Saturday, October 15, 2005

'Invasion of the Dinosaurs'

6 episodes

Oooh dear... this is infamously meant to be one of the all-time worst Who adventures, as evidenced by the fact that it was the very last complete story to be released on video a mere two years ago - a full twenty years after the first! Actually, I'd watched the first episode then and been rather impressed; admittedly, its black-and-white (the 157th and last episode to exist as such) status helps the atmosphere, but the empty, abandoned streets of London are genuinely eerie and bleak, the mystery suspenseful, and the sole attack from an extinct reptile (a pterodactyl) legitimately frightening when it smashes the car window.

Then I realised a little later in the viewing that I had in fact watched the full six-part story a couple of years back, but apparently blanked-out my memory of the latter five parts, which speaks volumes about the rest of the serial... Hmmm - maybe that's a bit unfair actually: it's still far better than you might expect, but drags a lot despite the interesting plot ideas. Ironically, it's the dinosaurs themselves that most contribute to the negative vibe... While the herbivores look okay, particularly the apatosaur and stegosaur (the Triceratops is a little dorky), albeit a trifle stationary, it is far easier to spectacularly stuff up the appearance of a tyrannosaur - and so they do. Despite being specifically named as a Tyrannosaurus Rex the beast blatantly has an excessive tally of three fingers on each hand, which any ten-year-old could have corrected the makers on, and its beady-eyed, squashy-nosed, slack-jawed oafish face is hopelessly unintimidating. The effect is not helped by the pudgy, upright (and slightly lopsided) body and "RRRAAAWWWWOOOORRR" voice, while the poor creature is so static it fails to even lumber threateningly.

Ah well - the rest of the plot is pretty good, really: the Doctor and Sarah's initial befuddlement as to what is going on, culminating in their arrest as 'looters', is excellent, and it isn't until the comforting form of the Brigadier turns up that they and we feel a measure of 'safety'. Of course, not even the rest of the military can be trusted - John Bennett's cold, heavy-lidded General Finch makes for a fascinating 'villain', as does Noel Johnson's Government minister Grover since he seems to honestly believe he is in the right in wanting to roll the Earth back in time to a 'Golden Age' despite the fact this would wipe out billions of people. It is a shame Martin Jarvis' Butler has little to do, although the actor's presence here means his illustrious Doctor Who career involves... (cue fanfare) 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' and 'The Web Planet'. Eeeuchh... The device of Sarah being on a 'spaceship' seemingly headed for a distant New World is very clever and quite shocking in its denouement, and the behaviour of the some of the others 'on board' is brutal in terms of how willing they are to recondition or dispose of those who might be destabilising influences... Meanwhile, the ever-redoubtable Sgt. Benton proves himself yet again, standing up to the bad guys and allowing the Doctor to incapacitate him and escape; and, of course, the revelation is Captain Yates, whose exposure as another of the traitors is shocking for someone so much part of the 'UNIT family'. Again, he seems to really believe in the eco-message Grover and the others are touting (very different to that in 'The Green Death'), and the Brigadier's effort to enable the disgraced Yates to take a dignified 'extended leave' at the end - compared with Finch's court martial - is fitting and touching. Jon Pertwee does well throughout, even when confronted by wall-to-wall awful CSO and rubber dinosaurs, and despite some reviewers' negative impression of it I found the extended chase sequence where the Doctor dodges the military through the woods of Hampstead Heath to be extremely tense and gripping - not to mention inclusive of some neat trickery on the Doctor's part! Of course Nicholas Courtney is as reliable as ever, and gets in my opinion one of the Brigadier's best ever scenes in his High Noon showdown with Finch, the two pulling up in Land Rovers either side of the Doctor in a deserted back street and the Brigadier refusing to back down in his attempt to rescue his friend.

All in all, 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' isn't a bad little story at all - just a shame they had to put the lousy dinosaurs in...


Episodes watched: 257
Episodes still to watch: 465

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