Written by Derrick Sherwin from an idea by Kit Pedler
Directed by Douglas Camfield
Sometimes when you are a child you will see an image on the television that will stay with you for the rest of your life. I was about four or five when I first saw a heavy metal band performing on the box. It was already my favorite type of music, but the idea that you could have long hair AND a beard blew my tiny fucking mind a the time. Since then my only goals* in life have been to get hairier and play more guitar**.
For my dad, the stand out image of his childhood was very different: A few weeks before his seventh birthday the BBC broadcast an episode of Doctor Who in which the Doctor’s companions and a policeman are trapped in a London sewer with a mad cyberman. Some 45 years later he was able to describe the scene in perfect detail to me, despite not remembering anything of the rest of the story.
The rest of the story, The Invasion, is very much a story of two halves. The first half nothing much happens at all really, there’s a fair bit of running about an a cool sequence with a helicopter, but about one episode’s worth of plot stretched out across an hour and a half. The second half could, with minimal rewriting, be a perfectly good Cyberman invasion four parter just by itself.
The odd thing is though, that it actually works. The strength of the performances, particularly from Patrick Troughton and Kevin Stoney (this time thankfully not blacked up), carry it through the first half, allowing the atmosphere and tension to build up in a way that is extremely rare in television from that era. At eight episodes it is one of the longest Who stories, the second longest so far, and it has no real sub plots or tangents to speak of, so its a real feat of writing that the glacial plot actually holds up.
I’m not sure how much of a writing credit Kit Pedler really deserved for the invasion. It bears none of his previous hallmarks (other than Cybermen), but a lot of Derrick Sherwin’s ticks (i.e. the colossal running time). I’m pretty sure that Kit Pedler’s entire input to this story, when asked to come up with a story set on present day earth, was “er… they land on earth and… CYBERMEN.”
I think it says a lot of the (still to some) U.N.I.T era that this is probably my favorite U.N.I.T story. As a one off, or a recurring thing that happens once in awhile (like they are now), U.N.I.T is great. Similarly, as one story out of many, contemporary earth works really well as a setting. Shame they had to get so fixated on it (more bitching to come on that score, in all likelihood). I do really love the Brig though, even here, when he’s dressed as a baby in a mustache. In fact, especially when he’s dressed as a baby in a mustache.
Speaking of companions, Zoe gets ample opportunity to prove why she’s the best companion ever, outsmarting everything and everyone left right and centre. Only the Doctor is smarter than she is, and only just. Jamie gets to kick some serious ass too, dangling off a fucking helicopter at one point. Its a shame that no footage survives of that, as apparently it was the actors themselves doing that crazy shit. Like all the missing footage, though, the helicopter sequence has been wonderfully animated. This story was actually completed with animation before Reign of Terror, but I think that it might actually be better. The slightly simpler style may not look as impressive on first viewing, but I think its easier to ‘read’ than the fancier work on RoT.
So the Cybermen have shown up without the story being a ‘base under siege’. How long can the writers last without caving and throwing the baddies at the TARDIS crew, who are trapped on some space station or the like? They might just get through the next story, in The Krotons.
*I have other goals from time to time, but those are the main two.
** If you know me that will come as no surprise at all.