The Invasion

Cover of Doctor Who: The Invasion DVD release


  • 6 November 2006 (UK)
  • 6 March 2007 (US)




The Invasion is a strange story — epic, but subdued, stylish, but clunky, brilliant, but ridiculous. There's a wonderful air of tension and mystery as the Doctor tries to unravel the suspicious workings of a powerful multinational corporation. It's got a captivating film noir feel to it. But the serial seems to run out of steam about halfway through: right as the action should be kicking in, major events instead occur offscreen or are described, and the stylish, crisp presentation falls apart. Still, the serial boasts a brilliant villain, and for the most part it's absolutely dripping in atmosphere.

The Invasion - 8 episodes

The Invasion has quite an interesting premise. The Doctor and friends end up on Earth in fairly modern times. In their travels, they constantly cross paths with an eerily powerful and nearly fascist-spirited organisation called International Electromatics. The Doctor meets with the organisation's charming and helpful leader, Tobias Vaughn, but his worries are not allayed. International Electromatics is up to something, but they're a capable and entrenched organisation, so the Doctor finds it a bit difficult to find out what's going on.

International Electromatics may represent what Eisenhower warned about: the "military-industrial complex". As the story reveals, the company has significant influence over some military officials, it supplies the military with equipment, and it is staffed by a quasi-military security force. Maybe the notion that the writers meant I.E. as an allegorical warning is a bit of a stretch, but some of the parallels with modern-day Blackwater-like organisations and other powerful military contractors are distinct.

The early parts of the serial are dedicated to exposition about International Electromatics and the Doctor's efforts to peel away the layers of mystery surrounding the company's doings. These early, ambiance-filled episodes are probably the best part of the story. Director Douglas Camfield decided to use guest composer Don Harper for this serial's music, and Harper's moody, bass-heavy score creates a wonderfully tense and suffocating mood. Coupled with the slow buildup of the plot, the noir feel, the stylish black uniforms of the I.E. security personnel, and the constant surveillance, the music and style creates a tangible sense of apprehension which greatly benefits the serial.

The film noir style of The Invasion
The film noir style of The Invasion

On top of the fantastic style and the slowly engrossing plot, the serial delivers crisp, biting dialogue and a few great guest actors. Tobias Vaughn and his henchman, Packer, are hugely entertaining to watch. Actors Kevin Stoney and Peter Halliday deliver energetic and frenetic performances while just managing to keep from going too over-the-top. Packer is a bit one-dimensional, but Vaughn is a surprisingly nuanced and motivated character, a rarity in Doctor Who. In addition, the guests have clear and well-defined relationships with each other and the regulars. It's gratifying to watch the subtle relationship between Vaughn and Jamie develop, for instance, and Kevin Stoney really elevates both Patrick Troughton and Frasier Hines' performances. Add to the great character work some cracking dialogue ("You may still be adolescent enough to make idle threats, young man, but I can assure you, I am not."), a bit of comedy ("You look like a chicken with all those feathers on!"), expressive actors, some very clever moves by the Doctor, and a few very well-placed jump cuts, and the result is a really engaging story.

There's a lot to love about The Invasion, but it has several faults, notably a decline in quality in later episodes and a focus on extraneous elements. For one, there's the introduction of and focus on UNIT, the military organisation headed by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart that comes to the aid of the Doctor. The premise behind UNIT (an international co-operative military intelligence endeavour) is intriguing and UNIT does play a necessary role in certain parts of the story, but far too much screen time is spent at UNIT control, where orders are barked out and important events happen off-screen and are described rather than shown. A much larger problem is that once the actual invasion of the title begins, very little of it is actually shown. Apart from some iconic scenes in episode 6, none of the invasion of London is depicted. In The War Machines, the war machines are actually shown rampaging through London, frightening and killing people and wrecking havoc. Here, a few humans are shown collapsing and then, in separate scenes, a few quick shots of the invasion are shown. That's it. The fear and the desperation in fighting that should be conveyed is entirely absent. In part, that's because the invasion has used technology to make most humans collapse, but surely a few clashes with UNIT on the streets could have been shown! Scenes of fighting on I.E. property in the final episode make up for this somewhat, but the lack of an actual invasion in human terms is a serious determent to this story.

Tobias Vaughn and Packer
Tobias Vaughn and Packer

The biggest problem with this serial is the collapse of tight plotting that characterised the early episodes. Budget constraints, for example, forced UNIT's roadside rescue scene to be abandoned, and its replacement with a description of what happened harms the story. The final two episodes consist of a great deal of stock footage of missiles taking off and some bad special effects. A great deal of time is spent showing UNIT's countdowns to missile launches, which are exceedingly boring, and describing the movement of missiles and ships. At what should be the climax of the story, viewers are subjected to excruciatingly dull sequences and little or no action is shown. The brigadier's cool and resilient leadership of UNIT forces in a pitched battle at the I.E. compound in the final episode alleviates the problems somewhat, but even after that there is a tedious countdown scene. Overall, a sloppier, less engrossing second half to the story derails The Invasion just as it should hit its stride.

There's not much else to say about The Invasion. Episodes 1 and 4 have been reconstructed via animation as the originals were lost; the animated episodes are quite effective — though the action within the animation is somewhat subdued, there is a great deal of detail and the style adds to the film noir slant of the serial. The Invasion features a few nice twists (the revelation of just who is tracking the Doctor and Jamie in episode 2; Vaughn's brilliant scene in which hands a gun over to Professor Watkins) and a few missteps (the jaunty UNIT theme music hampers an otherwise outstanding score; the lost UNIT rescue scene forces a strange cut in episode 6; the motivation behind the invasion itself isn't totally convincing). In the final assessment, the slowly-building mystery and exposition, somewhat reminiscent of The Daleks but far more epic and engrossing than anything that came before, along with spectacular characterision, biting dialogue, a stylish, suspenseful ambiance, a superb villain, and taut, engrossing writing and directing make The Invasion a memorable serial. A messy second half keeps the serial from being a masterpiece, but the good outweighs the bad so it's still an accomplishment.


Special features

There are several interesting features on the DVD release. The Flash Frames feature is a fascinating piece detailing efforts to restore the two lost episodes of the serial with animation. Several other unused animation clips are also presented. The Evolution of the Invasion feature presents a great deal of insight regarding the actual production of the serial and features several key actors, including Kevin Stoney and Peter Halliday. Sadly, the serial's writer, Derrick Sherwin, is not featured, but the feature is informative nonetheless. Episode commentaries tend to ramble, but the commentary for the first episode features yet words from the animation team.