Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Doctor Who: Invasion of the Dinosaurs

Part One


“You’d never believe me.”

An episode in black and white for what I think is the last time. It’s tempting to say something about how it enhance the atmosphere of this particularly atmospheric episode, but of course that’s wishful thinking. These episodes should be seen as they were meant to be seen.

London is deserted, something we tend to think of as a standard Doctor Who trope, although this is only the second time it’s happened, the first being The Web of Fear. But the situation is handled very well, with a real mood being created. The bird noises on the soundtrack are particularly effective.

The pterodactyl scene is one that’s probably best seen in black and white, I must admit. But this is very good- Malcolm Hulke seems to have a particular talent for creating situations where no one believes the Doctor without being annoying, mainly because the suspicion arises naturally and believably out of the situation.

And then we get to see the dinosaurs. Yeeees…. they never fail to remind me of a certain TV advert I remember from my youth. Type “Chewits advert 1986” into a popular video site and you’ll see what I mean…

Part Two

“…And pink for your actual pterodactyl.”

The appearance of the 12th century man is a little incongruous in the context of the whole story, but at least it serves a purpose for the plot. And after last episode’s establishment of the mood the plot can start- the sudden and welcome appearance of the Brig immediately puts a stop to the business about no one believing the Doctor before it becomes tiresome. 

Just how many sugars does the Doctor take in his tea?

UNIT are back to their best from the start here- it seems the lessons of The Three Doctors have been well and truly learned. And in a pleasing piece of continuity Yates has had a “spot of leave” after his ordeals during The Green Death

There’s a first class guest cast here- a suitably sinister John Bennett as General Finch- an obvious baddie, but clearly supposed to be- and Peter Miles and Martin Jarvis in charge of the main moustache-twirling duties. 

This is impressive stuff. There’s some very good writing on show here, from the Doctor’s continuous interruptions (introducing Noel Johnson- General Smythe- as Charles Grover) to the shock revelation that Yates is a traitor.

Part Three

“Well, sometimes that girl baffles me.”

This is, sadly, the last ever story by Malcolm Hulke, and well up to his usual excellent standard. And after seeing so many it’s easy to spot recurring features- the serious tone, the good treatment of UNIT, the believable motivation for every character, and the sceptical treatment of the Doctor- in fact the first episode of this story reminds me very much of the first part of The War Games. But the characterisation in this episode is always good, from Yates’ stricken conscience as he insists the Doctor not be harmed to Sarah’s journalistic background coming into good use as she researches the scientist Whittaker.

Interesting line, “Back in the cold war days”, the first indication we’ve had for a very long time of these stories being set in the near future. Charles Grover is a great character, believably written by Hulke and extremely well portrayed by Noel Coleman, in a very different performance from his role as General Smythe so long ago.

That’s a fantastic cliffhanger, something no one could possibly see coming.

Part Four

“If she fails to respond to the re-education, we shall have to destroy her.”

This is the second time I’ve seen this story, and I’ll admit I’m a little less blown away than I was the first time, with the padding a lot more obvious. But still, this is great. The Doctor’s new car is fab, for a start, although its existence seems to contradict the impression we’ve recently been getting that the Doctor is loosening his ties to Earth with the end of his exile.

Crikey, it’s Carmen Silvera! The idea of the spaceship being a fake is great, and Sarah’s realisation that she can’t have been out for three months because she’s still got her scar is inspired. Meanwhile, the Web of Fear parallels continues as the Doctor skulks around in the underground, to be faced with a pterodactyl that’s obviously on wires. Oh dear…

The people on the ship are against “moral degradation, permissiveness, usury”… all my favourite things, in fact. This completely changes our impression of the villains- they’re not just environmentalist hippies but they have a scarily authoritarian social agenda too and want to establish a version of Franco’s Spain in the Jurassic. Or Cretaceous, or whenever.

You just have to groan as the Doctor walks into such an obvious trap…

Part Five

“So it was you, Mike.”

It’s a nicely underplayed moment, the Doctor’s realisation that Yates has betrayed his friends. It showcases just how brilliant Pertwee has been in this story, giving possibly his best performance since Season Seven. Could it be that his final series will see a sustained upturn? We’ll see…

Benton, on the other hand, is as loyal as ever, and the scene where he lets the Doctor overpower him gives us hope. The method the Doctor used seems awfully Star Trek, mind…

There’s more good stuff on the “space ship” as the bonhomie of the prospective “colonists” begins to look ever more sinister- they may regret having to do it but Sarah is clearly set to be the first dissident to be executed, and the very concept of the “reminder room” illustrates just how totalitarian this little society is.

Sarah escapes, only top be recaptured after making the same mistake with Finch as she did with Grover. For the first time we see the chief conspirators all together after we’ve been put fully in the picture about what’s going on. It’s strangely believable that such a scheme could come about, if we ignore the science being nonsense. A few reactionaries reinforce each other’s prejudices, they agree that something must be done, groupthink takes hold… it could happen. Except for the small point that the timey-wimey stuff is completely impossible, of course. Interestingly, this was made only a year or so before there are supposed to have been murmurings of a coup against the Wilson government. Probably mythical, of course, but presumably there was something in the zeitgeist.

Oh, look, a tyrannosaurus. That’s an original cliffhanger.

Part Six

“Don’t worry, Brigadier. I’m never wrong.”

Before we end the story we get to see a big fight between the two dinosaurs. Personally, I’m quite fond of the modelwork and, for what it is, it’s actually very good. And, aside from Sarah finding a too-convenient air vent through which to escape, so’s the episode.

The Doctor’s speech to Yates is brilliant, in terms of both script and performance. We get the fabled “There never was a golden age, Mike. It’s all an illusion.” but also, more to the point, the advice to “take the world you’ve got and make something of it.”

We get a nice ending, with the “passengers” getting to confront those who manipulated them and, most appropriately of all, Grover and Whittaker get transported back to their “golden age”.

That was absolutely brilliant. Great ideas, great characterisation, great performances. An easy 5/5. I’ll miss Malcolm Hulke.

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