Doctor Who – Invasion of the Dinosaurs

Oh dear, I’m really behind with my classic Doctor Who DVDs this time. And it’s not the usual thing of having watched them and not got round to posting about them – I just haven’t got it together to take the time to watch the ever-growing pile. At this rate, I’ll still have a backlog when the new series starts.

But I have made a start, so here we go. This is one of two stories included in the UNIT Files set – another of those loosely themes boxes that they like to put out from time to time. I’ll get to the other one when tuits allow.

Anyway, this comes from John Pertwee’s last season as the Doctor, and has Elisabeth Sladen in her second story, following on from The Time Warrior. The TARDIS arrives in a deserted London, which seems to have been evacuated with great urgency. The title gives a hint to what’s going on, which is presumably why the on-screen title of the first episode was shown as simply “Invasion”, which in January 1974 might have worked, what with there being no pesky internet leaks. Unfortunately, the BBC listings magazine Radio Times sort of blew it…

Yes, London is beset[1] with dinosaurs, which appear seemingly at random, wreak a bit of havoc, terrify people, then disappear. This has proved all too much for the government, and they’ve moved everyone out of London, apart from a small army force there to maintain order[2].

After some general running around, the Doctor and Sarah Jane manage to get together with the UNIT team. The Brigadier is being nice, Sergeant Benton is being cheeky, and Captain Mike Yates is acting a bit strangely. Yes, there’s a quite insane conspiracy afoot, run by some extreme environmentalists[3], who have decided that human society has messed up the planet and has to be stopped. Well, prevented, actually.

First, they’ve conned a bunch of people into believing they’re on a colony ship heading for a new, unspoiled planet. Then they’re going to use their time toys not just to move dinosaurs around, but to reset time to a point before humanity appeared, then let their “colonists” out to start again, all led by their very clever and quite bonkers leaders, of course. Like any good conspiracy, it involves a government minister who has a secret lift in his Whitehall office, which leads to an underground base, which in turn leads to the fake colony ship interior…

Unfortunately for UNIT, the conspiracy also includes Mike Yates, who’s gone a bit soft round the edges (probably as a result of those maggots in The Green Death, or possibly he just misses Jo Grant). This all leads to danger for the Doctor, and possibly disaster.

Of course it all gets sorted out in the end, leaving the Doctor and Sarah Jane ready to travel…

Well, that’s the story, more or less, and it’s not that bad at all. A little suspension of disbelief is needed for some plot points, but no more so than is generally required for stories of the period.

But there is a problem with this story, and I don’t mean that even the magicians of the Restoration Team could get a good quality colour version of episode one. Oh no, that would have been merely regrettable. The big, honking problem is the dinosaurs. These are, quite simply the Worst. Dinosaurs. Ever.

It’s not just that they’re operated as puppets, with occasionally visible sticks moving their limbs, or that turning is tricky because they’re on tracks. Those, we could have got away with. But add that to the most rubbish-looking foam rubber creatures you’ve ever seen, and you have a dino-disaster. Now I’m not expecting anything up to contemporary CGI, but hell’s bells, Ray Harryhausen was making better creatures twenty years before this was made. Even allowing for BBC budgets, these creatures are dire.

But so long as you can cope with that, or at least have a giggle at the bad monsters, it’s still a good story, and worth watching.

There’s a moderate selection of extras, which in addition to the usual commentary, production subtitles and stuff, include:

  • People, Power and Puppetry – the more or less usual look back at the making of the story, with some archive interviews
  • Now and then – the also quite usual look at how some of the locations have changed
  • Doctor Who Stories: Elisabeth Sladen Part 1 – an interview recorded in 2003, in which Lis talks about her first year on the show. Nice.
  • Billy Smart’s Circus – Jon Pertwee had a rather unique car built, which was used in this story. It became known as the Whomobile, and it can be seen here in an appearance at the circus, which is the kind of thing they used to show on TV in the 1970s.

[1] Today’s special word
[2] Rounding up looters, shooting anyone they don’t like, etc…
[3] With the emphasis on “mental”

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