Monday, October 12, 2015

"The Android Invasion"

Aired Nov 22 - Dec 13, 1975



4 Episodes


Story 83

Written by: Terry Nation

Directed by: Barry Letts



Synopsis

The Doctor and Sarah arrive in what they initially believe is the quiet English village of Devesham, located near Britain's Space Defence Station. Encountering many strange sights, including villagers seemingly entranced, they soon uncover that the village is in fact a replica built on the planet Oseidon. An alien race known as the Kraals, led by the scientist Styggron, have built a copy of both village and station and populated them with android replicas in order to prepare for their invasion of Earth. The Doctor and Sarah meet sinister versions of UNIT friends such as Harry Sullivan and Benton, while attempting to uncover Styggron's full plan.

Aiding the Kraals is an Earth astronaut named Guy Crayford, thought lost by Earth years ago during a space mission. Styggron has duped the man into helping them, after supposedly finding his damaged space craft and repairing Crayford's injured body. The Doctor and Sarah eventually manage to return to Earth in Crayford's rocket, as his miraculous return is part of the invasion plans.The rocket also contains a deadly virus that Styggron will release on Earth to weaken the population ahead of a full invasion. A convenient meteor shower is also part of the plan, as the meteors contain android duplicates that will take over the Station.

Though the Doctor and Sarah's warnings fall on deaf ears due to the joy at Crayford's return, they do manage to use the Station's radio transmitters to jam the control signals of the androids and eventually succeed in preventing Styggron from releasing the virus. Styggron himself is killed after he is confronted by Crayford, who has discovered his only an android himself, and the alien scientist is felled by his own virus.



Analysis

Any plot that relies on a man not removing an eyepatch for years is fundamentally flawed, but that gigantic hole in logic could be forgiven if it wasn't simply the crowning weakness atop a very large mountain of poor plotting. Terry Nation was never the most sophisticated storyteller, but his simplistic structure and cliched plotting was often minimized by his skill at creating effective, if basic, thrills and chills.

Here, though, he somehow stuffs way too much into his plot and doesn't seem to think too long about any of it. Doctor Who stories often have logical issues, sometimes more than one, frankly. But The Android Invasion reaches the tipping point and then careens headlong over it, resulting in the decimation of the audience's ability to suspend disbelief.

For instance, if Crayford's memories of the Space Station and the town are what's being used to create the replica, how is it possible that he knows what's going on there in the present day? He's been missing for a long time, and yet somehow he knows all the UNIT personnel, including who would replace the Brigadier when he's called to Geneva? And how is it possible that they would know the Brigadier is in Geneva at any given time with any accuracy? 

Speaking of the replica, why do they even need it? Why do androids you've programmed  to be perfect copies even need to rehearse, and how does just interacting with each other help spot any weaknesses? Why have a calendar with only one date on it? Why is it necessary to have Crayford believe he's the real Crayford anyway? And why give him an eyepatch in the first place, and why not have the eye underneath it be damaged? And if you're going to release a virus as deadly as the one they have, why do they need to do anything more than that anyway?

With all that being said, there is something still mildly enjoyable about The Android Invasion. Much of that is due to director Barry Letts, who injects the proceedings with as much atmosphere and fun as he ever did as a director. The location work is very good, and the opening episode is wonderfully spooky and foreboding. There's a ton of unsettling imagery throughout, such as the sequence where the android Sarah loses her face. He plays the doppelgänger element with as much chills as you could, given that this is family television. 

Season 13 is a hugely strong season, and as a result, a story that is weak, as The Android Invasion undoubtedly is, stands out and appears to be even worse than it actually is. There's no doubt it's not good, but even with its overcomplicated yet poorly constructed plot, the direction and performances still make it not a total waste of time.


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