THIS STORY TAKES PLACE BETWEEN THE TV STORIES "PYRAMIDS OF MARS" AND "THE BRAIN OF MORBIUS."
THE ENEMY WITHIN,
RETURN TO SUKKANAN & THE KRAALS
'UNIT FILES' DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD3376) RELEASED IN JANUARY 2012.
When the TARDIS lands in the sleepy English village of Devesham, Sarah thinks the Doctor has finally got her back home. But all is not as it seems - THE VILLAGE IS UNUSUALLY DESERTED AND DEADLY WHITE-SUITED SPACEMEN PATROL THE COUNTRYSIDE. WHEN THE DEAD BEGIN TO COME BACK TO LIFE, THE DOCTOR DECIDES TO CONTACT UNIT. BUT THEIR UNIT FRIENDS ARE ALSO DANGEROUSLY CHANGED.
WHO IS SENIOR DEFENCE ASTRONAUT GUY CRAYFORD, AND WHY IS HE IN CHARGE OF UNIT? WHO ARE HIS TRUE MASTER, THE KRAALS, AND WHAT INSIDIOUS PLANS ARE THEY CONCOCTING BEHIND THE SCENES? THE DOCTOR SOON DISCOVERS THAT THE INVASION OF EARTH HAS ALREADY BEGUN, AND IF HE DOESN'T STOP IT MANKIND WILL BE UTTERLY WIPED OUT...
The Android Invasion
22ND NOVEMBER 1975 - 13TH DECEMBER 1975
Considering the unsurpassed success of the Daleks, one can’t really blame Terry Nation for dusting them down and bringing them back them time and time again. The Android Invasion, however, is a rare example of a Dalek-free Who script penned by Nation. Keen to put their own stamp on the show, Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes had decided lessen the series’ dependence on old monsters, and so they hurriedly commissioned Nation to write a four-part serial about a race of aliens that try to conquer the Earth by using android replicas of human beings – an idea that really appealed to Hinchcliffe as he’d always thought that Doctor Who had never done a good android story (and also, no doubt, because android replicas of human beings can be played by the same actors as those playing the copied humans, obviating the need for expensive prosthetics and/or props).
Unfortunately The Android Invasion would not quite prove to be the breath of fresh air that had been hoped for. Whilst the Daleks may be nowhere to be found within it, Nation’s script is teeming with his trademark truisms – duplicates, viruses, countdowns, radiation – and, intentionally or otherwise, great swathes of dialogue are borrowed from the Star Trek episode Errand of Mercy, while a number of more subtle aspects are lifted from The Avengers, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and even the Bond movie From Russia with Love. And beneath all these derivative elements lurk cavernous plot holes, each and every one of which is gleefully exposed by the DVD’s mischievous production subtitles – not that they can really be missed. Admittedly, the blame for some of these can’t be laid at Nation’s door as they owe more to studio time constraints than they do writer’s illogic, but the final episode’s notorious ‘eye patch removal’ scene is certainly one hundred percent Nation. Such indignities are then compounded by the unceremonious exits of UNIT stalwarts John Benton and Harry Sullivan – the newly promoted regimental sergeant major is bonked on the head, rolling out of the television series without so much as a goodbye, and the lieutenant doesn’t fare much better: “Twin?” he asks, scratching his head.
Yet despite such prominent blemishes, The Android Invasion somehow manages to entertain and even enthral. Its chilling opening scene ranks amongst the classic series’ most memorable, and particularly in the first two episodes Nation’s mystery is riveting, his audience ignorant as to who is an android and who is not. Even the Doctor misreads the situation, believing that that some alien force has come to Earth with hitherto-missing in action astronaut Guy Crayford and is controlling the humans of Evesham, when in fact the truth is altogether more intelligent and surprising.
“Is that finger loaded?”
I must also confess a weakness for the Kraals, the alien menace of the piece. Nation originally envisaged them as insectoid creatures with huge carapaces, but when designer John Friedlander received the script he instead chose to depict them as a kind of bipedal rhinoceros – something that I feel works splendidly, especially when one considers the limited resources that Friedlander had at his disposal. Those taking part in the DVD’s Toby Hadoke-led commentary firmly disagree with me, however, particularly Philip Hinchcliffe and Marion McDougal, who each cite them as being the serial’s Achilles’ heel.
The Android Invasion also boasts some stunning performances, particularly from regulars Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen. Sladen is particularly subtle when called upon to play her android replica, and Baker injects just enough wry humour into his performance to make the serial amusing without debasing its really quite serious tone. Better still through is Who veteran Milton Johns as Crayford, the Kraals’ dithering human patsy. Far from pandering to the weak quisling science fiction stereotype, Johns’ performance evokes sympathy and anger in equal measure, building towards a dignified payoff that salvages an otherwise pitiable final episode.
Above: Big Finish exec Nicholas Briggs visits The Village that Came to Life
The DVD’s bonus material is largely vested in just two robust features, the half-hour ‘making of’ documentary, The Village that Came to Life, and a programme of similar length that looks at Philip Hinchcliffe’s work after leaving Doctor Who. The former is hosted by Nicholas Briggs, who sinks a pint of ginger pop in the public house featured in the serial where he interviews the residents of Hagbourne - the quaint little village cast as the fictional Evesham - including the now grown-up Colin Baker who once had his picture took with his scarf-clad surnamesake, unaware that one day he’d be sharing his whole name with a Doctor. The latter, meanwhile, is hosted by Hinchcliffe’s daughter, Celina, and provides a thorough rundown of the former showrunner’s post-Who accolades, including the 1992 production Friday on My Mind, which featured a young breakout performer by the name of Christopher Eccleston. The special features are then rounded out with a Who-themed Weetabix advert, the apposite PDF packaging that goes with it, as well as all the usual photo galleries and ephemera that I often forget to mention.
The Android Invasion is, for the most part, an engrossing and agreeable four-parter that unwittingly serves as UNIT’s last hurrah (or, at least, the remaining members of UNIT whom we care about’s last hurrah). It serves as a bridge between the rapidly-fading Jon Pertwee era and the nascent Tom Baker ‘Golden Age’, showcasing the fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane at their height, yet trapped in a story that belongs to a world quietly receding from view.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007, 2012
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? Spearhead from Space is set shortly after the Cyberman invasion depicted in The Invasion, which in turn is set four years after The Web of Fear. One school of thought places The Invasion in or around 1975, in line with its Radio Times billing, dialogue in both stories and the production team’s original intention, with the ensuing UNIT stories following shortly afterwards. However, such a placement is at odds with novels such as Who Killed Kennedy, which suggest that the Auton invasion occurred in 1970, when the serial was first broadcast.
The duration of the Doctor’s employment with UNIT has never been determined. We know that, from the Time Lord’s perspective, he was on the organisation’s payroll for the entirety of his third incarnation, but how much time passed for UNIT is another matter entirely. Indeed, as so succinctly demonstrated by Colony in Space’s bookends, the Doctor could disappear off into time and space only to rematerialise a few seconds later. This effectively allows for years’ worth of adventures taking place within a few seconds of UNIT time.
Most people generally infer that around six years passed for UNIT between Spearhead from Space and The Seeds of Doom, broadly in line with how many years had passed for viewers, but this is difficult to reconcile with “classic” UNIT dating, which is predicated upon The Web of Fear taking place in 1971 (as set out above), because Mawdryn Undead made it explicit that the Brigadier retired from active service in 1976.
Assuming that the Brigadier did not retire until late 1976, all the UNIT stories between Spearhead from Space and The Seeds of Doom (in which the Brigadier is last referred to being in active service) must therefore take place within the space of, at best, two calendar years, meaning that this story is set in late 1976.
However, in order for this theory to even come closing to holding up, we’d have to swallow the premise that the Brigadier did not retire until very late in 1976; the events of Seasons 7 to 13 occurred within two years, despite being broadcast over six; and that Sarah Jane Smith’s throwaway “1980” line in Pyramids of Mars was exactly that – a throwaway line, perhaps even rounding up on her part.
Please see the UNIT Dating Dossier for further information.
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