Friday, January 25, 2013

The Android Invasion

Dear Gary—
The Android Invasion is really quite good despite itself. It is one of those rare Tom Baker stories that I was fairly unfamiliar with going in; I had only seen it once, maybe twice before, and I could not remember much about it so it was almost as if I was watching it for the first time.
The plot itself has so many holes in it that it is laughable, but it is enjoyable to watch. The Doctor and Sarah alone are worth watching, and The Android Invasion has lots of the Doctor and Sarah. In fact, this story is unusual in that there are no other characters helping the two for the better part of it; for a good three quarters of the show all of the supporting cast members are antagonists.
I like the feel of the story from the start. The TARDIS materializes in what appears to be a typical English countryside and the Doctor alone emerges.
“Well, come on, make your mind up. Has the TARDIS brought us home or not?” Like any good companion, Sarah is skeptical, and I find it a nice touch that she remains in the TARDIS; only her voice is heard as the two carry on their conversation.
“Possibly,” the Doctor says, skeptical himself.
“What do you mean possibly?” A companion is supposed to be skeptical, but the Doctor?
“Well, the coordinates were set for your time but the linear calculator, well . . . . Ginger pop?” The Doctor replies as he offers Sarah a drink when she finally comes out to take a look for herself.
I like this little scene because it sets up two very important elements of the story, the relationship between the Doctor and Sarah and a sense of mystery.
Tom Baker is not only the most alien of Doctors he is also the most detective-like, and The Android Invasion, at least the first half of it, is a mystery waiting to be solved.
Their surroundings have the look and smell of Earth down to the oak trees (which don’t grow anywhere else in the galaxy). However there are some peculiar things going on such as the UNIT soldier stumbling out of the woods and falling off a cliff to his death only to show up later in the village alive and well (“I’m sure you shouldn’t be drinking so soon after breaking your neck”). All the money in the village is freshly minted coins from the same year, none of the telephones work (“I always told Alexander Bell that wires were unreliable”) and the calendar on the wall has only one day listed over and over.
The Doctor knows something is up the moment he sees a strange pod that he can’t quite place. “My memory is getting terrible,” he says. “You know, three hundred years ago I’d have recognized this like a shot.” When he and Sarah come upon a deserted village only to have it suddenly repopulated when a truckload of vacant eyed villagers pulls up, the Doctor’s curiosity is deepened.
The Doctor’s detection leads him to a space station and UNIT, however it is as deserted as the village was at first, that is until a one-eyed Crayford shows up. Crayford is later described as a “puny minded weakling” and I have to agree, especially about the puny mind. How can anyone go for years wearing an eye patch without once taking it off to realize that, oh, there really is an eye under there? I mean, the Doctor can tell there is a healthy eye under there just by looking at him. Even if he was brain washed, this is one of the most glaringly obvious plot holes of the story and rather unforgiveable.
Of course, the whole plot does rather fall apart once the Doctor gets to the bottom of things. What he learns is that this is not Earth but a perfect replica of an Earth village and the villagers are all android copies, all of whom were duplicated from the memories of Crayford, an astronaut who was lost and believed dead but who was actually captured (he thinks rescued) by a group of Kraals. The Kraals are using the phony village as a training ground for their androids after which they are transporting the androids to earth to release a virus that will wipe out the entire human race leaving the planet empty awaiting the Kraal invasion fleet.
I’m not even going to comment further on this rather lazy plot of convenience (“The best laid schemes of mice and Kraals gang aft agley”). It is somewhat disappointing, rather just an excuse to give the Doctor and Sarah something to do, but as an excuse I’ll take it.
The Kraals are effective enough Doctor Who monsters, and I always like bickering aliens so when Styggron and Chedaki go at it I am amused. The android villagers are rather creepy and android Sarah is quite good, but not good enough to fool the Doctor. Their relationship is too close for the Doctor to be fooled by a fake Sarah. The Doctor fighting his android self is another nice touch. Android Benton and Android Harry, however, are a bit disappointing and it is an even bigger disappointment when we get very little of the real thing for either of these characters when the action shifts to Earth. Especially knowing that this is the last serial for the two. And no Brigadier? Who is this Faraday character?
But the Doctor and Sarah save the day.
Doctor: “Once upon a time there were three sisters, and they lived in the bottom of a treacle well. Their names were Olga, Marsha, and Irena. Are you listening, Tillie?”
Sarah: “I’m Sarah. Sarah!”
Doctor: “I feel disoriented.”
Sarah: “This is the disorientation center.”
Doctor: “That makes sense.”
Yes, I will take an excuse of a plot just to have more of these two.
It’s not always the dialogue, either. It’s the looks, the tones of voice, the gestures. Everything sets these two apart as a classic Doctor Who pairing. I even like the small detail when they first arrive at the village (“Let’s try the pub”) and Sarah has to repeat the name of the pub when the Doctor enquires. “Fleur-De-Lys,” Sarah emphasizes as she says it a second time. The smallest of unnecessary bits that rounds out their relationship.
The camaraderie, the banter, and the trust. Despite the skepticism, every good companion also has complete faith in the Doctor.
Sarah: “So, providing we don’t burn up on re-entry, and aren’t suffocated on the way down, we’ll probably be smashed to a pulp when we land.”
Doctor: “Exactly. Sarah, you’ve put your finger on the one tiny flaw in our plan.”
Sarah: “Our plan? It’s your plan.”
Doctor: “Well, I’m open to suggestions if you’ve got a better idea.”
Sarah: “How long before we start all this?”
Of course they wouldn’t have to risk their lives on this re-entry plan if they hadn’t lost the TARDIS, which was another bit of plot convenience. Sarah had gone back to the TARDIS and put the key in the lock but was distracted and the TARDIS took off on its own. The key must have canceled the pause control the Doctor reasons. Pause control? Seems like a rather dangerous thing, particularly given the outcome in this instance. The Doctor might want to re-think that feature, maybe when he finally gets her in for her 500 year service that she’s overdue for.
But the Doctor and Sarah are reunited with the wayward TARDIS back on real Earth. The androids are decommissioned, the virus kills Styggron, Crayford learns he has two eyes, and the Kraal invasion fleet is forgotten.
We end somewhat as we began. The Doctor, Sarah, and the TARDIS in the woods. This time they know they are on Earth, but Sarah is not quite home. She’s going home in a taxi, she declares. Enough of this TARDIS business.
“Oh,” the Doctor says. “I’ll make you an offer. I’ll take you home.”
“How can I refuse?” Sarah decides as she places her trust once more in the Doctor.
How could anyone refuse? I certainly couldn’t. I’ll continue traveling with the Doctor, and I hope, Gary, that somewhere out there you are too.

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