Thursday, 23 July 2009

Doctor Who: The Android Invasion

Part One

“Is that finger loaded?”

We begin with an apparently lobotomised chap staggering towards his apparent demise, Roboman style- that’ll be a Terry Nation script, then. It means we’re in store for a solid exploratory first episode, though, and this one is nice and mysterious. Plus we’ve got Robert Holmes polishing the script plus Tom and Lis have really hit their stride- the relationship between the Doctor and Sarah is great here, with all sorts of subtle touches.

Unfortunately there’s an unintentionally funny scene with Sarah hanging from an, er, “cliff”, which even the camera angle can’t save. Still, I’m sure they’ll never allow this sort of thing to happen again so I’ll let it pass.

We have the intriguing and Avengers-esque situation of an English village, seemingly deserted, with the occasional oddity such as all the coins being new. A promising beginning, and the scene where everyone suddenly springs to life in the pub is very effective. Meanwhile there’s a new UNIT HQ, but people aren’t friendly, and terrifyingly the TARDIS takes off with the key in it. I have a problem with reviewing all this though- I’ve seen this story a fair few times and so I have no idea how obvious it is that they’re not on Earth and all the NPCs, to nick a useful term from roleplaying, are androids. Pretty damn obvious, I suspect, but I can’t really say.

Robert Holmes has been having fun with his script polishing duties- the Doctor’s reply to Crayford’s “Keep your hands where I can see them!” is a cheerful “Those are the first friendly words I’ve heard since I got here.” Unfortunately, though, we find out early on that the Brig has been called to Geneva to be temporarily replaced with some generic Avengers style colonel.

Part Two

“I will now activate the hostility circuits.”

Lots of dialogue between Sarah and the Doctor at the start of the episode, which reveals the important plot point that Crayford is supposed to have died on a space flight, is whispered and barely audible. Roll on the DVD and subtitles.

We get to see Benton and Harry but, alas, they’re androids. Instead, we’ll have to rely for our nostalgia fix on Sarah twisting her ankle like companions of old. And on the memories of Terror of the Zygons invoked by Styggron’s use of the dartboard as a scanner. Why did he do that, then? He wasn’t expecting visitors to the pub!

Part Three

“A foolish experiment, Styggron.”

For some reason the Kraals are now going to destroy the replica village, which gives us our first countdown of this most countdown-heavy of all Terry Nation’s Who scripts. There’s something so perfect for the genre in the concept of Styggron tying the Doctor to the centre of a village square which is going to explode in nine minutes while telling him that “Resistance is inadvisable!” that somehow it doesn’t seem to matter that the plot stopped making sense a long time ago. That’s the thing about this wonderful season; even the bad stories are great.

The silly conversations between Styggron and Chelaki crack me up. I can only assume that it’s a fundamental axiom of Kraal societies that maverick scientists must be given free reign to pursue even the most random and potty experiments. No doubt it’s a world full of Jeff Goldblums where the disaster movie has never been invented.

Things now start to get even more wonderfully silly. Not only does Styggron get to call Crayford a “puny-minded weakling”, but Crayford has apparently resumed contact with Earth claiming to still be in his ship having been missing for two years, his excuse being that he survived by recycling his water. Er, yes. And no doubt he saved oxygen by holding his breath a lot. This is the point where it becomes necessary to stop worrying about the plot and open another bottle of wine.

I suspect Robert Holmes came to the same conclusion while script editing it, and decided to give up on the lost cause that was the plot in favour of having fun with the dialogue. We end with some classic stuff: “I feel disorientated.” “it’s the disorientation centre.” “That makes sense.”

Part Four

“So, provided we don’t burn up in re-entry and aren’t suffocated on the way down, we’ll probably be crushed to a pulp when we land.” 

“Exactly! You’ve put your finger on the one tiny flaw in our plan.”

Finally we get to see the real Earth. But there’s no time to dwell on this as it’s all action from this point on. There’s an awful lot of fun on who’s an android and who’s not, but the result of this is that Harry and Benton don’t get to do much in their last story which is a real shame.

As usual we get great dialogue, presumably by Holmes (“If you do see me again today then I want you to report it to me immediately”), while Nation provides the countdowns (Three in one story!) and the triumphant eyepatch moment, which of course requires a certain quota of alcohol to experience properly.

There’s no denying it- this story is absolutely terrible. And yet I loved watching it! This is the Plan 9 From Outer Space of Doctor Who. It doesn’t really deserve a 3/5, but it’s going to get one.

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