The Invasion is an unusual story for its era, but and impressive one which sets the tone for things to come. The contemporary Earth-bound setting is used to great effect and is a logical successor to the highly successful The Web of Fear. With a large cast, a returning ally, a superb villain and one of the eras most popular monsters, it is a triumph on many different levels.
Production wise, The Invasion feels for the most part very polished. The sets are very convincing especially Vaughans offices, the Professors house, the sewers and the UNIT HQ on board an aeroplane. The relatively large budget allows for excellent location work, most notably the scenes set in London during the Cyber invasion; the sight of the Cybermen marching impassively down the steps of St. Pauls cathedral are iconic and easily as memorable as the Daleks gliding around London landmarks in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The final battle between UNIT troops and Cybermen in Vaughans compound, filmed around a Guinness factory is also excellent, benefiting from the large cast of UNIT soldiers and Cybermen. Douglas Camfields direction is exemplary, giving the story a sense of scale; although we only really see London, Vaughans compound and the airfield housing UNITs temporary base both feel as though they are several miles away, an effect achieved by simple use of vehicles and the different painted backdrops in Vaughans offices. Although Vaughans offices are blatantly the same set slightly redressed, the script directly addresses this, with Vaughan smugly announcing that reproducibility and uniformity are the keys to his success, and this is just one example of the story papering over its limitations. Inserted film footage of missiles being launched is also used very effectively in the last two episodes, as the Brigadier directs the attacks on the orbiting Cyber fleet. Having said all that, the story is not perfect in this regard; as has been noted by several reviewers, the off-screen rescue of Professor Watkins is conspicuous, which I think is largely due to the fact that captain Turner announces his intention to rescue him, followed immediately by a cut to a scene directly after the rescue with the luckless Gregory explaining the loss of Watkins to Vaughan. An interim scene with the Doctor or the Brigadier hearing a report of the assault would have made this far less jarring. In addition, the model work is dire, with the Cyber ships looking like they are made out of cotton reels and bits of wire, and the shots of missiles crashing into them utterly unconvincing. Nevertheless, these are minor quibbles.
The cast is exemplary, most noticeable Kevin Stoney as Tobias Vaughan, making his second memorable impact as a Doctor Who villain. Vaughan is a superb villain from the start, his air of avuncular charm in episode one never quite masking the underlying threat he represents. The Doctors comments to Jamie about his blinking pattern hint that he is not quite human, but even without this, he seems menacing. The scene in which he tells Gregory to take time. Take one hour highlights this beautifully, since Gregory is clearly terrified of his superficially charming employer. In addition, Packer is clearly a thug from the beginning, raising the question about the sort of man who would employ such a person as his lieutenant. As the story progresses, Vaughans ruthlessness is gradually unveiled, especially during his scenes with Packer and Watkins, the former of whom he explains his plans to thus exposing his megalomania to the viewer (or listener, in the case of episodes one and four), and the latter of whom he bullies mercilessly, threatening to hand over Watkinss niece to the tender mercies of Packer. By the end of episode four, we learn just who Vaughans allies are, and the true extent of his schemes becomes clear. In some ways, Vaughan works better than Mavic Chen, Stoneys previous Doctor Who character. Chen seemed in some ways weaker, never adequately preparing for the fact that the Daleks would betray him, often seeming to need the guidance of Carlton, and ultimately descending into madness when his plans went astray. Vaughan seems much more in control of himself, despite periodic outbursts of rage. Most significantly, he realises from the very beginning that the Cybermen will betray him, and he always plans to betray them first, hence the cerebraton mentor machine. Finally, when his plans fall apart and the Cyber Planner announces that they will launch a megatron bomb and destroy all life on Earth completely, his reaction is not the deluded madness of Chen, but rather a desire for revenge as he is consumed by hatred. Another key difference is that whereas Chen was ruthless and callous, he never seemed particularly sadistic. Vaughan is also ruthless and callous, as his manipulation and dispatch of Rutlidge attests, but is sadistic as well. The scene in which he forces Watkins to shoot him and then stands laughing as the bullets ricochet off his cyber-converted chest is filled with a gleeful malice; he is simply proving that Watkins can do nothing to harm him, whereas he can easily harm Watkins.
The ever-loyal Packer is well acted by the underrated Peter Halliday (if anyone can get access to a copy of The Andromeda Breakthrough, I strongly advise them to do so to see why I think hes underrated). He is basically Vaughans lapdog, but he is also his confident. Whereas Vaughan clearly considers Gregory disposable, there is always an impression that he thinks more highly of Packer, whose mistakes outnumber Gregorys considerably. There is never any hint that Vaughan will kill Packer if he continues to let the Doctor get the better of him; this is possibly because Packer is also hinted to be partially Cyber-converted (although since Jamie twists Packers ankle in episode one, Im somewhat dubious about this) and has been a part of the conspiracy with Vaughan from the start. In short, he is the closest thing that Vaughan has to a friend. Packer works as a villain because he is thoroughly dislikable, lacking the charisma possessed by Vaughan; he is brutal and sadistic, and there are truly unpleasant hints about just what he would do to Isobel and Zoe if given free reign. Even more than Vaughans, his death at the hands of the Cybermen is thus rather satisfying.
When I reviewed The Wheel in Space, I criticized the fact that the Cybermen in that story are little more than generic robots from outer space. Slightly hypocritically, I think this approach works rather well here. Again, the Cybermen are said to be after the mineral wealth of Earth, and whilst Vaughan and his men are partially converted, there is very little emphasis placed on the Cybermens need to proliferate by converting the human population. Indeed, the Cyber Planners announcement that, having been betrayed, they must destroy life on Earth completely seems to be a little panicky for a supposedly logical race. In addition to this lack of emphasis on their cybernetic nature, with Vaughan to speak for them they have little need to actually say anything. A Cyberman speaks in episode five as the UNIT soldiers face them in the sewers, but this is an isolated incident, a fact for which I am grateful since the voices used for the Cybermen here are even worse than those used in The Wheel in Space. So the fact that they work so well here regardless is testament to the direction; they seem more threatening here than ever before. Their bulkier look compared with their appearance in The Moonbase, The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Wheel in Space is impressive and makes them more intimidating than usual. The superb incidental music is sublimely creepy and the use of sudden stings whenever a Cyberman appears is suitably dramatic. From the moment a Cyberman bursts from its cocoon at the end of episode four, they just seem scary, and their impassive silence only emphasizes this. The scene in the sewers is absolutely gripping, with Jamie, Zoe and Isobel all seeming convincingly frightened.
The weakness of the Cybermen exploited here by Vaughan is a novel one, as he causes one to feel fear. The sight and sound of a normally emotionless Cyberman screaming and lurching is disturbing and the crazed monster seems even more unstoppable than its comrades since it literally cannot be reasoned with. The Cyber Planner (as Ive chosen to call it) adds very little to Cyber mythology, but is of course used to maintain the surprise of who Vaughans allies are. And its voice is memorably alien at least. Douglas Camfield milks every drop of tension from the build up during the first four episodes, as the mystery of Vaughans operation mounts. Knowing in advance that the Cybermen are the villains certainly doesnt detract from the thoroughly spine-tingling ending to episode three, as Jamie finds himself in a crate with a mysterious cocooned figure that starts to move
Patrick Troughton seems to relish having a single villain figure for the Doctor to pit his wits against from the start, and his scenes with Kevin Stoney are great. Vaughan knows that the Doctor is more than he seems thanks to the Cyber Planner, and the Doctor knows that Vaughan is more than he seems because of his blinking rate, and the two play a game of metaphorical chess for the first half of the story, as they try to manipulate each other. It is also good to have a villain who has a genuinely good reason for not just killing the Doctor outright, since Vaughan is after the TARDIS. The contrast between Troughtons slightly anarchic Doctor and his military friends is also rather charming, as he generally bumbles happily around whilst the Brigadier seems to regard him with a mixture of amusement and respect. As in The War Machines, it makes a refreshing change for the Doctor to quickly gain the support of the establishment. With the respect of the Brigadier established by the events of The Web of Fear, the Doctor need waste no time proving himself, which from a dramatic point of view allows him to play with helicopters and canoes and try and rescue Zoe and Isobel with the aid of military backup, resulting in something of a romp. As a break from the norm, the result is highly entertaining. Jamie fulfills his normal action role, and good use is made of his double-act with the Doctor in the early episodes, as they chase around after Zoe and Isobel and confront Vaughan. Their bickering over Jamies free radio prompts some nice character moments, emphasizing yet again just why the Troughton and Hines combination is a winning Doctor and Companion team. Zoe, having been largely responsible for the destruction of the Land of Fiction in the previous story, here helps to save the world, since her calculations allow the destruction of most of the Cyber fleet. Her cheerful destruction of Vaughans computerized secretary is another great Zoe moment.
Nicholas Courtney makes a welcome return as now-Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and really makes his mark here. In The Web of Fear, the constant paranoia about who the Intelligence was using as a pawn meant that all of the supporting characters were questionable right up until the end; here however, the viewer knows that the Doctor can trust the Brigadier from the start, thus skipping the need for the Doctor to earn everybodys trust. Apart from the benefits of this as described above, its just rather pleasant to see the Doctor able to rely on an old friend aside from his companions. UNIT of course makes its début here and is an interesting, and indeed sensible, concept in a world in which aliens invade Earth in a contemporary setting. Overall, The Invasion provides UNIT with a baptism of fire and sets the tone for things to come.