5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
Want us to let you know when we post a new review? Click here to join our mailing list.
THE ANDROID INVASION
"Let's try the pub."
We all love Doctor Who, right? But we don't all love exactly the same things about it. And with this adventure, that's never been so obvious to us.
The Android Invasion seems to be generally considered a blot on the Hinchcliffe escutcheon, an embarrassingly unoriginal story that's as full of holes as Baldrick's underpants. And there's no doubt that there's some truth in this. Terry Nation borrows heavily from his own work (the high-radiation planet in The Daleks) and from others' work as well (the androids with guns in their hands in the Auton stories and, most notably, the Zygons' duplication of humans as part of a plan to take over the Earth). And there are some horrendous plot holes, although not as many as some critics seem to think.
But despite all this, we love this story. For a start, it's a cracker in terms of atmosphere, particularly in the early episodes. But more than anything else, it's an absolute stunner in the characterisation of the Doctor and Sarah and the relationship between them. And for us here at Androzani, that's the most important bit. Monsters we can take or leave; brilliant plots are a nice bonus; but it's the fascinating, enigmatic character of the Doctor that keeps us glued to the screen. Your mileage may, and probably does, vary, but that's the way we like 'em. And that's why we like this story.
The first episode starts brilliantly, with a great performance from the faulty UNIT android. And the rest of the setup, from the planet that smells of rain even though the ground is dry through to the robotic village inhabitants, is deeply creepy, almost Prisoneresque in its impact. The UNIT replacement androids are chilling, with Ian Marter in particular turning in an excellent performance. (It's nice to see him and lovely Benton again, too.) The sequences in the fake complex are exciting and suspenseful. And the Doctor's discovery that Sarah is an android, heavily signposted though it may be, has a remarkable impact. The Kraals, we admit, are a low point, but frankly as far as we're concerned most monsters are, and they don't seem much worse than most, including the Zygons they closely resemble.
As the episodes progress, things start to fall apart a bit as the plot craters start to widen. Unlike some critics, we don't see why the Kraals shouldn't have built a duplicate village - they wanted to make sure the androids seemed convincing when they got to Earth, after all, and while it seems like overkill, perhaps they're just very thorough. As for why they blew it up, who knows? Maybe they were under orders not to leave any trace of their preparations.
It's often mentioned that the invasion force is ignored, but we don't see that as too bad. Because the Kraals are going to all the bother of the androids and the virus, it's pretty clear they don't have the military capability to take over Earth, so after the virus failed the fleet obviously just slunk away. Although how they were planning to wipe out the entire population of the Earth in three weeks with a virus that needs direct contact to work and only a handful of androids to propagate it is a bit puzzling.
There's some worse stuff than this, though, the most glaring of which is probably to do with Crayford. How did the Doctor know that there was nothing wrong with Crayford's eye? And how come Crayford had never noticed that he hadn't actually lost an eye? Even if he never took off the eyepatch, he would have been able to see the eyepatch itself with his covered eye. What was the point anyway of the Kraals telling him he'd lost an eye when he hadn't? And how come when the ground staff see Crayford on the video screen they don't remark on him wearing an eyepatch at all?
There are also a lot of annoying little gaps. Why would the duplication process give Sarah a scarf she wasn't wearing? Why would the process give the androids enough memory to know how to move and speak like the original but leave out bits like a dislike for ginger pop? When the Doctor escapes from the android Harry and Colonel Faraday (using the ghastly "robot detector"), Sarah refers to "the real Harry and Colonel Faraday" - how does she know who was in the room? She's miles away. This kind of thing undoubtedly reduces the impact of the story, but it still survives as a memorably eerie tale full of cunning misdirections.
The Android Invasion's an excellent adventure for Sarah: apart from stupidly getting down from her tree before the coast's clear, not to mention suffering from the dread Companion Ankle Curse, she gets to be smart and brave tons of times, rescuing the Doctor over and over again. Particularly impressive is her electrocution of the android. And Lis Sladen's great as the android Sarah too.
It's a fun one for the Doctor as well, as he gets lots of action bits. We don't envy him that ducking in the river, though – no wonder his voice is so hoarse in some of the location scenes after having his stomach pumped. And after viewing the fight at the end, together with the punch in Planet of Evil, we have to conclude that Tom Baker punches like a girl.
The chief draw here, however, is the scenes of the two of them together. What with the deserted village and all, there's an unprecedented number of two-handers, and they work like a charm. Their relationship is quite simply a joy to watch. Great dialogue, great acting - great stuff.
MORAL: Keep it simple, stupid.
IT'S CHIPS ON THURSDAYS
Why is Sarah concerned about getting to UNIT HQ? She's not a UNIT employee.
Much to the frustration of UNIT dating enthusiasts, the Doctor and Sarah carefully avoid ever saying what year the coins are dated. This isn't very natural, particularly at the beginning when given that they don't know what year they've arrived in it would be the obvious thing for Sarah to ask what date's on the coins when the Doctor says they're all the same year.
When the Doctor and Sarah first see the pod, there's nothing on the ground in front of it. But when they come to dive down behind it, a cushiony thing has magically materialised.
After getting out of the water, the Doctor exhibits that mysterious Time Lord quick-drying skill we saw in The Sea Devils.
THETA OMEGA. AS IN T-OM
Sarah confidently uses the sonic screwdriver on the Doctor's instructions. Clearly he's been letting her have a play with it (fnar fnar).
IT'S A KNOCKOUT
Someone's disabled by being hit on the back of the shoulder this time, instead of the back of the neck. Why would either render someone unconscious?
STRIKE A POSE
When the Doctor disables the androids, the android Doctor is frozen holding a chair above his head. For the rest of the scene, we see him in that pose but the shot is framed to cut off his hands. This is deeply cunning, because it means he can hang onto something above his head we can't see to enable him to hold his position without moving.