Doctor Who: UNIT Files - Volume 2 (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros take a deep breath and brave The Android Invasion...
After a tough time battling the forces of evil in the form of Sutekh and his mummies, The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) are relieved to find themselves back on Earth, in the quaint village of Devesham, and even happier that a pub is nearby. This joy is quickly disturbed, as things aren’t as normal as they seem.
Why does the calendar at the pub consist entirely of the same date? Why are all coins freshly minted? And just why has a perfectly healthy soldier throw himself off a cliff for no good reason? Well, it’s all the work of Styggron and the Kraals, whom have built a replica of Earth for the express purposes of using it as a training-simulation for their forthcoming invasion of Sarah Jane’s home planet.
Fans of Doctor Who already know the story like a proctologist knows tradesmen’s entrances, and those whom haven’t seen it won’t want to have things ruined, so this is review will focus more on thematic elements and execution rather than a blow-by-blow account of The Android Invasion as a whole.
OK, let’s first address the elephant in the room which has been discussed at every fan-gathering long before the internet was the wishful dream of a porn-addict: the title. Yep, this is probably the most clumsily-named story in the entire run of Doctor Who. The other tale in this box had the good sense to keep the surprise under wraps, making the revelation of dinosaurs in London a real jolt, the first episode known only as “Invasion” so as not to let the cat out of the bag. But this one? Any revelation is ruined for anyone with the ability to read, and totally spoils what would have been a pretty cool moment of shock. There might have been certain part of the country where it might not have been messed up for them, but we won’t go into that.
It’s one of the very few faux-pas committed by the story as a whole, and what better way to blow the surprise reveal by having it in the title of the show? They carefully managed to avoid this with Invasion of the Dinosaurs (ironically, the other one in this set) by merely calling it “Invasion”, so why couldn’t they have done the same thing. Minds were scrambled and biscuits were duly shat when the first prehistoric beast loomed out at the Third Doctor, so why spoil things this time around?
But enough titular griping, and let’s look at the influences which shaped this fan favourite. Clearly the story was in some way inspired by Michael Criction’s 1973 movie Westworld, which saw androids go berserk and start killing their human masters - and all through an outlandish theory of Cricton’s called a “computer virus”. In tone, this is closer to the later TV series Beyond Westworld, about the infiltration of robots into modern-day life.
In spite of the similarities, the story has enough ideas to keep it fresh. The mystery which is carefully set out from the start is terrific, with the inexplicable, violent death of a UNIT soldier clutching a handful of newly-minted coins enough to entice even the most jaded of viewer to keep watching. You might get a smile out of the baffling mystery of just why there are phone boxes which don’t actually work - it seems that The Doctor doesn’t visit inner-cities very often.
Let’s face it: everyone is more than a little suspicious of quaint little English villages, and building a story about their little inconsistencies with “normality” is a stroke of genius. When you combine this with the mystery of people whom are supposed to be dead, yet walking around very much alive, it’s no surprise that this is a story highly thought-of by the fans. Again, it’s just a shame that the surprise is ruined by that title.
This might sound rather wanky, but time has been kind to one of the central themes, this being during the sixties and seventies, which were times when the dreaded threat of “brainwashing” was something which caught writers’ imaginations, and you only have to flip through the pages of spy novels of the time to find such matters enthusiastically written into the plot, so it’s no surprise that it turns up here. When viewed today, it gives off a pleasing “retro” vibe, similar to the Fleming Bond series or The Bourne Identity (the book). We’ll not spoil it and go into how ludicrous it would be to make someone believe they have lost an eye by merely putting a patch over it.
Previously speaking of Westworld, it’s a bit of a pity that the designers of The Android Invasion couldn’t have studied the Crichton movie a little more carefully, as once the robots lose their facial coverings, the rather half-hearted attempt at what’s underneath really lets the story down. Sure, there are eyes and a speaker-based device to enable the output of speech, all connected by the vague notion of wiring, but there is nothing to control the complex set of mechanical muscles which provide the illusion of sentient flesh. We all know that Doctor Who triumphs through writing over recourses, but just putting a little more effort into the design would have really paid off.
Many fans will have picked out a strong irony when Jon Pertwee freely imparted the advice to John Levene about “not sharing the stage with anyone” and that’s how it was Pertwee whom welcomed having the supporting UNIT team around him. By contrast, along comes Tom Baker and the taskforce is mothballed in fairly short order. There was an air that this was going to happen during the previous Pyramids of Mars, which took an almost gleeful look at the UNIT building without the personnel in it.
It’s this breaking up of the UNIT format (and indeed, the UNIT Family) which made for the final appearance of John Levene as Sgt Benton a less than pleasant experience for the actor. With Nick Courtney unavailable to play The Brig for UNIT’s send-off, Levene and Ian Marter were left without their compatriots and surrounded by a new production crew. Some might argue that this enhanced the other-worldly atmosphere in the story, but once you know of the situation, it somehow taints the show.
Regardless of such dour elements at play, there are numerous instances of pleasingly fitting humour and instances of pathos where The Android Invasion hits squarely home, which combine to lighten the mood of which could have been a rather downbeat story both on screen and off. Who can’t crack a wry smile when hearing talk of the TARDIS getting its 500 year service, which nicely slots in with a certain diary from Patrick Troughton’s time? Another nice little touch is that Sarah Jane immediately recognises that they have found themselves in the village of Evesham, rather than plonking them down in an entirely unknown location. This is quickly followed up by her character noting that she had been there before on a story, nicely providing a lead into the tale and reinforcing her credentials as a journalist.
The humanistic elements which endeared Sarah Jane Smith to the public are very much in evidence, including some very choice dialogue. Whilst Nu-Who went out of its way to load up the companions with trendy slang or borderline gags for lines, we get some funny quotes which seems perfectly natural and perfectly endearing. Can you possibly imagine Donna being reflective and humble enough to describe herself and the Doctor as: “…a couple of ‘nanas” with such resignation? The interaction between Sladen and Baker is almost magical, with the passage of time bringing a genuine chemistry, and used to great effect when paying off the nature of the Doctor/Companion roles, when Ms Smith finally gets the opportunity to save the Timelord herself, retorting: “Rescuing you, actually. Great change!” when asked what she’s doing.
To this end, Sladen comes across really well in this story, with her “other” appearance giving her a refreshing break from the norm. Her character really proves that she notices things around her, putting Sarah Jane Smith higher up the ladder than a number of other companions. Upon getting shot, loveable old Jamie probably would exclaim: “I think they have guns, Doctor…” but our plucky journalist spots things others around her don’t. Baker does a good job at representing himself, too, without the sense of disinterest which he was sometimes guilty of. Hell, that he threw himself into a filthy pond and got very ill proves that he was certainly game at the time of shooting.
Styggron and Kraals are interesting adversaries, as they are possessed of grand plans and sophisticated methods, as well as advanced technology. It’s a pity that they are let down by cumbersome masks and unhelpful wardrobe design, as many nave noted that such evolved species would have a tough time achieving such things with hands which can barely hold a pen, much less anything else. Styggron himself is presented as a surgeon, but we pity the poor sods who draw him as the doctor in charge of their open-heart surgery. Oh, and did we mention that the white-suited “baddies” look as though they have just strolled in from the Pertwee-era The Ambassadors of Death?
OK, that might have been churlish, but it doesn’t diminish an excellent story with so much to like, including one of the most beloved of cliffhangers in the history of the show - you know that one, at the end of Episode Two. We’re still trying not to blow the surprises, as you probably realised.
Nothing bad to report here, as it looks as uniformly good as any from the Tom Baker era, with exterior footage looking particularly nice. That’s really about all there is to say. A typically clean bill of health for the image on this one.
Again, there are no nasty surprises to report, as the boys have done their usual bang-up job in order to make vintage Doctor Who sound as good as the broadcast material will allow. The mono mix is just fine, with nothing to detract from the experience. Well, we’ve made a few observations about this entertaining story and the presentation, how about we skip to the bit everybody actually reads these reviews for…?
The Village that Came to Life: Nick Briggs is your genial host for a look at a real favourite among the fans and casual viewers alike, with a story which took the show for a final tour of Earth before saying goodbye to old friends and departing for planets new.
Terry Nation had become independent of Doctor Who, with many popular shows under his belt, and this documentary spends appropriate time looking at the writer. The late Barry Letts provides one of the choicest quotes in the documentary when recalling the enthusiasm Nation had at being brought back to write a Doctor Who story without his most famous creations: “The Daleks were reason he could drink Champagne every day, but he didn’t necessarily want to keep on writing for them”.
Writing styles had changed, and while previous stories were written with an ensemble cast in mind, when it comes to firmly establishing Baker in the role, Peter Hinchcliffe details how guided Nation on the writing of the story, employing the William Shatner technique of keeping your main character in every scene, making sure that he was instrumental to everything going on around him.
The late Mr Letts provides a lot of anecdotes and information about his time directing The Android Invasion, and is very open about the substantial amount of changes going on around him at the time of filming after handing over the production reigns. Hinchcliffe notes that his first priority as the new producer was to open the show up to encompass an older audience, so that adults would be as hooked as the kids. Letts agrees that this was a bold move, and that any attempts to do such a thing during his time as producer would have been vetoed by those above him.
The many actors will expound on how much easier the process of filming is these days, what with the leaps forward in technology, but Martin Friend (Styggron) notes that some things have gone in the other direction. Back then, you had the ideal situation where you were able to meet the entire cast at rehearsals, allowing actors to get a real sense of the overall production and tone, a system which has largely been abandoned these days, with the process becoming piecemeal in its construction, a sentiment Milton Johns agrees with.
This documentary is almost a combination of one of the normal ones and a Then and Now, as Nick Briggs makes stopovers not only at the village, but also at the Health Protection Agency Centre For Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards - did you get all that? Still, we get a look at just how the place where Tom Baker dodged machinegun fire looks today. There are some rather nice recollections from locals of East Hagbourne, appropriately conducted in the Fleur De Lys, where childhood memories are shared as vividly as some delightfully candid photos from the time, and some tales of the pubs’ locals whom glanced up from their drinks as the BBC crews swarmed in village.
The thorny subject of the Krall’s effectiveness as villains is brought into question, not only by Hinchcliffe, but also by Friend, whom was on the sharp end of any problems regarding the species. Friend was uneasy with the design from the outset, and doubted that the costume lent any credibility to the character as written in the script, noting that it was tricky to back up that Styggron was a surgeon when he had such incredibly thick hands - which we agree with, mentioned earlier. It was a situation which led to amusement between Friend and Johns during filming, a pressure-valve for the stressed actor in science-fiction.
Fans will be pleased to hear from those involved about a few of the more curious points, including Johns’ failure to notice that he had two eyes, and didn’t require a patch over one of them. Another is how lack of studio time forced the production to drop a crucial piece which explained why the android of The Doctor was still active when all others had shut down, causing a real clanger still talked about today.
Everyone will find something fun in this nice little piece which proudly upholds the tradition for informative, insightful and fun documentary filmmaking on one the most enduring shows ever made. We absolutely LOVED the opening title, perfectly in keeping with a sixties/seventies ITC show, complete with musical sting to accompany it. You get to also hear the late Barry Letts one more time, and comes as a recommendation in itself.
Audio Commentary: Doctor Who disciple Toby Hadoke is your referee for this breezy trip though The Android Invasion, where he is joined by producer Phillip Hinchcliffe actor Milton Johns, production manager Marion McDougall and head monster Martin Friend. The latter two are spilt between the first couple of episodes, but all join in for the last two instalments, and there is a good deal of curiosity-piquing information combined with a number of genuine laughs.
Hinchcliffe is a fountain of facts, admitting that he used all-encompassing masks as a to the problems of not having enough time to do things in a more sophisticated fashion, pointing out that a show like Star Trek had the facilities to do it all with makeup, allowing for more facial articulation. Going hand-in-glove with this self-criticism about how Styggron turned out, Hinchcliffe also points out that - with hindsight - he should have drastically cut back the amount of dialogue he gave his antagonist, making him more mysterious whilst drawing attention away from the inflexible mask.
Aside from Fiona Cumming and Paddy Russell, there really aren’t many women from the production side of things on these commentary tracks, and the inclusion of McDougall is a welcome one. Her contributions aren’t as plentiful as we would have liked, but she nicely reinforces that a lot of the work from the from the time stand up pretty well today, particularly in her choice of using East Hagbourne as the primary location. She also confirms that Baker had a good rapport with the kids whilst shooting outside the confines of the studio, and that this trait was common among them all.
Due praise is given to Barry Letts in his capacity as director, making sure that the cast and crew were always prepared, driving the filming like clockwork. McDougall wishes that she kept her notes to prove that there were no instances of “overruns” during the shooting of The Android Invasion. Indeed, Hinchcliffe remembers that Letts’ technically savvy nature allowed them to make creative use of CSO to open out the story and increase production value, all whilst still avoiding going over time!
Milton Johns is expectedly dry and witty, weighing in on many topics, and delves into the processes used by - and fears felt by -actors both on stage and screen. Ever heard of “doctor theatre”? Well, thanks to Mr Johns, you’ll know that this is the psychological ailment where thespians feel gravely ill prior to going on stage, but once they tread the boards, they’re fine. [/i]“…but afterwards, you may collapse,”[/i] he concludes.
The infamous incident of Baker getting sick through drinking a load of pond water is brought to the table, and Hinchcliffe expresses how grateful he was that he wasn’t at the location when the actor had to be rushed to the hospital. “A touch of the Michael Crawfords there…” interjects Friend, extending the levity. Friend is a very entertaining subject, both humorous in nature whilst almost defensive when Styggron is criticised (usually by Hinchcliffe) in any way. Brought on board The Android Invasion by Barry Letts through the world of theatre, with science fiction new ground for him: “No aliens ever in my life before… but that’s not to say I didn’t do quite a few curious things afterwards.”
Reminiscing about his taking up the production reins of the show, Hinchcliffe reiterates just how strongly his predecessor warned him about not bringing horror elements to the real-life world of children. Naturally, Hinchcliffe went back and looked through a load of previous stories, only to find that they did just that all the time, particularly when Bob Holmes was on the case. Regret is also expressed by the former producer that he failed to give Ian Marter a proper send-off in the story, with most of his screen time relegated to being an android.
It’s a fun commentary, and Captain Hadoke does his usual fine job of gently coaxing relevant information out of the participants, whilst trying keep the actors from going off on a tangent which has no baring on the show they are watching. Blistering barnacles, it’s another sterling effort from the guys!
Production Subtitle Track: Remember when those dastardly Thrill-Suckers would plague Tharg The Mighty in the pages of 2000AD? These little blighters were singular in their quest to hoover up every scrap of excitement they could possibly get their extended snouts on. We have a picture in our heads that the collator of all the facts gathered together must look pretty damn similar to a Thrill-Sucker, as the characteristically psychotic drive to absorb all things engrossing is exactly the same.
What separates the Doctor Who Production Subtitle writer from the common-or-garden Thrill-Sucker is the ability to not only inhale facts, but to digest and excrete them into a form which makes for an exceptionally entertaining experience for those looking to enhance their Doctor Who knowledge. We find that the smart ones always make a beeline for it.
The Production Info track is always a good source for the changes made between script to screen, and The Android Invasion really throws up some interesting stuff. Great swathes of dialogue were dropped (or revised) from the script, including material reminiscent of The Sontaran Experiment, which essentially reduced the amount of lines from Styggron. This might have been done to make the character less dimensional and more of a straightforward “baddie”, possibly to reduce the length of the script, or it could have been done when the unforgiving rubber mask was unveiled. In any case, the text track points the finger firmly at Robert Holmes for being the man with the hatchet.
You want context and cultural influences? We’ve seen so many of these that we know exactly what to expect, and this gives you the lot. We are given the very basics, such as the influence of Invasion of the Body Snatchers on the production, but we also get an encyclopaedic rundown of concepts which have cropped up in other Doctor Who tales, a number of which were in the previous series! The Cold War brought the threat of “sleeper agents”, and The Android Invasion interwove the idea into the fabric of the story. True to form, we get a list of all other TV shows which have dealt with the same themes, and becomes a veritable shopping list for us fans.
It notes that Kenneth Williams’ diary took a pot-shot at The Android Invasion, with the depressive actor writing that “Doctor Who gets more and more silly”. With him slagging off both Porridge and The Good Life, it’s not really a measured criticism. A mere two years later, he would star in Carry On Emannuelle, so he was on very shaky ground with that one.
There are so many little bits which get pointed out that would have gone flying over the heads of most viewers, including recycled props (a space-helmet from Barry Letts’ Moonbase 3) to quite gaping lapses in logic (if the Devesham copy was made from memory cells dating back two years, why is there knowledge present events) and the warmly expected mistakes during production (where stagehands aren’t quick enough to open a set of “automatic” sliding doors, causing John Levene to slam the brakes on before they eventually part).
This is another superb example of how something which could easily be a dull series of sparse, dry facts becomes a witty, engrossing fountain of knowledge, an entity which both co-exists perfectly with the show it accompanies, or for just putting it on with the sound switched off. Even the Okudas can’t keep the information coming when they do one of these for a Star Trek release, and that is certainly saying something. Not just recommended, but required.
Life After Who: The rigours of being the producer of a popular BBC show comes with luggage, with the most obvious being the pressures to get the work done, and get the show out both on time and on budget. When Phillip Hinchcliffe left Doctor Who, he wanted to concentrate on more human drama, he went on a very successful career, diversifying his output in a way which few other Doctor Who producers were/have-been able to.
Through memories and musings, Philip Hinchcliffe and daughter Celina take a very personal look at the prolific producers’ career, using Doctor Who as a kick-off. Once free, he embarked upon a diverse set of projects, including an action-packet cop show with Target (which created the “film-drama” strand at the BBC) followed by Private Schulz ( “one of the productions I am most proud of”, then his much-delayed Nancy Astor, which garnered an Emmy nomination) the groundbreaking prison-based drama Knockback (played in the new Screen 2 slot) before transferring to LWT with the popular shows Bust and The Charmer. What with series at Channel 4, Yorkshire and Scottish (including Taggart and Rebus) and film production with An Awfully Big Adventure, Hinchcliffe has had one hell of a career.
Having both senior and junior Hinchcliffe gives this already insightful documentary a dimension which can’t be cynically aped. Sure, a producer can try to imitated, but unless you have two members of the same bloodline interacting, you’ll never equal it. Hinchcliffe Jr’s recollections of the series Nancy Astor are a prime example, that for all the plaudits is garnered, she remembers it as her father going to a far-flung place called “America” for a long time. Where else will you hear recollections of someone being but to bed by Tom Baker before being given his famous scarf?
One piece which really caught our attention was when Hinchcliffe Jr recalls hanging out in the make-up trailer during the filming from Bust onwards, picking up all the gossip before keeping her father abreast of everything going on which he would never have been privy to. From personal experience, there really is no better way of finding out unfiltered opinions of everyone than being friendly with hair and makeup.
We have to stress that the opening gambit might raise the ire of Doctor Who fans when it states rather coldly that the beloved show was: “…little more than a footnote on his CV”. This might well cause a number of potential viewers to switch off in disgust, but if you do you’ll miss out on fascinating recollections of a singularly unique career. Besides, when asked the closing question of what he’s most proud of, he responds: “I suppose I have to put Doctor Who in there… because I did something right on that show. Those programmes have remained popular for so long.” Panic over!
Hinchcliffe Snr accurately sums up the nature of making it in the business with the following words: “The only way really you can prolong your career meaningfully is to… come up with a popular hit, and then people will want it, and you sort of become the independent production company making that. Or you can come up with an idea that somebody wants”. This is one of the most unique of documentaries on a Doctor Who release, and is well worth half and hour of your time. Heartily recommended.
Weetabix Advert:Although we don’t recall the commercial itself, we certainly remember the Doctor Who goodness it was selling, anyway. After clapping eyes on this advert, there must have been an army of rabid kids with dagger-collars smashing their way into shops to get their mitts of the four adventure games and stand-up (read: cardboard) figures to be collected. It’s a wonderful blast from the past, and sure to bring a smile to the lips of fans over a certain age.
Photo Gallery: A typically exhaustive collection of official stills and off-camera snaps are to be found here, with the location shoot giving way to many shots of autographs being signed by the cast. We also get a decent look at Baker’s stunt-double, the two stars having a giggle together, as well as photographic records of all the sets. All of this good stuff is set to the spookily atmospheric sounds of Dudley Simpson and Dick Mills. Typically indispensable.
PDF Materials: The original Radio Times listing are yours to be had, but without the expected Frank Bellamy illustrations. It’s still nostalgic fun, and worth your time.
But wait right there!!! Spread over two PDF files come the ENTIRE Weetabix promotion! You get EVERYTHING!!! You get reproductions of all the packaging and pieces from the boxes, including game-boards and figure, allowing the artful to print them out on card for perfect replicas! You also get all of the promotional material given out to vendors and associated bumf! This extra is so wonderful that it can long be written with exclamation marks at the end of every sentence!! Superb!!!
Coming Soon: The Sensorites. Yeah, The Sensorites. Dig out your weakest Halloween masks and join in the fun at home. A really nice trailer has been put together for it, though.
The Android Invasion is one which really stands the test of time, being built on an intriguing premise and having its story unfold with twist which keep the viewer involved rather than being way ahead of the game. The performances are enjoyable and the direction is solid. The fans love it, and given that it peaked at 12 million viewers, Joe Public liked it too. This is a good package, and worth it for the extras alone (especially the Weetabix material), with a damn good story almost becoming the additional incentive to buy. All this and Invasion of the Dinosaurs too? Christmas just came round again! Unreservedly recommended.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 9th January 2012
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, The Villiage That Came To Life, Life After Who, Production Information Subtitles, Weetabix Advert, Photo Gallery, Coming Soon Trailer, PDF Materials
Easter Egg: No
Director: Barry Letts
Cast: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Marter, Nicholas Courtney, John Levene
Length: 100 minutes
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