Following on the heels of the wildly inventive “The Mind Robber,” “The Invasion” is a more typical Doctor Who story. It is the fifth appearance of the Cybermen on the show and shares some similarities with their previous stories. Despite its familiar feel to the modern viewer, however, it was in many ways a departure from the stories up to this point. It features the first appearance of U.N.I.T. headed by Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, who would become an integral part of the show the next season. It builds on what was started in “The Web of Fear” and becomes the first real attempt at what would become the format for much of the Pertwee era. While I can’t say that they nailed the format out of the gate, the episode is still enjoyable.
Much of what works in this story is familiar. Several ideas are “borrowed” from the best Cyberman story, “The Tomb of the Cybermen.” I am a fan of the 60’s Cybermen, but I feel that they work best as an antagonist when the story uses them sparingly. In this era in particular, they are often difficult to understand, so the less dialogue they have, the better. For this to work, the story needs another antagonist who is working with the Cybermen. Just as “Tomb of the Cybermen” had Eric Klieg, “The Invasion” has Tobias Vaughn.
Much like Klieg, who was trying to awaken the Cybermen to help his Brotherhood of Logicians seize power, Tobias Vaughn wants to use the Cybermen for his own purposes: world domination. Similarly, Vaughn both Vaughn and Klieg believed that they could manipulate and use the Cybermen.
Vaughn is already a successful man; he is the head of International Electromatics, a company that has a monopoly on the electronics business. What he wants, though, is to rule the world, and he thinks the Cybermen are the tools he needs to do so. The megalomaniacal Vaughn is reminiscent of the James Bond villains of the time; it might have been interesting to see him facing off against the James Bond of Doctors, the third Doctor. Still, he’s a fun villain to have, regardless of which Doctor he encounters.
Vaughn colludes with the Cybermen, using his electronics to help them invade the earth. Of course, since Vaughn is a power-hungry egomaniac, he has no plans to obey the Cybermen once they successfully invade. Therefore, he is simultaneously kidnapping scientists and forcing them to come up with a way for him to subjugate or destroy the Cybermen.
His role throughout most of the story is to bark orders at the Cyber Controller and his evil henchman, Packer (because every megalomaniacal villain needs a henchman he can order about and yell at when things go wrong). Rather than a flamboyant James Bond henchman, Packer is pretty much your basic, sensibly attired henchman, trying his best to satisfy Vaughn. Vaughn is the star of the show here, and Kevin Stoney knows that. He embraces the over-the-top villain and gives a memorable performance, if not a nuanced one. Vaughn always thinks that he is the smartest man in the room and expects everyone to obey his orders. Therefore, Vaughn basically displays two emotions throughout the story: smug condescension and rage. Despite this, he remains one of the more unforgettable human antagonists the Doctor has ever faced.
The other notable new characters in this story are Professor Watkins and his niece, Isobel. They are clearly fulfilling the role of Professor Travers and his daughter Ann from “The Web of Fear” (they are even living in the same house). Professor Watkins is just there to develop his machine, and is less memorable than Jack Watlings’ Professor Travers. Isobel receives more development and drives the story a bit more. Isobel is very much the image of the perfect 60’s girl: former model, fashion conscious, fun-loving, and slightly feminist. I say slightly because she speaks about feminism, but it seems to be more lip service than actual belief. True, she takes the Brigadier to task for being anti-feminist when he tells her that his men will go take the photo that she wants to take, but her going down to the sewers to get pictures feels more like a little girl in a fit of pique then a woman doing her job. Unlike Ann Travers, who actually was the equal to the men in terms of scientific knowledge, Isobel feels more frivolous. However, this frivolousness is key to understanding her real narrative purpose, which emerges in her interactions with Zoe (which I’ll get to in a moment).
The story is a good showcase for the new characters introduced. U.N.I.T. has plenty of screen-time and, indeed, controls most of the action. Even at this early stage, the personality of the Brigadier comes through; he’s an excellent leader who remains practical and unflappable, even in extraordinary circumstances. Even before the Doctor arrives, U.N.I.T. has targeted the right person and is on their way to uncovering the truth.
The problem with this story is that this new format does not fit the regulars particularly well. Part of this is because both Wendy Padbury and Frazer Hines got their vacations during this story, so both Zoe and Jamie disappear for an episode. In particular, Jamie has little to do but go along into some dangerous situations. Even after just watching it, I’m hard pressed to say exactly what Jamie did.
Zoe, however, fares better. The first time I saw this story, I wondered why she was so silly in the beginning: posing for pictures, running around in that feather boa… Once I had seen “The Wheel in Space” though, her behavior here made sense. Zoe’s journey is to learn how to feel things and have fun; she wants to be more than just a human computer. Perhaps because Derrick Sherwin was the script editor, he was the only writer to actually make use of that journey in a story. Isobel is probably the first “regular” girl with whom Zoe has ever spent time. Therefore, it makes sense that she would enjoy some time to be silly. Additionally, she is spending most of her time with two men, so it might be nice for her to have a bit of “girl time.”
Zoe’s portrayal is not all silliness, however. She also shows off her incredible logical, mathematical brain. She is able to outsmart a computer, and her biggest moment comes at the end of episode 7. When the roomful of men at the military base are not sure how to take out all the Cybermen’s transport ships, Zoe steps up. To the Brigadier’s credit, he tells the men to listen to this young girl. She does the complex calculations in her head in minutes and figures out how to launch the missiles so that they will take out all of the ships.
While Zoe manages to find a role in this story, the Doctor does not fit comfortably into this story. As you will know if you’ve read anything else I’ve written about the Troughton era, I love Patrick Troughton; I think he manages to make just about any moment that he is on the screen entertaining, which is still true here. He plays well off Vaughn, not letting Kevin Stoney’s scenery chewing upstage him. Indeed, it is in these moments that the Doctor really shines because it is Troughton’s Doctor in his traditional role: the underestimated opponent to Vaughn’s overconfident villain.
He is less comfortable in his role with U.N.I.T. It feels a bit strange to see the Second Doctor in charge of a military force. It’s also unusual to have someone in the Brigadier who, having encountered him before, takes him seriously right from the start. While this is exactly the relationship Pertwee’s Doctor would have with U.N.I.T., it’s a bit more of an uneasy fit on Troughton’s Doctor. His clowning is not well suited to having a military force behind it. It requires a much more serious take on the material, which again is more in line with Pertwee’s take on the Doctor rather than Troughton’s. Troughton does find some ways to inject humor into the proceedings, such as his rather comical fleeing from the firing Cybermen in the final episode, followed by his “reluctant” posing for Isobel’s photos. Still, the story is a bit short on comedy, which is where Troughton really shines.
The fact that this story was particularly ill suited to the second Doctor’s era really emerges in the final episode. The story sidelines the Doctor and his companions as U.N.I.T. takes over. It feels as if the Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie could have gotten into their invisible TARDIS at the end of episode 7 and things would have played out in almost exactly the same way.
Despite my feeling that “The Invasion” is better suited to the Pertwee era than the Troughton, it is still enjoyable. I know Derrick Sherwin padded the story to stretch it out, yet it never drags. At the point of its recording, you could count the number of episodes set in the modern day on one hand. The Doctor spent most of this time abroad in either space or time. An episode set in then contemporary London was unusual; it is fun to see the Doctor and his companions in recognizable surroundings (U.N.I.T. dating controversy aside). It proves that an earthbound Doctor in the modern age could still be interesting to watch. And, who knows, maybe this episode sets up the Pertwee era in ways we haven’t yet discovered. Could Isobel have slipped the Doctor some more fashionable clothes? Her fashion sense seems like it would compliment that of a certain dandy…