Friday, June 20, 2014

Invasion aka The Proto-UNIT Serial

It's that latter part of the title that had me do this minor detour into Troughton – not that I need an excuse to watch more of the Second Doctor – as this is the BBC testing out the formula that was to serve as the basis of the majority of Jon Pertwee's stint. It's the first appearance of UNIT and Sgt Benton, the second of Lethbridge-Stewart (and now promoted from Colonel to the moniker he'll forever be known as, The Brigadier).

I called these two Second Doctor adventures a minor detour, but Invasion happens to be the second biggest serial I've watched, coming in at two shorter than War Games' 10. Yes there is Trial of a Timelord. But I count that as four serials. The trial is an overarching story for that series. Individually it is four distinct adventures. That's almost the case with Invasion. It's almost two serials hiding as one. Unlike most Doctor Who adventures, we get to see the build up here. The first four form the Doctor trying to figure out Tobias Vaughn and just what evilness the (rather brilliantly acted) megalomaniac is up to. The fourth episode ends with the appearance of the Cybermen, and then we have the Doctor and UNIT struggling to stave off an invasion. There's a definite through-line all eight episodes, it's not as split as something like Trial, but there is a definite switch from espionage to all-out war.

It's a bit of a departure from what we usually get from Doctor Who too. Usually the Doctor turns up and averts the disaster/invasion, or like in The Dalek Invasion of Earth well after and he rights the ship. Here, he arrives to uncover what is going on, but not soon enough and the invasion happens anyway. It's a slow build that is a great change of pace. But then this is all about prototyping the upcoming shift in format, so that shouldn't be that much of a surprise.

Mirroring The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Invasion gives us the famous shots of the Cybermen walking through London, and I'd imagine having four years between the two incidences would mean it would have just as much impact for the viewer. I've not even had four months, so I sort of shrugged it off. The truth is the Cybermen play second fiddle to Vaughn as the villains of the piece, and the serial is better for it. Also, once things start going wrong, the Cybermen decide to just bomb Earth out of existence. It's a turn that I just don't really get. Vaughn says that they're after minerals we have, and they make it clear that they mainly want to convert humans too, so why just go “Oh well, sod this, nuke the bastards.” It's a shift that just stinks of a writer not really knowing how to wrap up the story. Apart from that, it was a great prototype of what was soon to be the new format for the show, and next up for me is that format becoming a reality with Spearhead from Space.

This is also my first exposure to animated recreations of missing episodes. I have to say I like them. It's better than only having a soundtrack or photo reconstruction anyway. The animation isn't amazing by any means. In fact it's pretty bog standard Flash affair, but it does the job nicely. In fact, in comparison to some other serials from this time it gets to add dramatic lighting and make some special effects work a damn sight better, thanks to the lack of limitation animation offers. This was obvious at the end of the first episode when a secret alien communication device is revealed. Power pulses through it and bad guy Tobias Vaughn gets a disturbing alien flash in his eyes. Episode two starts with a repeat of the last scene in live-action, only we just get a shaky zoom-in on a flashing gem.

If an entire serial is missing, and the BBC change their mind about paying for those, I really hope they take opportunity to upgrade the look of a few of the dodgier elements. I was going to mention that they also throw in a few extra more dramatic camera angles which helped the feeling of the show picking up its pace a little. But I'm not so sure it did. Once we were into the original footage the changing camera angles and interesting shots kept up, so maybe Invasion just benefited from a decent director and Cosgrove Hall were imitating him.

It wasn't my intention to do a double Doctor Who post this week. But the actual article for today wasn't finished, so I've delayed it a week. Back to normal scheduling next week. Honest.
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