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6x03. The Invasion

Writer: Derrick Sherwin (from an idea by Kit Pedler)
Director: Douglas Camfield
Script Editor: Terrance Dicks
Producer: Peter Bryant

Synopsis: The TARDIS arrives on Earth, where the Doctor looks for his friend Professor Travers, but quickly becomes involved in a brewing conflict between the company International Electromatics and the newly formed UNIT under the command of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Tobias Vaughn, the managing director of International Electromatics, is in league with the Cybermen, who are planning to take over Earth, mistakenly believing that he can control them with an invention that projects emotional impulses.

Review: "The Invasion" is another relatively recent Troughton restoration (six of eight episodes are intact, and the video release has narration by Nicholas Courtney for the missing two), and for my money it's the best of the bunch. It doesn't have the thematic weight of something like "The Tenth Planet," and it isn't as inventive as "The Mind Robber," but it gets the job done with the simpler virtues of telling an entertaining and engaging story populated by well-written characters.

Chief among those characters is the villain, Tobias Vaughn. Like Eric Klieg in "The Tomb of the Cybermen," he believes he can manipulated and control the Cybermen for his own purposes, but unlike Klieg, he actually has a somewhat reasonable (albeit doomed) plan to keep the Cybermen under control and a more believable motivation. As an enormously successful businessman and a producer of cutting-edge technology, Vaughn's self-confidence has gotten the better of him, to the point that he engages in verbal bullying against what appears to be a sort of collective intelligence that speaks for the Cybermen. The script by Derrick Sherwin adds effective little touches of a sort of mechanized fascist uniformity to Vaughn's operation, from the uncooperative computer that greets visitors to his headquarters and the fact that his two facilities have exactly identical offices for him. He is clearly someone with little use for humanity, and when he eventually agrees to help the Doctor defeat the Cybermen, it's only out of wounded pride and a desire to avenge being outsmarted by them.

"The Invasion" is an ensemble piece, which means a little less emphasis on the Doctor (though Troughton gets a good scene where he declares his hatred of computers, a characteristic that's quite convincing for his Doctor and a nod to continuity from "The Ice Warriors").  Fortunately, the other characters are up to the task. Zoe continues to prove herself the most intellectually capable companion since the departures of Ian and Barbara, talking Vaughn's computer into short-circuiting itself and later saving the day by figuring out how UNIT can destroy the entire incoming Cyberfleet with its limited number of available missiles. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, meanwhile, makes his second (but first preserved) appearance, and it's easy to see why the writers eventually decided to make him a regular. Military officers in popular fiction all too often fall into one of two caricatures: either they're brave and self-sacrificing to the point of being one-dimensional, or they are in what Buffy reviewer David Hines once called "military moron mode," constantly barking dumb orders and refusing to see what's going on right under their noses. The Brigadier, thankfully, represents neither of these extremes. He's simply a smart and capable individual who avoids the trap of blind skepticism and effectively works within UNIT's limits. It's his idea to send a team to Russia to use a Soviet rocket launcher against the Cybermen, and when his superior officer, Major General Rutlidge (who is under Vaughn's hynotic control), refuses to allow him to move against International Electromatics, he starts putting together a case to appeal Rutlidge's orders to Geneva.

There's one area where the script falls down a little in terms of characterization, and that's in the conflict between the Brigadier and  Isobel Watkins. When the Brigadier suggests that Isobel, an up-and-coming photographer, shouldn't go to take pictures of the Cybermen hiding in the sewers because she's a woman, she understandably takes offense and heads off with Jamie and Zoe to prove him wrong. This sort of chauvinism is realistic coming from the Brigadier, but both parties are foolishly overlooking the fact that Isobel is a poor choice for the mission not because she's a woman, but because she's an unarmed civilian and thus less capable of defending herself against a lethal threat and less credible as a witness. Indeed, this is borne out when Captain Turner's team has to rescue the trio from the Cybermen and the Brigadier observes that their photos will probably be dismissed as fakes. (Incidentally, while the other UNIT character destined for recurring status is a certain Corporal Benton, it's really Turner who's the second most prominent UNIT character in "The Invasion," and his competent command of the rescue mission nicely showcases his ability to think on his feet in a crisis.)

Though Vaughn's plan to control the Cybermen involves a device that projects emotion, they mostly function as generic alien invaders in this serial. "The Tenth Planet" and "The Tomb of the Cybermen" used them as vehicles to explore the conflict between reason and emotion (albeit with mixed success in the case of the latter), while "The Invasion" is pitched simply as a light hi-tech adventure. But it succeeds at that level, and it follows on "The War Machines," "The Faceless Ones," and "The Web of Fear" in laying the groundwork for a transition to the UNIT-based formula of the Pertwee era.

Other notes:

- A possible chronology nitpick: The Cybermen don't show up until "The Tenth Planet," which is set in 1986. UNIT chronology is tricky, and if a specific date was given for "The Invasion," I must have missed it, but it was pretty clear that it took place before 1986 -- and yet the Cybermen seem to have prior knowledge of the Doctor. (Though they do acquire time travel later in the series, so I suppose one could use that to rationalize the problem away.)

Rating: *** (out of four)

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