Much like the DVD it was paired with for The UNIT Files boxset, The Android Invasion is often overlooked, wedged between two fan-favourite serials, Pyramids of Mars and The Brain of Morbius. But 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, it’s creepy stuff – and 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) are a nice compliment to the village and contrast to the Star Trek-esque spaceships, although might’ve felt a bit ‘same-old’ to viewers at the time, after the early leaf-encrusted episodes of Pyramids of Mars.
But there are three things that everybody remembers about The Android Invasion. Firstly, the Doctor tied to the monolith at the centre of the village. It’s an arresting sight even though the Time Lord’s been tied up an incalculable amount of times over the years.
Then there’s the cliffhanger to episode two. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but it’s a scene that’s been celebrated so many times over the years, it’s hard to escape the revelation. Even if you know it’s coming, it’s still somehow shocking.
“I will now activate the hostility circuits.”
Finally… 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. Or as Styggron tells us: “The androids will disseminate a virus. It will cause a contagion so lethal, the Earth will be rid of its human population within three weeks. Then it will burn itself out and the world will be ours.”
Why? I’m not quite sure. They’re clearly nervous around the virus. But 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’ Guy 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 and would 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.)
That’s not to say that there isn’t anything spectacular to the tale.
As with any Terry Nation script – and noted in the DVD sleeve – there’s:
- 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 Kraals were always there, in all their gruff glory.
The aliens drew over 11 million viewers to the serial regularly, with a huge 12.1 million watching Part Three.
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.
Harry Sullivan is far from 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.
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).
Marter first appeared in Doctor Who in Carnival of Monsters, but went on to play Harry Sullivan from Robot to Terror of the Zygons as a regular. He was responsible for writing 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.
Doctor Who: The UNIT Files is out now which means you can get The Android Invasion and Invasion of the Dinosaurs for just £22.47 from Amazon!