Much like the DVD it was paired with for 2012’s The UNIT Files boxset, The Android Invasion is often overlooked, wedged between two fan-favourite serials, Pyramids of Mars and The Brain of Morbius.
Coming slap-bang in the middle of Philip Hinchcliffe’s tenure as producer on Doctor Who, The Android Invasion is a burst of light amid the darkness. The stories that surround it deal with resurrection, genocide, the nature of Gods, dark matter, and the future of the human race. Nonetheless, The Android Invasion has a certain, ahem, gravity. (Thank you, thank you, I’m here all week.)
It’s just as important as the tales that bookend it.
Okay, so The Android Invasion isn’t the perfect story; as many have noted in the past, there are numerous plot holes and gaffs. But, as with most Terry Nation scripts – or, indeed, sci-fi – you have to just go along with the fun of it all.
And there’s a lot to enjoy. There are some cracking lines – “is that finger loaded?” – and the Doctor and Sarah are on top form. The village of Devesham is a wonderful backdrop for a tale essentially about image.
The Android Invasion sees the Doctor and Sarah land in a deserted area. In both this and Invasion of the Dinosaurs, the desolate surroundings lends for a creepy atmosphere, a well-worn sci-fi trait in books such as John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids and Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (the latter of which explores the contrasts of the loud and bright carnival, and the empty, foreboding darkness). Nothing is quite what it seems. Devesham is a typically ‘English’ place, entirely relatable, making the empty pub and the unloading of villagers from trucks particularly unsettling.
The woods, filmed in Tubney, Oxfordshire, are a nice compliment to the village (although might’ve felt a bit ‘same-old’ to viewers at the time, after the early leaf-encrusted episodes of Pyramids of Mars) and contrast to the Star Trek-esque spaceships. Fittingly, it’s all a façade, and the quiet English settling gives way to an industrial complex and Guy Crayford’s craft.
You can see through any visages this tale puts on to the tropes of its writer, Terry Nation, including:
- A ticking bomb;
- A virus;
- The threat of radiation;
…But no Daleks. Though there were rumours that the story originally included the menacing Skaro monsters, it’s simply not true. The Android Invasion is the second – and final – Terry Nation script not to feature his most famous creations, the first being 1964’s The Keys of Marinus. Nation would disappear from Whodom for four years; his next story, Destiny of the Daleks, was also his last for the show.
The Android Invasion drew over 11 million viewers to the serial regularly, with a huge 12.1 million watching Part Three. Perhaps those extra viewers heard about the previous week’s cliffhanger – one that surely everyone remembers (although I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen the serial).
There are two other things all fans recall about the four-parter. Firstly, the Doctor tied to the monolith at the centre of the village (actually a war memorial in East Hagbourne, Oxfordshire). It’s an arresting sight even though the Time Lord’s been tied up an incalculable amount of times over the years.
And then there’s the Kraals. It’s no secret that they’re not the best realised monsters in Doctor Who’s history. They wear silver Doc Martens, for one. Overall, you might not be entirely convinced that these bumbling turtle-esque monstrosities could take over the world, although they are somewhat reminiscent of the Sontarans in their mannerisms – and nonsensical logic.
Even though the Doctor says they could take the Earth by force, the three Kraals we see (Styggron, Chedaki, and an unnamed underling) are going for – ahem – silent but deadly. It’s another grisly, underhand, guerrilla tactic to take over the planet and fits in really well: a story all about image switches to something that you can’t see – aside from its bubbling effects. Just ignore the holes in their plan.
The Android Invasion plays with perceptions beautifully, in fact. The idea that nothing is as it seems is a hugely clichéd but endlessly rewarding one. It clearly has roots in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and had, at one stage, the working title, The Enemy Within.
Though a central part of their plan, Milton Johns’ Crayford is also misguided by the Kraals – in more ways than one. As Neil Harris states in DWM #443, the “eye-patch scene is either the greatest or worst plot twist in Doctor Who’s history.” (Johns, meanwhile, is well-versed in Who, having also appeared as Benik in The Enemy of the World; he’d next be seen in The Invasion of Time.)
Nobody can be trusted.
(Aside from the Brigadier, naturally, who doesn’t appear in this story as Nicholas Courtney was unavailable during filming. And the Kraals couldn’t duplicate such a unique person.)
Harry Sullivan Isn’t An Imbecile
Though they play such small parts in The Android Invasion, it would be impossible not to mention Ian Marter’s Harry Sullivan and John Levene’s Benton, both of whom appear for the last time in the series. Sadly, they don’t go out with a bang.
Benton was first seen in The Invasion, fighting off Cybermen alongside Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT, and appeared on-screen opposite three different Doctors in sixteen serials (plus a flashback in Mawdryn Undead). The Android Invasion gives Levene the chance to play a more twisted version of Benton again – he previously explored this in Inferno, where a parallel Benton was the vicious Platoon Under-Leader, but that performance was a lot more emotive and shocking than in Android in which he and the other duplicates have to play it pretty straight.
We briefly see the robotic reflection of Harry Sullivan too, but to really experience an evil Sullivan, you have to turn to his last regular appearance in Terror of the Zygons. Attacking Sarah with a pitchfork? Now that’s a stunning bit of imagery!
Marter first appeared in Doctor Who in Carnival of Monsters as John Andrews, but went on to play Harry from Robot to the aforementioned body-swapping serial, Terror of the Zygons as a regular. “I hadn’t decided to go,” Ian explained to Richard Marson in 1984. “Harry, the character (and that meant me too), was dropped from the series because he had finally outlived his usefulness and was simply getting in the way. It was sad, but there you are. It was lovely to be asked for The Five Doctors, but perhaps it was better not to appear. You can’t cling on to a programme that you left nearly a decade ago. John Nathan-Turner contacted me and was very keen for me to appear, but by the time I was asked I was under contract to appear in a TV series in New Zealand.”
He clearly had a great fondness for the series, however, and after he left, he wrote several Target novelisations, including Earthshock, Doctor Who and the Ark in Space and Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation. He also worked alongside Tom Baker on a feature film script, titled Doctor Who Meets the Scratchman.
Marter, however, died on his 42nd birthday in 1986, and remains one of the show’s best-loved companions (and a personal favourite of mine).
Though often forgotten or underrated, The Android Invasion is the end of an era, and more than earns its place in Doctor Who history.