Terrance Dicks’ arrival in The Invasion is closely followed by the first script from Robert Holmes. Between the two of them they will have a hand in every single Doctor Who story to be broadcast during the next nine years. This first collaboration doesn’t immediately suggest itself as the shape of things to come, but what is notable about it is how swiftly it moves in comparison to pretty much every story broadcast in the last year.
The premise seems vaguely inspired by the Greek legend of Athenian sacrifices to the Minotaur based on the initial scenes of a young man and woman being selected, and the vaguely Greek sounding names (like Axus and Beta). In a typical Robert Holmes touch, there is an early streak of macabre horror as Abu is dissolved by the Krotons’ acid guns, which immediately prompts the Doctor’s opposition to the (as yet unseen) monsters.
While a lot of the episode is fairly familiar – youthful hotheads challenging the wisdom of their elders – it’s a lot more lively than a similar set-up on Dulkis in The Dominators. Those were 1967 hippy youths; these are the angry young people of the 1968 protest movements. This in itself makes the episode a bit more feisty. But it’s also notable that Selris is surprisingly quick to accept the Doctor’s account: willing to venture into the “poisonous” wasteland, and to immediately begin to wrestle with the problem of how to handle the news that his people’s gods are evil aliens. A few stories ago, it would have taken two or three episodes to convince anyone in authority to believe the TARDIS team.
Some of Holmes’ favourite ideas – like old evils returning to haunt the present; a cynicism about bureaucrats and authority figures, and the idea of surveillance or being watched – are all here, along with a ghoulish sense of humour (the Doctor’s more worried about the destruction of his favourite umbrella than the state of Vana). Most of all, it’s just fun: the Doctor and friends bouncing about on an alien planet, and Troughton’s announcement that, ‘We are friends – don’t be afraid’ as he cowers from spears.
Next episode: “The Krotons” – Episode Two