What Doctor Who - The Invasion lacks in originality is more than compensated by some marvelous atmosphere. An eight-part story from November-December 1968 starring "Second Doctor" Patrick Troughton, BBC Video's two-disc DVD is loaded with the kind of superb extra features one has come to expect from their Doctor Who releases. And this "Special Edition DVD" truly is special: episodes one and four, heretofore lost, have been meticulously reconstructed using audio recorded over-the-air by obsessed fans mixed with newly-created animation that does a marvelous job preserving the visual integrity of the black and white series. These animated reconstructions are both fascinating and extremely effective; hopefully the technique will be applied to other lost episodes in the future.
The Second Doctor (Troughton) and his companions - Jamie (Frazer Hines), a Scottish Highlander whom the Doctor first met at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, and Zoe (Wendy Padbury), an astrophysicist from Earth's 21st century - travel through time and space to London sometime in the 1970s where International Electromatics, a worldwide electronics conglomerate that completely dominates the market is involved in some sort of nefarious activity.
Working with the United Nations Intelligence Force (U.N.I.T.) and old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), whom the Doctor first encountered (when Lethbridge-Stewart was a colonel in the British Army) in a 1968 story called "The Web of Fear," they investigate the activities of IE's president, the sinister Tobias Vaughn (Kevin Stoney). Eventually, it becomes clear that Vaughn has made a pact with one of the Doctor's most tenacious enemies, The Cyberman, an alien race of cyborgs bent on conquering Earth.
As detailed in "Evolution of the Invasion," the making-of documentary included as an extra, "The Invasion" partly grew out of production delays and logistical complications that plagued the Patrick Troughton years. Though not exactly the program's high-water mark, the story proved enormously influential in at least one respect, paving the way toward the less-expensive, Earthbound Doctor Whos of the Jon Pertwee era, shows that didn't require the elaborate sets and costumes of stories set on other worlds.
"The Invasion" is somewhat similar to "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," a six-parter from the (First Doctor) William Hartnell era, but also closely resembles Quatermass II the 1955 BBC science fiction serial later adapted into an excellent film a few years later. Both it and "The Invasion" deal with alien invaders launching their takeover of earth through an all-powerful corporation few question and via mind-control of a high-ranking members of parliament and law enforcement.
"The Invasion" sacrifices the intelligence and ingenuity of Nigel Kneale's "Quatermass" stories in favor of exciting sci-fi action, but offers a similarly atmospheric tale full of dread and high-tension suspense. The story is dragged out to eight shows when perhaps six or even four would have been better, but what's there is very entertaining anyway, and the show gives the Doctor's companions and the Brigadier lots to do. Particularly good is Don Harper score for the shows, which make excellent use of the cimbalom (which, if memory serves, was put to similarly good use by John Barry in the Harry Palmer films).
The missing episodes, recreated via animation by Cosgrove Hall (DangerMouse, The Wind and the Willows) is just right, retaining the look of the surviving episodes, recreating sets and even familiar facial expressions of the actors quite well.
Video & Audio
"The Invasion" is presented in its original full-frame format, a mix of videotape (for studio interiors) and 16mm black & white film (for location exteriors and interiors). The film footage apparently survives only on video tape, having been crudely transferred back in 1968, but otherwise it's quite acceptable. The mono sound on all eight shows is fine, even on the two animated programs which had to be restored from fan-taped sources. Optional English subtitles are available, even on all the extra features.
Once again, BBC has done an outstanding in this department. Besides the animated shows, both discs are loaded with supplements. The best of these is the 49-minute "Evolution of the Invasion," which includes interviews with nearly all the surviving cast members, including Hines, Courtney, 86-year-old Stoney and 91-year-old Edward Burnham, who plays a scientist blackmailed into service at I.E. (Troughton, sadly, died in 1987 while appearing at a Doctor Who convention.) The program is replete with clips from many other Doctor Who episodes, behind-the-scenes photographs, and is filled with interesting information and amusing anecdotes.
All eight episodes feature an audio commentary, which can be listened to in conjunction with Information Text which appear like subtitles and provide gobs of background on both the series and this particular episode. Episode 1 features animation director Steve Maher, BBC producer James Gross, and audio restoration expert Mark Ayres, while episodes 2-8 includes actors Padbury, Hines, Courtney, and production coordinator Chris D'Oyly-John.
Flash Frames is an 11-minute featurette about the creation of the animated shows, while Love Off-Air discusses the audio restoration and pays tribute to the (in some cases extremely obsessed) fans who recorded the show from the home televisions, and thus preserved the audio for a number of lost shows. There's also a photo gallery, animation trailers (including footage not included in the episodes) and a montage of animated character designs.
Doctor Who - The Invasion demonstrates a unique and highly effective means to reconstruct missing video footage and is something well worth exploring with other missing stories in the future. The story itself is quite enjoyable and fans of the series will be pleased. Highly recommended.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel. His audio commentary for Invasion of Astro Monster is now available.