Friday, 20 September 2013

Story 83 - The Android Invasion

In which the TARDIS materialises back on Earth, in the woods near the village of Devesham. Sarah knows of this place as she covered a story at the nearby space defence centre. A mission had gone wrong, and astronaut Guy Crayford had been assumed killed when the XK5 rocket was destroyed. The Doctor and Sarah see a UNIT soldier leap to his death in a quarry. The Doctor notes a number of large black pods, and they are then shot at by a group of men wearing white overalls, their faces obscured by helmets. They go to the village and find it apparently deserted. In the local pub, they find all the coins in the till are of the same date. The pages of a calendar are also all of the same day. A lorry pulls up - on the back of which are the missing villagers. They are accompanied by the white suited figures. The villagers file into the bar in silence. As the clock strikes the hour, they suddenly come to life - as though nothing odd has happened. Surprisingly, the dead UNIT soldier is amongst them.

The Doctor goes to the space defence centre and meets Guy Crayford - the man believed to be dead. The white suited figures turn out to be androids - with guns built into their right fore fingers. The Doctor is captured but Sarah frees him. They realise that this village and all its surroundings are fake. The Doctor had earlier noticed a particularly high level of background radiation. They are on the planet Oseidon - home to the belligerent Kraal race. They rescued Crayford when his craft got into trouble, and have used his memories to create the village and its surroundings as part of an elaborate invasion plan. Oseidon is a dying world, spoiled by pollution. Kraal scientist Styggron has developed an army of android replicas which will infiltrate the real village and space defence centre. Crayford believes the Kraals will co-exist with humans, but Styggron plans to have the androids spread a lethal virus before his people arrive. The Doctor encounters android versions of Sarah, Benton and Harry Sullivan. After Sarah left the key in its lock, the TARDIS has travelled onto the real Devesham area on Earth.

The Doctor and Sarah must stowaway aboard the XK5 as Crayford and Styggron take off for Earth. They use the black pods - designed for androids - to travel down to the surface before the ship lands, in order to warn the authorities. The Doctor finds himself battling an android copy of himself. He has the space defence centre's radio dish transmit a signal which deactivates all of the androids. He goes to the XK5 where Crayford has rebelled against Styggron. The Kraal kills him, and appears to shoot the Doctor, before being destroyed by his own virus. It transpires that this was not the real Doctor, but his android duplicate, reprogrammed. The Kraals are forced to abandon their invasion.

This four part adventure was written by Terry Nation (only his second - and last - story not to feature the Daleks) and was broadcast between 22nd November and 13th December, 1975.
The director is Barry Letts, who produced the majority of the Pertwee era. With the inclusion of UNIT and a contemporary Earth setting (albeit a faked one for the first three episodes) the story feels as though it could have easily fitted into that earlier era. The opening episode has a real Emma Peel era Avengers feel to it as well. Many Avengers stories featured strange goings-on in apparently sleepy English villages.
Whoever gave this story its title is a bit of an idiot. Those strange events in the first section offer up a genuine mystery. Why did the UNIT man kill himself, and how could he reappear unscathed? Why does the calendar feature the same day? Why are the coins all brand new and of the same date? How can the popular darts night leave the board unmarked? Why do the villagers all behave so strangely?
Trouble is, the title has already told us that it is all about androids. A more obscure title would have preserved the intrigue a bit longer.

The story marks the final, unsatisfying, end to the UNIT era proper. Harry and Benton make their final appearances. Sadly, they are android replicas of themselves for most of it, and poor Benton (John Levene) is last seen lying unconscious (possibly even dead for all we, the viewers, know) on the floor. Nicholas Courtney proved unavailable to reprise the Brigadier, and his place is taken by Colonel Faraday. He is played by Patrick Newell, most famous for his role as "Mother" in the Tara King era Avengers. Principal guest artist is Milton Johns, as Crayford. Styggron is played by Martin Friend, and his military commander  - Chedaki - is Roy Skelton.
Producer Philip Hinchcliffe hated the masks for the Kraals, and they are rather cumbersome and lacking in expression. He rightly pointed out that a rhinoceros was not a good starting point for designing a species capable of the most intricate technological abilities.
Episode endings are:

  1. Sarah creeps towards the cell where the Doctor is being held. Behind her, a telephone panel opens to reveal a hideous alien face watching her.
  2. The Doctor struggles with Sarah, knowing she is a duplicate. "Sarah" falls to the ground and her face falls away to reveal electronic components...
  3. The Doctor and Sarah must get into the android travel pods before the take-off g-forces destroy them...
  4. The Doctor and Sarah locate the TARDIS in the woods and continue on their travels...

Overall, possibly the weakest story of the Hinchcliffe era. A lot of plot holes and a bit of a throwback to an earlier time for the programme. Biggest gaffe of all is obviously Crayford's eye-patch. Styggron has told him that they couldn't save his left eye - hence the patch. Crayford  doesn't know his eye is still there and intact until someone tells him...
Things you might like to know:
  • Tom Baker got a throat infection when he filmed the scenes of hiding in the lake. You can hear his husky voice in other scenes filmed afterwards.
  • Despite building a model of the XK5, stock footage of a NASA rocket is used to show it taking off.
  • The Doctor's longer light grey coat makes its first appearance.
  • Harry and Benton are both mentioned in Mawdryn Undead by the Brigadier. Harry is then working at Porton Down (a military research establishment in Wiltshire) whilst Benton has become a used car salesman. Harry will feature in a spin-off novel - Harry Sullivan's War - written by Marter himself as part of a short-lived companions spin-off series. He is last seen in the companion montages in Logopolis and Resurrection of the Daleks. Sarah treasures a picture of him in her attic in the Sarah Jane Adventures - and Harry is suggested as a possible name for her adopted son. As well as writing a number of Target novelisations, Ian Marter collaborated with Tom Baker on an abortive Doctor Who movie. He died in October 1986 after falling into a diabetic coma. Benton returned in an unofficial video spin-off (Wartime) and has just made his first Big Finish appearance.
  • From The Kenneth Williams Diaries (Harper Collins 1993, edited by Russell Davies), the entry for Saturday, 29th November reads: "I saw the TV news. 'Dr Who' gets more & more silly...".
  • And yes, it is that Russell Davies - writer and broadcaster - who caused our Russell to add a 'T' to his name.

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