The second Doctor seems to attract Cybermen like a magnet! Now, I did see some images from this serial prior to watching, so the big reveal at the end of episode 4 was sadly not a surprise.
Oh, spoilers! Again! Sorry.
This time, we’re back on Earth, just a few years after the events of the The Web of Fear. The Colonel (now a Brigadier) Lethbridge-Stewart from that London Underground yeti attack now heads up a brand new government force called UNIT. A Cyberman invasion is in full swing and the stakes are high. This is certainly one of the more exciting storylines yet!
Unfortunately, like many of these old serials, it suffers with being too bloody long! I don’t mind giving a story time to breathe, but eight episodes is just too much. Four or five would have been sufficient. It’s good, but it just can’t sustain suspense and drama over that length, although it does try.
The villain of the piece isn’t really the Cybermen, but the maniac who wants to bring them down to Earth and control them, use them as a force for conquering the world. Tobias Vaughn runs an electronics company with its innocuous-looking devices now installed all over the world, which instantly reminded me of 2006’s Cybermen two-parter (although this plays out quite differently).
Vaughn is one of the more entertaining villains to watch. He’s deliciously evil, almost inhumanly so. But, despite his thorough planning and preparation, he is betrayed by the invading army and its commanding computer brain. Fortunately, his failsafe device, a machine for overloading the Cybermen with ‘emotional force’, acts as a successful weapon, and the Doctor is able to help UNIT to coordinate an attack on the Cybermen, blowing its attack ships out of the sky with missiles.
There’s a lot to like here. Being set on Earth again means relatively higher production values, on location filming and outdoor action and setpieces. If anything, the direction lets it down a little – some of the Cybermen attacking just look a bit pathetic. There’s a sequence where Jamie is trying to get one of them off his leg as he pulls himself out of a sewer, and it’s just so blandly shot it looks daft and not the least bit menacing. Maybe they should have set the invasion at night, it might have looked better.
The UNIT characters are likeable chaps, as are the other extras – Isobel, the photographer and her uncle, Professor Watkins (whose house they visit looking for Professor Travers). The world of Doctor Who starts hanging onto familiar faces and enemies, setting in a sense of continuity while also opening up into bigger things. Certainly, this mission is too much for the Doctor alone, but he’s making a name for himself on Earth now.
A word on the restoration. For its DVD release in 2006, the BBC commissioned for the two missing episodes to be restored using 2D cartoon animation. Although they look a little like a cheap Flash animation at times, the art style is nice and some of the imagery is really striking. So much so, that when it reverted back to live action for the next part, I really missed it. A much nicer experience than watching telesnaps, although those are available too.