Review of Doctor Who ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’ (Series 11)
In the run up to the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’ in November 2013, Neela Debnath, with the help of BBC DVD, will be writing a review focusing on one story from each of the previous 31 series of the show. Each review will offer readers a snapshot from every series of ‘Doctor Who’ and celebrate the longest-running science fiction television programme in the world.
Series 11 was Jon Pertwee’s last as the Doctor and Invasion of the Dinosaurs makes for a fine serial even if the production values are lacking. With early Doctor Who it was about the stories, the plot always had to compensate for the poor production values and the serial is no exception.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs saw the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) investigating the appearances of dinosaurs in central London. It turns out that the source of these strange sightings is being caused by something closer to home than the Doctor realises. Moreover, the purpose of bringing these creatures, from the past and into the present, has a much more sinister motive behind it than could have been fathomed. In Pertwee’s era there were a lot of mad scientists and this is another one of those serials. This one featured a mad genius trying to roll back time and start earth again, in order to avoid making the same mistakes the human race has made before.
First though, the Doctor has a new companion in the form of Sarah Jane Smith following the departure of her predecessor. Katy Manning made her final appearance as Jo Grant in the last serial of the tenth series entitled The Green Death. She decided to stay on earth after falling in love with Nobel Prize-winning scientist Professor Clifford Jones (Stewart Bevan) whom she subsequently married.
The end of her time with the Doctor heralded the entrance of another now well-loved companion: Sarah Jane Smith. Investigative journalist, Sarah Jane had her first taste of adventure with the Doctor in the first serial of series 11, The Time Warrior where she snuck aboard the Tardis and found herself taken to medieval England.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs is her second adventure with the Doctor and she is a great companion. From the off she is assertive and inquisitive even when the Doctor does dismiss her suggestions. Despite his flippant manner towards her suggestions sometimes, it appears that he does have a great amount of respect for her.
There is also something quite intuitive about her character. Her hunch that the ‘spaceship’, sending people to a new earth, is just a sham and she turns out to be correct. She trusts her instincts enough to exit out of an air lock. Yet at times she does come across as green and quite naive. She is even cavalier with her trust in others but that is to be expected when she is following a story. There is the impression that she will learn to be more wily as the series progresses but all of the companions do.
According to urban Who legend, the first part of this serial is in black-and-white because the original colour episode was mistaken for The Invasion from Patrick Troughton’s era and thus erased. In the 1960s and 1970s the BBC used to wipe tapes so that they could be reused, due to this practice there are at present over 100 episodes of Doctor Who missing. However, there is nothing to suggest that this was the case was this serial, in fact The Invasion was wiped two years before Invasion of the Dinosaurs was even transmitted. Therefore the reason why the first episode of Invasion of the Dinosaurs was wiped stills remains a mystery.
In terms of plot, this is a challenging storyline whereby the distinction between appearance and reality is constantly shifting. There are characters who are seemingly on the Doctor’s side but then reveal their true allegiances, the dinosaurs turn out to be merely a diversion to clear London of its inhabitants. Meanwhile people are convinced that they are in a space ship when in reality they are still on earth albeit in an underground bunker below London.
The writer Malcolm Hulke really seems to be honing in on the anxieties of the time, by focusing on the pollution of the planet and leaving the earth uninhabitable. Interestingly, Greenpeace was formed in 1971, several years prior to the broadcast of this serial. The organisation’s belief was that a few individuals could make a difference. Their first mission was to ‘bear witness’ to American underground nuclear testing on the island of Amchitka, off the West Coast of Alaska, which garnered a lot of press attention. Throughout this serial there runs a strong environmental message, could Hulke have been influenced by the formation of Greenpeace when he was writing this story? Or was he more influenced by the sense of an uncertain future created by Cold War tensions? Either way, through the Doctor, Hulke’s message is clear: take the world that you have now and try to make something of it.
In a small aside to costumes, in series 11 the Doctor has opted for a fetching tweed coat, much like his last one, with a Sherlock Holmes’ quality to it. He is also sporting a bow-tie instead of the cravat but the ruffled shirt remains a permanent fixture of his outfit. It’s interesting to note how Sarah Jane is dressed in quite a quite masculine way, favouring a suit and shirt. Perhaps it is to emphasise her strength as a woman in a male-dominated environment, that she is just as good as the men and she wants them to know it.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs is all about the story. Unfortunately, the dinosaurs are unintentional figures of comedy, saying this the pterodactyl attack was rather frightening and it was reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds from 1963. The serial is a six-parter and what is great is the amount of detail the time allows. It means there is time to really flesh out the characters and develop the ideas. Overall, it’s a very interesting and well-devised story, even if the dinosaurs are a major let-down. The chase sequence at the end is great as well, there is a distinct action film feel to it. There is something even James Bond-esque about it as the Doctor is pursued by a helicopter and by car.
After Doctor Who, Pertwee went onto have a successful career as the scarecrow Worzel Gummidge in the children’s television show of the same name. Following Pertwee’s departure, audiences were treated to an interesting predecessor, a man who is thought by many to be the ultimate Doctor: Tom Baker.
For more information about the classic series of ‘Doctor Who’ visit:www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/classic
For more information about the ‘Doctor Who’ DVDs visit: www.bbcshop.com
DVD & image credit: BBCTagged in: doctor who, Doctor Who 50th anniversary, Elisabeth sladen, Sarah Jane Smith, Tom Baker
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