One of the greatest benefits of watching Doctor Who in chronological order is discovering hitherto unknown continuities. The Invasion was one of the first Patrick Troughton serials I watched. Simple incidents, like the Doctor and his crew deciding to drop in on their old friend Professor Travers, were lost on me. Had I watched The Abominable Snowmen, and its sequel The Web of Fear prior to my first viewing of The Invasion then the significance would have been obvious. Similarly, that The Invasion was to some extent a remake of The Web of Fear would have been reasonably self-evident. The apparent absence of story arcs in Classic Series Doctor Who, and the presumption that all serials are entirely self contained, makes casual viewing of stories a joy. Jumping between seasons and different Doctor’s tenures ensures the viewer of a diverse and eclectic range of material. The handicap, however, is the loss of character and series development.
Seeing the evolution of characters that have been iconic is a real joy. The Invasion is the story which introduces UNIT, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, to the world of Doctor Who. It is not, however, our first introduction to Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. Our first encounter with the then Colonel was in The Web of Fear where Lethbridge-Stewart was a suspicious unknown entity. Arriving in the embattled London Tube, as if out of nowhere, the Colonel could well have been the feared Yeti collaborator. A relationship of trust took some time to develop. A camaraderie from a past battle fought was evident when the Doctor and Jamie again met the promoted Brigadier in The Invasion. It was four years since their last meeting, the Brigadier noted. The character with which we become so familiar during the tenure of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor is not yet fully formed, though. It will be some time before we encounter “classic” Brig moments like the eye-patched alter ego of Inferno or the “Chap with wings, there. Five rounds rabid” of The Daemons. Although often experiencing difficulties with women, Lethbridge-Stewart was particularly Neanderthal in The Invasion, an issue that I will address when discussing the character of Isobel Watkins.
It’s not often that I disagree with anything that Rob Shearman or Toby Hadoke say in their excellent marathon watch diary, Running Through Corridors. It’s with Shearman, however , that I have issue with concerning the portrayal of Isobel Watkins who was played by Sally Faulkner. Isobel is the niece of Professor Watkins, a professor of computer engineering and friend of the Professor Travers previously referred to. Travers had decamped to the United States, letting his home to Watkins and Isobel during his absence. In his discussion of episode two I believe that Shearman is unfairly critical of the character. He describes her variously as “a talentless pseud”, “friendless”, and a “selfish, utterly insane cow”. Shearman doesn’t end there. He’d sooner have lunch with the psychopath Tobias Vaughn than Isobel who is the “sort of social misfit that will try to muscle her way into other people’s jokes”. Shearman is then extraordinarily critical of Isobel’s feminist defence to Lethbridge-Stewart in episode five. In his defence, Shearman believes that Isobel is a caricatured feminist, badly written by a male, who is made to look like an idiot. That’s not how I see Isobel who is not unlike the former companion Polly. A little akin to my squeals of delight at Maaga’s comments about men in Galaxy 4 (see my review for details), Isobel’s defence of women was one of those rare “stand up and cheer” moments. It’s worth extracting it in full here.
BRIGADIER: And how do I prove that in the sewers of London there are creatures from outer space waiting to attack us. Go and get one?
ZOE: You wouldn’t stand a chance against them, Isobel.
ISOBEL: Ah, you wouldn’t have to go anywhere near them. Photograph them.
BRIGADIER: That’s not a bad idea. Now, wait a minute, it’d be pitch dark down in those tunnels.
ISOBEL: You could use an infrared film, a twenty five filter on a thirty five mil camera with a telephoto lens, and why, you could take frame after frame without getting anywhere near them.
BRIGADIER: Is that all gibberish or do you really know what you’re talking about?
ISOBEL: Of course I know.
BRIGADIER: If you’re right, it could well be the sort of proof I need to get some action.
ISOBEL: Well, all I need is my cameras from the house and then I’m all set.
BRIGADIER: Well, you’re a young woman. This is a job for my men.
ISOBEL: Well, of all the bigoted, anti-feminist, cretinous remarks.
BRIGADIER: This is no job for a girl like you. Now that’s final.
ISOBEL: Oh, you, you, you man!
BRIGADIER: I’ll get in touch with my photographic unit and get them onto it.
ISOBEL: Oh, that stupid bigoted idiotic.
Zoe, who then stood up to Jamie when he expressed agreement with the Brig, was also afforded the opportunity in the serial to combat sexist assumptions. To Jamie she said, “Just because you’re a man you think you’re superior, don’t you?” To the automated answering machine at International Electromatics she gave an ALGOL problem which, being unable to be answered made the machine blow up. Zoe finally calculated complex missile trajectories in her head which facilitated the programming of the Russian missiles and the destruction of the Cybermen’s mother ship. The UNIT soldiers thought that she could be kept on as she’s “much prettier than a computer”. Who dared say that girls know nothing about computers and maths!
The Doctor and Jamie have some wonderful physical comedy moments in The Invasion. A fast walk away from the mysterious UNIT undercover agents quickly turns into a run. When eventually they’re cornered in a lane, with a wry smile the Doctor sits down in the gutter and produces a pack of cards which he shuffles whilst awaiting their imminent capture. Jamie gets in the rear driver’s side door of a Jaguar, slides across to the passenger side door, disembarks and then hops in the front passenger seat. The Doctor does some wonderfully comic running and jumping whilst evading bullets and grenades on two occasions. All of these are done silently and are just superb.
The Invasion has arguably the most iconic of all Doctor Who images, the Cybermen emerging from the sewers and descending, on mass, the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral. The phenomenal cliff hanger to episode six has rightly taken its place in history. The only cliff hanger to compare, in my humble opinion, is the Dalek emerging from the polluted waters of the River Thames in episode one of The Dalek Invasion of Earth.
There are parallels between the Series Two episodes, Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel, and this 1968 Cybermen tale. The name given to the Cybus Industries front company which collects the homeless for upgrading, International Electromatics, is identical to Tobias Vaughn’s conglomerate in The Invasion. Humans are controlled by Ear Pods in the first 21st Century Cybermen tale, whilst in 1968 it was a microchip in IE produced electronics goods, such as disposable transistor radios, that put humans into a deep sleep.
Director Douglas Camfield made a gifted choice in casting Kevin Stoney as the partly cyber converted head of International Electromatics, Tobias Vaughn. Stoney, as you may recall, portrayed Mavic Chen in the Season Three epic, The Daleks’ Master Plan. The characters of Chen and Vaughn are in many respects quite similar. In both instances a human (or humanoid) seeks the ultimate power of world (or solar system) domination and in doing so enters into an uneasy alliance with monstrous aliens. Both characters are under the unfortunate misapprehension that they can successfully betray their allies at an appropriate juncture, however Chen and Vaughn are both disposed of once they have served their purpose. Stoney was a sublimely brilliant actor who created what were arguably the two greatest villains of Classic Series Who.
Although five years into Doctor Who’s history, there are still some firsts in The Invasion. Notwithstanding being a Science Fiction series, it is not until this story that we hear reference to a UFO. It’s also the first time that we see the Doctor drive, albeit briefly. That’s something that we will all become very accustomed to during the Third Doctor’s tenure. John Levene also makes his first appearance as the then Corporal Benton, although he had previously appeared inside monster’s suits. In The Moonbase he was uncredited as a Cyberman, and in The Web of Fear he was a Yeti.
Episodes one and four were animated by Cosgrove Hall superbly. Having recently watched the animations in The Reign of Terror and The Ice Warriors, both of which were undertaken by different teams, I can unreservedly say that The Invasion’s is by far the superior. The sense of light and shade, and the landscapes, were particularly agreeable. That being said, once The Tenth Planet is released I may well view all the animations again. I suspect that watching them one after another will give me a greater appreciation of each of the respective animators’ strengths and weaknesses.
Cybermen Ambush, The Invasion (1968)
Join me for my next review as I examine Robert Holmes’ debut story, The Krotons.
©Vivien Fleming, 2013.
Robert Shearman & Toby Hadoke, Running Through Corridors. Rob & Toby’s Marathon Watch of Doctor Who. Volume 1: The 60s, Mad Norweigan Press: Illinois, 2010.