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11 March 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 435: The Android Invasion, Episode Three

Dear diary,

There’s a few people who I tend to use as a ‘sounding board’ when I’m making my way through the stories for this marathon. It’s usually quite simple – just someone I can talk to about the stories, which tends to help clear my head a bit so that I know what to write about when I sit down to pen the day’s entry. It also serves the useful purpose of giving me extra things to consider, which I may not have thought about myself. When I told my friend Nick the other day that I was now starting out on The Android Invasion, he suggested that I take a look at the production subtitles on this DVD, because they were a particularly good set.

I usually find that I only resort to the Production Notes when I’m particularly bored by a story. Nothing against them as a special feature (they’re often one of the best on every disc), but I find them too distracting when I’m watching a story for the first time. Episodes One and Two of The Android Invasion have had an awful lot to love in them, but they’re not exactly thrilling me as much as I’d like. So, taking on board Nick’s advice, I decided to go back to the menu and switch on the Subtitles before starting out on today’s episode.

It’s ironic, then, that after I’ve spent two days talking about how much this story feels in places like an episode of The Avengers, that the subtitles to this episode should highlight a few episodes from that series which share elements with this story! If nothing else, it’s nice to know that I can pick up on the similarities in style. The main story that’s brought up comes from Season Four of The Avengers, and since it’s not one I’ve seen, I headed straight for the box set and watched it after today’s instalment of Doctor Who. So… now it’s time for something completely different…

Day 435: *The Town of No Return*

This is The Avengers right at the height of its popularity, with arguably the most famous of the teams, Steed and Emma Peel. They take the train out to a small coastal town, where agents have been sent to investigate strange goings on and never returned from. The story isn’t a complete clone of my current Doctor Who tale – the village doesn’t turn out to be a training ground on an alien world, for example – but there are a lot of similarities.

People in the village known to one of your ‘good guys’ who aren’t quite who they seem (indeed, in The Avengers, the people have been replaced with entirely different people taking their place), there’s a hunt out on location with bloodhounds, a character taking a pivotal role in the plot who turns out to be officially ‘dead’, and a sting of slightly unusual mysteries to solve, such as missing parish records for the last 20 years, or the lack of pupils at the school.

There’s even a slightly surreal scene where the ‘new’ versions of people arrive in the town for the first time. In The Android Invasion, a truck rolls up in the village loaded with perfectly still people. For The Town of No Return, a black sack walks out of the ocean, unzips, and a gentleman steps out, strolls across the beach, and greets a watching man. Both are rather brilliant in their own ways, but I think – and this goes for the story as a whole – I prefer this episode of The Avengers to these four episodes of Doctor Who.

It’s possibly helped by the fact that the entire Avengers story is told in 50 minutes, whereas the Doctor’s adventure in Devesham is spread over almost double that time, and the fact that it reminds me so much of a recent story with a similar plot which I’ve seen so recently. Still, all that said, and no matter how much I’ve enjoyed by brief excursion back into the 1960s with this Avengers episode, there’s still plenty that I’m liking about The Android Invasion.

The idea that the village isn’t even on Earth, but rather is a testing ground for a later full-scale invasion really works for me… but I’m not entirely sure why they’ve got copies of Harry, and Benton etc around. I did wonder if it might be to prepare themselves for a confrontation with UNIT (although we’ve only seen the androids working for the Kraals at this stage, presumably they sometimes get set to act simply… ‘normal’?), but then why no Brigadier? And where did they get the plans for them? I’m sure there’s something about them being drawn from people’s memories, which would imply that Crayford has met them before, but… Oh, my head hurts.

And there, you hit the crux of my issue with the story. There’s so many great ideas, but they’re all just out of reach from being brilliant. In many ways, then, it’s the typical Terry Nation of old. Perhaps my biggest issue is the Kraals themselves. I can’t tell if they’re supposed to be ‘funny’ comedy aliens, who are a bit inept and bumbling… or if they’re just really rubbish by accident. It’s been troubling me for a while, now…


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