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Doctor Who: The Invasion (part eight)

This really long story wraps up after a pretty small and very well-staged shootout between the UNIT troops and some badly over-matched Cybermen. Subsequent adventures would see the humans outclassed and often on the losing end of alien firepower, but not here. It also sees John Levene’s character of Corporal Benton taking a larger role, apparently because the fellow who had played Sgt. Walters had got on director Douglas Camfield’s bad side. Benton would reappear a few episodes into the next season, and remain a semi-regular into season thirteen.

Our son really enjoyed this story, and it’s clearly one of his favorite Doctor Who adventures. He let us know, in his inimitable five year-old way, that his favorite moment was when the missile destroys the main Cyberman ship. He demonstrated this by rolling on his side and explaining that his foot was the Cybership, and his hand the missile. He slapped them together and thundered “Ka-BOOM!”

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Doctor Who: The Invasion (part seven)

This is such a strange segment of the story. The Cybermen aren’t in it, for starters. They only appear in the reprise of the previous episode. Frazer Hines and Edward Burnham are only in a single scene, in the set used at length in part six but only here for about one minute. I think this scene was taped along with part six so that the actors could still get a week off.

The central bit of drama is the Doctor trying to convince Vaughn that he’s in way over his head, and it’s Zoe who ends up proving him right. Over at a nearby air base, she immediately recalculates some surface-to-air missile coordinates and UNIT and the RAF shoot down the Cybermen’s incoming transport ships. So that “science machine” in Vaughn’s closet – actually called the “Cyber-Director” – ends the episode ending the alliance with Vaughn and announcing they’re going to destroy all life on earth.

Zoe is certainly amazing, but her timing might not have been perfect this time.

So it doesn’t seem like a lot actually happens in this episode, and some of it was certainly over our five year-old’s head. But there’s an ongoing, oppressive sense of worry and danger. When the Doctor goes down into the sewers to rush to Vaughn’s headquarters, our son realized that he didn’t have any of his security blankets handy – it almost hit eighty degrees today, in February!, so he wasn’t wrapped in any – and so he started chewing on his mother’s thumb because he was so afraid for the Doctor.

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Doctor Who: The Invasion (part six)

I just wanted to note this time that the very memorable cliffhanger of the Cybermen coming down the steps with St. Paul’s Cathedral behind them would have been even better had they held the shot for about another five seconds, and had they somehow, some way, twisted somebody’s arm and got a high-end 35 mm camera to shoot it, instead of this grotty old 16 mm stuff. That’s the case with everything, I know, but this is such a neat and lovely scene, one of the iconic moments of Doctor Who‘s black and white years, and it’s over so quickly and you can’t help but wish it looked as good as it sounds.

On that note, the music for “The Invasion” was by a guy named Don Harper, and it’s really amazing. Harper played with Dave Brubeck when he wasn’t composing film and television scores, was a pioneer in electronic music, and his work has been sampled by the likes of Gorillaz and Danger Mouse. It’s so good that I honestly wish that he scored every Doctor Who story, except for the two that Geoffrey Burgon did.

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Doctor Who: The Invasion (part five)

Now that we’ve got the Cybermen identified as the villains of the piece, it makes Tobias Vaughn an even more interesting character. He certainly seems to have all the angles, and fully plans some backups and contingencies to make certain that the Cybermen will honor their end of the bargain and make him master of earth after extracting the minerals that they claim they need. One of these contingencies is the device that Professor Watkins has built: it introduces emotions into Cybermen. The villains on Earth revive one just to test it out, and give the Cyberman a powerful dose of fear. It goes insane and climbs down into the sewers beneath London; that’s where the growing army is awaiting the signal to invade.

What Vaughn doesn’t know is that audiences of the day had the chance to see the Cybermen in action four times prior to this story. They’re real big about making deals that they have no intention of honoring. But then again, they’ve never dealt with anybody as ruthless as Vaughn before.

It ends with a great cliffhanger that sent our son behind the sofa again. I think this one might have been too talky for him to really understand that these strange circuits that the Doctor is finding inside unrelated pieces of IE tech are integral to the Cybermen’s plan. I’ll have to go over that again tomorrow night. But he certainly came alive when a policeman climbs down in the sewer after Jamie, Zoe, and Isobel, who’ve descended to get some photographic proof of the aliens. The policeman goes the wrong way and is immediately gunned down by Cybermen, and, down another corridor, our heroes have the maddened, yelling, fear-crazed Cyberman charging at them. “That was REAL SCARY!!” he bellowed.

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Doctor Who: The Invasion (part four)

It’s a shame that all of the lost 97 episodes of Doctor Who were junked and will probably never be seen again, but part four of “The Invasion” is particularly painful. Part four is the last of the missing episodes that have been animated. The animation team did a great job, but Douglas Camfield, one of the best action directors working in British television in the sixties and seventies, staged this rescue scene from the tenth floor of a building using a helicopter and a rope ladder and, knowing Camfield, that must have looked downright amazing.

Five further episodes beyond this point are missing, all from Patrick Troughton’s next-to-last serial, “The Space Pirates.” Season six of Doctor Who was not a big international seller, so we’re very fortunate that 37 of the season’s 44 episodes were retained in the UK. It’s a consensus among fans who study this subject that these last seven are among the least likely to ever be found.

The episode ends with the revelation that Vaughn’s alien allies are in fact the Cybermen. A couple of thoughts here: the BBC actually led the promotion for this serial at the beginning of November 1968 with the news that this was a Cyberman story, and yet one doesn’t appear on-camera until the 23rd, and aren’t actually named. I wonder whether the kids of the time were pestering their parents, asking “Where are the Cybermen, Daddy?” for weeks. I had thought not to spoil their return and surprise our son, but the joke was on me. He didn’t recognize it. Admittedly, the Cybermen’s design has been somewhat modified since he saw them in “The Tomb of the Cybermen” in December, but so much for that handlebar head being iconic.

Bet if it were a Yeti, he’d remember…

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Doctor Who: The Invasion (part three)

As I’ve already written quite a lot about this serial and part three doesn’t honestly advance the story very much, let’s just pause and note just how very good Douglas Camfield’s direction is, and how entertaining Kevin Stoney and Peter Halliday are as the villains Vaughn and Packer. Tobias Vaughn is just a great, great villain. He’s finding all of this extraordinarily entertaining and amusing, and believes himself completely in control of the situation. This was the second time that Camfield cast Stoney in a Doctor Who serial. Camfield also cast him in a 1973 episode of the Thames TV police drama Van der Valk.

Packer seems to be a pretty good example of “the Peter Principle.” He must have been an efficient soldier or guard, once, but he’s promoted above his level of competency, and can’t quite balance his petulant bullying with the fear that his boss is going to fire him. When Vaughn does lose patience with Packer, it’s actually a little scary, because Kevin Stoney takes the character straight from “amused disdain” to “bellowing with fury.” They’re a great, and very real, double-act.

Of note in the cast this week: this is Edward Burnham’s first appearance in the series, as the imprisoned Watkins. He made a career of playing doctors, professors, Parliamentary under-secretaries, and the like. But we don’t get to see his niece or Zoe this week, as they’re being kept prisoner elsewhere, giving those actresses a week off. John Levene isn’t seen onscreen this episode, but he does radio in, so we do hear him.

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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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