No matter how much you love this story, there is a void in the first half of the story that is ever so apparent. The void I'm referring to is of course the lack of Cybermen, the story's main villain. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that the main villain of this story isn't necessarily the Cybermen but the megalomaniac, Tobias Vaughn. Vaughn is a man who makes a deal with the devil and bargains with a species he can't control. While all this is going on, the producers of the show are also laying the groundwork for the next few years of the show. With the Doctor about to be exiled to Earth by his own race in a few stories time, the introduction of UNIT and the re-usual of Lethbridge Stewart, now a Brigadier, seemed right. This story follows the formula used extensively throughout the Jon Pertwee era and this story could have easily been rewritten to feature any number of alien creatures instead of the Cybermen had the producers wished. In fact, it was the template of this story that was reused time and again in the next few years to come.
It is easy to forget that The Invasion is actually about the Cybermen. That is because what little screen time they actually get are usually filled with some of their most iconic moments in their history and the history of Doctor Who in general. Some of these scenes hark back to their previous appearences most notably the shot with the Cyberman bursting out of it's metal container which evokes memories of their awakening in Tomb of the Cybermen and another moment where one Cyberman grabs Jamie's ankle when they are climbing out of the sewers.
Arguably, the most iconic shot of this story and one of the most iconic scenes of the entire show comes at the end of episode 6 where the Cybermen burst from the sewers and begin to swarm across the streets of London including descending a set of steps with St. Paul's Cathedral, a well known London landmark, in the background. It really hammers home the fact that the Cybermen are
in control, even if, they aren't really the main antagonist in this adventure.
While aliens in central London isn't new in Doctor Who, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The War Machines and The Web of Fear, The Dalek Invasion of Earth is a more successful attempt than The Invasion at a look at what London might look like if it were occupied by an unstoppable alien menace.
However, The Invasion has far less grandeous aims than The Dalek Invasion of Earth, with the Cybermen's invasion attempt ending up being far from successful. I suppose at the end of the day, although they manage to knock just about everyone out on Earth, that is about the only menacing thing we truly see them do. The iconic, Cybermen in front of St. Paul's ultimately is little more than posing and this is a reason I do find The Invasion a little dull for my liking. It is a decent story but that is only through the energy of the actors that never lets up and the tight direction from Doctor Who legend Douglas Adams that really managed to keep my attention. It is really evident that the Cybermen are only there to give the heroes something to act against.
But for all the story's talk about hundreds of Cybermen marching the streets, there are no more than about 10 of the monsters who appear. Their voice comes from a machine hidden away in Vaughn's office and is nothing more than a device created especially to hide the fact that the monsters are even in this story. Of course, this could have been done to keep use of the Cybermen to a minimum, this being their fifth appearance on the show within the space of three years, the go-to monster of the Troughton era were at risk of running stale. But one is forced to wonder, why couldn't the show have done with the Cybermen as they had done with the Daleks? In Evil of the Daleks, the Daleks get a big send off, so why couldn't The Invasion have said goodbye to the Cybermen in a big way too, at least for a little bit. It is a shame that hardly any of the Cybermen actually turn up and those who do go out with a whimper rather than a bang.
The threat of the Cybermen is also lessened because the Doctor chooses to deal more with Vaughn than them. Maybe from past experiences he knows there is hardly any benefit in talking to them but he pleads for the safety of the world to Vaughn and communicating with the Cybermen appears to not even be an option. There is a scene a bit later in the story where is pleading with Vaughn right in front of the Cyber-Planner. It is almost as if the Cybermen are below his notice. This story makes it look like talk is only reserved for Tobias Vaughn a man who becomes more like a Cyberman with every scene he is in. It also appears that the invasion wasn't even the Cybermen's idea but Vaughn's.
Technically, this is the first time the Cybermen had ever heard of the planet Earth as their previous stories had always been set in the future. So, in theory, if it hadn't been for Vaughn's interference the Cybermen probably wouldn't have bothered with Earth. Maybe that's why the Cybermen seem to be a little confused. Their entire presence here is entirely reactive as the respond to orders given out by Vaughn and then responding again when the human race puts up resistance. It is Vaughn who drives everything in this story and is a typical James Bond villain, wanting power only for the sake of having power.
Vaughn only sees the Cybermen as a means to further his own plans and until the Cyber-Planner goes for the nuclear option and turns against him in a way that makes it seem like they were working for him all along, he seems to have the Cybermen completely outmanoeuvred. It also appears that Vaughn has already been partially converted because he has a metal body. This is one of the most chilling things about the Cybermen, as they want to turn all us into one of them but Vaughn is still Vaughn and is arrogant and emotional even with his Cyberman body. It is almost as if he has been turned into a vampire and avoiding sunlight and garlic. He truly believes he has already won but is too arrogant to notice he is not as in control as he would like to be. In effect, he had already lost the game before it even started.
But, besides it's length issues, this story also has a tendency to cut corners. Sometimes in a way that is forgivable and sometimes not. It is understandable as the show only had the budget for six Cybermen costumes and therefore ruining the illusion of hundreds of the metal giants roaming the streets of London. This is a unfortunate thing about older science-fiction shows, not just Doctor Who, but others where our imagination has to fill in gaps that have been left out. It is because of this that it is a little difficult to believe the rescue of Professor Watkins takes place off screen. It supposedly takes place between two scenes, one where UNIT are deciding how they are going to do it and one were Packer tearfully tells Vaughn that UNIT succeeded. It feels a little jarring. While somethings with this story feel a little underwhelmed, it is thanks to the great direction from Douglas Camfield, a man who understood action, that keeps the whole story watchable. He truly is one of the show's best directors and one of few who truly understood how to blend humour with action, resulting in scenes between Packer and Vaughn being hilarious to watch. Patrick Troughton also holds the show together thanks to his commanding presence and his improvised comedic scene in the tunnels where he flips a coin to decide on which way to go is pure gold!
A special mention to Wendy Padbury who plays the Doctor's companion Zoe is also worth mentioning as she really shines throughout the entire story, especially during her big scene in episode six where she saves the day through her maths skills! Doctor Who often tried to do female geniuses as companions most notably with Romana and Nyssa but, as good as those characters were, they were not as good as Zoe who manages to remain perky and energetic without coming across as annoying and commanding and intelligent without appearing really condescending. Zoe gets a couple of moments to really shine in this adventure, firstly by destroying Vaughn's answering machine using the language computers talk in against it and finally by wiping out the Cyber-fleet with some off the cuff calculations. Also in that scene you'll notice some of the male extras looking at her bottom in her sparkly cat suit, whether they were supposed to do that or not, it makes the scene really, really funny!