Doctor Who – The Invasion

After the recent release of the unusually short The Sontaran Experiment, the latest release is a slightly longer one. The Invasion is an eight-part story, first shown in November and December 1968, and starring Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, Frazer Hines as Jamie and Wendy Padbury as Zoe.

This is a story that was nearly lost. In the 60s and 70s, when there were only three TV channels in the UK, repeats were rare and not generally seen as a Good Thing. Nobody really thought there would be a future market for old TV shows, and video tape was an expensive commodity. So the BBC had a policy of wiping old recordings, including Doctor Who. Some of the earlier stories are completely lost, others have been restored from film copies, and others exist in partial form. The Invasion is one of those – of the eight original episodes, only six remain. When it was released on video tape, the gaps were filled in by having Nicholas Courtney (the Brigadier) describe the missing action.

But for this DVD release, some singularly obsessive fans have come to the rescue. Long before home video recorders, fans used to record the soundtrack on whatever tape machines they happened to have. And the clever people with clever toys have managed to piece together various recordings of various qualities into clear, complete versions of the missing episodes.

Having got the sound sorted out, Cosgrove Hall Films were commissioned to recreate the missing episodes in animated form. All they had to work from were still photos taken on set and the shooting script, together with the recreated soundtracks. They quite sensibly made it in black and white to match the original episodes, and I have to say they did a very nice job of it.

Anyway, the story involves mysterious goings-on involving a company whose boss has something strange in his office, and who appears to be plotting with some alien force to take over the Earth. At the time, the producers tried to keep the identity of the aliens secret, but were foiled by the BBC’s own listings magazine, Radio Times, which happily printed pictures of the Cybermen when the story began. Which is a bit of a shame, as the suspense would have built up quite nicely, given that the first time a Cyberman is seen on screen is at the end of the fourth episode.

The story is a significant one in the development of the series. The regular cast were all going to leave the following year, and audiences had been falling. A new vision was needed to take the show into the 1970s. The decision was made that the Doctor would be based on Earth, and that he would be working with a new group – UNIT, headed by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. The Doctor had met the Brigadier (who was a Colonel at the time) in an earlier story, but this was the one that was the template for the early 70s.

At eight episodes, it is perhaps longer than it really needs to be, but it’s entertaining enough, and the Cybermen are always good fun.

Extra features include

  • Flash Frames: a short documentary about the making of the animated episodes
  • Love Off-Air: a nice feature about those obsessive fans with their tape recorders.
  • Evolution of the Invasion: the usual “making-of” documentary, with interviews with surviving cast and crew. Good stuff.
  • The ubiquitous production subtitles. Informative and entertaining as ever
  • And other bits and pieces

All of which makes for a very good double DVD package, which anyone with any interest in 60s Doctor Who will enjoy. And as for the rest of you, give it a try[1], you might like it!

[1] It’s available for rental from Amazon and probably other people too

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