The Doctor and Sarah arrive at Devesham on Earth, near the Space Defence Station. However, as they investigate the village, they discover that all is not as it seems: the village is deserted, the telephones don’t work, calendars are stuck on the same date and
I’d love to be able to say that The Android Invasion is a lot of fun and feels in keeping with an otherwise superb run of episodes in Season 13. Instead, Terry Nation’s tenth Doctor Who story struggles with inconsistencies, pointless nods to continuity and poor plotting. It is not entirely terrible, however, and does probably suffer from being similar in certain ways to Terror of the Zygons, the season opener and perhaps the blame has to be split between Nation and the script editor, Robert Holmes, for not making these two stories feel more distinct. It isn’t all bad either; the first two parts of the story are genuinely unnerving and there is some solid direction from the ever-reliable Barry Letts.
Ultimately, the main problem with this is the plot, and it is rather frustrating but not surprising that this comes from the pen of Terry Nation who has been capable of great stories, but equally some pretty drab ones. This story features elements such as meteorites, duplicates and viruses which feels as though Nation is throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. When the Devesham that the Doctor and Sarah arrive in at the start of the story is revealed to be a highly detailed duplicate to prepare for a Kraal invasion, it begs the question why they were making such a detailed duplicate only to destroy it. Then there comes the eye patch reveal for Crayford which is just plain stupid. I know that the Kraals have obviously manipulated the astronaut to believe that humanity has abandoned him, but it is never explained why he has never felt inclined to check under the patch before. Further issues include why Sarah’s duplicate’s face falls off when the android duplicates are supposed to be indestructible and why the threat of invasion disappears as soon as Styggron is killed. The most glaring involves the TARDIS pause control, which means that the TARDIS travels from the duplicate woods to the real ones when Sarah puts her key in the lock, which smacks of laziness. Whilst Nation’s basic concept is sound, it feels as though as soon as he put flesh onto the bones, it falls apart.
We then come to the use of UNIT in this story. I’m not sure why the tease of the Brigadier is included after it became clear that Nicholas Courtney was unavailable as it almost heightens the expectation that he will come in at some point to come to the rescue or get in the Doctor’s way. Colonel Faraday is also such a disappointment in comparison and ultimately isn’t good enough to lace the Brigadier’s bootlaces. Anyone who has read my reviews of the Third Doctor’s stories with UNIT knows that they are part of one of my favourite eras of the show, and knows that one of my biggest gripes with Chris Chibnall has been the scrapping of UNIT. Therefore, it is a bit of a disappointment to see Benton and Harry dealt with so shabbily, especially considering that Harry was a duplicate in his final outing with the Doctor, Terror of the Zygons. In Sladen’s autobiography she states that at the time it didn’t feel as though this would be the final appearance for Marter, but with hindsight, it feels like he never really got a proper goodbye. The character is being revised by Big Finish, played by Christopher Naylor and will return to travelling with the Fourth Doctor, so maybe the character will finally get a farewell.
Let’s try the pub!The Fourth Doctor
Barry Letts does his best with the story and manages to create some striking visuals out of this story, starting from the opening moments when the UNIT soldier staggers through the forest. Other highlights include the Doctor and Sarah walking through the deserted Devesham and the sequence in the pub where the android doubles enter and start acting normally when the clock chimes, which are really eerie. The advantage of bringing Letts back to direct becomes clear in the final part in the Doctor vs. Android Doctor fight, which looks really convincing and an action-based finale reminiscent of the Pertwee era.
The relationship between the Doctor and Sarah is cemented here, and there are some nice moments between them in the first part, like the bit with the bramble, which makes their relationship seem believable. Despite my criticisms of Nation’s story, one part that works really well is the build-up to the cliff-hanger at the end of Episode 2 where it is revealed that Sarah is an android duplicate. It is a clever reveal, with a seemingly throwaway line of Sarah not liking ginger pop, and the fact that the real Sarah wasn’t wearing her scarf when he left her. Combined with the way that the Doctor disarms the android, it builds to one of the better cliff-hangers in Doctor Who history. Among the guest cast, Milton Johns does a decent job with Crayford, the missing British astronaut who is manipulated by the Kraals, but ultimately, better actors would struggle with the eye patch reveal. Martin Friend as Styggron stands out too, even though the Kraals and their plot doesn’t really make sense.
Verdict: Ultimately, The Android Invasion feels as though it has an interesting basic concept but falls apart under scrutiny. Sadly, ultimately it left me feeling cold. 4/10
Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan), Patrick Newell (Colonel Faraday), John Levene (RSM Benton), Milton Johns (Guy Crayford), Max Faulkner (Corporal Adams), Peter Welch (Morgan), Martin Friend (Styggron), Dave Carter (Grierson), Roy Skelton (Chedaki), Stuart Fell (Kraal), Hugh Lund (Matthews) & Heather Emmanuel (Tessa).
Writer: Terry Nation
Director: Barry Letts
Behind the Scenes
- Terry Nation was inspired by the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This would be Nation’s penultimate script for the show, returning for the last time for Destiny of the Daleks. This was his first story not to feature the Daleks since The Keys of Marinus.
- The first UNIT story not to feature the Brigadier, although it was originally intended to. Nicholas Courtney had committed to a theatre tour believing that he would not be returning to the show. He also stated later to Doctor Who Magazine that he was “very annoyed” after being asked back for a previous story and had his part cancelled at the last moment, after he had already turned down other work.
- Neither Ian Marter nor John Levene enjoyed returning for this story; Levene as none of the other UNIT regulars were present and Marter because he didn’t see any reason for Harry to be there. Sadly, this would be Marter’s final appearance on the show, as he passed away on 28 October 1986. Levene would reprise the role for Big Finish Productions.
- Working titles for this story included The Kraals, The Kraal Invasion and The Enemy Within.
- The comedian Kenneth Williams noted in his diary after watching Episode 2 that “Doctor Who gets more and more silly.”
- Milton Johns appeared in The Enemy of the World and would appear in the later Fourth Doctor serial, The Invasion of Time.
The cliffhanger at the end of Part 2, where the Sarah that the Doctor is revealed to be talking to is an android double, culminating in the famous shot where “her” face falls off. It is by far the best part of this story.
Once upon a time there were three sisters, and they lived in the bottom of a treacle well. Their names were Olga, Marsha and Irena…Are you listening, Tillie? I feel disorientated.
This is the disorientation centre!
That makes sense.The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith
Previous Fourth Doctor story: Pyramids of Mars