Monday, July 13, 2015

"Invasion of the Dinosaurs"



Aired Jan. 12 - Feb. 16, 1974

6 Episodes

Story 71

Written by: Malcolm Hulke

Directed by: Paddy Russell

Synopsis

Returning to 20th Century London, the Doctor and Sarah are surprised to find the city deserted. While exploring the city, they are captured by army troops who falsely suspect them of being looters. Eventually turned over to their friends at UNIT, the Brigadier informs them that central London has been evacuated following the appearances of dinosaurs throughout the city. They seemingly appear and disappear at random, and UNIT is stymied as to why as well who is behind it.

The Doctor and Sarah begin investigating, the Doctor working from the theory that the prehistoric animals are being brought forward in time through technological means. They soon uncover a massive conspiracy to empty central London for some mysterious purpose, using the talents of scientists Whitaker and Butler, and led the Army's General Finch and government Minister Sir Charles Grover. 

While the Doctor finds his scientific efforts hampered by another conspirator, namely UNIT colleague Captain Mike Yates, Sarah is captured by Grover and rendered unconscious.

She awakens seemingly on board a massive spaceship alongside fellow colonists heading to another world in which to set up a perfect society. The people on board believe Earth has become too corrupted, too polluted, and seek to build a new human society on an unspoiled planet. However, Sarah soon realizes that the ship is a fake, and that the colonists aboard have been misled. They haven't left Earth at all, and the conspirators led by Grover instead want to use the temporal device they have developed to return Earth to a "Golden Age", a wild untamed pre-industrial version of the Earth upon which the colonists can rebuild a "perfect" society.

The Doctor and his allies raid the Golden Agers underground facility, and though they manage to activate their device, the Doctor succeeds in changing the settings so that rather than Earth being reverted, Grover and Whitaker are cast back to the prehistoric era from where they've been sterling the dinosaurs.

Though all is back to normal, there has been fall out; the misguided Mike Yates is allowed to quietly resign, much to the sadness of his friends.

Analysis

I rarely comment on special effects in classic Doctor Who. Unless I feel they are uninspired, or the result of lack of effort, I tend to leave them alone. The reason for this is that the series had little time and even less money, and considering both of those limitations, often produced staggeringly inventive effects. But, it is fair to say that they aren't always up to the task of suspending disbelief, but it's not through lack of effort or imagination.

However, when it comes to Invasion of the Dinosaurs, the production must be taken to task. The idea of dinosaurs invading modern London is a potent one, to be sure, and I can see why they we're eager to give it a try. However, Letts and Dicks and even Malcolm Hulke should have known that the series simply did not have the resources to come close to the level of effects necessary to make that idea work. It's yet another indicator that perhaps, with their attention split between two series, Doctor Who was no longer under the close eye it had been. 

And yet,  I found that the dinosaurs didn't ruin the story for me at all, and in fact, they matter far less than I had thought. Yes, the scenes they're in don't work, and it's all down to the pretty horrible puppetry combined with the bad CSO, but in reality, the dinosaurs are a pretty small part of an overall engrossing and brilliantly structured story by Malcolm Hulke. It's a story about reactionaries, and the environment, and nostalgia versus optimism. There's at least two dynamite twists, the first being Sarah's plight and revelations aboard the space ship, the second being the genuinely shocking betrayal by Mike Yates. 

After a performance in The Time Warrior that seemed to find him coasting, Pertwee is back on form here. Hulke was maybe the best at shading in complexity and nuance to the authoritative Third Doctor, and here he gets plenty of what Pertwee called "moments of charm" to soften him. It's a great UNIT story as well, finding the Brigadier once again on the opposite side against the regular army and the government, a position which allows him to shine as a noble soldier with a duty higher than nationalism.

The villains of the piece would, interestingly, probably consider themselves left-wing, which is unusual in these kinds of story, which tend to favour fascist ideals for their baddies. The conspirators are just as bad and repressive as any other megalomaniacal groups, but their motivation is interesting, and their co-opting of good old dependable Mike Yates into their ideology is believable and dramatic and works perfectly.

Further proof of the story's good points comes in all the direction and design that doesn't feature the dinosaurs. Paddy Russell does a great job maintaining tension and suspense, and the story feels far shorter than its six episode allotment.

Sadly, this would be Malcolm Hulke's last contribution to the television series, an immense loss to the programme. His scripts, with their strong social messages and characters with nuanced, believable and varied motivations, would be greatly missed. Along with Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes he absolutely must be counted among the finest writers to work for the series, and it's a real shame that he would never return. There would be times in the future when the series would desperately need Malcolm Hulke. 

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