April 22, 2007

Making (or Re-Making) History

It was the best birthday present I had purchased for myself...which is ironic, because the idea for this episode came to the producers arrived almost simultaneously with my arrival on this planet.

Imagine, if you will, a children's show that is in dire need of change, and is in danger of cancellation. Actors, production staff, are all rushed, and are literally stuck in a studio for the majority of the time. In addition, years afterward, two of the episodes are junked, and the remainder of the episodes are in poor quality.

It's amazing that The Invasion is being released on DVD - part of it is that it was a "pilot" for changes in Doctor Who (which came to fruition beginning with Spearhead from Space. Pulling from its Nigel Kneale/Quartermass roots, The Invasion is not so much an "instant classic" as much as "a pretty good Doctor Who" story.

Initially, I had owned the VHS version of this story - with Nicholas Courtney provided some swift links between episodes. However, having the two "missing" episodes animated - and the remaining ones with their soundtracks cleaned up and using VidFire to fix the picture - improves the story incredibly. However...at eight episodes, it is a bit too long. Think of it as two four parters - one focusing on who are the invaders (ultimately, it's the Second Doctor's most consistent enemy the Cybermen), and the other four about the actual nature of the invasion - and it works. However, some trimming and tightening of the plot would have resulted in a taut six parter, rather than a slightly padded eight parter. It could have been a easy contrast (the free-for-all swinging 60's London vs. a more technological, rigid Cyberfuture), but the pacing leaves something to be desired.

The performances are relatively solid, and help move the story forward. Kevin Stoney's performance as Tobias Vaughn - the human "ally" of the Cyberman - hits all the right tones, just barely reaching the top (rather than going over it). The Wendy Padbury/Sally Faulkner roles - not just as simple female companions, but as instigators and major role players - kind of foreshadows some of the more assertive/smarter companions (take that, Barry Letts!). Plus, having the cooperation of local armed units, and a smart yet economical directing style from Douglas Camfield, help to solidify the story.

When this DVD was announced, the "Age of Steel/Rise of the Cybermen" two-parter was being shown on the recent revival of Who. What made the recent story so flat was a lack of the very thing that "The Invasion" has - a sense of presence, and a sense of reality. Perhaps it is here when the "magic of Who" began, and the "magical things happening just outside your window" aspect began to emerge. Plus, having something happen in the "real world" gives it more menace - "Age/Rise" gave us a parallel world, with characters that were a little less than well drawn.

Ok, the real question - how do the animated episodes compare, and should the BBC animate further "missing episodes". The animated episodes (done in Flash) are simply OK - a lot of work went into them, and short of using CGI, help provide a great compliment to the remaining episodes. (Plus, there are two Easter Eggs/revisions in the first episode). In terms of "missing" episodes - should there be a complete "Dalek Master Plan?" "The Reign of Terror" Or filling in part four of "The Tenth Planet"?

At the risk of starting controversy...no. "The Invasion" benefits because only two episodes were missing, and even the two animated episodes stick out slightly. Restoring and animating other or full stories would be tricky, and reviewing the Doctor Who - Lost in Time Collection compilation, perhaps some stories ("Underwater Menace", anyone? Or even "Space Pirates"?) are best left lost.

Still, though, the restored "Invasion" is not an instant classic...but it is a pretty decent tale, well told.

And in the end, isn't that what Doctor Who is all about?

Postscript - a recent live revival of The Quatermass Experiment featured this slight in-joke/tribute. Enjoy.

1 comment:

Andy Land said...

I know it is horrible to say...but I can't bear to watch any classic Who anymore. The new episodes are so good and so much the Who I had lways wished for. Just...too silly watching the old ones now.

Of course I still get my geek on when anyone talks smack about the old shows. That's my childhood there!