Thursday, February 1, 2007

Heavy Metal


As iconic as scenes from THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH,
Cybermen descend the steps of St Paul’s in THE INVASION.

DEVISED by DOCTOR WHO’s unofficial scientific adviser Kit Pedler, and story editor Gerry Davis, the Cybermen personified one of Pedler’s own phobias – dehumanising medicine. The scientist foresaw a time when spare part surgery would reach such a level that people would become uncertain whether they were man or machine, including the notion that cybernetically enhanced brains would lose the capacity for emotion. The Cyberman, DOCTOR WHO’s second most dreaded enemy after the Daleks, are the embodiment of this detached, heartless, logic. Tending to invade by stealth, and often employing human agents, these silver giants would become the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton)’s most recurrent foe, take a long rest during the tenure of the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee), and show up for token engagements with most subsequent Time Lords. Dubbed by the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) as "a pathetic bunch of tin soldiers skulking about the galaxy in an ancient spaceship" in their comeback REVENGE OF THE CYBERMEN (1975), their subsequent serials did little to make them more formidable, consigning the once persistent to also-ran. Plagued by inconsistent characterisation, by the time of THE FIVE DOCTORS (1983) the denizens of Mondas are reduced to cannon fodder, and in DALEK (2005), a Cyberhead is mounted on display in a storehouse of alien technology, "the stuff of nightmares reduced to an exhibit."

THE INVASION, however, is a strong outing for the Cybermen. Arriving on Earth in 1975, the Second Doctor discovers that the component manufacturer International Electromatics have a grip on the world’s technology. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) is aware of unusual activity within IE, which is run by Tobias Vaughan (Kevin Stoney). Vaughan is, in fact, in alliance with the Cybermen, who are massing in the sewers below London, with IE technology set to paralyse the population. But Vaughan is developing the Cerebration Mentor, a machine designed to generate emotional impulses as a weapon against the invaders. While THE INVASION may not be your standard Cybermen story – they don’t even appear until episode four, and have only a couple of brief lines of dialogue – the idea of the Earth being attacked through its electronic equipment is perfectly in tune with the concepts underlying the creatures. Despite existing in the scriptwriting quagmire that so typified late 1960s DOCTOR WHO, at eight episodes it is easily at least two segments too long, but it is a serial that builds a future for the show. In many ways, it is a sequel to THE WEB OF FEAR (1968), in which the TARDIS crew first encounter Lethbridge-Stewart and an embryonic form of the UNIT forces deployed here. In UNIT, the production team had found the key to continuing the Doctor’s adventures into the 1970s – by repeating invasion of Earth stories and consequently controlling the budget - making it a dummy run for the early part of the Third Doctor’s era.

For the 2006 release of THE INVASION on DVD, Cosgrove Hall Films created two animated episodes (with original soundtracks) to replace those missing from the BBC archives. This reconstruction of the famous St Paul’s Cybermen walk is from a trailer that was part of initial tests. The resulting animated episodes 1 and 4 – using differing shades to re-create the textures of black and white television – take the story in a striking noir direction, and play as achievements that can be enjoyed in their own right.

THE INVASION benefits greatly from strong direction, some outstanding performances, and distinctive incidental music. It has a true sense of scale, although we only really see London, Vaughan’s compound and the airfield housing UNIT’s temporary base. Vaughan is a superb Bond-like villain - his air of avuncular charm never quite masking the underlying threat he represents – and Troughton seems to relish having a single figure for the Doctor to pit his wits against. The contrast between Troughton’s slightly anarchic Doctor and his military friends is also rather charming, as he generally bumbles happily around whilst the Brigadier seems to regard him with a mixture of amusement and a respect established by THE WEB OF FEAR. Because of this, the Doctor need waste no time proving himself, which from a dramatic point of view allows him to play with helicopters and canoes with the aid of military backup, resulting in something of a romp.