Magic Bullet Productions

The Invasion

By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore

Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 322

"The Invasion" is arguably the only Cyberman story of the 1960s to live up to its subsequent reputation. In its portrayal of the Cybermen, their human ally Vaughn and the near-future world in which the story takes place, "The Invasion" provides us with a thought-provoking and entertaining narrative.

Despite this, the genesis of "The Invasion" appears to have been a fraught procedure. It is generally known that Kit Pedler was asked to develop a six-part Cyberman story while "The Wheel in Space" was in production, with Derrick Sherwin to write the script. However, producer Peter Bryant didn't feel there was much that was usable in Pedler's outline, and, as Shannon Patrick Sullivan puts it, told Sherwin to write a four-part story which made only casual use of Pedler's concepts. This was further complicated by the fact that the serial had to be reexpanded, ultimately to eight parts, due to problems occurring with other serials at the time. Consequently, what would have been a fairly exciting four-to-six-parter is expanded beyond its natural length, leading inevitably to padding and runaround.

Another complication, however, is the fact that "The Invasion" may, in part, not have been a Cyberman story at all. Shortly before "The Invasion" was formally commissioned in May 1968, the Doctor Who production office had a major falling-out with Henry Lincoln and Mervyn Haisman over "The Dominators." "The Invasion", however, reads in many ways more like a Yeti/Great Intelligence story than it does a Cyberman story: the near-contemporary setting, the presence of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (and the fact that the return of Professor Travers and Anne was originally considered- the idea that this proposal was scotched because Jack Watling was too expensive to hire rings rather hollow), the Cybermen not seeming capable of independent action, as the ones in the previous three Cyberman stories do, but appearing to remain under the control of Vaughn for most of the serial, the presence of a disturbingly Great-Intelligence-esque Cyber Director (or Cyber-Planner, depending on which source you consult), and so forth. Most tellingly of all, unlike all other Cybermen stories up to that point, "The Invasion" is not a base-under-siege story. With a very few changes, then, it would be easy to envision "The Invasion" as another Yeti serial, with Vaughn under the control of the Great Intelligence (as with Padmasambhava in "The Abominable Snowmen" and Staff Sgt Arnold in "The Web of Fear") and the Yeti taking to the London sewer system after their sojourn in the Underground. Considering the situation, it seems rather as if Sherwin developed an idea for a Yeti story, but then was discouraged from doing so to avoid copyright problems with Lincoln and Haisman; witness, for instance, the abandonment of Travers and Anne, the absence of the Welsh soldier, Private Evans, from "The Web of Fear" (ostensibly because he was an ethnic stereotype, but the Welsh are hardly a solidary pressure group), and the fact that the production office discussed replacing Lethbridge-Stewart with a similar character which would be BBC-owned (until head of copyright John Henderson pointed out that Lincoln and Haisman would still have a claim on the character). It thus seems that "The Invasion" was developed not only out of Pedler's outline, but out of some abortive Yeti story which was never commissioned; it is to Sherwin's credit that he is able to make the story work well despite these problems and limitations.

One of "The Invasion"'s main assets is Tobias Vaughn, skilfully played by Kevin Stoney. Little is known about the character's background: the Brigadier mentions knowing something about Vaughn before he started becoming powerful five years previously, but declines to say what it is. On how he came to work with the Cybermen, Vaughn says only "it was I who contacted them in deep space, provided the means by which they travelled to Earth. I masterminded the whole operation from A to Z," but this still doesn't tell us much; he could have been a skilled technical engineer, or simply part of the craze, in the 1950s and 1960s, for monitoring American and Soviet space-flights using ham radios. It does seem likely that International Electromatics existed before the Cybermen were contacted, as, although the Brigadier refers to it being a "sudden success" with the development of the micro-monolithic circuit (evidently an early anticipation of the silicon chip), it is unlikely that it would have been able to dominate the world in such a short time if it had not already had (as its name suggests) international operations in place. Vaughn is thus a mysterious figure, and his company only slightly less so.

Given that "The Invasion" appears to incorporate both personnel and concepts from "The Daleks' Master Plan" (leaving aside the presence of Kevin Stoney, Nicholas Courtney and director Douglas Camfield, the story, which features military organisations including a group of black-clad, jackbooted fascists, deals with a planned invasion of Earth by an alien race aided by a human traitor), a number of commentators have drawn parallels between Vaughn and Kevin Stoney's character in the latter serial, Mavic Chen. Certainly Vaughn's relationship with the Cybermen, like Chen's with the Daleks, is strongly Faustian; he has made a bargain with the Cybermen whereby they make him rich and powerful, in exchange for helping them to invade, but, like Mavic Chen, plans to betray them and underestimates their capabilities in doing so. Unlike Chen, however, Vaughn is very much on the back foot for the entire serial. Vaughn is clearly insecure in a way that Chen is not: he has a subordinate who is much less intelligent than he is, and who he seems quite anxious to impress; he is outwardly calm but given to sudden, irrational fits of rage; he is something of a bully, tormenting the test Cyberman and Professor Watkins. Furthermore, the two men's plans to betray their allies come from different sources: Chen plotted to do so from the outset, double-crossing the Daleks once their usefulness to him was over, whereas Vaughn apparently did not know the exact nature of his mysterious allies for the first three and a half years of their partnership (as it is mentioned in Episode 4 that the UFO sightings had begun just over a year previously), and he began developing a plan to get rid of them afterwards, to ensure his own survival. Vaughn's other driving character trait, his selfishness, is illustrated in his reasons for betraying the Cybermen: not because he values humanity or wants to save the Earth, but because he does not want the Cybermen to turn him completely into one of them. Significantly, his plan to get rid of them involves attacking them through their remaining human vulnerabilities- chiefly, the fact that they can still be induced to feel emotion- although his interest in the Doctor's circuits and remark that he could use the Doctor's ship as a means of escape suggests that he is also keeping an eye open for other possibilities. It is worth noting that Kevin Stoney's left eye is half-closed throughout most of the serial (apparently due to a car accident) but he opens it wide at the point at which Vaughn decides to oppose the Cybermen, in Episode 8, and keeps it open from then until his death; this both suggests a symbolic transition from wilfully "blinding" himself to the Cybermen's plans to facing them with his "eyes open," and also something more personal, namely that Vaughn is compensating for his partly cybernetic body by hanging on to a human imperfection, then, when he effectively regains control over himself, he abandons this neurotic trait. Cleverly, Vaughn's scheme is revealed to the viewer bit by bit over the course of each episode, so that the full plan is only exposed in Episode 8; Vaughn may be no Mavic Chen, but he is still an excellent and well-treated villain.

It is perhaps worth noting in passing that, as well as the story showing influences from A for Andromeda, "The Daleks' Master Plan" and the two Yeti serials, the setup at IE seems to derive strongly from Quatermass II. We see a factory which emerges almost out of nowhere, manufacturing a miracle futuristic device, setting up in the Southeast of England; all visitors to the place come out "changed." Furthermore, like Quatermass' aliens, IE have used their powers of mind control to win strong allies in government (although, as in the scenario in "The Green Death" five years later, having a massive international corporation headquartered in Britain would no doubt keep the government favouring them). "The Invasion" thus clearly owes a strong debt to Nigel Kneale.

The Cybermen come out of this story very well, with this being probably the best of their serials in the 1960s. Visually, they are striking, with the use of padded wetsuits giving them definition and power (by contrast, imagine what the Cybermen from "Tomb of the Cybermen" or "The Tenth Planet" would look like shambling down the steps of St Paul's). Unlike the Davis-cowritten Cybermen and the later Cybermen of the JNT era, the Cybermen here are properly emotionless, and their voices suggest an unfamiliarity with speech as a medium, leading the viewer to speculate that they communicate electronically among themselves. They seem to be more robotic than they were before- being stored in crates and revived electronically rather than having to go into cold storage as in "Tomb"- fitting in with the Doctor's description of them in "The Wheel in Space": "Their entire bodies are mechanical and their brains have been treated neuro-surgically to remove all human emotion. All sense of pain. They're ruthless inhuman killers" (a term the Doctor also uses to describe them in "The Invasion" Episodes 5 and 7). Their invasion plans are unusually sensible: rather than simply invading, as in "The Tenth Planet", they develop the idea of immobilising the bulk of the population first, through disseminating the micro-monolithic circuit, and they are capable of mass deception, convincing Vaughn that they are basically robotic (even though he, being partly cyber-converted himself, must know their true nature) and that the ones on Earth had been conditioned to obey his orders, up until the end of the serial. The Cybermen, like Vaughn, thus are particularly well served by this adventure in terms of characterisation and plotting.

The other main focus of interest of "The Invasion" is the way in which the near future is portrayed from the perspective of 1968. The exact date of "The Invasion" is difficult to determine: although the Radio Times, and the continuity announcer at the beginning of Episode 1, says that the Tardis had landed in 1975, the Brigadier's remark that he last met the Doctor and Jamie four years previously places the story sometime between 1979 and 1983 (as their previous meeting was in "The Web of Fear", which took place, according to Professor Travers, "over forty years" after the 1935-set "The Abominable Snowmen"). One way or another, the setup is a curious mix of the prophetic and the less-than-prophetic: while the ubiquity of micro-monolithic circuits and the presence of a world-dominating electronic corporation seem to anticipate the rise of IBM and the emergence of its rival Apple in the 1970s, transistor radios are still common (which, depending on what year this story is meant to be set, would have been wiped out by the introduction of the Walkman). The 1960s obsession with videophones (which, while they may have finally become viable, are more likely to be part of mobiles or formal conferencing setups than replacements for the desktop telephone) also gets a look in. Although the computer receptionist at IE seems capable of greater independent thought than today's telemarketing computers (as well as evidently working in ALGOL, which seems charmingly retro), the experience of dealing with it is eerily similar to that of ringing the customer service line at HSBC. The story's prophetic elements are thus interesting and, sometimes, wryly entertaining.

The serial does fall down, however, in the development of the supporting characters. Isobel Watkins practically screams "I'm a woefully pathetic attempt to appeal to the teenage demographic" every time she walks onto the scene, and Sally Faulkner's delivery slows down noticeably after the first two episodes, suggesting that someone commented on the difficulty of understanding her when she speaks that fast. Isobel is also almost psychopathic in her behaviour; not only does she not care that a soldier and a policeman are killed due to her obsession with photographing the Cybermen, she fails to register that her uncle has been missing for a week, and her reaction upon realising this is to remark that she'd been hoping to bum some money off him. She also doesn't know what her uncle does bar that he's a scientist, and doesn't go to visit him in hospital after he gets shot. Although she is apparently beginning a career as a photojournalist at the end of the story, she is a pretty poor risk in that profession, as she seems to be the only person in the world not to know what International Electromatics is (and her innocent reference to how she will be "snapping away with [her] little black box" has distinct Freudian undertones). The UNIT operatives are also a weak point in the story, being far too friendly and groovy to be believable as a military operation (this is most likely because Douglas Camfield did a deal with the Army to be able to use their equipment, and consequently the story had to portray them in a positive light). The UNIT undercover operative who picks up the travellers in Episode 1 is criminally stupid for a secret agent, innocently revealing that he is a spy in IE's camp without stopping to consider that they might have been planted by Vaughn to get him to betray himself. The supporting characters thus need rather more work to be properly believable.

That having been said, the story has other strong points. The violence (of which there is an unusually high amount) is chillingly handled (eg. Packer's remark that he will spoil Isobel's looks if her uncle doesn't cooperate, plus Vaughn hitting Watkins brutally on the slightest pretext, and the security guards shooting the UNIT agent three times). Zoe comes out of it quite well, being the one who destroys the Cyberfleet, and she goes after the Doctor out of intuition, not logic, suggesting that she has developed somewhat since "The Wheel in Space." The practice of combating the hypnosis through taping depolarisers to the back of the neck is also from "The Wheel in Space", providing a nice link to the earlier adventure. The music is great throughout the story, except the overly jaunty UNIT theme, coming across as rather inappropriate during the more intense sequences. All in all, despite the problems with the secondary characters, the story has much to recommend it.

"The Invasion", therefore, is an unusual Cyberman story due to its genesis, but, whereas it could easily have turned out as a disastrous pastiche of genres, instead comes across as an interesting take on the nature of the Cybermen and of human emotion. While it is decidedly too long at eight episodes, "The Invasion" has a lot to offer.

With thanks to Alex Wilcock and Daniel O'Mahony


eXTReMe Tracker