Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Doctor Who - The Invasion

As is now regular, following my previous postings for Inferno, The Hand of Fear, The Mark of the Rani and The Sontaran Experiment, here is my review from the Doctor Who Ratings Guide of this week's DVD release, The Invasion:

Fast paced and strong

This review almost rivals mine for The Crusade for strangeness because it is based on a combination of the BBC Video release and Michael Palmer's reconstruction of Episodes 1 and 4.

Right from the start this story is fast paced and rarely drags throughout its eight episodes. The Invasion works on several different levels, offering action, intrigue, comedy and conflict. As a test run for the UNIT format it works well since the organisation is presented with a strong level of sophistication rather than as just a bunch of soldiers for the action sequences. There are a few special effects that don't quite make it, such as the model work or a Cyberman falling off the factory roof in the final episode, but by and large these are easy to overlook.

Of all the Doctor Who stories set around familiar sites, The Invasion is the one I feel closest to because I spent four and a years at the City of London School which in its current location is just opposite the St. Paul's Cathedral steps that feature so prominently at the end of Episode 6 (although the steps themselves have since been rebuilt to be more disability friendly). Consequently the locations seen in those sequences are very familiar to me and thus make the threat seem a lot more real than even the shots of the Daleks in Trafalgar Square in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Wisely the story doesn't focus on these moments and indeed the Cybermen themselves are little more than just another race of invading monsters. Although this means nothing new is learnt about them, this does not detract from the story which focuses its attention elsewhere.

Like The Daleks' Master Plan, the main villain of the story is a human, and as with the earlier epic Kevin Stoney gives an exceptionally strong and memorable performance that contrasts well with that of the Doctor. Tobias Vaughn is a ruthless businessman and as such very different from most other foes in the series. In many ways he can be seen as a precursor of the modern incarnation of Superman's long running foe, Lex Luthor. (Although Luthor has been around since about 1940, it was only in the 1980s that he was portrayed as a corporate head with a hidden agenda, prior to this he was a run-of-the-mill mad scientist.) Treading the fine line between genius and madman, Vaughn comes across as a competent schemer whose plans are only disrupted by the unforeseen intervention of the Doctor, thus making the latter central to the plot.

Equally strong is Nicholas Courtney, returning as the now-promoted Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. His presence in the story helps to cut out what would otherwise have been a drawn out process of the Doctor seeking to establish his credentials with UNIT, which would undercut the pilot nature of the story. Many of the rest of the cast also turn in good performances, showing shrewd casting by director Douglas Camfield.

Both the design and direction of the story are very strong, with the script helping to cover up matters such as both of Vaughn's offices using the same set or the absence of the sequence in which UNIT rescue Professor Watkins. UNIT are truly a force to be reckoned with, as are the Cybermen, and so the whole story gels together due to strong and complementary production values.

All in all, The Invasion is one of the highlights of Doctor Who, both in previewing the major format change that was about to occur and also in telling a strong story in its own right. 10/10

Michael Palmer's reconstruction of the missing episodes is now four years old and shows its age through the lack of text captions to explain matters where the audio isn't necessarily clear. However it is very good considering the lack of telesnaps and manages to explain everything well. The one curiosity is a review of the story by Stephen Broome at the start of the tape which is notable for his statement that the incidental music wisely stays in the background - unlike on his review where some music is played so loudly in the background that at times it is difficult to hear what he is saying. The reconstruction itself is good, although likely to be superseded in the near future by one using text as well. 8/10

The BBC video release used simple narration by Nicholas Courtney to fill in the gaps. The links are good, but could contain more information such as why the TARDIS is invisible in Episode 8. With hindsight the absence of an audio tape containing the sound for the missing episodes is noticeable, but at the time it wasn't too much of a problem. The links are redundant now, but served their purpose adequately at the time. 7/10
The Invasion can be purchased from here.

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