It’s odd, the motifs that keep cropping up in Season 13 despite different directors and writers. Here, Styggron has a screen very similar to Sutekh’s that he uses when communicating with Crayford (it’s even shot at a similar angle), and a hidden camera in the pub, just like Broton. Perhaps it’s a natural approach when the show is moving away from armies of monsters to more well-characterised lead villains, hiding away in their secret lairs.
There’s lots that’s designed to be unsettling in this episode, and much of it succeeds: our friends Benton and Harry apparently in league with the villains, pulling guns on the Doctor and Sarah; the Doctor’s tense encounter with the humourless pub landlord, and, most effectively of all, the cliffhanger. It’s a shame both the title and throwaway dialogue have already given away the twist because the Doctor’s (hoarse) monologue and android Sarah Jane’s face falling off would have been an excellent way to reveal the truth behind all the strangeness.
Instead, we get two rubbery aliens squabbling over the merits of an android invasion, and a demonstration of an android-destroying Chekhov’s gun. The Kraals aren’t a classic design (they look like melted Sontarans down to having similarly wiry beards), and nothing they do sells them as a particularly credible threat – although Styggron’s distorted face during the mental conditioning is effectively horrid. Every moment they’re on screen growling exposition at each other saps credibility from the story.
Fortunately, there’s enough elsewhere to enjoy that it isn’t fatal. I love the oddness of the pub where all the dates in the calendar are the same: there’s something about the artifice of this, the strangeness of the deserted village, and the Doctor and Sarah running round the countryside being witty like Steed and Mrs Peel that makes this feel Avengersish (and in general I think this is the most Avengers-like season with its focus on British eccentrics in Avengersland locales). But I need to know: are the guard dogs also androids? And does Terry Nation understand what ‘libertarian’ means?
Next episode: The Android Invasion – Part Three