Doctor Who #416: The Android Invasion Part 1

"Is that finger loaded?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Nov.22 1975.

The Doctor and Sarah land in an abandoned village... unless you count the androids.

REVIEW: A Terry Nation script without Daleks hasn't happened since The Keys of Marinus (uh-oh), but Bob Holmes is re-writing a lot of it and it shows (phew), and then there's Barry Letts as director and it looks like he might have influenced the script quite a lot. Because I can't believe Nation would have done a straight-up homage to the UNIT era and filled it with references to past stories. He never even struck me as someone who watched the show. The Android Invasion is a drinking game where you tip your glass every time someone spots a nod to past UNIT stories. Good luck surviving the night. There's a creepy village where the folk aren't very welcoming (The Daemons), spacesuited baddies (The Ambassadors of Death) with finger guns (any Auton story), a guy with an eyepatch (Inferno), and plenty of Action by HAVOC-type stunts, falls and so one. Even the pod from which the androids are birthed might be mistaken for Sea Devil tech.

And there's nothing wrong with any of that. If this is going to be UNIT's swan song, then by all means, let's indulge in some nostalgia. The Androids are well-realized monsters, with creepy analog faces when unmasked, and cold stares when they aren't. Whoever's producing them needs to work on their response time because they're not fooling anyone at the moment. There's an interesting mystery there - what happened to the village, why is the money all newly-minted, why does it smell like rain, etc. - and it's fun to see the Doctor build a reasonable (but incorrect) story around available facts, but the title gives away at least part of the game. The UNIT soldier twitching along in the opener is obviously robotic, and so are the townspeople arriving by the lorryful, so there's no proper reveal there.

On the whole, Part 1 succeeds because there are more Holmesisms than Nationisms. The latter brings the Hartnell era's obsession with making the TARDIS inaccessible (it mysteriously dematerializes), while the former is surely the source of all the witty lines in the script, the Doctor's insolence and Sarah's too. My favorite moment of hers is when she shoots a barb at the UNIT soldier, telling him he shouldn't be drinking so soon after breaking his neck, just as she bolts out the door. Flirting with danger, just as the Doctor taught her. He's soon up to the same kind of shenanigans, using humor to deflect an attempt by Crayford to imprison him. Holmes makes this story, a throwback to the Pertwee years in danger of being a throwback to Hartnell's, fit the season quite well, with the same fun banter and Gothic undertones. They may be androids, but they're treated as pod people, or perhaps as Wicker Man-type villagers. If you enjoy trivia, check out the first scene with the TARDIS - Sarah says she hates ginger pop, which for good or ill, just has to be the origin of the Bubble Shock plot in Invasion of the Bane. Right?

- Still riding the momentum of the previous story, The Android Invasion Part 1 is an exciting and nostalgic trip back in recent memory. But can it stay the course?


Jeff R. said...

Is 'this' (Unit's Swan Song) supposed to be this serial or the entire season? Because The Seeds of Doom is still in ahead of us.

Siskoid said...

Seeds doesn't feel like UNIT to me. It feels like The Avengers.


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