The invasion (1968)
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This was an eight-part serial, first broadcast between 2nd November - 21st December 1968. A brief and somewhat spoiler-ish summary of the plot: a young and pretty photographer and a missing professor set the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe on the trail of Tobias Vaughn and his company International Electromatics, a global supplier of electronic equipment. They learn that Vaughn and IE are not what they seem, and they end up working with their old ally Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and his United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT) in order to save the earth from alien invasion and, eventually, total annihilation. UNIT, Lethbridge-Stewart and invasion threats would become a recurring feature in the third Doctor's era.
What I've seen:
Parts two, three, five, six, seven and eight, and animated versions of parts one and four.
The good stuff:
- in Tobias Vaughn, the serial has a fantastic villain. Kevin Stoney gives us a great performance, and the script provides him with a wealth of good material to work with
- the acting is good all around. Troughton is excellent as usual and Peter Halliday takes the fairly minor part of Vaughn's oily, sadistic henchman Packer and makes it into a memorable creation that is funny but never too far over the top
- there's plenty of action, including a spectacular rescue by helicopter
- the serial looks great. The direction by Douglas Camfield is outstanding, there are good sets, excellent location work and decent model shots, and the serial benefits from the availability of military vehicles and equipment and from having actual soldiers as extras
- most of the incidental score is excellent. I liked the use of ambient music (the soft jazz playing in Vaughn's office)
The not so good stuff:
- the UNIT theme is awful, a cheerful, vaguely militaristic-sounding tune that works as an instant mood killer
- the biggest problem with this serial is its length, since the makers didn't quite seem to know what to do with the eight episodes that they had at their disposal.
In the first four episodes their solution was to s-t-r-e-e-e-e-e-t-c-h the story to fit the time available. Little of what happens in these episodes moves the story forward. At the end of part four the main players have been introduced, we've had some nice character moments with Vaughn and we have some inkling of what he's up to, but the actual plot has yet to unfold.
Oddly enough, from part five onwards the story starts to feel rushed, with promising plot lines like the corruption of the UNIT leadership and the rescue of Professor Watkins going nowhere at all. This is particularly jarring in the case of the Professor's rescue, since one moment everyone's planning the operation and telling each other how difficult and dangerous the whole thing is going to be, and the next moment the rescue has been accomplished and is never mentioned again
Flawed but fascinating, worth watching at least once.
What I've seen is the UK DVD edition. Special features:
The really not-to-be-missed stuff:
- the animated first and fourth episodes. The animation isn't exactly cutting-edge but it is quite good, it's obviously done with a great deal of respect for the original series, and animation proves to be a promising approach to bringing lost episodes back to life. The animated Doctor and Vaughn are nice though not as fun to watch as the real thing, but I very much enjoyed the moody outdoor scenes in part one. The decision to do the animation in black and white was definitely the right one
- Love off-air. Apparently everything the BBC had of episodes one and four was completely destroyed, including the soundtracks, and the animated episodes use sound that was recorded by people watching Doctor Who at home. This documentary is mostly a light-hearted tribute to geeky fandom, but Mark Ayres discussing how he worked with the extant recordings to create the sound for the animation is fascinating
The good stuff:
- Info text. The production subtitles are informative as always.
- Photo gallery. I'm usually not a fan of this feature but I rather enjoyed this one.
- Flash frames. An extensive and interesting look at the making of the animated episodes.
- Evolution of the Invasion. This documentary about the making of the serial places 'The Invasion' in the broader perspective of running the series, and it has several actors talking about their craft. It's a bit long, but worth watching.
The not entirely great but still interesting stuff:
- Commentary. There are eight episodes to talk through, and not all commentary is equally successful. The commentary for part one gives us Mark Ayres, Steve Maher (Cosgrove Hall) and James Goss (BBC Doctor Who website) who talk about the nuts and bolts of the animation, which is pretty interesting. (But, then again, I tend to like the nuts and bolts.) The commentary for part four has Frazer Hines, Nicholas Courtney and Wendy Padbury responding to their animated portrayals, which is also worth listening to. Of the other episodes, those commentary tracks that include production assistant Chris D'Oyly John are the most informative. On the others, we hear the regulars cosily chatting away without providing any new insights.
- Trailers. Animated trailers for the serial, which gave the animators a chance to show their stuff. Unfortunately the iconic image of the Cybermen on the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral, which is also in one of the surviving episodes, can't help but be a bit of a disappointment compared to the real thing. For me the animation works best when it's showing us things that have no direct parallels in the surviving episodes, like the outdoor scenes in part one. Then again, the animated version of Vaughn's militia actually looks better than the real thing.
- VHS Links. Nicholas Courney's summary of the missing episodes for the 1993 VHS release. Probably nice to have for anyone who enjoyed the VHS version.
- Character design. Character design drawings and tests for the animated episodes. Doesn't add that much to Flash frames.
The bottom line:
A "must have" release.
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