Doctor Who: Revisiting THE INVASION - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Revisiting THE INVASION

Moo gets an upgrade.

It’s easy to miss the significance of The Invasion as Doctor Who stories go. It’s got a lot of the usual trappings you expect from an “aliens on earth” storyline: The Doctor teams up with UNIT, they investigate a shady businessman who the aliens are in league with, there’s lots of shouting and action and deaths, and the Brig is there. What’s so special about that?

The first thing that makes The Invasion so special is how it is a backdoor pilot for the reinvention of Doctor Who which would come in the next season. As Patrick Troughton prepares to bow-out as the Second Doctor, the show is on course to change and make this set-up the standard for the next three or four years. And it all begins here. If this story hadn’t been a success, the show wouldn’t have survived.

Ironically though, the biggest reason for its success has got nothing to do with the Cybermen. For one thing, they don’t even show up until halfway through. When they do, for the fifth time in three seasons, one does begin to cry diminishing returns. (It’s not surprising that after this we won’t see them again until season twelve, before another long break up to season nineteen.) This however reads less like a finishing return and more of a final last hurrah, a triumphant swan song if you will. They are great, don’t mishear me. The design they have here has never been bettered and the eerie shots of them wandering around London landmarks like St. Paul’s are rightfully iconic. Even though there’s never more than six lone Cybermen on-screen at a time, and even though we never actually get to see this invasion the title promises, they are wonderfully used. Sometimes less is more.

The reason the Cybermen are not the highlight is because of something that’s even better. The best thing that this story has going for it is its cast. Patrick Troughton is never anything less than perfect as the Second Doctor, and his two companions Jamie and Zoe, played by Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury, are also on great form (Zoe blowing up a computer with logic puzzles is a particular highlight) but it’s the guests who elevate this one. Nicholas Courtney’s newly-promoted Brigadier is given plenty of screen time and he proves his worth as an incoming regular. He didn’t get much to do in The Web of Fear but in The Invasion he’s a steady hand leading the Doctor’s own private army. The hero we know and love has arrived.

But the show is stolen by Kevin Stoney as Tobias Vaughn, giving the best guest performance in Doctor Who since the bloke who played Mavic Chen. Vaughn is the closest thing Doctor Who has ever had to a Bond villain. He’s a wealthy and suave businessman, in complete control or the situation, knowing when to turn on the charm and when to unleash fury. I’ve described the greatness of the Cybermen already, but when they’re shown up by the human villain you know you’ve got a good one there. Kevin Stoney's performance as Tobias Vaughn is a strong contender for the best one-off villain in the whole of Doctor Who’s history, though I concede that’s a widely contested field.

Running for eight episodes, two of which are missing and must be viewed via animation, The Invasion somehow never drags. In fact the length allows it to shift around and introduce all its ideas slowly and develop each fully, enabling the story to build effectively. The Cybermen feel like a proper shock reveal after episode four of an eight-parter, keeping the story alive. Just at the midpoint you learn they’re involved and suddenly it comes to life again.

Any of these positives on their own would be a good reason to recommend The Invasion, but having them all together is what makes it a highlight. Even in an era chock-full of all-time greats, this one stands out from the crowd.

“Moo” is the pseudonym used by this Doctor Who fan. He can usually be found procrastinating by thinking about Doctor Who. Follow him on Twitter @z_p_moo for more of his unusual takes, but do so at your own risk.

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