Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

In 1969, after nearly six years on air, Doctor Who was heading for destruction.

The entire regular cast would leave at the end of the current series, and the show was in rethink mode anyway. Plans were afoot to, if there was another series, cut the number of episodes in it and make much longer stories. Longer stories were cheaper, because the sets didn’t have to be redesigned from scratch as often.

Presumably to save further money, the show would no longer be set on alien planets, but, broadly speaking, be set on Earth in the near future. An army division (U.N.I.T.) was conceived to work with the Doctor to save near-future Earth from a different super-human threat each story.

TV series very rarely survive such drastic changes to their format, so to test the waters, this 8-part pilot story was made, and slotted into the current series.

But the best pilots come about when everyone really goes the extra mile to pull off something special.

Consequently, the result is one of Doctor Who’s all-time finest stories.

There’s not a whole lot I can add to the above line. Doctor Who’s always been a show that you had to bring something to yourself to complete it, but just occasionally it hits you with a classic in which (almost) everything comes together.

The story is, for the most part, well thought-through. The characters have depth, and are played well. The cracking film location work is actually like watching a film. The incidental music continues through your head afterwards, in a good way. And the monsters? Yep, these Cybermen are scary.

In the opposite corner, there are a couple of episodes in the middle that drag. Packer's intercom plays a speeded-up voice. (a TV convention I never understood in drama) The smooth-talking human villain – Tobias Vaughn – is seen to lose his cool in private, and with it his dangerous cleverness. And his excuse for having two identical offices several miles apart – with just the different landscape outside the window - really isn’t fooling anyone.

But the rest of the production overcomes all this, and the eerie atmosphere of this being my Earth survives to this day, in 2008.

I mean, old black-and-white science-fiction shows have a reputation for getting the future painfully wrong. Flying cars, holographic TVs, world peace etc. But The Invasion is that rarest of beasts – a tale of the future that, 40 years later, actually comes across as about 90% contemporary.

First up, there's the Brigadier’s video-phone call to Major Rutledge.

Nothing too unforeseen there.

But wait - most of the world's computers and technology have been made by a single global company - International Electromagnetics - who routinely sneak additional circuitry into all their products. International Electromagnetics are repeatedly referred to as "IE." That's right - IE is programmed to do alot of extra stuff, without you knowing, and which you can't turn off. What browser are you reading this in?

But top of my list has to be the Doctor’s frustrated argument with an automatic telephone-answering machine, which just repeats several pre-recorded sentences, and fails to put him through to anyone. This would have been quite a clever joke in the 1960s. Today however, it hits its real-life target so accurately, that it's deadly satire.

But the best thing about these prophetic visions, is that the rest of the world looks exactly the same as it always has done. Well, in my lifetime anyway.

When the current production team remade this story in 2005, they instead set it on a paralell Earth, which offered similar creative freedom, and protection from dating too much, but at the expense of what makes Earth-bound stories so involving.

Finally, every great Doctor Who story must come to an end, and I found that as the final episode began, I was sitting a little less confidently in my seat. Alas, my gut turned out to be right.

As is so often the way, in the rush to tie everything up, the story fell apart at the seams. U.N.I.T. don’t simply bomb the transmitter, they land and try to break into it on foot. Despite having twelve long minutes in which to do so, the Cybermen don’t move their ship out of the way of the Russians' missile, and we’re never told why. The device that afflicts the Cybermen with emotions becomes nothing more than a gun. And as for all the hundreds of other Cybermen roaming about in London, errr, well, our focus is kept so firmly on the other plotlines that we just never find out. I guess they’re still out there then.

If only someone had realised, that would have made a really good ending.

VAUGHN: "Come, Packer, we must prepare for tomorrow night."
PACKER: "Why, Vaughn? Whaddarewegonnado TOMORRA night?"
VAUGHN: "The same thing we do every night, Packer, try to TAKE OVER THE WORLD!"

(They're Packer, They're Packer and Tobias Vaughn, Vaughn, Vaughn, Vaughn, Vaughn.)

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