The Android Invasion ★★

Kraals engineer an android invasion of Earth in this limp effort from Dalek creator Terry Nation

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Season 13 – Story 83

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“The virus which our androids will use to cleanse the Earth of its human population has only been proved in laboratory conditions. I wish to test it on a living human organism” – Styggron

Storyline
The Doctor and Sarah land near what they believe is an English village on present-day Earth… but what makes a Unit soldier suicidal, why are all the coins freshly minted and who are the boiler-suited figures with guns in their fingers? In fact, the inhabitants are robots and the village is a replica on the planet Oseidon, a training ground for an invasion of Earth by the Kraals. Sarah and the Doctor join the spearhead in a rocket – piloted by the Kraals’ human ally Guy Crayford – which contains a deadly disease engineered by the aliens’ chief scientist, Styggron…

First transmissions
Part 1 – Saturday 22 November 1975
Part 2 – Saturday 29 November 1975
Part 3 – Saturday 6 December 1975
Part 4 – Saturday 13 December 1975

Production
Location filming: August 1975 in Oxfordshire at East Hagbourne; Tubney Wood; National Radiological Protection board, Harwell; Worsham quarry, Witney
Studio recording: August 1975 in TC3 and TC8

Cast
Doctor Who – Tom Baker
Sarah Jane Smith – Elisabeth Sladen
Harry Sullivan – Ian Marter
RSM Benton – John Levene
Styggron – Martin Friend
Chedaki – Roy Skelton
Guy Crayford – Milton Johns
Colonel Faraday – Patrick Newall
Corporal Adams – Max Faulkner
Grierson – Dave Carter
Matthews – Hugh Lund
Morgan – Peter Welch
Tessa – Heather Emmanuel
Kraal – Stuart Fell

Crew
Writer – Terry Nation
Designer – Philip Lindley
Incidental music – Dudley Simpson
Script editor – Robert Holmes
Producer – Philip Hinchcliffe
Director – Barry Letts

RT Review by Mark Braxton
Season 13 is a majestic portfolio of classy homage, inspired horror and serious endeavour… with one party-pooping exception. And who should be responsible for said blip but the mighty Terry Nation!

Nation was attempting, as he put it, “a shot at doing something quite different… keeping the Daleks out of it”. The trouble is that The Android Invasion is merely a limp salad of old ingredients familiar from previous exterminatory escapades: a dying world, a doomsday plan, a specially engineered plague, and so on.

Glimpsed as a story outline, this Oseidon Adventure yields high hopes: Wyndham-esque village mystery, Unit, doppelgangers, Barry Letts’s directorial swansong, new aliens designed by the talismanic John Friedlander. But it’s soon grimly apparent that almost all these components are going to let us down…

MYSTERY MURDERED
It’s a fiasco before the story has even begun. “Classic” Doctor Who wasn’t always clever with its story titles, but The Android Invasion is one titanic spoiler. Under a more careful banner, the bizarre behaviour, identikit village and one-date calendars might have teased and stimulated. As it is, we know that the jerky man who runs off a cliff and the blank-faced publicans are androids, and that someone or something has therefore programmed them.

As for the kernel of the story, the master-plan itself, balderdash! If the Kraals’ manufactured plague will “cleanse the Earth”, why bother with androids, or indeed an invasion?

THE ARMY SHAME
In the early 70s, Unit was an integral part of the show’s success but here, led by pompous ass Colonel Faraday, standing in for the absent Brigadier, the troops function only as runners and shooters. It’s the last time we’ll see the dependable RSM Benton and salt-of-the-earth Harry Sullivan, but you wouldn’t know it. John Levene and Ian Marter are called on to play robots for most of the time; when their flesh-and-blood alter egos do pop up, they have nothing of import to impart.

Marter does the best he possibly can with the meagre scraps that he’s tossed. Suave in naval regalia, he would have made a great James Bond. At only 42 he was gathered to God tragically early, and my memories of Doctor Who’s old-fashioned man-out-of-time will always be fond ones.

DOUBLE TROUBLE
One of the more successful aspects of the production is the occasional fun of not knowing who is real and who is robot. It’s a duality that producer Philip Hinchcliffe was reportedly keen to toy with. But stiff acting kicks any tension into touch, and the problem of the androids “losing face” after a slight tumble does make them a bit of a risk as an invading force.

BARRY BOWS OUT
Barry Letts was such a devoted servant of, and authority on, Doctor Who that there must be a reason for him going through the motions as director here. The story boasts bounteous location footage, but much of it is sniggersomely inept: Sarah hanging off what I think is meant to be a cliff but looks like a gentle incline, Sarah falling and hurting her ankle (please, no!), interminable scenes of androids collected and deposited, etc.

It’s a story that – bless it – goes nowhere and builds towards nothing. The dialogue is uncharacteristically slovenly, and most of it is handed to meanie-in-chief Styggron: take your pick from “You’re singing a different song now, Crayford”; “I have other plans for the Doctor”; or the Thesaurus-tastic “Resistance is inadvisable”.

LOVING THE ALIEN?
The Kraals themselves represent something of a high point, but only in the East Anglian sense of a high point. Friedlander himself doesn’t let us down in his last gig for the show: the Kraal mask is suitably pug-ugly, with its truculent, Giles-Granny jaw. But a face like that cries out for a voice that’s deep, porcine and guttural. Remember what the sound engineers did for the Silurians and Zygons?

As it is, the radiophonically unaided Martin Friend and Roy Skelton just sound ill-tempered. Scuttling and paranoid, the Kraals are light years from the fearsome swine their genocidal plan would suggest they are.

The casting is eyebrow-raising, too. Milton Johns will be perfectly cast as the snivelling Kelner in 1978’s The Invasion of Time but here, in denim shirt and flares, looking as though he’s wandered in from a Play School audition, he is no one’s idea of an astronaut. Even one with a poorly substantiated death wish for his own species.

It just goes to show: even the greats have an off-day. And this misconceived “Stygg of the Dump” was a beauty!

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[Available on BBC DVD]