Review of Doctor Who ‘The Android Invasion’ (Series 13)
In the run up to the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’ in November 2013, Neela Debnath with the help of BBC DVD, will be writing a review focusing on one story from each of the previous 31 series of the show. Each review will offer readers a snapshot from every series of ‘Doctor Who’ and celebrate the longest-running science fiction television programme in the world.
With elements of The Stepford Wives and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Android Invasion was a sinister Doctor Who serial and a classic slice of the Tom Baker era.
This serial featured the last appearance of Unit character Sergeant Benton (John Levene) and also a one-off guest appearance by Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter). Harry’s final appearance as a regular companion was earlier in series 13 in Terror of the Zygons, where he chose to return to London by train rather than take the Tardis and so signalling his desire to leave the Doctor.
The Android Invasion saw Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and the Doctor land in a rural village that looks and feels like earth but turns out to be a replica built on the planet Oseidon, home to the Kraals. Due to the rising levels of radiation on their own planet, they are planning to invade earth using androids and a virus to kill off the human race. However, the Doctor foils their designs to take over earth in the nick of time.
It is a neat little four-parter that allows enough room for the story to develop and there is no dithering instead there is a good pace to it. There are some great moments of suspense and in true classic Doctor Who style it is a while before the audience really understands what is going on. The plot unfolds at the right speed and maintains suspense throughout.
The audience is not shown the Kraals fully for some time and it makes them seem more sinister because their appearance has been left to the viewer’s imagination. This deliberate decision to initially only show shots of the hands, an eye, the feet and the voice creates a sense of the monstrosity, while preserving the intrigue as to who this foe could be.
When the Kraals are fully shown it turns out that they are not all that scary, therefore the decision not to reveal the enemy straight away is a smart one. The element of psychological fear means that the mind creates something far scarier than a costume designer could ever come up with. An interesting factoid is that Kraal Marshal Chedaki’s voice is provided by actor Roy Skelton who also did the voice for Zippy in children’s programme Rainbow.
The other element of fear is created by the androids, they look exactly like humans and act very similar to them but there is something a little off which is unsettling. The first android that the audience sees moves in a jerky, catatonic way which is somewhat disturbing, like a broken human.
The android versions of the Doctor and Sarah are terrifying as well because the audience is used to seeing these characters and trusting them. Therefore, when they turn out to be androids rather than the real thing, it is as if the rug has been pulled from under their feet and it is difficult to know who to trust – there is no certainty as to what they might do. At times there is confusion as to who is an android and who is real; the fixed grin on the Doctor’s android doppelganger is particularly unnerving.
The other truly unnerving scene is where the Doctor realises that Sarah has been replaced with an android and pushes her over, only to see her face fall off and reveal the machinery underneath. The moment is also reminiscent of the film posters for The Stepford Wives which features the broken head and fragments of the central character Joanna Eberhart. The Stepford Wives film was released in February 1975 while this serial first started broadcasting in December of the same year, and there are evident parallels between the two.
One of the interesting things in this serial is the interplay between Sarah and the Doctor, they have a good dynamic and there is a strong bond of trust between the pair. But there feels like a potential underlying sexual chemistry between them and if it had been Nu Who this may even have been explored. After a while the age gap between the actor playing the Doctor and his companion does narrow down and makes a potential romance tangible.
The Android Invasion is another alien invasion plot but it is the android twist which gives it such a chilling edge. It is all very much like The Stepford Wives and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, playing on the fear of being replaced by something else and no one realising. Furthermore, it is about the psychological fear of the story, where the audience are left in the dark and cannot really trust what they see.
Baker and Sladen are superb and make a fine team as Time Lord and companion. This time even the production values do not let the story down that much, yes they are dated now but compared to some of the other special effects on the show, the androids don’t look that bad. It is worth watching this serial, especially the tussle between the Doctor and his android alter ego which looks like a bizarre wrestling match.
For more information about the classic series of ‘Doctor Who’ visit:www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/classic
For more information about the ‘Doctor Who’ DVDs visit: www.bbcshop.com
DVD & image credit: BBCTagged in: doctor who, Elisabeth sladen, The Stepford Wives, Tom Baker
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