Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Invasion - "I think those crazy kids have gone off to the sewers to get photographs of the Cybermen."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Invasion - Details

Series 6, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #46) | Previous - Next | Index

Cybermen take London.
(Gallifrey Wizard has great GIFs for this story ...)
It's a Third Doctor / UNIT story starring the Second Doctor. And, despite being overlong by at least two, if not more, episodes, one that works fairly well. For a Cybermen story, and one that produced one of the iconic images of the series -- the Cybermen emerging from the sewers, St. Paul's Cathedral in the background -- it's feels Cyber-lite. Apart from the striking visuals, the star baddies are by-the-numbers here; any monster-of-the-week could've easily been substituted in without really having to change much of anything. So, yes, it's a story where the Cybermen are world-threatening invasion force, but the asymmetrical face of evil in this one is really Tobias Vaughn ... and his sadistic, yet comically inept, henchman Packer.

Zoe pulls a James T. Kirk and blows up a pesky computer with verbal trickery.
There are two main lines of conversation I think it'd be fun to have around this one: the first around how producers and script editors define the eras of the show at least as much, if not more than, the actors who play the Doctors; and, not to put to fine a point on it, what the appropriate tack to take is on how to discuss how sexy, and sexist?, this story is. I'm not sure if this one sets the record for how many times we see a beautiful young woman's panties in Doctor Who, not to mention the amount of gams on display, buy you can't help but notice that when Zoe befriends Isobel and starts modelling for her, the "for the dads" service pegs the meter.

Let's get a couple of other observational notes out of the way before circling back to those though. Hey look, there's Edward Burnham warming up for his turn as Prof. Kettlewell in "Robot" playing Prof. Watkins. His hair is less full-on Mad Scientist in this one, but he's also significantly less mad in this one. It is, of course, always a pleasure to see Nicholas Courtney outside of the Pertwee era -- not that it's not a pleasure there, it's just there you expect it. Before and after those years it's a bit of an added bonus.

Patrick Troughton gets to show off some action chops in this one as well, the scene where he runs and jumps while explosions go off all around him is a wonderful showcase for his Chaplin-esque physicality.

You have to tip your cap to the budget-minded writer who made it plausible for the same set to be used for both of Vaughn's offices. "Uniformity, duplication. My whole empire is based on that principle. The very essence of business efficiency." That's a few quid saved that could've been spent on a bit more fabric for Isobel's skirt. Perish the thought.

This one's also via Doctor Who Mind Robber.
Because you can't have too much Isobel and Zoe.
Have to admit I thought it striking that every young woman who appears in these old episodes also seemed to have a credit in some British horror movie of the period ... Hammer fare with names like Vampyros Lesbos, or Coven of Blood, or some such thing that pretty much guaranteed to feature beautiful girls getting their kits off in some horrific context. The temptation might be to chalk it up to sexism of the era, but that'd be pretending it's be hard to find Jenna Louise Coleman with her kit off, or Billie Piper, or, apparently soon, Karen Gillan. It may not be in horror movies quite as commonly as it was back in the day, but it's got to be hard to make an argument that, in terms of substantive roles for women, it's gotten much better for today's ladies. It's especially clear it's still much harder for the ladies to keep their clothes on than the fellas. I guess that's why you get ladies singing about wanting to see some non-Hodor dong on Game of Thrones. If the dads get a look at Zoe's and Isobel's knickers, why don't the ladies get a peak up Jamie's kilt? (For all the upskirt in this one, it's telling how carefully Jamie's scenes on ladders were shot to prevent us seeing more of Frazer Hines's under-the-kilt than your average hetman would've been able tolerate.) Because patriarchy, I suppose.

But back to this being, essentially, a Pertwee-era UNIT story with Troughton's Doctor. I've divided up my page for keeping track of all these posts by the actor playing the Doctor because it's one easy way to make them easier to find. But it may not be the best way to do it. The About Time writers address this at length, and Sandifer does as well, but it's worth noting that the feel of the show, the sense of what it's all about, is much more easily conveyed by identifying it as a Letts, Hinchcliffe, Williams, or a JN-T, etc. than it is by calling it a Tom Baker or a Peter Davison story, for instance. You can also make distinctions based on who was in charge of the scripts. So what we've got here is the production team behind the end of the Troughton era trying out a new direction for the show, and the relative success of this story setting up the Earthbound UNIT stories of the Letts/Dicks era. Mad Scientists and alien invasions, as Terrance Dicks relates being somewhat troubled to realize, being pretty much the only stories you can tell with premise.

"The Invasion" then ends up being one of the most influential stories in the run of the series, its success cementing the decision to lock down the format with the Doctor's exile to earth and the disabling of the TARDIS. I'm a fan of the Pertwee/UNIT era, though I wouldn't want the Doctor exiled in the present day (or 10 minutes in the future, whatever those UNIT stories were relative to their broadcast time period) again, so I don't mind how that all played out; however, I suspect those who don't like the UNIT stories don't care for this one for being the one that planted the seed.

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