know, I’ve not been looking forward to reaching the Pertwee years. That early 1970s period has always been my least favourite ‘era’ of the programme, and as it crept closer I was beginning to wonder if it might be the thing that breaks me. In actual fact, though, I’ve found myself enjoying the slow evolution of that phase of the programme – the introduction of the contemporary Earth-based stories starting from The War Machines, the introduction of the Brigadier, and now UNIT turning up on the scene, too. Seeing characters like Benton arriving make it feel as though the programme really is evolving into a new style, whereas I’d previously always thought of it as being a massive shift in style right out of nowhere.
The only thing that does strike me is how much the UNIT we see here in this story differs from the organisation that works alongside the Third Doctor (or, at least, how much it differs from the version of UNIT in my head). The small number of soldiers present in the final battle here is explained away by not having enough ways of blocking the Cyber-signal – the Brigadier even explains that they’ve only got enough men awake to form a single platoon. As the years go by, though, they always seem to operate on a small number of personnel, with or without half the group put to sleep by the Cybermen.
It’s also a shame that we never again see UNIT’s aircraft base. It’s used well here as a means of getting from one location to another and drops all the right people off in all the right places as and when needed. This kind of funding just isn’t available to them in the 1970s, and that’s a shame. I have a feeling that it could feel like a bit of a step backwards when they start operating out of an old house in the home counties.
Overall, it’s an odd send off for the Cybermen, considering that they won’t be showing up – properly – in the programme again until Tom Baker takes over. Obviously, at the time, they didn’t know that we’d be seeing the last of them for now, but it’s still a bit of an unusual way to see them off. I’ve always loved that the Cybermen take over from the Daleks as the default ‘villains’ of Doctor Who once Patrick Troughton comes along, and I’m really pleased that, on the whole, I’ve rather enjoyed their stories. I’ve always found it a shame that they never made a Third Doctor and Cybermen story, but I think that The Invasion gives a good enough example of what that would be like that I’m not going to miss loosing out for a few seasons.
If I’m completely honest, this story hasn’t lived up to my expectations (or my memories), but it’s still been an enjoyable way to spend the last week, and it’s telling that I reached Episode Eight still not bored by the setting or the characters. There’s several things that I think I’d do differently, but it’s certainly doing an awful lot right.
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