The Android Invasion

Probably the best thing about “The Android Invasion” is the chance to see Harry Sullivan and Mr. Benton again, for what sadly turns out to be the final appearance in the series for both characters. And most of the time we’re only seeing their android doubles too. Apart from that little bonus, “The Android Invasion” is very rough around the edges, with some interesting situations that don’t quite make the best story, though it’s not bad by any means. There are just a few too many plot holes.
 
Might as well get those out of the way first. The most glaring one is, of course, the eye-patch. Are we seriously expected to believe that Guy Crayford has gone for two years without ever once looking under the patch? The Doctor tells him that he’s been brainwashed, so perhaps he was conditioned not to look. Still, it’s a difficult plot contrivance to believe. And just how long has the Brigadier held an office at the space defense station? At least two years, since Crayford remembers him, Harry and Mr. Benton in precise detail. Shouldn’t Mr. Benton still be a sergeant in Crayford’s memory? How long ago was that promotion? I suppose there’s no real way of knowing how long after “Terror of the Zygons” that “Android Invasion” occurs, so perhaps the Doctor and Sarah have been gone for two or more years in relative time. But if Lethbridge-Stewart is the usual CO, how would Crayford possibly know that Colonel Faraday was temporarily in charge when he hasn’t been on Earth for two years? Aren’t all the (incredibly detailed) androids based off his memory? He’s got better recall than I do, I can tell you that.
 
Some of the other plot issues include the calendar with all the same days, or Sarah’s rather notorious sprained ankle, which is a hoary old cliché at this point. How indestructible can the androids be if their faces fall off so easily? And if you watch closely, the actor playing the damaged android at the beginning of the story cuts his face on a tree branch and sports a large cut later on when the Doctor and Sarah pass him. Not very android-like.

The aliens behind this cunning little invasion plan, the Kraals, look pretty good. However I think this is a case where in order to make the story work as it’s presented, you have to accept that Styggron just isn’t a very competent would-be world conqueror. That would explain the level of mistakes that he makes, as well as his exaggerated claims about how indestructible his androids are. He desperately wants to conquer the Earth, but he hasn’t really thought his whole plan through

There’s the germ of a good story idea here, but the script needed a bit more work I’d say. At first the deserted village and deathly silent pub patrons are nicely creepy, and the mystery is an interesting one. There’s a very retro feel to this story, possibly due to the presence of UNIT and the direction by Barry Letts. It’s just not quite as edgy as the standard Hinchcliffe/Holmes storyline. And it’s hurt by the absence of Lethbridge-Stewart, though the Brigadier is name-dropped at least. Colonel Faraday is a joke. He’s a blustering dim bulb of a military commander, and can’t be taken seriously.

Mr. Benton gets less to do than I’d like, though his appearance in the story is welcome. The most memorable scene for the character is the moment where his android double shoots the android Doctor, a rather casual bit of violence that stands out in this lighter storyline. And then there’s the scene where Benton discusses with some chagrin taking his kid sister out for dinner, which brought a smile to my face. Harry Sullivan makes his return in a small role, and his brief scene with Sarah at the end of the story brings back fond memories of the previous season. Both Harry and Benton casually appear without any fanfare, and then end their status as regular characters without even get a proper goodbye scene with the Doctor and Sarah. And we never see them again. For someone as likeable as Harry, that’s a shame. For a long-running character like Benton who’s been around since the Troughton era, it’s even more of a pity.

Overall, “The Android Invasion” is decent. It contains a reasonable story idea hampered by a weak plot. But throw in a nicely designed monster and the return of Harry and Benton, and the story remains enjoyable despite the problems.

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Posted in 4th Doctor - Tom Baker

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