||If there's a big name in British science fiction, the brand that anyone can recognise across the world, it is Doctor Who, the BBC Television series that has lasted, on and off, from 1963 to this day in various forms, but largely its small screen incarnation. Having gone through multiple cast member changes, and that's just in the lead role - handy to have a central character who can regenerate into different forms - it has proven one of the hardiest franchises in the genre, and rivals from Sapphire and Steel to Primeval have fallen by the wayside while The Doctor soldiers on, battling evildoers both alien and Earthling across time and space. But where do they get their ideas from? One particularly important story picked its inspiration from a movie.
Invasion was a low budget British effort from 1965, making the most of slender means to craft an alien invasion epic with a small scope despite its big concepts. Alan Bridges was the director, a director who moved from film to television with ease (though he never directed a Doctor Who) and whose biggest hit was probably The Hireling, more in keeping with his style of gloomy, small scale dramas. So apply that to science fiction, and what did you get? The makings of a cult movie, that's what, maybe not something that packed them in during '65 in your local fleapit, but an item that has gone on to be fondly remembered by many who caught it on late night television broadcasts, where its night time setting plays very well on very early morning viewings.
Edward Judd was our ostensible hero, a square-jawed man of action in his usual starring roles where he often faced an uncanny foe, though he would go on to be recognised not so much for work like The Day the Earth Caught Fire or Island of Terror, more the bloke in the "Think Once, Think Twice, Think BIKE!" public information film of the seventies, an afternoon's work, presumably, but one which kept his profile raised when his career had hit the doldrums. Invasion marked one of his final lead roles, and he was his accustomed, dependable self as a doctor who (not a Doctor Who) finds himself tending to a space alien who looks remarkably like a Chinese gentleman (Ric Young), as all the aliens do here - except for the ones who look like Chinese ladies, instead.
The screenplay was written by Roger Marshall, but in his sole movie credit, the storyline was devised by Robert Holmes: if you're a Doctor Who follower of the old school, you'll know that name, as he was often cited as one of the finest writers the original run of the programme ever had, his wit, imagination and intelligence fuelling some irresistible adventures, and setting up some indelible aspects of the character. Here Bridges established as realistic a tone as possible for a fanciful plot, with the actors talking over each other and reacting some way to believable, even when in the film's most famous scene, a character meets a nasty end when his car smashes into an invisible forcefield cast about the quiet country hospital this took place in and around.
Did Stephen King see an early screening of Invasion when he was planning his doorstep novel Under the Dome, perhaps? Well, it wasn't an original idea, it's what you do with it that counts, which brought us to what Holmes did with Invasion five years later. Hired to pen Jon Pertwee's introductory tale of Doctor Who as he took over from Patrick Troughton, he drew his inspiration from one of his back catalogue, which may have had sci-fi fans back in 1970 wondering why this all seemed rather familiar. Spearhead from Space was the title of the serial, a four part nailbiter that saw the debut of the Autons, those shop window dummies sprung to life that gave nightmares to the children of Britain and were the agents of the Nestene Consciousness - this was all good stuff.
Holmes had moved on from Invasion to television, where he had already scripted for Doctor Who in the sixties, but it was the seventies that became his defining era on the show, and Pertwee's introductory effort was regarded as one of his best. Here the idea of an alien fugitive was adapted from the film screenplay to make him The Doctor, though obviously some variations had to be applied: there was no longer the original twist, for instance, though many aspects remained. The whole business with the medical team baffled by alien physiology was common to both, giving Holmes the opportunity to not only give his Doctor otherworldly blood, but also the two hearts that went on to be part of the continuing mythology of the programme.
Watch the Doctor Who story and you can perceive just how much Holmes contributed to the mid-sixties movie. Obviously, this was the first series of the show in colour, and Invasion had been shot in black and white, and it was also shot on film, though that was because of a technicians' strike behind the scenes that necessitated the switch from video - yes, the seventies had arrived, the opening episode having been broadcast a few days into 1970. Actually, the resources available to Invasion were comparable to the series, and while they did not recreate its most ingenious scene (see above), the TV team had their plastic menaces as their USP, guaranteeing viewers would remember it and tune in next week. Doctor Who went from strength to strength in this decade thanks to writers like Holmes, but it was intriguing to go back to Invasion and recognise where all that stemmed from, since the vintage film was a nice little British science fiction item classics like Doctor Who were built upon.
[Network release Invasion on Blu-ray as part of The British Film, with the trailer and an image gallery as extras. Click here to buy from the Network website.]