The other day I read something interesting about The Invasion of the Dinosaurs.
I’d always been under the impression that the reason episode 1 is only available in black and white is that whoever junked episodes at the BBC mistook it for Episode 1 of the 1968 story ‘The Invasion’, since the ‘of the Dinosaurs’ part of the title was deliberately left off that first instalment to preserve the surprise of Dinosaurs turning up.
But it turns out that Barry Letts had authorised the wiping of this story in its entirity only a few months after broadcast, and it’s only by accident that the other episodes exist, and even more lucky that an engineers copy of Episode 1 turned up
years later. Letts must have really hated this story.
And if you listen to Dr Who fandom, it’s easy to understand why. This one is deemed to be ‘embarrassing’; not for the plot or the acting but for the ‘special’ effects used in bringing the Dinosaurs to our screens.
Ah those Dinosaurs. A combination of puppets and plastic or even Papier-mâché toys that were superimposed onto the fabled ‘green screen’.
They mostly look bad; of course they do. The Tyrannosaurus Rex especially, manages to be less convincing than the Chewit Monster, and there’s one scene in Episode 6 where we have to watch two men having a fight with their respective Dinosaur toys/sock puppets that is cringe-makingly bad. It’s like a child playing with his toys.
On the other hand, some of the other Dinosaurs get passmarks, and the close-up of the larger T-Rex model in the hanger isn’t too bad, so is it fair to criticise a story for a few lousy special effects in an era when CGI was just some bloke’s initials.
And is it fair that this story gets panned purely because of that?
Well we’ll see…
Doctor Who – Invasion of the Dinosaurs Review: What’s This One About?
Funnily enough, it’s not about an Invasion of the Dinosaurs. They aren’t invading anything. Rather they’ve been brought forward in time to clear London so a group of crackpot environmentalists can roll back time and take their chosen few with them back to the ‘Golden Age’ before man ‘ruined’ Earth, which in turn would see everyone outside Central London ceasing to have ever existed.
Thoughts – The List
Whenever I write one of these reviews, I jot down a list of bulletpoints that I want to discuss. Sometimes the list is lengthy, other times it’s not. Yes, there is a structure to these reviews…
Generally though, I find I have a reasonable mix of good and bad things to say about a story, but apart from the great twist of having Mike Yates turn heel on UNIT and align himself with the environmentalists, I couldn’t really come up with anything positive to say.
So let’s go through them…
It Just Doesn’t Make Sense
Let’s take a moment to think about the science behind this.
I’m always up for an argument over the Grandfather Paradox; you know the one – the idea that you can’t go back in time to before you were born and kill your Grandfather because if you did that then you’d never have existed to go back in time to kill him in the first place? I’ve always found that perfectly straight forward and yet my brother and best friend will argue with me until they are blue in the face about how I’m wrong. Well I’m not…so get it up you both.
Anyway, I bring that up because if the plan is for everyone outside of the protective bubble of Central London to have never existed (and therefore none of their ancestors would have existed either) then how could the members of Operation Golden Age ever have been born to come up with that scheme. They couldn’t.
And it’s not just that either…
They want to go back to a time before industrialisation, and choose Central London – the most polluted and industrialised place in the UK – as being the safe place that will presumably remain intact. Why not base their operations in the remote Highlands of Scotland or go abroad? Then they could have got on with things without even needing to bring Dinosaurs into the picture.
And though it’s never explicitly stated, why the hell would they want to go back to a time when Dinosaurs ruled the Earth? Apart from being unsafe, there’s a meteor heading their way.
Oh and also, if watching the original series of Survivors has taught me anything, it’s that the amount of people that they plan on taking back in time with them is not enough to sustain the human race. Oh it’s so flawed.
Beyond their plan, I really do not know why they thought it was a good idea to put Sarah on the ‘space ship’ with the members of Operation Golden Age, when all she was ever going to do was point out how ridiculous the whole thing was. And yet that’s what they did, and so it ultimately led to their downfall. Idiots.
Padding And Repetition
Apart from not making much sense, the script is also padded out way beyond the point of reasonability.
This could have been a rather sharp 4 parter, but the plot seems to run out in episode 3 of 6. Once the pieces have come into play and all the villains have been revealed, the story could have marched on to its conclusion, but instead of that we had pointless wastes of time like the Doctor finding their base and then leaving again, Sarah being put in the ‘Ship’ and then returning to it (the whole Ship subplot – which was pretty much copied straight out of the Enemy of the World – could have gone), Sarah being betrayed identically by both Grover and Finch and the interminable chase scenes in Episode 5 where the Doctor is thought to be the one behind it all.
So yeah, it dragged. And it wasn’t helped by the cliffhangers, which were reminiscent of The Mind of Evil (you remember; at the end of every episode someone got thrown into a room with the Keller Machine even if it had nothing to do with the plot). At the end of Episodes 1, 2, 4 and 5, the cliffhanger involves a Dinosaur showing up while the Doctor is nearby. Pointless
And yet despite these problems, and despite there not being much to like from a critical point of view, I really don’t mind this story. It’s stupid, but it’s very loosely built around a Doctor Who premise that works; an ‘alien’ threat in a relatable setting.
As I’ve typed this I’ve also remembered that Episode 1 manages to be quite good. The filming of an empty London (something that couldn’t be done in 2012) is eerie and there is a sense of the unknown. The Doctor’s reaction to being taken prisoner is also quite enjoyable. Certainly out of the six episodes, this is the best.
- The ‘surprise’ of Dinosaurs would have been a little bit better if they hadn’t turned up half way through Episode 1 and instead had been kept for the cliffhanger.
- Is it not a little convenient that everyone in power who has been left in London to sort out the problem is in on it?
- It reeks of nepotism that General Finch gets Court Marshalled at the end, yet Captain Yates gets let off with retiring quietly.
- Jon Pertwee loves the chance to speak in a Cockney accent, doesn’t he?
- In fairness to the special effects, some of the CSO isn’t too bad, in the sense that they achieve scale between the actors and the Dinosaurs reasonably well. Certainly when you compare the CSO here to the likes of Underworld and the Mutants it doesn’t really seem all that bad…except for that fight scene.
- And speaking of that scene, the Doctor is parked in the centre of London when it happens, and yet by running around a corner he finds himself in a spacious suburban area with trees and garages. Ok then…
- There’s a scene in Episode 2 where the Doctor is trying to work but keeps on getting interrupted that just seems like a bizarre attempt at comedy. It doesn’t come across well.
- I’ll ask again…why don’t they just kill Sarah?
- And in Episode 4 when Martin Jarvis comes into the tube station to enter the bunker via the secret lift, would it not strike him odd that the Doctor’s new car – which wasn’t exactly inconspicuous – was parked right outside?
- From the file marked ‘Things That Annoy Me on TV’, when someone says ‘…and come alone’ when arranging a meeting, why does the person who has to come alone a) never get suspicious and b) never tell anyone where he’s going to ensure that s/he has someone to backup should something bad arise?
- When villains make these machines that can be so destructive, how is it the Doctor is able to make them either completely safe or turn them against their villainous owners my flicking one switch. Is that not a fairly significant design flaw?
- While the Dr Who Restoration Team do an admirable job of trying to colourise the first episode, it just doesn’t quite work.
- I read that the original brief for this story was that it was to be about the South of England being given over to a race of aliens who had landed on Earth. That would have been better in theory.
Doctor Who – Invasion of the Dinosaurs Review: Final Thoughts
There’s so much wrong with the Invasion of the Dinosaurs, from the dodgy puppets to the bloated script, and yet for whatever reason I don’t think it’s that bad.
No, it’s not good, but it’s not so embarrassing that is deserved to be junked forever a few months later.
The Time Warrior was a very good story, but the general belief about Season 11 is that after that one it coasts along with safe stories that offer nothing ground breaking. I’d agree with that when it comes to Invasion of the Dinosaurs.
But by no means is it the worst Pertwee effort.