Doctor Who: UNIT Files - Volume 1 (UK - DVD R2)
Klakkk! The Wilson Bros brave the Invasion of the (silly-looking) Dinosaurs!
Jon Pertwee's time as The Doctor was winding down; after a four-year run on the show, like the rings on a tree, the Dandy Doctor's hair was at it's most bouffant and he was ready to hang up his Inverness cape and move on to pastures new, but before he would move on to those pasteurs (which would ultimately be on Scatterbrook Farm), the Third Doctor still had to tackle a few more adversaries, including some relics from Earth's past.
The Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) materialise in a deserted London; there is evidence that the place has been evacuated in a hurry and they are uncertain as to what has caused such panic in the usually bustling metropolis that everyone decided to leave in such a big hurry. Some investigative work eventually reveals that there is a cunning conspiracy underway to wipe most of the human race out of existence, and that scientists, politicians and even a member of the UNIT family are all in on it...
There's no getting away from it - the realisation of the titular creatures in Invasion of the Dinosaurs is quite pathetic; they're the sort of embarrassing things that Doctor Who haters have been citing as examples of why they dislike the show for decades. We were only a few months old when this story was originally broadcast, so we weren't able to watch it, but it's a fairly safe bet that when the not-so-believable prehistoric beasts appeared, the reaction from both fans and casual viewers were probably awfully similar. Doctor Who has always had to battle hard in order to suspend disbelief (we'll avoid mentioning the wee tin-foil beasties in The Invasion of Time...), but rarely has a concept with such great premise been torpedoed by the limitations of the BBC visual effects department - the fact that this story has a couple of the worst instances of wobbly sets in the show's history only adds to the story's already poor reputation.
It would have been nice to have seen this story presented in a special edition with CGI dinosaurs to breathe new into the thing; Barry Letts mentioned that he would have wanted this to happen, but sadly the late Mr Letts' wish has gone unfulfilled. The possibilities of what could have been possible are staggering - the recent special edition of Day of the Daleks unleashed the potential of a story hamstrung by some shoddy production values and the prospect of seeing some Jurassic Park-style (or even Primeval-style - we're not THAT picky!) CGI dinosuars on the rampage in London would have been magnificent. As they stand, the dinosaurs in this story are best taken as kitsch - something they weren't supposed to be - and as a way of serving the real story of politics, corruption and ecology gone barmy.
Whilst we're on the subject of the questionable special effects, the less-than-convincing rod-puppets are stacked up against Colour Separation Overlay work that also serves to shatter an audience's suspension of disbelief and making any actor appearing in a shot with using CSO looking like they had eaten nuclear-irradiated Ready Brek prior to filming; such use of CSO was liberally employed at the behest of Doctor Who's producer and this the reduction of believability could be labelled the BarryLetts Limitation Effect. Bit of an in-joke for hardcore Who fans there...
Invasion of the Dinosaurs contains a line that we have often quoted for our own amusement and that particular line from the Third Doctor continues to raise a smile, especially if doing an impersonation of Jon Pertwee - "Good grief - it's a Stegosaurus!"
The first episode of this story is awfully similiar to the fabulous Patrick Troughton epic The Web of Fear, in that The Doctor and companion(s) arrive in a deserted London and are blissfully unaware of just what rampaging monster has caused the place to be like a ghost town; the military are on the lookout for looters and general ne’er-do-wells and pick up The Doctor, thinking him to be taking advantage of the situation.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs is one of the best examples of a Doctor Who (specifically a Pertwee) story that could have been much more entertaining and taut if it had been a four-parter, rather than six, as the whole "New Earth" sub-plot really bogs down the story during the latter half. Much like Jon Pertwee's swansong, Planet of the Spiders, this story also suffers from one episode that seems to pander to the star's love of motor vehicles and has an extended chase sequence in it, but unlike the one in Spiders, this one seems to serve a bit more of a purpose and is more exciting to watch.
This story was to be Richard Franklin's last regular appearance as Mike Yates, and regardless of your opinions on the special effects, it's a pretty duff story to go out on; Yates unexpectedly falling in with the New Earth loonies and subsequently turning traitor is pretty hard to swallow and almost an insult to the character who had been loved because he was terribly dashing, heroic and dependable. Yates had ascended to the rank of Captain in the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce and would probably have undergone psychological profiling before being considered as potential officer material and someone that easily swayed would have probably found it a damn-sight harder to get promoted; one has to wonder what exactly was on Mike Yates' psychological profile "gullible twat and suitable candidate for the Jedi mind trick". Even though he had been suckered in slightly in The Green Death, this development in Mike Yates was not so much a character twist, more of a handbrake turn, as he turns so adamantly and puts a dent in the seemingly incorruptible force for good that is UNIT.
Whatever questionable decisions were made regarding Mike Yates, there's no denying that Invasion of the Dinosaurs is quite possibly Sargeant Benton's finest hour (or two-and-a-half hours, seeing as it's a six-parter); Benton gets to do numerous heroic things, including punching out a superior officer, even though it's not seen on-screen. We've always had a soft-spot for Benton and the actions he gets demonstrate in this story make us love him all the more, and it helps to shatter the opinions that certain areas of Doctor Who fandom have that John Levene was a "glorified extra"; Levene brings a great degree of charm to the part and his improvised "your actual Pterodactyl" line makes you love him all the more.
Though Pertwee himself was preparing to leave the show, and many fans point out a distinct lack of enthusiasm as his final season wore on, the actor will manages to throw himself into the story, probably because it was set on Earth again and characters and situations were more engaging in terms of relating to on an everyday level (with the exception of the rampaging dinosaurs, of course), rather than outlandish extraterrestrials on faraway planets. Pertwee also gets to demonstrate that he still had his physical prowess - despite the increasing problems with his back - by kicking a looter in a manner that would have impressed Bruce Lee. Pertwee's Doctor was one that seemed to thrive on going nose-to-nose with authority figures (which is why Nick Courtney worked wonderfully well with Pertwee and not quite as effectively with Tom Baker), and much like Colin Baker's Doctor, he also needed to have a brassy companion with him who could occasionally prick his rampant pomposity.
This was Elisabeth Sladen's second story as Sarah Jane Smith, with many of the feisty traits that were originally infused in her character still present; though the character had been rewritten somewhat to make her conform to the expected standards of a female companion of the time, she's still more of a sleuthing go-getter than in later stories, giving Sladen more to do as an actress as Sarah Jane really flexes her inquisitive muscles and makes some ingenious discoveries during the course of the story - it's just a pity that she fails to spot just who is in league with the band of eco-maniacal nutters.
Boy, can distinguished actor Martin Jarvis pick his roles on Doctor Who; he first appeared during William Hartnell's tenure in the ambitious disaster The Web Planet, in which he played Hilio - essentially a giant moth - and he kept that moth-like instinct for repeatedly getting burned by coming back for Invasion of the Dinosaurs. As we explained earlier, the premise is great, Malcolm Hulk penned an entertaining script and the performances are engaging, but sadly this is all undermined by the fact that the dinosaurs effects were crap and that is generally what seems to stick in the mind of most people who have watched it. This would be Hulke's last contribution to Doctor Who, as disagreements at production level caused him to walk away from the show; Hulke's legacy would not only be the stories that he penned for television, but also for the Target novelisations of his own scripts that expanded upon the original scripts and added levels of depth and character that weren't really possible on television - most Who fans have a smile on their lips when they recall the cover of Hulke's novel of this story, with Pertwee being attacked by the pterodactyl, accompanies by the onomatopoeic "Klakkk!" caption.
One of the chief archetects of the dastardly scheme to return to the "Golden Age" is Professor Whittaker, played with suitable callous zeal by Peter Miles; Miles would later play Davros' equally evil right-hand man in Destiny of the Daleks and here gives Doctor Who fans a taste of the performance that he would become most known. It should be pointed out that in this story, Miles has one of the most remarkable comb-overs ever seen; truly a thing of wonder that makes you want to see him plat the thing and wear it as some sort of tribal braid.
Further sterling support is given by guest cast members Noel Johnson (Charles Grover, MP) and John Bennett (General Finch), both playing characters who aren't on the side of niceness; Johnson was most famous for playing Dick Barton on radio and turns in a wonderfully subtle performance in a part that could have so easily have been either a moustache-twirling or bureaucratic one. Bennett is equally as good as a cold-hearted authority figure who outranks the dear old Brigadier and allows Nick Courtney to add further depth to his portrayal of the Brig. Bennett would later return to Doctor Who in the classic Tom Baker story, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, in which for the small screen, he did for Asian racial stereotyping what Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's did for the big screen.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs presents something of an anomaly in the Doctor Who archives, as it was the last story not to have a full colour PAL copy survive; the entire story was destined to be wiped, but only episode one was erased. A black and white engineering print was eventually discovered and this has formed the basis for all subsequent copies.
Episodes two to six are all as good as expected after the boys at the Doctor Who Restoration Team sprinkled their magic fairy-dust upon them and the results are most pleasing. Most of the film elements no longer exist (barring one or two pieces that are known to have survived), but everything has been cleaned-up and the results are most pleasing.
Episode one had the Colour Recovery process applied to it, extracting information from the chroma-dots present in the black and white print; the process was only partially successful, with the colour blue unable to be read, but a little more effort was deployed and the missing colours have been added by computer and the finished project is quite impressive.
The colour version is available by going to the Special Features section and selecting the colour option, as the black and white version is set as the default. There is a notable amount of smearing, particularly when there is a lot of movement within a shot, or there is a camera pan, but perfection was not to be expected and once you realise this, you can settle down and enjoy something you thought that you would never see - Invasion of the Dinosaurs part one in colour!
No problems to report here - everything is as it should be; the mono 2.0 soundtrack is fine and even the battered origins of episode one haven't had too much of an adverse affect upon the audio.
Audio Commentary: Once again, Tobey Hadoke is your genial moderator and over the six episodes, the cast and crew of Invasion of the Dinosaurs is pretty well represented, with Richard Franklin (Captain Yates), Peter Miles (Professor Whittaker) and Terrence Wilton (Mark) representing those in front of the camera, and director Paddy Russell, script editor Terrance Dicks (Script Editor) and production designer Richard Morris making up those on the production side.
Paddy Russell appears with Hadoke on the opening episode and also on episodes four and five. Russell tends to sound a little full of herself - calling herself an "actor's director" (shouldn't others attribute that to her, rather than her seemingly giving herself that title?) - but she prodded by Hadoke into giving some interesting titbits about the production and how working with Pertwee differed from working with the other leading men she worked with during her times on the show. When the first shot of the Tyranosaurus Rex appears, one would be forgiven if you thought that Ms Russell had been on the cooking sherry, as she firmly opines that the effect still stands up well - about the only way that it stands up is because the dinosaur in question probably had a metal rod stuck up it's kyhber. Russell is fairly stiff during the first episode's commentary, but loosens up a little for the latter ones - maybe the moderator's sly wit had an effect upon her, being metaphorically slapped around the face with a dry Hadoke...
Things really kick into gear for episodes two and three, when the distinctly more engaging and rowdier bunch of Dicks, Franklin, Miles, Wilton and Morris take over; "Uncle Tewwy" Dicks is always great fun, injecting a much-needed irreverent streak into the proceedings, but he is more than matched by the rest of them, with Hadoke providing admirable moderation. The topic of the dinosaur effects are inevitably brought up again and there is a distinct contrast between Dicks and Franklin on the subject - they are both looking at the monitor and remark upon the model Tyranosaurus Rex...
Franklin: "...This wonderful model"[i]
Dicks: [i]"You mean this crappy old model?"
Episode two's commentary starts off on a somewhat solemn note, as it was recorded the day after Nicholas Courtney's funeral and they take a few minutes to remember their much-loved colleague, which turns out to be a most pleasant experience. The audio commentaries are ultimately a mixed bag; the three Paddy Russell commentaries are more than a little dry and it's a shame that the group commentary with Terrence Dicks and Richard Franklin only stretch for two, as they are wonderfully entertaining and informative - and amazingly, this must be the first time that Dicks has participated in an audio commentary and hasn't mentioned about Pertwee's hair getting more bouffant as time went on.
Audio Commentary - John Levene: The actor who was Sargeant Benton gets a solo audio commentary track; this is because he still - after all these years - sticks to the advice given to him by Jon Pertwee of not sharing the stage with anyone else. Levene has always sounded like an agreeable chap, but his calm, West Country tones do not inject much excitement into what he has to say; curiously, this only runs for ten minutes and is essentially a collection of thoughts from Mr Levene but if you stick with it, you'll hear some interesting nuggets of information. It's a pity that he won't go back on Pertwee's advice and allow himself to be part of a group commentary, but one would imagine that his colleagues would verbally lay into him for being so pretentious.
Now and Then: This is another in the occasional series that takes a look at the locations used for filming; what makes this one more interesting than most is that much of the location work took place in London and urban development and renovation has been a constant thing in the last four decades that the comparisons between how the locations looked then and how they appear now are fascinating, from both a social and a developmental point of view. The ratio of places that look relatively unchanged to ones that have been redeveloped out of all recognition runs about fifty-fifty, with some locations being so completely different that you start to get a little depressed at how the march of time can be so merciless.
Doctor Who Stories - Elizabeth Sladen Part One: The actress who was so cruelly taken before her time is the subject of this first instalment of a two-part look at her tenure on Doctor Who, with her time spent with Jon Pertwee being the focus for this part. Using an interview from 2003, Ms Sladen recounts how she got the part and her baptism by fire that was the first day on location and the unhelpful method deployed by Pertwee to get her over her nerves. There are anecdotes from each of the Pertwee stories she appeared in, along with some very cool and amusing graphics; this is great fun and makes you miss Lis all the more. Still, we'll probably get Part Two with the eventual release of Terror of the Zygons...
Billy Smart's Circus: This is truly toe-curling stuff, as Jon Pertwee makes an appearance in the Whomobile at Mr Smart's circus, trying desperately to raise the game of the child performers he has to work alongside. This only runs for less that two minutes, but it feels like it lasts for far longer; we defy you not to watch this without peering from between your fingers, rocking back and forth praying for it to end...
People, Power and Puppetry: This opening of this 30-odd minute documentary promises something slightly different to the sort of "making of" piece that Doctor Who fans are accustom to; host Matthew Sweet is a broadcaster and historian who goes out of his way to explain that there aren't going to be as many cast and crew talking heads in this one and he's right, as Sweet seeks to convince viewers that the silly-looking dinosaurs were the least important element to this story and that the very concept of rolling back time to a Golden Age was the thing that Who fans should have been examining more closely for flaws. After the first few minutes, the style settles down and the more familiar array of talking heads appear to provide the sort of information that fans always enjoy. Speaking of the fans, Sweet seems to think that Doctor Who devotees are more critical of things such as not entirely convincing special effects - Who fans know that this isn't entirely true, as casual viewers and the public in general were always more than a little vocal when it comes to such things in Doctor Who. It's not a complete hatchet-job - Sweet also praises Invasion of the Dinosaurs for showing the government, the military and even environmentalists in a multitude of shades of grey, rather than in the usual black and white morality of family television. Terrence Dicks is on hand to recount the mild unpleasantness that occurred between the BBC and writer Malcolm Hulke that ultimately led to Mac walking away from Doctor Who shortly after Invasion of the Dinosaurs was broadcast. It's pleasing to see more of the 1993 footage of Jon Pertwee in the Whomobile used here, as it's always nice to see the man himself talking about the show on the DVD releases of his stories. People, Power and Puppetry promises something bold and different for a Doctor Who documentary, but cold feet seemed to set in and after an initial attempt by Matthew Sweet to do something unconventional, it reverts to the standard style, but that's not necessarily a bad thing; the story that this documentary covers has always divided opinion and People Power and Puppetry will doubtless do the same.
Photo Gallery: This short-ish look at the publicity pictures and production skills is pretty interesting, with numerous set pictures and images of the dinosaurs. The mixture of colour and black-and-white stills also include various portrait pictures of the cast, including numerous ones of Jon Pertwee posing with the weapon he designs in the show, although curiously absent is the image from this set that was used on a pull-out Doctor Who episode guide that was free with Doctor Who Monthly back in the early eighties...
Production Subtitles: David Brunt provides the Info-Text for Invasion of the Dinosaurs; as always, Mr Brunt's sly and occasionally whimsical sense of humour transforms what could have easily been a very arid experience into something that manages to inform and entertain effortlessly. Mr Brunt has an amusing (and somewhat anal) thread running through this one, as he points out all of the registration numbers of all of the military vehicles seen in this story. Production gaffes and problems are highlighted in a manner that moves such criticisms away from the pedantic, and almost wrapping them all up in wraps it up in a gold lame jacket and putting them on-stage for them to say into a feedback-ridden microphone "thank you, laygentlemen, you've been a wunnderful audience!"
PDF Material: All six Radio Times listings for the episodes of Invasion of the Dinosaurs are included here, along with the unfortunate illustration and and that accompanied the listing for the first episode that blew the whole surprise about the story containing dinosaurs completely out of the water - and all that trouble they went to about calling the first episode "Invasion". If they'd have quickly changed the title back when the gaffe was blown maybe Malcolm Hulke might have stayed on and written more stories for Doctor Who - makes you think, doesn't it...?
We went into Invasion of the Dinosaurs thinking, "oh, Christ - another tedious six-part Pertwee, but with added lousy effects"; we were only partially right in that preemptive assessment - yes, the effects are lousy and it does go on for at least an episode too long, but the story is pretty strong and the performances are first rate. There are some enjoyable extras included, not to mention finally getting episode one back in colour, so there is much to enjoy with this red-headed step-child of the Third Doctor era. We'll end this review by misquoting Jon Pertwee to demonstrate our surprise at how much we enjoyed it...
"Good grief! It's a decent story!"
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 9th January 2012
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: 2 x Audio Commentaries, Now & Then, Doctor Who Stories - Elizabeth Sladen Part One, Billy Smart's Circus, People, Power and Puppetry, Photo Gallery, Production Subtitles, PDF Material
Easter Egg: No
Director: Paddy Russell
Cast: Jon Pertwee, Elisabeth Sladen, Nicholas Courtney, John Levene, Richard Franklin
Length: 150 minutes
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