Wednesday, 2 November 2016
Doctor Who: The Invasion Again
The subject of The Invasion, put very simply, is fear and loathing of The Machine, and the ambivalence towards technology which was so characteristic of the time provides a number of ironic twists to this adventure. The first of these is obviously that ironically, despite the Doctor's repeated statements that he hates computers (which I am taking as representative of technology as a whole) this adventure does not survive in its entirety. The irony is that the technology of the time, and the television companies' attitudes to it, resulted in this cry against the dominance of technology not surviving. This irony becomes even more twisted when it comes to the simple fact that people have gone to endless trouble to recreate the missing episodes as animations, and very successfully so, too. It is at this point that the plot beomes so postmodern I'm having difficulty getting my head around it: the alien Time Lord, brought to our planet by alien technology (whose failure is responsible for his being stuck here), hates our puny technology as being too dominant, yet he is doing so in a technologically up-to-date TV show, which then doesn't survive because the technology is both ridiculously expensive and considered in the light of a previous enterntainment medium (the theatre, and one-off performances), only to be recreated decades later because there is such a fan base for the show. Phew!
There is another irony of time in this show. The landmark Millbank Tower was used as the offices in International Electromatic. Although at the time the tower would have been an icon of modernity and thus would have plugged into exactly the 1960s fear of the future, which was yet matched with a yearning for modernity and an attitude that progress was the way ahead. The irony here is that buildings such as Millbank were built in a positive orgy of destruction of the past at the time, which was seen as fully desirable in the age before the preservationists really got into their stride, and yet Millbank is itself now listed so will have to be preserved within very strict constraints for all time:
'Millbank Tower was built as the Vickers Tower for the Legal and General Assurance Society, in conjunction with the British engineering firm, the Vickers Group, from which it took its original name and whose boardroom was on the 30th floor. It was designed by Ronald Ward & Partners (Douglas Marriott, job architect) which began designs in 1956, with planning permission granted the following year, and endorsed by the Royal Fine Art Commission in 1958. At 387 feet (118 metres) and 32 storeys, it was briefly the tallest building in London, until 1965 when it was surpassed by the GPO tower. The River Thames had been identified as a suitable location for tall buildings early on in post-war planning policy, although there was concern that the Vickers Tower might dominate the Houses of Parliament. However, later it was its appearance in views down St. James's Street that were the cause of criticism, as well as its relationship with the river. However, Ian Nairn described it in his Modern Buildings in London (1964) as 'the only London skyscraper to have the clean zest and élan, literally sky-reaching and skyscraping, of the best in New York.' It has latterly been more universally praised for the successful shape and composition of the tower (with its concave and convex shapes) and the effective way that the curtain walling and Britain's first use of projecting stainless steel mullions reflect playfully on the adjacent Thames and vice versa. The curved butterfly or diabolo form was derived from the original plan for the lifts, and later retained after this arrangement was modified. The design was also of interest for its early experimentation of entasis (the deliberate swelling of form, to preserve the visual impression of straightness) in the tower, as also at Centre Point and Britannic House.' (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1242617 which see for a truly orgasmic description of the building's architecture)
It seems that despite managing to keep away from Sapphire and Steel I have still wound up talking about time at length, but then perhaps it isn't very realistic to try to avoid it with Doctor Who! There is also an undercurrent to this one of modernity's relationship to authority. I love the climax to the fifth episode where the policeman goes down into the sewer and tells the 'kids' (in an interesting presentiment of Scooby Doo) to get out. Naturally he represents authority against the kids in their up-to-date clothes representing the vulnerability of impulsive rebellious youth. The authority figure of course meets his match in the shape of the cybermen, thus referring back to the way in which the brave and frightening new world of the future will not be constrained by the authority of the past. That this world will be a frightening one is indicated by the way in which UNIT have to resort to grenades to fight against the cybermen, and that the technology of the future may not be controllable by humans is indicated by the way one cyberman is left standing after a blast which would have killed humans.
I like this Doctor Who adventure a lot. I like the fact that it speaks so loudly of the mid-sixties, which is of course one of my favourite times in history. I like these early Doctor Who adventures as a rule, and I particularly like the mixture of earth-bound things and alien life and technology in this one. I think what I like about the cybermen adventures is that the cybermen do not look ridiculous, as the monsters in many of the early Doctor Who adventures can, giving an impression of being just plain funny years afterwards. If I have one criticism of this one I think it is probably that its plot can be rather difficult to follow. This is made up for by the fact that you can actually jump in randomly with this one (in my humble opinion). I have read that this Doctor Who experienced several revisions in production and I think that can show. Of course it may also be an anachronism but I feel that this adventure could have been adequately done with fewer episodes.
The moral of this show, as so often with TV of this era, is that humanity must remain the priority, and master of the emerging technology; trusting in the technology will leave humans at the mercy of its false promises. This is of course why the baddie is so often a deranged megalomaniac, whose ambitions explode in his face: these people have put their own ambitions, rather than humanity, at the centre of their world, and they are a terrible warning to all of us as to what can happen if we do that. Of course once again there was no way the script writers of the 1960s could have foreseen, as they hammered away at their typewriters, the brave new world of IT failures and a world which really does need to be turned off and started again. For that reason these 1960s TV shows with a moral (while the Avengers often deals with these heavy subjects, the lightness of its treatment means that it doesn't come across as having a a moral, so I wouldn't include it among them) can seem like they are warning about something which never came to pass. Perhaps this is the reason I like TV of this era: the fears of the past generation always seem quaint to future generations, and TV of this era allows time travel to what seems like a safer era. And yet...the sheer timey-wimey-sliminess of this time travel also leaves us at the mercy of time and if we are not careful we travel full circle and are confronted with some fairly confusing ironies of time.
Posted by John