Doctor Who: The Invasion

"My body may be cybernetic but my mind stays human!"

Playing out like the world’s longest and cheapest Bond movie, ‘The Invasion’ is probably the most iconic and well-loved Cybermen story. As far as I’m concerned it’s unquestionably their finest hour, made all the better by the fact the cybernetic dullards from Mondas are hardly in it.

To be honest, the Cybermen have never been the Doctor’s most exciting adversaries and for the majority of the story they’re wisely kept firmly in the background. You don’t even see a Cyberman until the end of Episode 4. Keeping them hidden adds a little mystery and suspense to proceedings as we’re left to wonder who, or indeed what, Vaughn’s mysterious alien allies are. When the Cybermen do bother to show up in full force they get their big moment of glory as they pour out of the London sewers and march down the steps outside St Paul’s Cathedral. Sure, for a global invasion force you never see more than six of them at a time but that never diminishes the impact of these scenes.

And yet you could easily swap them for any generic group of alien invaders and it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference. Make no mistake, the Cybermen might be the headliners but there’s little doubt that Kevin Stoney’s villainous Tobias Vaughn is the star attraction here. Like some twisted fusion of Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs, with just a tiny dash of Blofeld thrown in, Tobias Vaughn is one of the finest megalomaniacs the Doctor has ever faced. Around the Doctor and his companions he comes across as a suave, charming and affable businessman, his demeanour always calm and controlled. But behind all the charm is a truly unpleasant individual; sadistic, egotistical, arrogant and seriously foul tempered.

Being you’re typical diabolical mastermind Vaughn believes the world would be better off with him in charge. So he goes into partnership with the Cybermen, even going so far as to have his body partially cyber-converted. But an egotist like Vaughn would never allow himself to submit fully to the Cybermen’s control and become just another mindless drone. He’s a capitalist after all and has no time for any of that communist twaddle. Far as Vaughn is concerned the Cybermen are the junior partners in this coalition. He’s David Cameron, they’re Nick Clegg. Their sole purpose is to get him into power. Once that goal is achieved they will become irrelevant. But the Cybermen are no Lib Dem pushovers and cannot be easily wowed by cabinet posts and flashy ministerial cars. They see this alliance as more a Tony Blair/Gordon Brown sort of thing. They’ll play nice and make deals for the time being but at then end of the day they expect to be the ones in charge not Vaughn.

Vaughn’s presence also highlights one of the key problems with villains like the Cybermen; you just can’t talk to them. They’re not known for being great communicators so all you can do is rant at them over and over again about how cold and unemotional they are. All of which is redundant anyway since they couldn’t give a monkey’s. With Vaughn the Doctor comes across an adversary he can sit down with and have a proper conversation, giving Stoney and Troughton ample opportunity to play off each other nicely.

Along with the march outside St Paul’s and Stoney’s effortless scene stealing ‘The Invasion’ is also notable as the very first story that saw the Doctor working alongside UNIT. Nowadays they’ve becomes less cuddly and more thuggish (although those red berets are certainly fetching) but back in the day the brave men, and occasional woman, of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce were a thoroughly decent set of chaps, ever eager to aid the Doctor and his companions in thwarting the schemes of alien invaders and diabolical masterminds intent on global domination. I’ve always remembered UNIT as a random association of well-meaning but clueless background extras. But here they're presented as a professional, well organised and believable military outfit.

But let’s forget about them for a second and instead talk about their leader, the venerable Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, played by the legend that is Nicholas Courtney. You’ve just gotta love the Brigadier. It’s practically the law now for all Doctor Who fans; “love the Brig or else its five rounds rapid”. Next to the Doctor, the Brigadier is the most enduring character in the show’s history. This is thanks, in no small part, to the most immaculate ‘tache this side of Tom Selleck. It doesn’t even matter that it’s a big fat phoney because Courtney wears it ever so well.

The Brigadier is a personification of unruffled Britishness if ever there was one. I should hate him. He’s exactly the sort of priggish, stiff-lipped, chauvinistic, by the book, upper class, professional British army officer my grim up north, working class, socialist upbringing has taught me to despise. But if I were tapped in a dark ally, facing down a horde of Cybermen there’s no one I’d want at my side more than the Brigadier.

Sadly, Nicholas Courtney passed away earlier this year at the age of 81 following a long illness. He is deeply missed.

Notes and Quotes

--This is one of the many stories from the 1960s that remains incomplete due to BBC wiping the original tapes. Episodes 1 and 4 are still currently in limbo. When ‘The Invasion’ was first released on home video Nicholas Courtney provided linking summaries. For the DVD release the missing episodes were animated by Cosgrove Hill using the script and off-air audio recordings of the original episodes made by fans.

--If you look very, very carefully in Episode 1 you’ll notice that one of the animators has written ‘Bad Wolf’ on Isobel’s wall.

--The Brigadier was introduced the previous season in ‘The Web of Fear’, helping the Doctor to battle robot Yeti in the London Underground (yes, that description is as awesome as it sounds).

--First appearance of loveable Corporal (later Sergeant) Benton and, thankfully, also the only appearance of the patronising Captain Jimmy Turner. Until Mike Yates came along Captains in Unit were like Spinal Tap drummers.

--Kevin Stoney previously appeared as the villainous Mavic Chen in the 12-part epic ‘The Dalek’s Master Plan’ alongside Nicholas Courtney, who played space security agent Bret Vyon.

--First story with Terrance Dicks as script-editor. He’d remain in the post for the next seven years, longer than anyone else, and later go on to write a staggering number of Target novelizations.

--Packer has to be the most consistently hopeless minion I’ve ever seen. No wonder Vaughn is always losing his rag if he has to stand for that level of incompetence all the time.

--For such an international organization UNIT seems to have a very limited recruitment strategy. If you’re not a white, middle-class male you need not apply.

--The Cybermen’s Cyber-Shoes appear to have Cyber-Shoelaces. Wonder if I can get a pair of them at Clarks?

--This was the fourth and final time that the Second Doctor battled the Cybermen. They wouldn’t be seen again until ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ in 1975.

--The Tardis can turn invisible. A handy feature, one that won't be used again until 'The Impossible Astronaut'.

The Doctor: “Oh, yes, it could be 20th century. England in summertime, I should say. See the rain clouds?”

The Doctor: “It's Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart!”
The Brigadier: “Ah, Brigadier now, I've gone up in the world.”

The Doctor: “I hate computers and refuse to be bullied by them!”

Professor Watkins: “You're an evil man, Vaughn. You're sadistic. You're a megalomaniac. You're insane. I pity you. But if I get half a chance, I'll kill you.”

The Brigadier: “Well, don't look so worried. Fancy a cup of tea?”
--Told you, British to his very core.

Zoe: “Just because you're a man you think you're superior, do you?”
Jamie: “Ah, now I didn't say that… Of course, it's true.”
--And this from a bloke wearing a skirt.

Tobias Vaughn: “No. If I help you, it’ll only be because I hate them. The Cybermen, my “allies”. You think I’m mad, that all I want power for its own sake. No, I have to have power. The world is weak, vulnerable, a mess of uncoordinated and impossible ideals. It needs a strong man, a single mind, a leader.”

Three out of four Cyber-Shoelaces.
--
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

3 comments:

Billie Doux said...

This is fascinating reading, Mark. I'm trying to imagine what it would have been like if the original Star Trek had run forever, was recorded over, and some of it had to be recreated with animation and narrative.

Paul Reed said...

I have fond memories of the Mondas Cybermen. Unfortunately, these fond memories often don't translate into accurate memories. Re-watching some of the old stories, it's amazing how truly crap the Cybermen could be. But, you're right, this was probably the best of the bunch. I kind of wish they'd done the animation a little better. Jamie looks like he's just stepped off the front cover of The Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album.

Mark Greig said...

Billie, I can imagine it would look a lot like Star Trek: The Animated Series, only maybe with better stories and more Chekov.

Paul, I agree the animation isn't that amazing but is still quite good considering the low budget they had to work with. I am curious to see what the animation will be like on the upcoming 'Reign of Terror' DVD. Just hope I don't have to wait five years before they get around to doing 'The Ice Warriors'.