I’m not sure there’s any episode of Doctor Who that’s so disastrously undermined by its title. It’s as if Barry Letts took the brouhaha over Invasion [of the Dinosaurs] – Part One so seriously that this goes in entirely the opposite direction, revealing exactly what’s going on before the first line of dialogue is spoken. Why they went with a spoiler rather than the more evocative The Enemy Within, or even the prosaic The Kraals is a bigger mystery than what’s left when the central conundrum has its legs kicked from under it so brutally.
Terry Nation has a reputation among some Doctor Who fans as a bit of a hack who got lucky with Raymond Cusick’s Dalek design. Like Genesis of the Daleks, this proves that when he’s on form, or has been given a bigger challenge than ‘write this year’s Dalek serial’ he can come up with the goods. A lot of the content isn’t hugely original: the twitching solder hurling himself to his doom and the deserted town are straight out of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and there’s Nation’s normal obsession with radiation sickness. But if you ignore the title, there’s a lot that’s intriguing here: why are all the coins new? Why are the inhabitants of Devesham behaving so oddly? Why has the landlord forgotten Sarah Jane? Who are the space-suited guardians with the playable finger guns (pew pew pew)?
In keeping with the new house style, the episode is very creepy. The empty countryside is ominous, as are the villagers with blank, staring faces (including, surely, one of the extras from Spearhead from Space – presumably there’s a backstory about the Auton Invasion prompting a breakdown and a move from London to the countryside, only to be caught in another A- Invasion). The coffin-like pods, opening to disgorge a very Night of the Living Dead style suited zombie to claw at Sarah Jane, are great. Had we not been told they’re all androids invading, you could believe that maybe the Sontarans are somehow behind an army of clones, given that Martin Friend sounds like Kevin Lindsay; the tight close-up of his mask at the end of the episode could easily be a Sontaran, and Styggron sounds like a very Sontaran name.
But, hey-ho, we know this is an android invasion so we’re just waiting for the Doctor and Sarah to cotton on. Let’s focus, then, on the lovely, summery location filming, and the charming banter between Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen, even more perfect here than in Pyramids of Mars (‘Watch the bramble.’; ‘Ow!’; ‘I told you to watch the bramble.’). Let’s spot the odd foreshadowing of The Five Doctors (‘Just taste that air. I love that fresh smell just after a rain shower’ sounds very much like The Five Doctors’ opening discussion about thunderstorms, and in both stories there’s momentary drama caused by Sarah Jane rolling down a gentle slope).
Next episode: The Android Invasion – Part Two