‘Doctor Who’: ‘The Android Invasion’ DVD review

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Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about this DVD is that the only way you can purchase it is by buying the UNIT Files box set, which means getting Invasion of the Dinosaurs as well.

The Android Invasion is so superior to the serial with which it’s paired that it’s not dissimilar to having to purchase Law Abiding Citizen to get your hands on Citizen Kane. Kind of.

The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) arrive in what appears to be a quietly quaint English village in the 1970s. However, unlike his predecessor – Pertwee isn’t remotely concerned by London being completely deserted in Invasion of the Dinosaurs – the fourth incarnation of the Time Lord is immediately made suspicious by the lack of people and decides to investigate.

‘Let’s try the pub,’ he gleefully chuckles, and after knocking back what is supposed to be ginger pop but could easily be martinis by the pint – not to mention spending a prolonged time wistfully studying a cigarillo in an ashtray – he establishes that it isn’t a real boozer, a real village or even the real planet Earth.

When the villagers turn up, they’re all android replicas, installed by rhinoceros-ish Judoon-predecessors the Kraals as part of an invasion plan and guarded by spooky robot spacemen who have guns built-into their hands. ‘Is that finger loaded?’ the Doctor can’t help but asking when confronted by them.

The first two episodes are enthralling; well-directed by former producer Barry Letts with plenty of suspense, mystery and wonderfully undated location work.

Tom Baker lords it up over everyone, treating the whole thing as one long party, dispensing wit and beaming beguilingly at everyone he meets, while Liz Sladen is the perfect companion, the bantering of the two principals continuing throughout – even when they’re incarcerated by the Kraals. ‘I feel disorientated,’ the Doctor remarks, to which Sarah points out: ‘This is the disorientation centre.’ ‘That makes sense.’

It’s an irresistible partnership, full of energy and humour, and it keeps the serial entertaining even when the plot inevitably crumbles – in the words of Bros – like a very old wall.

Duplicates are wheeled in and out of the fake village while the Doctor and Sarah get caught, escape and then get caught again for no purpose other than filling up time that would have been better served trying to fill the gigantic holes in the narrative – namely the unbelievable notion that asinine astronaut Guy Crayford (Milton Johns) never thinks to look under his eye-patch to see if there’s anything there and the fact that the Doctor’s android double (which Tom Baker plays with menacing aplomb) saves the day when all the duplicates have already been deactivated.

It’s all entirely forgivable in a story that’s as much fun to watch as it presumably was to make.

Extras: For once, there isn’t much in the way of extras on the DVD; and what there is isn’t particularly scintillating.

A documentary looking at producer Philip Hinchcliffe’s Life After Who is hosted by his daughter Celina and she’s about the most interesting thing in it. It might be fascinating to television historians to hear tales of forgotten dramas of the ‘70s and ‘80s like Target, Strangers and Brothers and Bust, but casual viewers will hastily move onto the principal behind-the-scenes documentary, The Village That Came To Life.

Nick Briggs talks at length about scriptwriter Terry Nation – ‘The Daleks were the reason he could drink champagne every day,’ director Barry Letts reveals, ‘but he didn’t necessarily want to keep on writing for them’ – and then plies some villagers with booze to get them to reminisce about the filming of The Android Invasion, but it never gets beyond mildly interesting.

Most bizarrely of all, there’s a contemporary commercial for Weetabix. The company were giving away Doctor Who toys at the time and the ad features a poorly-voiced but fully-licensed Dalek zooming around and bellowing: ‘We must capture these special packs of Weetabix and exterminate!’ The knowledge that wholegrain wheat breakfast cereals were what sustained the Dalek Empire could have been invaluable to the Doctor, but sadly, he never found out. Perhaps he didn’t watch ITV.

Released on DVD on Monday 9th January 2012 by 2entertain.

> Buy the UNIT Files boxset on Amazon.

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