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Invasion of the Dinosaurs

story 71 | season 11 | serial www
Michael Hickerson

When faced with the dilemma of either syndicating only five parts of Invasion of the Dinosaurs or leaving it out of the syndication package entirely, for years the BBC decided to just skip part one and show the five remaining episode. I'm not sure which this speaks volumes about more--the BBC's desire to make as much money as possible off Who sales and dump the first episode or the Pertwee era itself in which you can leave out an entire episode of a story and still not lose the audience. I do imagine had this been a four-part story, this would be a bit more of a dilemma, but maybe not really.

It speaks volumes of the story telling of the era when you've got two stories that can skip an entire episode in the syndication package for years on end and the audience can still follow what's going on. It's a bit more obvious in Planet of the Daleks when the Doctor jumps from being held prisoner by the Daleks to suddenly roaming around free. But here with Invasion of the Dinosaurs, we can easily skip the first 25 minutes of this adventure and not be any better or worse off. Sure, you miss an episode that's right out the Hartnell years--full of a mystery situation and atmosphere, but in terms of the overall impact on the story, you miss part one and you're not going to be hurting too much. We know that dinosaurs are appearing and that London has been evacuated--something that is summed up by the dialogue early in episode two.

Now imagine missing an episode of anything in the JN-T years....you miss one episode and you're lost. You may never quite recover and figure out what's going on.

It's not intended to be a criticism so much as an observation about the era from which this story came. It was full of six-parters and a lot of them were padded like an over-stuffed couch.

Such is the case with Invasion of the Dinosaurs.

It's not that it's a bad story concept, per se. It certainly fits in with the overall theme of the Pertwee era that humanity is its own worst enemy. The big problem with Invasion of the Dinosaurs is that we know all the players and the situation by the end of episode three and the start of episode four, but it takes another three episodes before it all comes to any kind of resolution. Invasion of the Dinosaurs is a story that's very repetitive--from the recycling of the Doctor in danger from a rampaging T. Rex for three cliffhangers to the fact that Sarah wanders on and off the alleged space craft for what seems like forever in the final two episodes.

It's interesting to see Invasion of Dinosaurs as sort of sequel to The Green Death. It follows a similiar theme of taking care of the environment, though this time instead of fighting those who choose to destroy it, the Doctor and company fight against those who take protecting the environemnt a bit too far. It's full of the shades of gray villians that made most of Malcolm Hulke's other Pertwee era stories work so well, though I will admit the characters are under-realized. Compare what we find out about General Finch and Minister Grover to the hints we find out about characters in the Silurians and it pales by comparison. And that may be part of the problem--in The Silurians or Frontier in Space or even The Sea Devils we could work up some sympathy or understanding of why people were taking the actions they did. Here we just get some scientists who want to roll back time and create a new Golden Age. We're never sure what their motive is or why they even appeal to their followers so. Why does Mike Yates suddenly turn on UNIT and his friends as he does here? Its' a nice twist but not one that is particularily motivated by anything.

I'll give Hulke some credit--he does at least try to connect the dots a bit in his novelization of the story, which I read long before I saw this one on screen.

Which may have been a problem. When you read about raging dinosaur battles on the printed page, the only budget is your imagination. On screen from the 70s, it's a bit more limited. With the budget of Doctor Who, it's very limited, though you've got to give them credit for at least trying. In a day and age when we see such dynamic effects as Jurassic Park, this story pales by comparison. But then again, it's not about the special effects--it's about the stories.

And that's where Dinosaurs lets us down the most. Visually, it is what it is. I will admit I laugh a bit at the dinosaurs who can't move three inches and are obviously badly done model shots. But if you have a good story, you can redeem a lot of visual faults. And sadly, Invasion of the Dinosaurs isn't a good story. It starts out well, but it's a diminishing returns kind of thing. The longer it goes on, the less story there is, until the final episode when it should be full of suspense and drama as the Doctor works to stop the Golden Age plan and instead it's just your standard ho-hum, I guess the Doctor will save everyone cause that's what happens on the show. Again, part of is this there are few, if any, surprises to the final three or so episodes since we, the audience, know all the players and their roles in the drama unfolding by episode three.

And don't even get me started on the protracted chase that pads out episode five....

It's a shame really. Malcolm Hulke wrote some great stories in his time. But he ended his Who writing career on a downnote with this one. But then again, even Robert Holmes had the occasional lackluster story as well.

But he got chances again in the 80s. Sadly, Hulke did not. It's too bad..he deserved to go out on a higher note than this one.

Steve Cassidy

Can someone please explain to me WHY 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' has a poor reputation?

Granted, the dinosaurs fail miserably in 2004. When we are used to the living breathing cgi of Jurassic Park or the Star Wars prequels the handpuppets of 1974 fall by the wayside. But how else in this time before pixel orientated SFX were they mean't to realise them? I remember the seventies quite clearly and their ambitions were always high. There were hand puppets in 'The Land that Time Forgot' and stop motion monsters in the 'Sinbad' films but such things were way above Doctor Who's budget. A state funded television channel that had always prided itself on its prudence isn't going to go splashing money around for stop motion photography - even if it did have the luxury of time. To be frank this was a childrens show which ran for almost six months a year. Its shooting schedule was tight and it had to turn out a good story each week - and in this 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' succeeds admirably.

'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' is good. Damn good.

All the anachronisms of the Pertwee era are here - the Unit family, the earthbound threat, the Barry Letts preachiness. But it is held together by a superb script by Malcolm Hulke that is rich in characterisation, plot and surprises. When the novelty of the dinosaurs wears off then the story takes another turn that catches the audience by surprise. And all is held together by the tight script-editing of Terence Dicks. Not a scene is wasted, not a piece of dialogue is superfluous. Its a tight exciting piece of television take actually builds to an effective climax. And that in itself is a rare thing in the WHO cannon.

And the dinosaurs? To be frank they are not as effective, and certainly not as scary as the Drashigs in the fabulous 'Carnival of Monsters' and aren't really as well realised. The thing is the canvas was probably abit too ambitious for such a production so 95% of the adventure is drama with the UNIT regulars. But they have too appear and when they do the entire thing has the feel of a comic strip or B-Movie. I expected little bubbles to appear out of Pertwee's mouth saying " A triceratops! Just keep it busy Brigadier while I finish doing this!" OK, the Tyrannosaurus Rex looks like a rubber doll, the kind you can win at a fairground and the fight with the Brontosaurus in front of Moorgate tube was unbelievable (I shall never look at that station in the same way ever again). The pterodactyl was as scary as the mop the Doctor used to fight it off. Only the Stegosaurus and possibly the Triceratops emerge with any credibility.

And yet it all seems eerily possible. Due to superb acting and directing the premise of giant sauropods roaming all over central London (surely the most hackneyed B-movie plot ever devised) it all actually works. And this is because, in short, the dinosaurs are superfluous. The adventure could have been called 'Invasion of the Mongol Horsemen' or 'Invasion of the Hairy Vikings' as the story is really about idealistic people endangering the rest of the population by scaring the bejesus out of them so they can formulate their plans. But I suppose the title 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' looked better in the Radio Times. The scale is bigger then a few dinosaurs - the whole of human history is in jeopoardy. And that is what is so good about this adventure, which is rapidly moving up the scale to become one of my favourite Pertwees, that there are layer upon layer of story here. There is stuff here which is incredibly adult - idealism, ecology, self-deception, the ends not justifying the means. One of the most chilling threads was the removal of 'disruptive influences' and the measures used to ensure cohesity amongst a group.

Three people should share the credit - Malcolm Hulke the scriptwriter, Barry Letts the producer and director Paddy Russell. First of all Hulke comes up with a reason for their being dinosaurs roaming around Oxford Circus. And from this he builds a very interesting story. The villains aren't villains, at least in their own minds. They think they are doing great good returning mankind to a simpler less polluted age. Mankind has destroyed the planet and they want it returned to a more pristine time where their guiding hand will ensure the abuse never happens again. To them, they are doing great good. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Grafted onto this is almost a 'cold-war' type story of cross and double cross where it becomes apparent that anyone left inside the central zone is working for the idealists. And then we have the big shocker at the end of episode three where the audience is just as stunned as Sarah. A spaceship! She's been on a space ship for three months! With the stroke of a pen Hulke turns the story upside down in one of the best story twists of the entire series. Watching this part again I couldn't help thinking of 'Capricorn One', a Hollywood film where they fake the moon landings and the astronauts eventually twig and rebel. 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' predates this by about five years.

Producer Barry Letts knows exactly how to create such a story. Going from his DVD commentaries Mr Letts winces along with the rest of us watching subpar effects so it would be interesting to know his opinon on the dinosaurs thirty years on. The production company at Pinewood certainly let him down in that respect. But on the whole the production is top-notch. The first episode is incredibly atmospheric. Certainly it benefits from being in black and white, and the whole episode has something of sixties WHO about it. But director Paddy Russell certainly evokes a deserted and abandoned London with ease. The audience shares the disquiet of the Doctor and Sarah as they roam around trying to find out what has happened. Their arrest as looters works wonderfully and Pertwee pulling his face funny faces as their mugshots are taken was very funny. But it is evoking atmosphere and getting good performances from the cast that Russell excels. There is not a duff performance amongst them.

The three "villains" are well handled. Instead of the usual ranting meglomaniac with have a couple of faceless beaureacrats who want to change the world. Each one is well-drawn, Whitaker is the scientist who has finally cracked the secret of time travel and thinks he is using it for something good. John Bennett, a long way from his sympathetic portrayal of Chang in the 'The Talons of Weng Chiang' plays General Finch. Finch is played so unsympathetically by Bennett that if Finch were one of the good guys we still wouldn't like him. And then there is Grover, the government minister who is behind all of it. Politicians always claim they go into politics wanting the change the world - well, Grover does, back hundreds of years in fact. It is a very good performance and for the first three episodes we like him immensely, such a kindly gentleman - his scenes helping Sarah in his office, making the tea, are very gently done lulling the audience into a false sense of security - then WHAM! He betrays her! Noel Johnson brings the right kind of gentle charisma to the role. I've seen him play government ministers before, I'm sure that was him in the pretitles of 'For Your Eyes Only' as First Sea Lord.

And Captain Mike Yates? His betrayal is one of the best things in the adventure. The character was pretty faceless before, just a public school ladder-climber. We learn't more about the real Mike Yates then we have over the two/three years he has been with us. That at heart there was an idealist who was willing to sacrifice himself and all about him for a better world. He did, however, have a weakness - he would not kill his friends. Time and again he stops the idealists from killing the Doctor. Its a good way for a character to depart and interesting to watch the character develope over the six episodes. Top stuff.

Finally we have the Doctor and Sarah. It has been claimed that Pertwee was running on autopilot for most of season 11. I can see no evidence of it here. In fact his portrayal in this one is one of my favourite EVER Pertwee performances. Swinging from that spiky no-nonsense boffin we know and love, to a warm humanity and someone who can actually sympathasise with what the idealists are trying to achieve but not the way they are going about it. And no one can look more interested and engrossed in some silly bit of machinary then Jon Pertwee - he does it so well. And Lis Sladen? Adventure number two for her and the production team must have been rubbing their hands with glee with what they could do with Sarah Jane Smith. In this adventure she is superb - leading a rebellion, chasing off on her own leads, getting frustrated at her treatment at UNIT, showing scepticism and good humour at every opportunity. They could use her much more in the story then they ever could Jo Grant. Can you imagine Jo Grant opening an airlock to prove a point? Or standing up to the Elders so much that they talk about destroying her? Lis Sladen is a natural actress, she emotes easily and no one does fear quite like she does. Also, I love the seventies black leather jacket.

So there you have it. If my review hasn't convinced you to get a copy then shame on you. As I said before, it is fast moving up the list to become one of my favourite Pertwees and certainly is one of the more enjoyable UNIT adventures. Naff dinosaurs aside, it is a well constructed scripted tale with lots of special moments. Why has it had such a bad reputation for so long? I can think of worse effects (Erato, the green mattress in the pit for example) and what are you watching WHO for SFX for anyway?

To me it is the best of WHO, a little gem hiding away in season 11. Actually, keep quiet - it will be our little secret. A hidden treasure...

Paul Clarke

As yet unreleased on video or DVD and notorious for its poor dinosaur effect, 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' is largely overlooked. Frankly it doesn't deserve to be; dinosaurs aside, it is rather good, boasting an interesting plot, good characterisation, and, most incredibly of all, a decent performance from Richard Franklin as Mike Yates.

First of all however, let's get the Dinosaurs out of the way. I've said many times that I don't judge Doctor Who on its effects, and this story is no exception, but due the infamy of the Dinosaur effects used here I should at least mention them. In fact they aren't all equally bad; the pterodactyl is quite effective, simply because it is a full-sized mechanical prop rather than a small rubber toy. Of the actual models, the brontosaurus and the stegosaurus aren't too bad, although they are a bit static. Nevertheless, their proportions look about right and careful direction manages to make the best out of them. I wouldn't say they look any worse that the Dinosaur in 'Doctor Who and the Silurians'. The triceratops is rather ropier, but again, Paddy Russell manages to make the best of it by keeping it in shadow and behind a pile of rubble, thus disguising the poor quality of the prop. However, even the most careful direction can't disguise the fact that the tyrannosaurus is absolutely crap. It is the classic rubber dinosaur, slightly disproportioned, with a duck-billed mouth, and listing constantly to one side. If this was Monty Python, the cliff-hanger to Episode One would not be the rubber Tyrannosaurus appearing in front of the Doctor and Sarah, it would be the arrival of the giant toddler whop owns it… It really is a cheap and nasty prop, and looks bad every time it appears. To add insult to injury, at the start of Episode Three, as Mike fires his revolver at it, Richard Franklin is stood next to a completely immobile and equally unconvincing giant plastic tyrannosaurus leg in a feeble attempt to show that he's stood underneath the monster. They really shouldn't have bothered.

Fortunately, although the Dinosaurs are mentioned in the story title, they are peripheral to the main plot and Malcolm Hulke wisely keeps their involvement to a minimum, and in most other aspects, 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' succeeds admirably. For starters, Episode One (titled simply 'Invasion') is startlingly effective, reminding me just how weird a deserted city, especially one like London, seems. It's highly effective and very intriguing, as the Doctor and Sarah wander the streets of London searching for anyone to tell them what is happening, encountering looters, a temporally displaced and utterly terrified peasant, and a screeching pterodactyl, before being arrested by the army. The army's refusal to believe that the Doctor is UNIT's scientific advisor is a sneaky but effective use of padding, something which Hulke is very good at; the Doctor's problems with the army last until half-way through Episode Two, before the Brigadier turns up to vouch for him. As with 'The Sea Devils' and 'Frontier in Space', Hulke's last two stories, there are examples of this sort of padding throughout the story, and as in those two stories, Hulke's knack for characterisation and dialogue manages to make this padding interesting. However, the real masterstroke of 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' comes at the end of Episode Three; just as the novelty of the Dinosaurs is wearing off, the viewer gets the first glimpse of just what is really going on, with a suitably bizarre twist.

The villains of 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' contribute significantly to the story's success. The plot attempts to make them seem sympathetic; Grover genuinely wants Sarah to understand why he is trying to return Earth to its "Golden Age", for example, and Grover, Finch, and Butler are motivated by a real sense that what they are doing is for the best. Noel Johnson is excels at conveying this, seemingly disturbed by the measures he feels he is constantly forced to take, but taking them anyway; in Episodes Five and Six, when he pleads with the People, he does almost seem to be agonized by the situation. Finch and Butler get less opportunity to demonstrate any such motivation, but John Bennett and Martin Jarvis nevertheless make the most of their roles, and despite his apparent intention to shoot the Doctor, Finch is given a certain air of nobility by Bennett's performance. Despite their belief that what they are doing is right however, Grover and his associates are of course characterised by a ruthless intent, which is to effectively wipe out millions of people. They are almost a cult, dedicated to some nebulous cause and willing to go to any ends to achieve it; the script successfully highlights the hypocrisy inherent in their intentions; Sarah argues with Grover that he is about to commit mass-murder, and that his so-called "Golden Age" would thus be based on a foundation of genocide. The uncomfortable Grover firmly states that it isn't murder, as these people simply will never have existed; clearly this is intended to convince him rather than Sarah. A more disturbing example of the hypocrisy inherent in these people is actually seen in the "ship"; the People are unaware of Grover's true intentions and believe that they are leaving the filth and social degradation of Earth behind them to instead find a new home. Consequently, they are not knowingly participating in the mass-murder of Earth's population, which makes Ruth's intention to "destroy" Sarah rather chilling. Ruth's brave new world is threatened by Sarah's dissent, so her solution is murder. The inherent issue of course, being what sort of "Golden Age" could possibly be built on the summary execution of people who don't agree with the majority opinion. In addition to this, even her less terminal solution to the Sarah problem is disturbing, amounting as it does to brainwashing. Interestingly, there is one key villain who does not fit this pattern: Professor Whitaker. Whitaker is not remotely sympathetic and shows absolutely no interest in Grover's cause. Instead Peter Miles' icy performance suggests a man whose sole motivation is personal achievement; having been dismissed by his peers for his theories on time travel, he is concerned only with proving his abilities. A clue to this, which also demonstrates his arrogance, comes during Episode Two, when Mike describes the Doctor as the most brilliant scientist on Earth; Whitaker's response suggests just who he thinks is the world's greatest scientist.

And then there's Mike. I've made no secret of the fact that I can't stand either the character of Mike Yates, or Richard Franklin's performance. Here however, he almost redeems his past appearance, as Yates is revealed as the traitor inside UNIT. Given this unusual and unexpected character development, Franklin puts in a restrained, troubled performance as Yates struggles with his conscience, torn between the lure of Operation Golden Age and his guilt at betraying his friends, especially the Doctor, who he clearly respects enormously. Unlike the other conspirators, Yates seems confused, a victim of Grover's propaganda, but convinced by it nonetheless to the extent that he is willing to be party to the eradication of the vast majority of mankind, even showing willingness to sacrifice himself for the cause if necessary. Equally guilty of the crime of being party to near-genocide, Yates is obviously more tortured by his conscience than Grover, Finch or Butler, and is painfully aware of the hypocrisy of the operation, even going so far as to tell Butler and Whitaker that he won't allow the Doctor to be harmed because if they resort to such levels, they are no better than the society that they intend to replace. Ultimately, Yates' participation in Operation Golden Age is unforgivable, but his past involvement with the Doctor and UNIT gives him the chance to redeem himself, as he is given extended sick leave rather than facing a court-martial like Finch does.

The other two regular members of UNIT shine here, the Brigadier once more on form in particular. His defiance of General Finch even before he knows that the General is a traitor, is motivated largely by his faith in the Doctor. Even though the Doctor is unsure of the Brigadier's reliability briefly in Episode Five (after the Doctor is arrested when Whitaker frames him), the viewer is not; his carefully measured response makes it clear that he is highly suspicious of the circumstances. Benton too does very well out of the script, his faith in the Doctor even more obvious especially when he allows the Doctor to overpower him and escape; clearly, he never once doubts the Time Lord.

The Doctor is well written here, immediately posing a threat to the success of Operation Golden Age from the moment he meets up with Lethbridge-Stewart, whereas prior to this the conspirators have been successfully keeping UNIT distracted. His rapid conclusion that the dinosaurs are merely a means to clear central London prompts the conspirators to take steps, Yates being ordered to sabotage the Doctor's stun gun. This tips the balance of events, causing them to reveal their hand, take the first steps towards blowing Mike's cover and ultimately be defeated. Sarah too plays a key role and gets to show off her investigative skills, discovering Whitaker's involvement, locating Grover's hidden base, and revealing the truth to the People. In summary, 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' is a well-crafted, interesting story, which is thoroughly underrated and worthy or reappraisal.