Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Possibly one of the most "referenced" stories in the series' history.

Seems like almost every other episode of any story featuring UNIT mentions "that business with the Cybermen". Of course, the "Web of Fear" is mentioned quite frequently too in this context, but somehow I've always been more fascinated with "The Invasion". Probably because it's got the Cybermen in it and they're still my all-time favourite monster. So, imagine my delight when a copy of the story was finally released with episode 1 and 3 missing and some linking narration from good 'ole Nick Courtney (who almost seems wheelchair-bound or something since he never rises from his seat!) thrown in to fill the gaps. 

But, even as I purchased this release, a slight shade of hesitancy passed over me. What if this was another notorious example of JNT's famous addage: "the memory cheats"? What if this story really wasn't all that it was cracked up to be and that all the talk that has revolved around it is really "just talk"?

Turns out my concerns were largely unfounded.

"The Invasion" is a thoroughly enjoyable epic. It's got that really "clunky" moment towards the end with ProfessorWatkins getting rescued and some pretty dodgy-looking model work with the Cyber-fleet. But, otherwise, it's a really enjoyable eight episodes. Well, technically six episodes - which means that maybe there was some awful padding in the two parts that no longer exist but I'll never be the wiser!

I know lots of you folks go on endlessly about how great the "old" Cybermen were. I've seen all the existing footage in "Tenth Planet", "Moonbase" and "Wheel In Space" and the unearthed complete story of "Tomb of the Cybermen" and I honestly think these stories have as many flaws to them as any of the Cybermen stories from the 80s. And, in some cases, I'd even take "Earthshock" or even "Silver Nemesis" over some of these older stories any day. But "The Invasion" is the exception to this rule. This really is a fantastic Cybermen story. Mainly because of the way the plot actually uses them. Their involvement in the adventure is kept a secret for the first four episodes so that when they finally break out of the cocoon, it's one of the best entrances a recurring villain ever makes. Also Tobias Vaughn and the Cyber Planner serve the same purpose Davros did in Dalek stories of the 70s and 80s. They handle the bulk of the expository dialogue, thus leaving the Cybermen to do what they do best: lumber around menacingly whilst being really hard to kill. The sewer sequences are an excellent example of this. And the march in front of St. Paul's Cathedral, for my money, is far more effective than when the Daleks coasted around London way back in the "Dalek Invasion of Earth" (if nothing else, we didn't have to endure that endless drumbeat pounding away over and over!). More superficially, this particular "look" for the Cybermen was also one of the better costumes they ever designed. And, it was nice to finally see Cybermen toting around rifles. Not sure why I like that so much, but it was still cool!

Another great strength to this story is the magnificentportrayal of the evil Tobias Vaughn. Kevin Stoney knows how to play his villains. So well, that it almost makes you wonder what the man is like in real life. And it's impressive to see that Vaughn isn't just a copy of Mavic Chen, but rather, a completely different interpretation. He's far more charming, if anything and considerably more calculating. But, like Chen, Stoney allows himself just enough OTT moments to make the villain fun in places. But he never goes too far with it. And there are definitely some really chilling moments for Stoney to sink his teeth into. Particularly the sequence where Watkins shoots him and we see the smouldering bullets in Vaughn's chest as he smiles evilly. Magnificient stuff. 

I suppose, like many fans, I do find it a bit hard to believe that Vaughn would use somebody like Packer as his second-in-command. He seems a bit too incompetent and panics too easilly. Although, I have found that the complaints about Packer are greatly exaggerated (as is the case with many of the things fans like to "niggle" about in the series). The only time Packer really seems like a boob is during the whole "escape through the lift shaft" sequence with the Doctor and Jamie. Otherwise, he does handle things fairly well, overall, and it's not entirely ridiculous that Vaughn would employ such a blatant sadist. Packer is there to handle Vaughn's dirtywork so that he can look "squeaky clean" in his public profile. This seems a logical set-up and doesn't push plausibility too far. 

And then, of course, there's UNIT. A good first story. Although I do feel that Nick's portrayal of the Brigadier is still a bit rough in places. It's tough though, really. The Brig did become such a well-crafted character that it is a bit difficult to see him still a little unpolished in his early days. Even the first Pertwee story has a bit of this going on in it too. But it is nice to see the Doctor able to get some millitairy might to back him up. And, unlike a lot of later UNIT stories, the back-up is actually somewhat instrumental in resolving the conflict. 

Which leads me neatly into commenting on the effectiveness of the final two episodes. These are the ultimate testament to Douglas Camfield's directorial skills. Aside from the afore-mentioned poor model work, I consider the execution of these last two episodes virtually flawless. Especially when you consider how much of the action had to be handled through just actors standing around in control rooms pretending to react to events being announced on radios. Somehow, we feel as though we are still part of all this action and tension and we can suspend our disbelief adequately as Douglas cuts away to stock footage and bad models. It's all rather impressive, really. 

And when Douglas is able to handle some legitimately visual action, it's truly breathtaking. The Doctor and Vaughn sneaking through the compound and the attack from UNIT on the Cybermen are breathtakingly well-done. Particularly when you consider the budget limitations and the time period in which this was all shot. Camfield really surpasses himself here - and we can see why his status as a director for Who has become a bit legendary.

Finally, we hear a lot about how wonderful Season Five of Who was. But I'm still more impressed with what I've seen of Season Six. This might simply be because I've seen a lot more footage from this season, but I'm more inclined to believe that there is a better variety and quality to the stories of this season. We have the wildly imaginative "Mind Robber", the fun little runarounds in "The Dominators" and "Seeds of Death" and the climactic grand finale of "The War Games". Sitting, quite beautifully, in the middle of all this is fantastic little contemporary epic called "The Invasion". Easily, one of the best Cybermen stories - and an excellent Troughton tale to boot! Even with the conveniently written-in "break" that Frazer Hines gets in the last two episodes!

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