Invasion of the DinosaursBookmark and Share

Sunday, 12 December 2004 - Reviewed by 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 hand puppets 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 a bit 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 jeopardy. 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 opinion 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 megalomaniac with have a couple of faceless bureaucrats 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 pre titles 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 develop 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 sympathise 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 machinery 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...