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The Android Invasion

Reviewed by Graham Howard

Probably because The Android Invasion happens to fall amongst some of the finest stories in the programme's history it is considered by many to be the low point of the 13th Season. To an extent The Android Invasion has always been overshadowed by other stories in this season. Nevertheless, it is a highly entertaining four episodes. No classic, to be sure, but no turkey either.


All of the signs are that the Doctor and Sarah have landed on Earth. The scent in the air - 'that peculiar Earthy smell' - suggests a recent rain shower. But the ground is bone dry. Then a UNIT soldier, for no apparent reason commits suicide by walking off the edge of a cliff. And why are the coins in his pocket all brand new and minted in the same year? The nearby picturesque English village of Devesham looks outwardly normal, but is largely deserted. The people who are there are behaving in a fashion that is distinctly odd, and they are strangely averse to the presence of strangers. And what are the strange helmeted beings with weapons in their fingers...?

One of the most satisfying aspects of this story is the way in which a series of intriguing mysteries are introduced in the opening stages, and are developed and deepened throughout the first two episodes in order to build suspense. For this reason I believe the first two episodes are actually the strongest of the story. If the original working title of 'The Kraals' had been used instead of the rather giveaway The Android Invasion, then the level of suspense may even have been heightened. And at least - unlike the 'dark' Seventh Doctor - the Doctor does not know the answers in advance; he has to work the answers out. The fact that the resolution of the mysteries is far less satisfying is wisely not dwelt on, and in episodes three and four the focus of the plot moves onto the planned invasion of Earth.


One of the production team's aims for The Android Invasion was for it to be an allegory of a type of Cold War espionage tactic which was practiced (or at least considered) by the Soviet Union in the 1960s/70s. The premise was that groups of KGB agents could be trained to infiltrate communities by passing themselves off as British citizens, and perhaps even ultimately control a town or village. With this in mind, the potential use of infiltration as a weapon of war is a prominent theme in The Android Invasion although the science fiction elements of the plot tend to obscure the allegorical nature of the story.

The infiltration aspect of the story also bears some resemblance to the classic 1950s film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so perhaps The Android Invasion was also intended as a homage to that film.

The infiltration theme enables the inclusion of a familiar Doctor Who plot device, i.e. the use of doubles to impersonate familiar characters (for example Terror of the Zygons had recently used this concept). However, in The Android Invasion the function of doubles is more pivotal to the plot. In order to invade Earth the Kraals plan to install androids in the place of all key personnel in the Space Defence Station and also replace a number of people from the nearby village of Devesham. The androids will then disseminate a lethal virus that will, in the space of a few weeks, rid the Earth of its human population. [A method of disposal apparently of some fascination to writer Terry Nation judging by his use of deadly viruses/plagues in other programmes and stories, e.g. Death to the Daleks, Planet of the Daleks and Survivors].

It is interesting to note that while the Zygons and the Kraals both attempted to infiltrate human society to assist in the conquest of Earth, for the viewer the type of suspense created from the impersonation of characters in the two stories is subtly different. In Terror of the Zygons the fear is that the person who you knew and trusted may turn out to be a hideous, malevolent monster. And it is the Zygons themselves who are doing the impersonating. In The Android Invasion the suspense is more closely derived from a fear of impersonation and replacement by a machine; of standing face to face with something which looks identical to you, and can therefore pass itself off as you [an idea that Spearhead from Space also exploited]. Added to that it is hostile, and wants you dead (in Terror of the Zygons the original person was needed alive). While the fear of impersonation and the associated atmosphere of paranoia was better executed in Terror of the Zygons, I found the androids to be more sinister. Perhaps this was because the outwardly normal exterior of the android hides its essentially cold and mechanical nature. And the infiltration of a few strategic sites on Earth by androids, as a prelude to invasion, seems slightly less implausible than the subjugation of Earth by half a dozen Zygons, especially if one accounts for the Cold War mentality of the time. I mean, back then who was to say the Soviets couldn't make androids, or at least surgically alter people, to replace key individuals on the other side of the Iron Curtain?

Of course, one bonus from the extensive use of doubles in this story is that it provides the opportunity for the Doctor's classic: "Nobody knows who's Who" pun, in the scene where the Doctor impersonates his android alter ego.

Science vs the Military

A minor theme in The Android Invasion concerns the conflict which can arise between the scientific and the military mind when both must work together to attain a military objective. While this has been a background theme in Doctor Who before, most notably during the UNIT years (eg Doctor Who and the Silurians), in this case the perspective is different. In the normal situation the Doctor and say UNIT must work together to overcome some threat to the Earth. But because the course of action favoured by the Doctor will sometimes be at variance to that favoured by UNIT, a fair amount of friction can result. In this story, the conflict arises between the military and scientific establishments of the aggressors, i.e. the Kraals' - represented by Styggron and Marshall Chedaki. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that, as with the Doctor and UNIT, the relationship appears to be symbiotic. Chedaki is concerned that the androids are too powerful ("unstoppable, indestructible"). He fears they are a "double-edged weapon", with inadequate safeguards to prevent a person who possessed the necessary skills - specifically the Doctor - from turning the androids against the Kraals. Styggron is intrigued, but is ultimately dismissive of his fears, and he demonstrates to Chedaki that if the androids turn against the Kraals they can be destroyed - "what I create I can also destroy", which for some reason seems to assuage Chedaki's fears. Styggron proclaims that science can overcome all obstacles - "science will make the Kraals invincible!" The final irony is that Styggron is destroyed by a combination of two of his scientific inventions: an android reprogrammed by the Doctor and the deadly virus created to wipe out Earth's population.


A strange paradox of Season 13 is that while Phillip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes were trying to phase UNIT out of Doctor Who, it actually forms a (very) loosely connected theme to the season. UNIT is featured in three stories, while the desire, or at least the intention, to return to UNIT HQ provides an undercurrent to the remaining stories. In Planet of Evil the Doctor fails spectacularly to get Sarah back to London 'five minutes before we left Loch Ness'. In Pyramids of Mars the place is right but the time is wrong. In The Android Invasion the place is wrong but the time is right. After this story the Doctor offers to take Sarah home in the TARDIS, but unintentionally becomes embroiled in another adventure, The Brain of Morbius. Perhaps because there was this desire, at least on the part of Sarah, to return to Earth, the fact that UNIT was being deliberately wound down is not immediately apparent, yet with the benefit of hindsight the signs were there to see. I certainly had no inkling, whilst watching this story when it first screened in 1978/9, that The Android Invasion was to be the penultimate UNIT story (at least until Battlefield), and that it would be the very last appearance of Benton and Harry Sullivan. Or that it would be seven years before the Brigadier, who had last appeared in Terror of the Zygons, would be seen again.

Although clearly The Android Invasion was supposed to be a UNIT story (if somewhat low key), the 'UNIT family' atmosphere which pervaded Pertwee's time with UNIT is definitely lacking. Nicholas Courtney's absence is keenly felt - especially as it is obvious he was intended to have been present. It is said that the lines given to Colonel Faraday were in fact written for Nicholas Courtney. But due to the insignificance of the role of Colonel Faraday, even if the Brigadier had delivered the lines it is unlikely that this, on its own, would have greatly improved the lack-lustre appearance of UNIT. With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to understand Ian Marter (Harry) and John Levene's (Benton) oft-mentioned dissatisfaction with their roles in this story.

It is probably fair to say that by now the Doctor had almost detached himself emotionally from Earth, to the extent that in his own mind he was now merely visiting Earth rather than returning to it - notwithstanding Sarah's attachment to Earth in her own time. It is astonishing to think that having spent three stories attempting to return to Earth, that at the end of The Android Invasion the Doctor and Sarah immediately up and off, seemingly without even staying around to say, what would have been for the Doctor, a final goodbye to Harry and RSM Benton. By The Seeds of Doom we are presented with the previously inconceivable notion of a UNIT story with none of the 'regulars' appearing, and the Doctor reporting to a bureaucrat at the World Ecology Bureau! Tom Baker's Doctor fitted in well with the UNIT format and it is a pity a more auspicious swansong did not eventuate, particularly when, after-all, UNIT had been such a staple of Doctor Who for many years.


Of the supporting characters in The Android Invasion, astronaut Guy Crayford is the only one to display a degree of complexity. While he is certainly one of the story's villains - as the Doctor reminds him: 'they [the Kraals] couldn't have [invaded Earth] without you' - he is also a rather sympathetic figure. He is not truly evil - more misguided and unlucky.

The stereotype astronaut is normally thought of as being a paragon of mental and physical excellence, a person with great inner strength and fortitude, and who is patriotic to boot. Yet Crayford appears to exhibit very few of these qualities. To an extent Crayford's gullibility and subservience to the Kraals can be put down to the brainwashing and other abuse he has suffered at the Kraals' hands. However, the impression is that in order to assist the believability of Crayford's defection to the Kraals and their invasion plan, he was deliberately portrayed as a weaker personality, more susceptible to the Kraal's influence (although Styggron's description of him as a 'puny-minded weakling' may be going a bit far). This was possibly thought to be necessary in order to persuade the viewer that some important plot elements concerning Crayford's motives, particularly relating to his loyalty to the Kraals, can be put down to brainwashing. For example we must believe brainwashing made Crayford believe the Kraals intended peaceful coexistence, even when confronted with the Kraal invasion fleet, not to mention the potentially offensive nature of the entire android infiltration operation. We are asked to believe his motives for helping the Kraals can be put down to his conviction that Earth left 'him for dead', when (a) he cannot have known whether this was the case, (b) he must have known and accepted the risks of the space journey before taking on the mission, and (c) was a rescue even possible? We are even asked to believe that Crayford's brainwashing would prevent him from ever doubting that one of his eyes had been lost when the Kraals 'rescued' him in space. That he would either never look behind his eyepatch, or if he did look he would think he only had one eye! This is an important plot assumption because it is the evidence that supposedly underpins Crayford's belief that he had been badly injured in space, and that because the Kraals rescued him and mended him that they are in fact trustworthy. Had the script presented us with some other tangible evidence of Crayford's powers of perception having been affected by brainwashing, this might have seemed a little less ludicrous than how it appeared on screen.

Weak in places...

The 'make Crayford believe he lost an eye by giving him an eyepatch' is probably the most infamous plot weakness, but it is not the only one. The inability of people to aim and shoot straight takes on almost farcical proportions. Not only can soldiers not hit their target - even with a machine gun - nor can the "robot mechanics" shoot straight with their fingers, and even the android copy of the Doctor has a woefully inaccurate aim!! But this is a relatively minor point. After all it just about an accepted fact that in films and television the villain's have plenty of firepower but a terrible aim when it comes to shooting the hero. Less easy to dismiss as dramatic licence are some of the other plot deficiencies.

For a start why was it necessary for the Kraals to go to such extraordinary lengths to copy Devesham and the Space Defence Centre in such meticulous detail if they were ultimately going to destroy the replica anyway. Especially if the only purpose behind the infiltration of these areas was to facilitate dissemination of the virus. Surely a rough approximation of Devesham and the surrounding area would have been sufficient? Was it really necessary to copy every blade of grass, every last detail of the Space Centre? The clearly audible sounds of bird life suggest they even copied birds! But then they apparently neglected to create an android duplicate of Grierson, the scientist at the Space Centre who was able to quietly carry out the Doctor's instructions for disabling the androids largely unhindered. If the androids are "indestructible" why did the face of the android version of Sarah fall off so easily? Why did the calendar in the pub have only one date? Why is it that when Styggron is killed, the threat of invasion seems to disappear, when surely the Kraal invasion fleet is still out there? [Though, thank goodness the script's original way of dealing with this problem, which was to propose that nuclear bombs be exploded in the Earth's upper atmosphere to create to create a belt of radiation which the Kraals wouldn't dare penetrate, was dropped!]

...but still enjoyable

The Android Invasion has its faults. But then so does just about every Doctor Who story. It also contains many of the features which overall made the 13th Season so strong. It has a clear, engaging plot which is told in such a way as to keep the viewer interested, while also ensuring weaknesses such as those highlighted above do not unduly distract from the general enjoyment of the story. As noted, certain parts of the plot do not bear terribly close scrutiny, but then for the casual or first-time viewer of this story perhaps this is not too much of a concern. The Doctor and Sarah - possibly the most popular Doctor and the most popular companion - are arguably at their peak. As for the story's villains, The Kraals manage to convey a greater depth of character than is typical for the alien races we normally see which are obsessed with conquest. Milton Johns injects just the right amount of vulnerability into Guy Crayford, allowing him to become more than just a traitor.

Taking everything into account I would describe The Android Invasion as good but not great. A qualified success.

This item appeared in TSV 44 (June 1995).

Index nodes: The Android Invasion