Friday, September 13, 2013

A Doctor A Week: Patrick Troughton: The Invasion

Russel D McLean

11 weeks. 11 Doctors. 11 stories. Right up to the fiftieth anniversary, Russel will be reviewing one story a week for each Doctor. He will try and relate each story to a larger picture and how it relates to each period. He will occasionally make fun of them. But he will try and show you what a varied and brilliant history the show has. As well as overcoming his own prejducies about certain periods in the shows history. Each review will have spoilers and will assume a certain level of knowledge about the story in question.

For those who get upset at the Cybermen being “defeated with love” in the new series, you probably shouldn’t watch The Invasion. Later episodes show the cybermen being defeated with strong emotions (the sight of a terrified cyberman running through the sewers is brilliantly effective), and the “emotion gun” is a bit of a silly idea but somehow it all makes sense in context.

And that’s kind of the secret to watching 60s Who - taking everything in context. After all, there’s a lot that we would find very silly now. There is always padding. Always. But in the case of this eight parter, things move surprisingly fast. In fact, the pace is perfectly timed, and while one would imagine there isn’t much that can be done with the normally dull cybermen over the case of eight episodes, here they still feel fresh enough to retain the fear factor. And the fact is that they are actually not present for several episodes, allowing their more human agents to really get some development (in a 1960s kind of way).

Patrick Troughton’s run on the show sets the template for the later eras and the show we would come to know. His Doctor is markedly different to WIlliam Hartnell’s. The phrase “cosmic hobo” is thrown around a lot regarding Troughton’s doc, but its definitely appropriate. He has something of Charlie Chaplin about him in the scruffy appearance and the small frame. He’s a clown on the surface, but beneath all of that there lurks a very sharp intellect. He often plays the coward or the idiot to throw his adversaries off guard.

This serves Troughton particularly well in this episode as he plays against a 1960s swinging London backdrop. The Invasion served as a forerunner to the looming-on-the-horizon Jon Pertwee years that would see the show switch not only to colour but also a mostly-earth setting. The Invasion was one of the first stories (after The Web of Fear) to reinforce the idea that these things could happen right on the doorstep. That infamous shot of the Cybermen walking across London bridge really is spectacular to see and its very clear that this story was made with a great deal of love and attention to detail.

Ah, yes, the Swinging Sixties. A time when men were men and women were silly little things to be patronised rather a lot (but at least they wore short skirts). The Brigadier gets all the sexism this time around, and while Zoe is a brilliant mathematician, she still gets all girly and has to be looked after a lot. The one time any woman does show some initiative - going down into the sewers against the brig’s orders, for example - she manages to simply mess things up even more than they were already. But then that's pretty par for the course, and nothing compared to what we were about to see in a few years with the character of Jo Grant (who was later rounded out in 2010's Sarah Jane Adventures series, making me wish we'd seen more of her assertive side during the 1970s era).

Returning to the villains, for a moment, impressive as they are, the Cybermen are only a small part of the story. For the first four episodes, we are trying to figure out who they are, seeing only their human contact, the wealthy industrialist who has decided to assist them in their plans. He’s a chilling villain, and his impact only goes to show how the Cybermen - like the Daleks - are best used as seasoning. The Cybermen in this story are mostly mute, mostly terrifying. They lurk in the dark and when they emerge, they have the power to terrify (although as always, their near-superhuman strength seems to vary according to whether a character needs to escape or not to keep the plot moving on).

The Invasion is one of the “lost” stories. In the late seventies, the BBC junked a load of old programs including several episodes of Who. Entire stories were lost. Some partial episodes remained of some serials. And The Invasion is one of those partials. Back in the good old days of VHS, Nicholas Courtney (Who plays Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, a man introduced previously in the Invasion and returning here prior to becoming a series regular in the Pertwee years) linked the missing episodes, but he couldn’t hope to match the missing episodes as lovely as his narration was. With the Soundtracks still in existence, the BBC have therefore animated the missing episodes. Its an odd move but works very well indeed. The animation is stylised, but fits in well with the look of the filmed episodes (its a shame that the missing episodes were mostly Cyberman-less because the animators had a great cyberdesign going).  Its an imperfect solution, but manages to achieve its goal of making the story flow nicely. And if I’m honest, those early scenes with a London under siege are achieved quite brilliantly, with a real air of menace in the angular, stylised animation.

The Invasion is one of the few Cybermen stories that really makes them terrifying. In the 80s, the Cybermen would start to show signs of greed, egotism, pride and anger that belied the whole “stripped of emotion” ideal (and let’s not talk about the tummy on the Cybercontroller in 1985’s Attack of the Cybermen - - maybe he was pregnant with Cyberbabies) but here they are still robotic and merciless. Yes, the metal effect of their suits is a little silly but that’s more to do with the time of their production. Taken as a whole, The Invasion is a brilliant, chilling Cyber Story that showcases Troughton’s take on the Doctor as an unpredictable and alien presence. With the humans every bit as corrupt as their cyber counterparts, this would the the Cybermen’s last real stab at greatness before they would be become the familiar tinpot soldiers, skulking around the galaxy (to quote, from memory, the fourth Doctor).

1 comment:

Jay Stringer said...

Great write up.

Great Doctor.

One day I'll get to make the Cybermen scary again.