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Doctor Who: The Invasion (part two)

The other really big first for this story: it’s the debut appearance of UNIT, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, with the Doctor and Jamie’s old friend Lethbridge-Stewart, played by Nicholas Courtney, promoted to the rank of brigadier and in charge of the group. UNIT becomes that secondary cast that Bryant and Sherwin had been considering, and they’re still around in the show today, seen most recently in a 2015 adventure with Lethbridge-Stewart’s daughter Kate in command. The name has changed a little bit, though. In 2005, the United Nations requested the BBC take their name off the fictional organization, so it’s called the Unified Intelligence Taskforce these days. John Levene’s Benton, who only gets a little time here, will graduate to become one of the semi-regulars of this group.

So why’s there a need for a secondary supporting cast, anyway? Well, in 1967-68, Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin were looking to the future and noting how much less expensive the show could be if it took place on contemporary – or near-future – Earth. With the BBC on the precipice of switching their entire output over to color videotape, things were going to get really pricey for the perennially cash-conscious corporation, and whatever form season seven took – if indeed there was to be a seventh season at all – taking the TARDIS to far-distant planets and times wasn’t going to be an immediate option.

When it comes to the question of when the UNIT-led Earth stories take place, I’m very firmly in the “date of broadcast” camp for many reasons. Case in point: Here’s Zoe and her new friend Isobel Watkins, dressed in miniskirts and boas, about to confuse a sixties supercomputer to self-destruction via an insoluble equation spoken in what’s alleged to be ALGOL.

I adore this scene. It’s so dated. I just love the concept that Zoe, who lives on a space station in the 2060s or 2070s, is fluent in ALGOL and reads a superhero comic that was published in 2000. Back in ’68, these were intended to be “futuristic.” These days, it makes Zoe fascinated by her grandparents’ tech and culture. And of course, this is another example of sixties teevee so worried about computers while simultaneously seeing them as something so fragile that they can be talked into exploding.

Although, fair’s fair, we giggle about this, or ITC’s The Prisoner, or Gerry Anderson’s programs predicting the future and getting everything so wrong, but darned if that computer receptionist isn’t exactly like every infuriating, job-destroying, press-zero-a-million-times, please-say-“customer-service”-if-you-want-to-talk-to-a-human-being nightmare that we all experience when we have a question about our credit card or utility bill.

Speaking of Zoe and Isobel, our chivalrous son was actually extremely upset by the climax of this episode. He seemed to be enjoying it just fine, and told us that he’s intrigued by the “science machine” in the wall knowing who the Doctor and Jamie are, and how they travel. It knows them from “Planet 14,” mysteriously. But the girls are taken by IE’s guards after destroying the receptionist, and the charming-but-malevolent Tobias Vaughn has them imprisoned. In a warehouse, the Doctor and Jamie hear them scream, and we see the guards placing their unconscious bodies into metal crates. Our son was wide-eyed with shock and downright infuriated, with a wobbling lip. We had to give him lots of assurance that they’ll be okay!

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Doctor Who: The Invasion (part one)

It’s back to animation for tonight’s episode, the first in a longer-than-usual serial called “The Invasion.” The animation for this was done by Cosgrove Hall, the company best known for Danger Mouse, in 2006. This was the first time that one of the missing episodes of Doctor Who was done as a cartoon, and there was a lot of hope, then, that Cosgrove Hall would do everything that was missing. They did a really fine job with this, even if there’s a lot of mid-2000s lens flare. Parts one and four of this story are missing; the others were, thankfully, held by the BBC Film Library.

Anyway, this story has a few interesting firsts, and the most important one is behind the scenes. The screenplay is by the program’s script editor of the time, Derrick Sherwin, from a rough six-part outline by Kit Pedler. Since BBC regulations stated that you couldn’t take staff pay for what should be freelance writing, the script editor for this story is Terrance Dicks, making this the writer’s first of dozens of contributions to this series. And he only has a couple of lines and we don’t know who he is yet, but the passenger in the car watching the Doctor and Jamie visit International Electromatics is a character called Benton, played by John Levene, and we’ll get to see a lot more from this character over the next seven seasons of the show.

Apart from extending the story into an eight-parter, Sherwin and Dicks had to make a last-minute change and remove a couple of characters. In the previous season, Sherwin and producer Peter Bryant had toyed with the idea of creating an occasional earthbound supporting cast for Doctor Who to visit, led by Professor Travers and his daughter Anne. These characters had been created by the writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, who had a falling out with the production team over edits to “The Dominators,” so the Travers family were shipped off to America and a Professor Watkins and his thoroughly mod photographer daughter Isobel moved into their flat. The idea of the supporting cast was not abandoned, and we’ll see what happened with that idea next time.

We’ll also get to see more of the villains and their peculiar “science machine,” as our son termed it. He was pretty restless and bouncy tonight. I’m afraid he was promised a new toy for a week’s good behavior at school and was really distracted. International Electromatics’ managing director is an eerie man played by Kevin Stoney, and his head of security a loose cannon played by Peter Halliday, making his first of six Who serials. Stoney’s character, called Tobias Vaughn, keeps his clearly alien “science machine” behind a large panel in the wall. “That was so cool,” he said.

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Doctor Who: The Mind Robber (part five)

The final part of “The Mind Robber” is another lean-n-mean conclusion that script editor Derrick Sherwin hammered through, and I believe that it was the shortest installment of the series until the mid-2000s, when they started doing minisodes like “Time Crash” or the “Night and the Doctor” series. It’s a brisk 18 minutes long, and while it suffers, like “The Ice Warriors,” from a silly case of computer-phobia, it’s really fun. In this case, Jamie and Zoe overload an amazing supercomputer from a void outside time and space by… punching a bunch of buttons. Something similar will happen in the next adventure. TV people in the sixties just did not understand computers at all, did they?

Anyway, our son was much more excited by this episode. With the Karkus and Rapunzel now on their side, they can battle both the toy soldiers and the White Robots, and then Cyrano and D’Artagnan have a swordfight, then Blackbeard and Sir Lancelot show up. Weird how the Master of the Land of Fiction summoned up both Cyrano de Bergerac and Blackbeard, who were real people, though. Anyway, Cyrano and D’Artagnan’s fight is really respectable, not just for this show, but period. Those actors (or perhaps stuntmen) knew how to use swords.

So in the end, away from the horrors of the Minotaur and Medusa, our son enjoyed this conclusion a lot. The “blow up the computer” resolution can’t help but feel like a too-traditional letdown for such a fanciful story, but it’s quite fun overall.

Incidentally, there’s an odd (and slightly laborious) reason why the episode they cut from “The Dominators” had to be appended to this adventure, and not used later in the season instead. Doctor Who‘s sixth season actually started transmission when it did so that they could run ten episodes before being preempted on two Saturdays for the BBC’s coverage of the 1968 Summer Olympics. They originally had hoped to run a six-parter and a four-parter before taking a break. Dropping part six of “The Dominators” and not using it for this story would have meant that on October 12, the BBC would run part one of the next adventure, and not show the second until November 2, which nobody wanted. Nevertheless, the final caption in the closing credits reads, wrongly, “Next week: ‘The Invasion’.”

And that makes me wonder… this episode went out in a twenty-minute slot on Saturday afternoon rather than its traditional twenty-five. Did the BBC ask for a shorter episode so they could start coverage of the Olympics’ opening ceremonies a little earlier that night? I’ve seen an episode guide that suggested that this story’s big unanswered question was who built the computer. I like my unanswered question better.

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Doctor Who: The Mind Robber (part four)

At last we meet the villain of the piece, whom we have only seen from behind in the previous episodes. He’s credited as “The Master,” but in order to keep him separate from the later character, this is always retro-clarified as “The Master of the Land of Fiction.” He was the writer of a serial called “The Adventures of Captain Jack Harkaway” for many years in the pages of a boys’ action magazine called Ensign, devoting five million words to the character across a quarter of a century before this place scooped him up in 1926 to work for it. The Doctor only barely remembers Jack Harkaway. Not many of us in this world still remember Sexton Blake, Fantomas, or Bulldog Drummond, who may have been Harkaway’s competition on the earth of Doctor Who.

As predicted, our son’s favorite moment of the whole serial was meeting the writer’s own little fictional character, a superhero from a “strip cartoon” in the Hourly Telepress in the year 2000 called the Karkus. A couple of months ago in the real world, the twelfth Doctor met a superhero called the Ghost and displayed complete ignorance about superheroes, while some “fans” complained that the show was lowering itself to parody – slash – celebrate all the Marvel movies and DC TV shows around. Well, the Karkus is proof that it’s always been thus. The Karkus is clearly inspired by TV’s Batman and all of his many sixties imitators, and the Doctor knew as much about the Karkus in a 1968 story as he did Spider-Man in a 2016 one. Greek myths and English satires yes, funnybooks no. Refreshing to hear that there is one subject he’s not an expert on, as another fictional character might opine.

Anyway, while this episode does end with a worrying cliffhanger in which the White Isaac Asimov Robots close Jamie and Zoe in the pages of a giant book, the scenes of Zoe using some martial arts to throw the hapless Karkus around like a rag doll had our son in stitches. He really enjoyed that. Sorry to say that I just can’t imagine Victoria being so successful.

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Doctor Who: The Mind Robber (part three)

Discussion of tonight’s episode deteriorated into a debate about our son’s favorite shapes and numbers. We can tell that he is a little bit intrigued by the puzzles, but he’s also alarmed by the darkness, the unknown, and by Wendy Padbury panicking, understandably, all the way through this. “This is not puzzling, it is terrifying!”

It might be a little too high concept for him. The Doctor has deduced that they’re in a world of fiction, populated by fictional characters like a Unicorn, a Minotaur, Medusa, and Rapunzel. They also meet Bernard Horsfall’s character again and the Doctor recognizes the man’s dialogue as what had originally been the narration in Gulliver’s Travels. Strangely, Rapunzel can speak freely in her conversation with Jamie, but Gulliver can only repeat the words that Jonathan Swift gave him.

I think this is such a fun and diverting episode, so unlike the rest of the serials that we’ve seen, that our son’s stated displeasure is a real surprise. We could see by his body language that he was more unhappy with the much more complicated “Enemy of the World,” but the catacombs and strange mythical beasts have him claiming that he likes this one even less. Well, things will brighten up in the next couple of parts, and I think that he’ll enjoy meeting a fictional character whom the Doctor’s never heard of before.

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Doctor Who: The Mind Robber (part two)

I think that “The Mind Robber” might just have come at the perfect time in our little viewing. As it must have done in 1968, it’s a good reminder to any of the show’s younger viewers that Doctor Who doesn’t necessarily have to be about fighting sci-fi alien menaces every time. As the TARDIS can go anywhere, this time it’s brought our heroes to a very weird world, with objects and people vanishing and reappearing whenever you’re not looking at them, strangers who talk with lots more dialogue than is necessary, riddle-obsessed schoolchildren, forests of words, human-sized windup toy soldiers, and unicorns. This is a far cry from Daleks and Yeti.

Our son wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it. Today, he stacked some pillows for protection and enjoyed peering between them, cautiously. He said that it hurt his brain a little, but he was never impatient with it. The story is confusing, but the episode moves incredibly fast, with each new puzzle and problem, and there are several, handled quickly, rather than lingering for too long on a single large complication like “the computer doesn’t know what to do about the glaciers” or “we need more proof about how a powerful Mexican scientist can predict earthquakes.” In short, it is at least beginning with a much more kid-friendly feel.

Thrown in at the deep end with such an atypical story, this was David Maloney’s first directing job for Doctor Who. He’d shoot eight serials in total, casting Bernard Horsfall, shown above as “a stranger,” in half of them. I think we’ll learn this stranger’s real name next time.

Oh, and I should probably point out that’s not Frazer Hines as Jamie above. Hines came down with chickenpox the week they needed to tape, so he came in to get his picture taken and went home. Fortunately, this story is weird enough that they could bring in an actor named Hamish Wilson to play the character for a couple of weeks. Our son is not worried about Jamie’s face and thinks that he’ll get it back.

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Doctor Who: The Mind Robber (part one)

This morning, we watched the TARDIS leave our universe for an opaque white void, for a really budget-conscious episode. From a production standpoint, it’s really fun. As you may recall, the previous story had been cut from six episodes to five, but all the actors and set designers and the like still had to be paid for all six. The lost episode was appended to “The Mind Robber” as a “prologue,” but it had to be made as cheaply as possible. That meant the script editor, Derrick Sherwin, had to write it himself rather than paying for a freelance teleplay, and the director, David Maloney, had only one extra speaking part (voiced off camera), blank and featureless flat walls and floor for the void outside the TARDIS, no music, and four robot costumes that somebody dug out of a closet.

The robots had actually been made about two years previously for an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s short story “Reason.” Retitled “The Prophet,” it was made for the BBC’s SF anthology Out of the Unknown in 1966. The BBC junked the tape, as they did all too often, but the surviving publicity photos show that the robots were black in that production. A lick of grey and white paint and some new polygon chest units and they were all set to scare the pants off children in a different show.

The tone in this episode is one of weird psychological menace, as some unseen force is tempting our heroes into the void. Our son was balled up under a blanket, whispering “this is too scary,” and crawling up into Mommy’s lap as the White Robots hypnotized Jamie and Zoe.

The cliffhanger is remembered as one of the all-time classics. The TARDIS is seen to break apart in the blackness of space, leaving Zoe and Jamie hanging onto the console as it slowly vanishes into… someplace. That sent our kid behind the sofa. We’ll see what happens next tomorrow morning…

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