When the TARDIS lands in the sleep English village of Devesham, Sarah Jane thinks the Doctor has finally gotten her back home. But all is not as it seems – the village is unusually deserted and deadly white-suited spacemen patrol the countryside. The Doctor decides to contact UNIT. But their UNIT friends are also dangerously changed.
Who is Senior Defense Astronaut Guy Crayford, and why is he in charge of UNIT? Who are his true masters, the Kralls, and what insidious plans are they concocting behind the scenes?
The Doctor soon discovers that the invasion of Earth has already begun, and if he doesn’t stop it mankind will be utterly wiped out.
Tom Baker is the Doctor in The Android Invasion
X X X X X
Doctor Who – Tom Baker
Sarah Jane Smith – Elisabeth Sladen
Harry Sullivan – Ian Marter
Colonel Faraday – Patrick Newell
RSM Benton – John Levene
Guy Crayford – Milton Johns
Corporal Adams – Max Faulkner
Morgan – Peter Welch
Styggron – Martin Friend
Grierson – Dave Carter
Chedaki – Roy Skelton
Kraal – Stuart Fell
Matthews – Hugh Lund
Tessa – Heather Emmanuel
Producer: Philip Hinchcliffe
Writer: Terry Nation
Director: Barry Letts
Original Broadcast: 22 November – 13 December 1975
X X X X X
The Android Invasion is a weird duck. It’s a pretty standard episode of Doctor Who, with strange goings-on, eerie moments, and an alien race behind it all with the purpose of destroying humanity. Taken in a vacuum, it’s an enjoyable little story even with it flaws. By virtue of its place of the broadcast order, however, it’s often considered one of the weaker serials of Tom Baker’s run, falling square in the middle of one of Baker’s best seasons.
A UNIT soldier walks about in a trance, one arm twitching uncontrollably. The Doctor and Sarah Jane materialize nearby, in the right time but miles from London by way of Devesham. After being shot at by a group of men in white containment suits, the Doctor and Sarah Jane head to the village, which they discover is empty of any inhabitants…until the men in white suits bring the inhabitants into town via flat-bed truck. The citizens quietly distribute themselves about the village and go about their normal activities. Why do all the citizens have freshly minted money from that very year, down to the exact same coinage? What does all this have to do with the UNIT Space Defence Station just up the road? Why does the UNIT soldier ask Sarah Jane if she’s part of “the test?” Why is Harry Sullivan of all people trying to hunt down Sarah Jane? And why are a pair of bickering aliens crowing about their master plan to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth?
The Andoid Invasion, penned by Terry Nation, borrows from a LOT of other stories, both within the history of Doctor Who and from without. The master plan of these aliens, the Kraals, involves using android duplicates of human beings to transmit a plague so deadly, the human race will be extinct within three weeks, just in time for the Kraal invasion fleet to conquer the Earth for its valuable resources. The idea of an alien race replicating humans to take over the Earth can be traced back to the Zygons as well as the Autons, complete with the internal hand weaponry of that plastic menace. Considering the script was written in 1974, one could also argue that Nation took some ideas from movies such as Westworld and The Stepford Wives. In particular, the first episode is a masterclass in setting up a tense atmosphere as director Barry Letts shoots the sparse village and vacant-eyed villagers with an experienced eye.
With such familiar elements, the story itself is strictly boilerplate. A creepy village with people who act in a passively hostile way towards the Doctor. Antagonists who would rather shoot first and ask questions never. The Doctor and Sarah Jane run about, are captured, escape, and are captured again, with Sarah Jane falling down a cliff and hurting her ankle at one point (this happens to her as often as the Eighth Doctor gets amnesia!). A human villain willingly working with their alien masters to avenge a perceived slight. And a race against time to warn the unwitting authorities not to go through with their plan, the execution of which is a vital part of the villain’s plan, all while the Doctor and Sarah Jane try to hide from and outwit not only their own android doubles but those of Harry Sullivan and Sergeant Benton! There is something to be said about the cliffhangers in this serial, however, particularly the second episode’s. Long time viewers of the genre will see it coming, but it’s still a nicely done moment.
However, there are a few flaws which drag down the overall quality. The vast alien race intent on conquering Earth, the Kraals, consist on-screen of two aliens in pig-faced masks who argue back and forth about capturing, examining, killing, and interrogating the Doctor, all within the same episode! It’s not a new budgetary concept to the show (how many Zygons have you seen today?), but it’s definitely noticeable when a huge alien invasion force boils down to two actors and some blips on a radar screen. Also, the alien plan for invasion falls apart under scrutiny. You’re going to use a series of android duplicates to spread a virus across the entire planet, so somehow able to predict the entire staff of a space defence station as well as the citizens of a nearby village? You want to make sure the virus works, so instead of injecting Sarah Jane with it, you put the virus in a glass of water and just hope she’ll drink it? The Kraal scheme is one of those plans that, like most “take over the Earth” plans, falls apart once the serial’s over. The plot in The Android Invasion just falls apart quicker than most.
Where the Kraals fall short in the villain department, Martin Friend (who also starred in The Enemy of the World and The Invasion of Time) shines as Crayford, a British astronaut who was kidnapped by the Kraals and brainwashed to believe that he was abandoned by Earth when his rocket exploded. It’s his miraculous return two years after being believed killed that is the ignition for the Kraal’s plan. There’s no doubt of Crayford’s devotion to the Kraals. He plays the brainwashed accomplice very well. A scene where the Kraals demand a duplicate be made of him stands out as Crayford pleads for them not to go through with it EVEN as he sets himself up for the process. There’s little hint of regret in Friends’ performance; it’s all hatred and malice towards his former colleagues. Which makes the moment where Crayford realizes the Kraal’s deception a bit puzzling.
The Kraal’s said they “rebuilt” him after the rocket explosion, but they couldn’t save everything. Crayford wears the standard villainous eyepatch during the serial, but the Doctor convinces him that the Kraal’s lied to him by asking him to simply raise his eyepatch to reveal that, despite what he’s been told, his eyes is still there. So the Kraal’s entire playbook for keeping Crayford on their side boiled down to “lie to him and pray he doesn’t lift his eye patch at any time during the two years we need him.”
The Android Invasion is also the last appearance of long-time characters Sergeant Denton and Harry Sullivan, but their importance to the story is tangible as best, especially since Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is nowhere to be seen (due to Nicholas Courtney’s theatre commitments at the time) and the character who replaced him, Colonel Faraday, is NO Brigadier. In the behind-the-scenes segment, Hinchcliffe states that he wanted to get away from the UNIT stories of the Third Doctor and get more into the sci-fi elements of Doctor Who, but that if he had know this would be Ian Marter and John Levene’s last appearances on the show, he would have definitely given them more to do. Marter himself said that “there was no real reason for Harry to be in it… I couldn’t see the point,” while Levene bemoaned the absence of the other UNIT regulars.
The highlight of the story is truly Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen. Even as the rest of the serial falters, the viewer knows they’re at least in for a treat with their interactions. The Fourth Doctor has his effortless charm (“Is that finger loaded?”) and his cleverness in convincing a UNIT soldier that a duplicate Doctor just ran past him and that he’s the real deal, as well as his nose for mystery in confronting the duplicate owner of the village pub. Baker was sick due to a scene where the Doctor was submerged in pond, leaving him with a raspy voice for much of The Android Invasion’s runtime, but it adds a bit to his performance.
Its Lis Sladen who gets to stand out in this story, as aside from jumping out of a tree before the coast was clear, it’s Sarah Jane’s turn to be smart, quiet, quick, and brave as she does some investigating of her own as per her background as a journalist, but also going so far as to actually break the DOCTOR out of jail for once using water and an electrical cable. Both Baker and Sladen also deserve some kudos for their acting as their evil android duplicates. Imagine the kids screaming at the Doctor for not realizing Sarah Jane is a duplicate, even though the adults know the Doctor is just leading her into a trap.
And if you thought one Tom Baker was enough to devour the scenery, just imagine TWO Tom Bakers fighting in the control room to save the day. It’s a really well-shot scene that makes it easy to believe that it’s really the Fourth Doctor and his robot duplicate struggling as opposed to Tom Baker and his stunt double.
Cygnia – Memory is a tricky thing sometimes.
“The Android Invasion” was an average story, as far as Four/Sarah Jane stories go. There was something eerie about Droid!Sarah Jane rolling and her face falling off (even with 70’s special effects in use) and Crawford being overwrought to find out *GASP* he was never injured! But the plot was pretty pedestrian, all things considering — even with melted pig faced aliens.
But for the life of me, I swear I remember the virus resembling…poo. Of all the things to remember (and I don’t even know if it’s correct!) about that story, that’s what I fixate on.
The Kraals actually DO appear in a Big Finish audio later on down the line, so I’ll leave that to Mister Cobi if there’s something salvageable from them. (Editor’s Note – that would be the Fourth Doctor audio “The Oseidon Adventure.”)
By itself, The Android Invasion is a perfectly serviceable story of Doctor Who with its atmosphere moments of tension…but the story that aired before this one was the Gothic-themed Pyramids of Mars, considered to be one of the Fourth Doctor’s best and scariest stories. The story that followed this one was The Brain of Morbius, which turned the Gothic aspects up to 11 and horrified Britain to the point that Mary Whitehouse took UMBRAGE (as opposed to umbrage) with how “the most horrifying material in Britain” played out during a children’s program. On its own, The Android Invasion is a decent “C+/B-” episode, or a “two-and-a-half Rory’s” episode if you prefer the revival. It’s worth a watch even with its flaws, but when sandwiched in between two absolute classics it gets looked down perhaps upon a little more than it should.
– This is the second non-Dalek story Terry Nation wrote for Doctor Who, the other one being the First Doctor serial The Keys of Marinus
– It feels like the Kraal’s home base was the same set as the Zygon base from Terror of the Zygons, just a lot less…gooey.
– ”Let’s try the pub!” – Tom Baker’s method acting shines through.
– Kenneth Williams noted in his diaries that with this episode, “Doctor Who was getting more and more silly.” Wow, when you’ve lost the Carry On demographic…
Cobi’s Synopsis – The Android Invasion is all about Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen (with an assist from Martin Friend) and the eerie first episode, with the “take over the Earth” scheme falling apart under any type of scrutiny and the final appearances of both Harry Sullivan and UNIT Sergeant Benton criminally wasted.
Next up – Mehendri Solon fancies the Doctor’s head. Literally.
Tom Baker is the Doctor in…The Brain of Morbius