The four part series from the thirteenth season of the long running Dr. Who series, The Android Invasion was written by Terry Nation and once again put fan favorite Tom Baker in the role as the good doctor. When the story begins, he and his companion, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), arrive, courtesy of the TARDIS, in a small English town that they soon realize isn't quite normal. Sure, it looks perfectly peaceful on the outside but once they start paying closer attention to things they realize some strange details - there's only a single date on the calendar and all of the coins used as currency appear to be brand new. On top of that, some of the locals are behaving quite erratically, something the pair can't help but notice when a man moving in a rather herky-jerky manner wanders off the edge of a high cliff.
Understandably the doctor gets curious and so after a bit of sleuthing and some discussions and investigative work, the doctor starts to put the pieces of this puzzle together - but not before he's captured leaving Sarah to rescue him for a change. Once she's sprung him, he starts to realize that the Kraal's are up to no good and that they're not on Earth but a simulation of Earth which the aliens are using as a sort of testing ground for the android's they've built which they hope to use in the invasion of the real Earth once they've proven their usefulness. Complicating matters further is the fact that the generally very reliable UNIT, often a source of help to the doctor, has already been contaminated by the Kraal minions, leaving the doctor and Sarah essentially on their own - and unfortunately for them, there are white robot creatures with guns in their fingers running around town trying to eliminate the threat that they see our two heroes as!
Highlighted by a fun scene in which Dr. Who must battle the android version of himself, The Android Invasion may not be the deepest or for that matter the most original of stories told in the series but it's a fun tale that breezes by at a good pace. The production crew does a good job of making the small town location feel deserted and empty, giving things a slightly eerie tone at times. If the makeup effects used for the Kraal aren't the most convincing work seen in the show (they kind of look like Muppets!), we can look past that and appreciate the fact that the androids are actually rather interesting to look at and by the standards of the day, actually pretty cool. The white robots are also pretty neat, with guns in their fingers and constantly on the chase, showing no hesitation whatsoever and plenty happy to shoot first, ask questions later (or never, for that matter).
Front and center in all of this lunacy are Baker and Sladen. Obviously very comfortable in the role at this point in time, Baker just completely goes for it here, playing the doctor with more enthusiasm than most could probably imagine and bringing a ridiculous amount of confidence to the part that really goes a long way towards making him as interesting and as fun a character as he is. His brash persona plays off of Sladen's wittier Sarah Jane perfectly and the two make a great pair here, operating on the same level as, say, Steed and Peel from The Avengers. Their banter provides the four episodes with some welcome humor which helps add to the entertainment value that it provides and which lets us look past the fact that, as much fun as all of this is, there are some fairly massive plot holes.
While much of what happens in the story seems there to pad the running time (did the doctor and Sarah really need to get captured and then escape only to get captured and then escape again?) you can't help but get pulled into it all. Baker and Slade are so much fun in their roles and the story so creatively off its rails that, yeah, this is one worth revisiting - it's just a lot of good, screwy fun.The DVD:
All four episodes are presented in their original 1.33.1 fullframe broadcast aspect ratio. There are moments where the picture is muddy looking and fairly murky and detail is below average but overall this isn't a bad looking disc, all things considered. Colors are reproduced rather nicely and if black levels aren't reference quality, they're decent enough. Skin tones look alright, and there's not much in the way of print damage to note. All in all, the BBC have done a fine job here.Sound:
The sole audio option on this release is an English language Dolby Digital Mono track that comes with optional subtitles available in English only. The quality of the track is fine in that it's always easy to understand and there are no problems to report in terms of hiss or distortion. There isn't a whole lot of range - this is an older mono mix after all - but the levels are well balanced and the feature sounds just fine.Extras:
The best of the extras on the disc is the audio commentary with actors Milton Johns and Martin Friend, producer Philip Hinchcliffe, production assistant Marion McDougal and a moderator. While Baker's participation would have been more than welcome, all involved do a fine job of detailing the history of this particular entry in the series. The discussion starts off with some notes on the opening sequence, how it pulls you into the story and gets you curious to see what happens next - valid points, all. From there, we learn how those involved dropped bits of 'horror and intrigue' into the script to keep viewers on edge, the difficulty of finding an oak tree in the right place at the right time, the conspicuous absence of the Daleks in this serial, what it was like working as an actor on the series, shooting on location in the small village and more.
The BBC have also included a couple of featurettes, each running roughly half an hour and presented in anamorphic widescreen. The first one is Life After Who: Philips Hinchcliffe which is a look at the life and times of the series' producer which talks about The Android Invasion, it's place in the history of the show and a few other projects he has had a hand in over the years. Hosted by his daughter, Celina Hinchcliffe, it's a nice tribute to the man and his work that features some interesting archival photographs and behind the scenes pictures, in addition to the interviews, do a nice job of illustrating the various points of interested that are covered. The second featurette is The Village That Came To Life which is an interesting behind the scenes documentary that covers the location in quite a bit of detail as well as the makeup effects, the script, the relationship between Slade and Baker, Nation's writing process, casting, themes and more. Various interviews with those involved in the production fill in some blanks that the commentary track leaves and this fairly comprehensive documentary is quite interesting - fans should enjoy it - they even revisit the old pub that is featured prominently in the story!
Rounding out the extra features are a still gallery, a selection of production notes, and some PDF material for those who are DVD-Rom equipped. Also of interest is a fairly hilarious Weetabix cereal commercial featuring the Daleks! Apparently the cereal company was using the Daleks as a promotional tool around the time this series aired - this is one you need to see to believe, as it's completely bizarre but simultaneously awesome. Also worth mentioning is the trivia track that's available as one of the subtitles streams. When enabled, it offers some various facts and figures as they relate to the show and it turns out to be a fun way to learn more about the show and the people behind it. Menus and chapter selection are also provided
Doctor Who: The Android Invasion is not the greatest of Baker's run on the show but it sure is good entertainment. It takes some interesting ideas and mixes them up with some fun effects and cool plot twists, working some elements of horror into the story rather effectively. The BBC's DVD presentation is a good one, offering up a solid presentation in the audio and video extras as well as a strong collection of extra features. Recommended!