Well, that was awesome. I’d seen it once before, back when the DVD with the animated episodes first came out, but seeing it in context really emphasised the scale of this story’s ambition, in terms of plot and production values.
The stakes have never been higher, because not only is this contemporary Earth, but a version of contemporary Earth that we really care about – it’s a very well-established and consistent world at this stage. It stretches back to Ben and Polly’s introduction, and this is a direct follow-up to The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear – the final stepping stone towards the Pertwee Era.
Following this line of continuity works fantastically, as does the return of the newly-promoted Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. He’s kicking more arse than ever before, with a newfound confidence and a touching level of faith in and devotion to The Doctor. With this strengthening of an easily lovable character, and the establishment of UNIT, it’s clear that the trial run of a potential new format was a huge success.
The plot builds very slowly – the Cybermen aren’t even revealed until the cliffhanger of Episode 4. (How amazing would it have been to watch that for the first time and be surprised?) But while the information is trickled out gently, the pace never drops, thanks to some impressive action sequences and sparkling dialogue. It’s well worth eight episodes – it didn’t feel stretched at all.
Tobias Vaughn stands out as one of the most memorable villains to date. Early on in this story I’d identified him as being rather similar to Mavic Chen, long before I suddenly realised that it was the same sodding actor. The eyes should have given it away, but in my defence, he was blacked up last time. He’s just as hammy in places here, but all the better for it. A magnificent portrayal of a complete and utter bastard.
Meanwhile, Zoe continues to be amazing, especially when destroying an entire Cyberman invasion fleet single-handedly. There were a few strange 60s attitudes towards her and Isobel at times, but at least there’s a fantastically strong female role model to counteract it. Another inconsistency within the story is that while it had plenty of brilliant action sequences, it also skimmed over several – quite a few scenes ended with someone saying “right, we need do this thing” and then cut to someone saying “well, we did that thing”.
Maybe it was a case of sacrificing certain sequences in order to make others better. It was perhaps all worth it for the scenes of the full invasion starting – dozens of Cybermen in the streets of London, emerging from St Paul’s. Lots of lovely model shots too; so many things got blown up over the course of eight episodes.
That’s the last Troughton story that I’ve seen before – the rest of this season will all be fresh to me. God, I’m going to miss him afterwards.