This STORY TAKES PLACE BETWEEN THE RADIO DRAMA "THE PARADISE OF DEATH" AND THE TV STORY "DEATH TO THE DALEKS."
'UNIT FILES' DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD3376) RELEASED IN JANUARY 2012.
Returning to London the Doctor and Sarah find a city almost completely devoid of life. The civilian population has been evacuated in the wake of an unimaginable event: somehow Dinosaurs have returned to terrorise the Earth...
AS THE BRIGADIER AND UNIT FEND OFF INCREASINGLY VICIOUS ATTACKS FROM GIGANTIC PREHISTORIC REPTILES, THE DOCTOR INVESTIGATES JUST HOW THESE MONSTERS ARE APPEARING WITHOUT WARNING. BUT WHEN SARAH JANE IS KIDNAPPED, THE DOCTOR REALISES THAT PERHAPS EVEN HIS OLDEST FRIENDS CAN'T BE TRUSTED....
12TH JANUARY 1974 - 16TH FEBRUARY 1974
Although The Time Warrior kicked off Doctor Who’s eleventh season on television, the eleventh production block began in the autumn of 1973 with Malcolm Hulke’s Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Generally regarded as something of turkey by fans of the show and particularly those involved in its production, this serial had the dubious distinction of being the last Doctor Who story to be released on VHS by the BBC. However, rather than being analogous to the last little fat boy to be picked for the school football team, I think that this six-parter is more like an unfit - but nonetheless skilful - forty cigs a day Sunday League footballer. Or, to be a little less cryptic, it’s a first-rate script brought to life by some fantastic actors, but blighted by some of the worst special effects in the history of creation.
If you can force yourself to look at Invasion of the Dinosaurs without prejudice, it’s an absolutely cracking piece of science fiction. Were it made back in William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton’s day and fortunate enough to have its cuts and dents masked by grainy monochrome, I have no doubt that it would have been afforded the same reverence as the likes of The Web of Fear, evoking as it does that sense of desolate disquiet, particularly in its first episode, before going on to explore themes of fanaticism and perfidy with groundbreaking finesse. Borne of a dinosaur-free satire on appeasement, Invasion of the Dinosaurs takes a very different angle on the environmental issues raised in The Green Death just months prior. Hulke’s story is a quagmire of good intentions gone awry as it moves away from Barry Letts’ and Robert Sloman’s “let them eat quorn” sermonising and shows us the other side of the Green movement – not long-haired lentil-munching lefties, but fanatical neo-Nazis intent on winding back time so that the Earth can be restored to its former glory ready for their chosen few to move in. It’s a beguiling proposition, and one that leads to one of the most innovative developments seen in classic Doctor Who – UNIT captain Mike Yates’ turn to the dark side.
Had Yates aligned himself with the Master or the Daleks for personal gain no-one would have swallowed it, but by aligning him with this story’s unique antagonists Hulke is able to paint an agonising picture of a much-loved character wrestling with his conscience, frantically weighing his dream of a better world against stabbing his friends in the back. Richard Franklin plays Yates’s struggle so well, buoyed by having Who veterans the like of John Bennett (The Talons of Weng-Chiang), Peter Miles (Doctor Who and the Silurians, Genesis of the Daleks), Martin Jarvis (The Web Planet, Vengeance on Varos) and Carmen Silvera (The Celestial Toymaker) to play off. The pain is etched on his face throughout, his worry lines becoming more and more patent the deeper that he’s drawn in.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs is almost as kind to Yates’s UNIT colleagues, Hulke compensating for his contribution towards the break-up of the UNIT family by gifting those that remain some terribly moving moments. There is one sequence in particular where General Finch orders that the Doctor is to be arrested, Benton lets him escape, Finch orders the Brigadier to court martial Benton, who instead sends him to help the Doctor. It’s almost as charming as the sly shot of a lowly UNIT grunt having a cheeky peek at a niff mag.
Of course, there’s no getting around the serial’s fatal flaw; a flaw made particularly infuriating by the fact that the bloody dinosaurs are incidental to Hulke’s central plot. If anything, they detract from it – if you were going to wind back time to restore the environment, why not just wind it back a couple of centuries? Matters are worsened by the gaffes that went hand in hand with the atrocious effects shots – the serial’s tyrannosaurus rex is actually an allosaurus, and the production team’s woeful attempt to maintain the shock value of the dinosaurs’ first appearance by dropping the ‘of the Dinosaurs’ part of the first episode’s title was undermined by the Radio Times, who didn’t get the memo and gave away the full title and a blurb - a slip-up that I feel sums up the plight of this ill-fated serial quite succinctly.
Above: Big Finish audio scribe Matthew Sweet presents People, Power and Puppetry
The serial’s commentary track is a discordant one, however. The contrast between the jolly old boys’ club of Richard Franklin, Peter Miles and script editor Terrance Dicks (who comment on episodes 2, 3 and 6) and director Paddy Russell (who comments on the rest) couldn’t be any starker - Russell is clipped and concise, a poor raconteur even when stirred by moderator Toby Hadoke’s skilful probing, whereas the others are friendly and engaging, even when broaching sombre subjects such as Nicholas Courtney’s funeral. As ever, Dicks has the most salient points to make, voicing the views of just about everyone who will buy this release in lamenting its producers failure to replace the serial’s abysmal dinosaurs with computer generated ones, while at the same time slamming the company that he and his producer Barry Letts hired to produce convincing dinosaurs for the show (“they lied,” he explains emphatically).
However, whilst this two-disc set is devoid of any convincing CG prehistoric monsters, the DVD’s producers have at least attempted to recolourise the serial’s first episode, which only survives today as a black and white film recording of the original colour videotape. Many other third Doctor episodes that suffered the same fate as Invasion have been recolourised using NTSC home video recordings from overseas, with invariably impressive results, but here the colour information has had to be extracted from the monochrome film recording, which had unwittingly preserved some of the red and green colour signal. As a result the optional recolourised episode is of poor quality when compared against the ensuing five; it’s a little like weighing DivX-encoded video against DVD’s MPEG-2. It’s a commendable effort all the same, but even so my advice is to turn your television’s colour off for the whole serial – believe me, its effects look a lot less feeble that way.
Above: Animation from the first Doctor Who Stories: Elisabeth Sladen featurette
Invasion of the Dinosaurs’ bonus disc is filled out with a few minutes’ worth of deleted scenes, and an interesting fifteen-minute instalment of Now and Then, which documents the production team’s early morning shoot in an almost deserted London. There is also a peculiar, half-episode commentary from John Levene (Sergeant Benton), recorded in the summer of 2005, which for some reason that I can’t fathom has been billed as a separate feature rather than simply added onto the first disc as an optional second commentary track. Finally, we are treated to a fifteen minute compilation of Lis Sladen memoirs recorded for 2003’s Story of Doctor Who documentary, in which she discusses her casting; “the feminist ukulele”; the Brigadier and Bessie; saving the universe; and all the Pertwee-era stories that she starred in.
One of Invasion of the Dinosaurs’ central tenets is that “a better world can’t be imposed upon its inhabitants”, and in the same vein Invasion of the Dinosaurs can’t be imposed upon Doctor Who fandom. You have to want to love it to be able to enjoy it, and I hope that with the release of this DVD and its stimulating bonus material, those previously put off by its puppetry will finally give it the chance that it deserves. If in doubt, squint.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008, 2012
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? Sarah Jane claims to be 23 years old here. As The Sarah Jane Adventures serials Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? and The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith suggest that she was born in or just prior to 1951, this would place this story in 1973 or 1974, depending on when exactly her birthday falls.
As we believe that this story is better placed in 1976 (for reasons set out in the UNIT Dating Dossier), then we must assume that Sarah is either mistaken (which is, admittedly, a bit unlikely) or that she’s started lying about her age earlier than most women do.
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