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The Project Manager’s guide to Doctor Who: The Android Invasion

In this series I’m applying the methodologies of my day job to classic Doctor Who stories. Project management is a subtle profession requiring people skills and precise organisational abilities. Let’s find out if Styggron’s got what it takes.

‘And when I turned round, they were ALL wearing eyepatches!’

1. SET A CLEAR GOAL

The Android Invasion’s the whole reason I started writing this series. Chatting to Dan about it one day I blurted out that from a project management point of view, the Kraals were terrifying – and the seed of looking at Doctor Who stories from this angle was sown. So as I sit down to tear their famously awful, convoluted plan to pieces it would be embarrassing if I had my own personal ‘Oops no sorry look actually my eye was there all the time’ moment, wouldn’t it. I mean, no-one in their right mind thinks this plan makes sense, do they. Do they?

2. ESTIMATING AND PLANNING

No-one could say that the Kraals were under-prepared. They spend a full two years preparing for and rehearsing their invasion. They ransack the contents of their kidnapped astronaut’s brain and create exact plastic copies of Britain’s Space Defence Station and its surroundings on their home planet. Then they populate their rhino Legoland with perfect copies of all the real people in the original area.

The androids were not very frightening

 The standard criticism of this is that it seems pointless, when their actual plan is to wipe out humanity with a virus. Why make androids pose as a ragtag assortment of villagers and test them until they achieve full, terrifying mastery of the art of hanging around in a pub at lunchtime? I say why not. The virus will take three weeks to disseminate, we hear, and it seems that it needs to be added to water and food supplies. So why shouldn’t their androids be copies of publicans, butchers and shopkeepers and practice their daily routines?

Actually no, this one gives me the shits

Resource and timings are the biggest issues facing any project manager at the start of a large campaign. And if it seems that Styggron has gone over the top with his methodology, consider that he’s got, effectively, unlimited resource at his disposal. Compare how casually the fake village is destroyed with a ‘matter dissolving bomb’ with how, the one time we see an android being created, it just appears out of nowhere around a skeletal frame. I think the Kraals have mastered the conservation and recreation of matter, and can spend as much energy fashioning McEwan’s Export bar towels, little boxes of York jelly fruits, copies of the Daily Express and posters with pictures of cheese on them as they like.

The Doctor recognises their enormous technological abilities and ponders – along with everyone watching – why they don’t just take Earth by force with weapons. But considering they’re trying to escape from a radiation-ravaged planet, not ruin an unspoiled one, I think that question answers itself.

3. CONTINGENCY

Leaving aside that the very first thing we see on screen is a wonky android lurching to robo-suicide, Styggron’s got all the details under control. ‘Strategy is formulated upon knowledge,’ he declares when criticised for baiting the Doctor with an android Sarah. ‘It is important to see that our techniques are flawless.’ He even prepares for the unlikely event of an android revolt with the production of a weapon that deactivates them.

Are the dogs androids too? They’ve done the tongues well

As a project manager you rarely get the chance to test your processes before going live. Everything is done on the hoof. Styggron defies this with a constant insistence on testing. Again and again we see him pushing at the limits of the plan to eliminate any weaknesses, immediately eager for instance to factor in a trial run of the virus on a living human organism, a test which only suddenly becomes possible when the TARDIS arrives.

4. MANAGING THE TEAM

Styggron’s an extremely shouty, bullying manager. ‘Do as I say!’ he bellows at a cowering Crayford, unneccessarily adding ‘You SHALL do as I say!’ before unleashing some sort of pain wave. But then it must be stressful when you constantly need to distract your main team member from looking – or even scratching – under his eyepatch. To be honest the further I get into this analysis the more respect for Styggron I’ve got.

Apart from the androids, who obey him without question, the only other person Styggron has to liaise with as chief scientist is Marshall Chedaki. Military credentials on Oseidon are apparently conveyed by a nice chunky bit of gold bling around the neck, and Styggron treats his colleague with the disdain he deserves.

5. TRACKING, STATUS REPORTING AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT

‘There can be no variation in the schedule!’ screams Styggron at one point. All of us project managers feel like that from time to time. But flexible adaptation to the ongoing requirements of the project is the key to success and we can see that he does that alright. For instance his initial wave of androids has already been updated to reflect the latest staff changes at the Space Defence Station – presumably he learned about the Brigadier’s trip to Geneva from Crayford’s recent radio contact with Earth.

The range of phones pictured is available at Tandy’s

As for keeping track of things, he’s always firing up his communicator and shouting ‘Report! Report!’ if he hasn’t heard from his underling enough. The first time we see him he’s immediately noticed that the order for all units to recharge hasn’t been followed and is barking at Crayford about having detected a random unit. He’s clearly keeping a very close eye on progress.

DEBRIEF

  • The project manager was responsible for controlling a complex, large-scale operation with flair and great attention to detail
  • An extensive pre-project testing programme was carried out with unqualified success. The dogs were good
  • Application of the latest scientific techniques was well-deployed and benefit-rich as regards the through-the-line implementation of the plan
  • Management style bordered on the bullish but was thoroughly appropriate to the evolving needs of the process
  • ‘And all brilliantly planned by Styggron!’

Project WIN!

(I mean, if the Doctor hadn’t blundered into things, the Kraals’ plan would have succeeded. Within minutes of Crayford’s rocket touching down on Earth, the commanding officer and the key military staff of the Space Defence Station have all been seamlessly replaced by androids. We’d all have been dead from ginger beer by the 28th July and Blade Runner would never even have been made.)

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There’s nothing “only” about being Sarah Jane Smith

Oh I can’t pretend to write a tribute to Elisabeth Sladen. I didn’t know her. But I know Sarah Jane Smith, the character she made real for millions of viewers like me.

Sarah’s a character who doesn’t come across particularly well on the page. Looking at the scripts for mid-70s Doctor Who, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether she had any personality of her own at all. But Lis Sladen’s magical performance lifts the “strident investigative journalist” to a different level. She fills her with warmth, mischief, and a sense of adventure. She makes her completely human. Paired with Tom Baker at his most distant and alien, she becomes the eyes, and voice, of all of us. Faced with the wonders and horrors of the whole universe, what would we do? Don a series of increasingly ridiculous outfits and plunge into adventure with a sense of fun and a sprinkling of sarcasm? I’d like to think so.

Watch any of her classic episodes. Her reactions, her readings, her ‘choices’, as they say in the biz, are always extraordinary. She lifts the most mundane of scenes into something captivating. As a character, she brings the Doctor down to size, and she brings us up to his. Her ordinariness becomes iconic. Brilliant.

Her death feels particularly sudden and awful because she’s been so much a part of the modern Who family recently, brought back to front the excellent The Sarah Jane Adventures on CBBC for the last few years. When she first reappeared in School Reunion she had the opportunity to best Rose in a roll call of the terrors she’d faced: “Mummies!… Robots, lots of robots!… Daleks!… Anti-matter monsters!…. Real life dinosaurs!… THE Loch Ness Monster!” An impressive list to which I’d only add the essential “Been menaced by a giant tentacle in a cottage!”

I can’t sincerely say “R.I.P.” because I don’t believe in an afterlife. I believe we live in a random, uncaring universe that’s mostly shit but can be lightened with moments of silliness and joy. We’re all just dogs walking on our hind legs. But once in a while we might be a dog that’s in a street somewhere that’s probably not South Croydon, and someone might pass through our lives briefly, with a playful tap of a tennis racquet, who reminds us to keep whistling in the face of an uncertain future. Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith.

Monsters at home: the Aliens

The ‘Xenomorphs’ as some fans clumsily insist on calling them (in conversation I simply refer to them as “the Aliens from Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien Resurrection, Alien vs. Predator and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem”) get as rough a press as any monster. They’re stereotyped as slavering, parasitical biomechanical killers, but their quality time is spent far more gently and it’s time to lift the lid.

WHAT DO THEY EAT It’s tough spending all day eating people. And when you’ve got acid for blood, you’re going to need something to settle the stomach. As thealkalinefoods.com tells us, too much acid can lead to a loss of essential minerals such a potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium. So the Aliens, secretly, scoff on raw green leafy vegetables, low-sugar fresh fruits, almonds and chestnuts.

HOW DO THEY SOCIALISE We only ever see the remorseless, predatory side of the Aliens on screen, as they skulk around in dank tunnels and darkened corridors. But in their spare time they enjoy a lot of village fête-style activities, with stalls such as ‘Who’s Got The Best Egg?’ ‘Guess The Weight Of The Face-Hugger’ and ‘How Many Embryos In The Jar?’ proving increasingly popular.

WHAT DO THEY DRINK Look, we’ve established that they need a more alkaline diet. That’s why they enjoy a nice refreshing drop of Kaolin & Morphine. This also helps with the relief of occasional diarrhoea.

WHAT DO THEY WATCH ON TELLY Their natural life-cycle involves consuming, impregnating and brutalising. So to unwind they watch The Only Way Is Essex, Take Me Out and My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. The early years of Tom Baker’s Doctor Who are also popular, with focus groups praising The Ark In Space (“some of the ideas are a bit far-fetched but the design is lovely”) and Pyramids of Mars (“the scene where Sarah bursts out of a chest is a big family favourite”)

WHAT DO THEY DO FOR FUN The latest leisure fad in the Alien community came about when the Queen in Aliens learned to operate a lift by watching Ripley. So now it’s a rare Saturday afternoon when you won’t find a bunch of these playful creatures in their local branch of Debenhams or John Lewis, riding up and down between kitchenware and menswear like a particularly murderous tribute to the Are You Being Served? intro.

HOW DO THEY REPRODUCE The Aliens aren’t unaware that we say they symbolise fears about human sexuality and embody themes of twisted motherhood. In fact they’re very sensitive about it. These days, young Aliens have taken to wearing abstinence rings to show their chastity. They attend pious ceremonies in which they vow to stay pure until they meet ‘the right person’. Sadly, though, they ARE still monsters, and all it means is they won’t face-rape anyone who doesn’t look they’re asking for it.

One last thing: it amused me to see the below while I was fact-checking. What did they THINK we were hoping the page would be like?

This Train Does Not Stop at Nerva Beacon

My jaw dropped while watching EastEnders last week. I’m not talking about the unprecedented levels of festive grimness in the swap-your-dead-baby-with-your-mate’s-one storyline (ALTHOUGH YES). It was the astonishing special effects in the tube train ride that caught my eye. That rolling backdrop reminded me of something, and as soon as I’d put my finger on it I knew I had to make a little video tribute, to see just how far the BBC’s special effects had come in 25 years (A BIT).