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13x4. The Android Invasion
Writer: Terry Nation
Director: Barry Letts
Script Editor: Robert Holmes
Producer: Philip Hinchcliffe

Synopsis: The Doctor and Sarah arrive in what appears to be a small British village, but numerous oddities are present, and they are pursued by strange white-suited figures and all the "humans" are behaving in a bizarre manner. They soon discover that they are on the home planet of the Kraals, who are preparing human-like androids to carry out an invasion plan of Earth with the help of the brainwashed human astronaut Crayford. Unable to prevent the Kraals from departing for Earth, they stow away in an attempt to stop the invasion.

Review: For a serial with a rather high baloney-to-logic ratio, "The Android Invasion" is actually pretty enjoyable. It's one of those stories where you may realize after the fact that it doesn't make much sense, and the Kraals manage to hit two Stupid Villain Clichés at once -- the first being the Unnecessary Elaborate "Test Run" That Draws The Protagonist's Attention Ahead Of Time, and the second being the venerable Let Me Explain My Evil Plan Before I Kill You --  but the script and direction keep things moving well enough that you may not notice at the time.

A major part of what makes the story work, in my opinion, is that the Doctor/Sarah partnership is really starting to click. Baker and Sladen have settled into their new dynamic now that Ian Marter has been written out (though he actually returns, both as Harry Sullivan and as an android replica, in this one), and it's not hard to see why they're one of the most popular Doctor/companion pairs. Though she still serves as a foil for the Doctor to explain the plot, Sarah is a capable individual in her own right. She saves the Doctor's life twice in "The Android Invasion," in fact, and she doesn't mind telling him when she thinks he's full of hot air. One of my favorite scenes in this serial is when the Doctor explains his plan to hide in the android transport modules on board Crayford's rocket before they are launched towards Earth, and Sarah points out that they may be crushed to death on impact even if they survive the oxygen-less descent. "Sarah, you have discovered the one flaw in our plan!" the Doctor replies with his unflappable grin. It's also interesting that Sarah actually wants to go home at the end of this, though the Doctor talks her into letting him take her there in the TARDIS (snicker). Though she's more adventurous than Harry, it's worth noting that she's only ever gotten in the TARDIS purely of her own will three times -- before "Death to the Daleks," at the end of "Robot," and again at the end of "Terror of the Zygons" -- most of her other trips have been further stops along the way back to Earth.

Though the eventual plot twist of the androids is given away by the title (and, for me, by the fact that I'd seen the serial before), I found myself engrossed in the unusual atmosphere of the first two episodes as the Doctor and Sarah wander around what appears to be the village of Devesham trying to sort out the various oddities and anomalies. I imagine that viewers must have at least been thinking that perhaps this was post-invasion Earth as opposed to another planet altogether, and the fact that the androids' behavior literally changes at the flip of a switch creates some suspense in that we never know when the Doctor and Sarah might suddenly be in danger again. The existence of the androids also makes for some interesting and amusing moments in the final episode when everyone winds up on Earth and doubles of the Doctor and Sarah are on the loose. (At one point, the Doctor tells a UNIT soldier, "If you do see me again, be sure to report it to me immediately.") The Kraals are merely okay as villains, but at least the Cautious Leader/Impulsive Subordinate dynamic this time has a twist to it: Styggron is a scientist, and so his decisions not to always seek the simplest solution are guided by scientific curiosity, albeit untempered by any sense of morality.

There isn't any particularly interesting theme or underlying point to "The Android Invasion" that I could discern (Crayford's brainwashing and weak-mindedness might be as close as we get), and as I said, it does have its problems with logic. Paul Clarke's review points them out in more detail than I ever could, and also pretty much shreds the whole thing in the process. I agree with some of his points: it is at best unclear how the invasion plan would actually work given what we see on-screen (this is where the Unnecessarily Elaborate Test Run cliché comes into play), and it seems unbelievable that Crayford never discovered that his eye was actually undamaged underneath the patch he's wearing (or, for that matter, that Styggron didn't just injure it himself in order to make the story more believable). On the other hand, I'm not as troubled by complaints I've heard from other reviews besides Clarke's, such as why there are giveaways that the test-run village is fake like faulty calendars or sparklingly new money -- there are easy enough explanations for this, such as (a) the Kraals made a mistake, or (b) they didn't think it mattered because no one familiar with Earth was ever supposed to see it. What did strike me as somewhat jarring is something that also bothered me in "Terror of the Zygons" (to which this serial bears many similarities in terms of premise), which is that the villains don't seem to do much of anything to guard their facilities. The Doctor and Sarah are able to escape them too easily, and they're more or less out in the open on Crayford's rocket at one point -- did the "plan" that Sarah maligns contain any provisions for if somebody were to, say, walk through a door and find them just sitting around and gabbing?

But for whatever reason, most of these things didn't really bother me until I sat down after the serial was over to think about it and read some of the other reviews. "The Android Invasion" is a forgettable outing, and maybe even the worst serial of Season 13 to date, but it's still passable entertaiment that features at least some of what typically makes Doctor Who work.

Rating: **1/2 (out of four)

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