Day 185 — July 4th 2021

Invasion of the Dinosaurs Parts Five and Six

It seems to be a common complaint that I’m making in the Pertwee era, but they do have a tendency to cut the cliffhangers is just the wrong place, when the slightest edit would make them so much stronger. It’s usually down to the reaction of another character; in The Sea Devils we lose the impact of Jo’s reaction to the missing Doctor Who because they cut too soon. The reprise at the start of this episode shows that they’ve done the same thing here;

Doctor Who: ‘Whitaker? Whitaker, where are you?’
General Finch: ‘There’s your monster maker, Brigadier. Caught in the act.’
The Brigadier: ‘Doctor, you’re under arrest.’

The end of Part Four comes between General Finch’s line and the Brigadier’s, with those final four words being the only parts of that scene which are new to this episode. Don’t get me wrong, the cliffhanger was a good one, with the tables being turned on our hero, but I can’t help feeling it would have been even more effective had we ended only a few seconds later, with the Brigadier stepping in. It’s frustrating to see this sort of thing happen so often.

That’s my only real complaint for this episode, though, because I’ve really enjoyed it, and I’ll say up front that it’s another 9/10. I’ve been apologising a lot over the last few days for enjoying Invasion of the Dinosaurs, but do you know what? I don’t need to apologise! Whether it’s the nostalgia speaking or not, I’m really enjoying this one, and this is one of the best episodes of the serial.

There’s so many themes in here that are just so interesting to follow. The government corruption feels like the kind of story we’d have gotten in Season Seven, and at times it feels almost a bit too good for Doctor Who. There’s ideas in here which would help to carry a full series in its own right. And then there’s all the stuff with the fake spaceship, including the brilliantly tense scene in which Sarah Jane discovers that all the controls are dummies, and proves it to Mark by stepping out of the airlock. After a very strong Part Three Sarah didn’t get a lot to do last time around, but here she’s back to being her usual strong-willed self.

And how brilliant is the whole idea of the spaceship? I can’t remember if the ‘elders’ are in on the real plan or not, but I’m looking forward to finding out. It’s the kind of twist I could see them doing in New Testament Who, and that’s a compliment.

I’m loving the way the stories are all starting to intertwine, too. I usually complain about knowing too far in advance when a character is secretly a villain, but it works wonders with General Finch in this episode, when you know that Sarah Jane is stepping right into a trap. The payoff when she realises her mistake is brilliant;

Sarah: ‘Oh, boy. I really do choose my friends, don’t I.’

Doctor Who doesn’t tend to do many sprawling conspiracy thrillers, and I think that’s a shame because this story showcases just how well they can work. I love Doctor Who’s confrontation with General Finch after his arrest; it feels like real drama of the kind we so rarely see in the series;

General Finch: ‘All right. Captain Yates, take this man and lock him up.’
The Brigadier: ‘Sir, aren’t we going to question him first?’
General Finch: ‘There’s no time for that now. I must report his capture to
the Minister.’
Doctor Who: ‘Yes, and no doubt he’ll be very pleased to hear it, since he
arranged the whole thing.’
General Finch: ‘You are in an extremely dangerous position, Doctor. I advise
you to keep silent.’
Doctor Who: ‘Oh, that’s just what you want, isn’t it, my silence?’

In many ways this feels like the perfect hybrid of the slightly more adult Season Seven and the more traditional version of Doctor Who which came later on. You’ve got all the political intrigue rubbing shoulders with a bunch of rubber dinosaurs… what more could you possibly want? If anything it makes me wish we’d always had a slightly larger cast of recurring characters in this era of the show. Just imagine if General Finch had been a thorn in UNIT’s side for years, and Sir Charles had been someone they had to report to often, culminating in this story revealing them to both be traitors.

All the material with UNIT really works for me. It feels like a proper payoff for having watched these characters work together for so long — you really feel for the Brigadier when his hands are tied into holding Doctor Who as a prisoner, and I’m not ashamed to say that I actually cheered when Benton came good and helped our hero to escape. And then I laughed, because his description of Doctor Who’s martial arts is brilliantly funny;

Benton: ‘Right then, Doctor, you’d better get busy.’
Doctor Who: ‘What?’
Benton: ‘You’d better start overpowering me, hadn’t you. You know, a bit of
your Venusian oojah?’
Doctor Who: ‘Thank you, Sergeant Benton.’

I don’t have the scripts for this story to check, but I’m wondering if that line was altered by John Levene during rehearsals, because having worked with him in the past I can really hear his voice coming out with that naturally.

I wonder if this might be why Captain Yates’ betrayal works so well in this story? You get a real sense of the feelings of our regulars, and it’s a long time since the UNIT characters have been written this well. In some ways it feels like a big season finale to the whole era, with everyone we care about really up against it. Certainly it’s the most desperate situation the series has presented us with in ages.

A big chunk of Doctor Who’s role in this episode is to go on the run from the army, and while it’s essentially an extended chase sequence it’s a really exciting one, and filled with some great shots. There’s one moment in particular which has stuck in my mind for years — a really brief shot of Pertwee stood among the trees. It’s only on screen for two, or maybe three, seconds but it’s such a beautiful image that I often think of it when picturing this era. And despite my discovering yesterday that I like the Whomobile more than I realised, I’m pleased that he makes his escape in a regular vehicle, because it makes the whole thing feel so much more real. If I’ve any complaint about the sequence it’s that they could make it clearer that we’re on Wimbledon Common — I thought he’d driven all the way out to the countryside, and was surprised when I double checked the locations afterwards! Perhaps that on me for not realising just how large and rural the common is, though.

I was going to complain that the one area of the story which doesn’t quite hang together is all the time travel stuff. This episode suggests that Whitaker hasn’t yet quite worked out how to transport them all to the past — the experiment with the mug seems to be his first real attempt at moving time backwards, rather than just bringing things forwards from the past. In that case… why have they been making sure that London is evacuated so early on? Surely they should have waited for the plan to be closer to completion? And on top of that, why do they need London empty in the first place? If all these people are going to vanish anyway and they’re operating from a secret base that no one knows about, surely it doesn’t matter if the city is evacuated or not?

In a story I wasn’t enjoying all of those points would count against it and I’d be knocking points off the score. Here, though, I’m just happy to roll with it. Especially because it gives us a great sequence like the cliffhanger of this episode, in which loads of dinosaurs pop up all over the city. It’s perhaps a shame that the best looking model shot — the triceratops on a rooftop overlooking Westminster Abbey — is confined to a small screen rather than being shown full frame, but I can’t complain because the idea is so much fun.

In some ways the ending to this one is a bit underwhelming. I think that was always likely to be the case after five episodes of such strong build-up, but I can’t say it’s spoiled the story much because I think all the right beats are there they just need a little longer to develop. It’s that age old problem of having to wrap everything up very quickly, and so it comes away feeling rushed. I don’t often say this (indeed, I’m not sure I’ve ever said it in the marathon so far) but this could probably do with an extra episode.

Because actually the way that everything comes to a head is brilliant. Sarah Jane proves Ruth correct — she is a disruptive influence which pulls down the entire plan around the ‘chosen ones’ heads. But that’s sort of the point. I love that Sarah helps to save the day by effectively staging a revolution and inciting these people to turn on the people who’ve duped them.

The issue is, again, time. We’re into the last episode so everyone has to be convinced very quickly. Ruth has been dead against Sarah’s suggestions that everything is a fake, but when the episode runs out of time she has to stop her protestations and simply go along with it. I’d love the space to see Sarah having to really work to convince these people. As it is, it all seems a bit simple. On the other hand I love that Adam discovers the truth by listening in on Sir Charles’ conversation with Sarah. Having the whole illusion shattered by the man he brought in to uphold it is great.

I do wonder, though… are there more fake spaceships in the underground bunker? The ‘chosen ones’ believe there’s four ships in total, but are there really four separate holding areas? It’s never mentioned, and there’s no talk of freeing anyone else when they make their escape. Maybe Sir Charles was planning to tell them that the other ships crashed on impact, and these are the only survivors?

It’s a dangerous thing digging through plot holes like that. I moaned during Part Five that there was no need for London to be evacuated, but that gets dealt with in this episode. It’s not just the people in the bunker who’ll get taken back to the past — it’s everyone within range, which covers Central London. That does beg the question of if all the cars and buildings will be travelling back with them, too (and certainly we know objects can be transported; it happens to the machinery at the end) but that’s me overthinking. It doesn’t matter!

Another thing I like about the resolution to the story is that it uses Doctor Who’s unique relationship with time really well. There’s a moment earlier in the episode which sort of alluded to this;

The Brigadier: ‘I still think we should wait for reinforcements.’
Doctor Who: ‘We can’t wait. That project’s going to be activated any moment now and when that happens, your reinforcements will vanish. And so will you.’

Maybe I’m reading too much into that line, but the choice of ‘you’ rather than ‘we’ implied that Doctor Who might be unaffected by the rolling back of time, so I was glad to see that did play a part in the final confrontation. It’s not something the series often deals with, so it’s always fun when they do. And it means we get a great exchange between Doctor Who and Sarah in the aftermath;

Doctor Who: ‘Your time was frozen for a few seconds.’
Sarah: ‘But what about you? Oh. No, don’t tell me. You’re a Time Lord.’
Doctor Who: ‘Quite!’

I’ve spent forever and a day banging on about Doctor Who and Sarah being brilliant this week, but there’s room for a bit more, because I love the final scene of this episode so much;

Doctor Who: ‘Well, there you are, Sarah. I told you I’d get you home safely,
didn’t I.’
Sarah: ‘Oh, of all the cheek!’
Doctor Who: ‘Well, it’s not my fault if people get up to no good while we
were away.’
Sarah: ‘Alien monsters, robber barons, then dinosaurs. It’ll be a long time
before I get in that Tardis again.’

They’re such a great pairing and I’m so enjoying spending time with them. It only makes it sweeter when the episodes they share are this good.

We finally got the scene in this episode which I’d been thinking of regarding Yates’ betrayal — he turns a gun on his UNIT colleagues and tries to convert them to the cause. It’s a brilliant moment, and it’s no less effective for following a similar scene two stories ago, or for coming at the end of six episodes where we know he’s turned traitor. I think the key thing that really makes it work is how believable the whole thing is. You can totally understand Yates getting swept up in Sir Charles’ plans, and I love that right up until the moment the gun is drawn the Brigadier refuses to believe he’s involved.

I can’t say I’ll especially miss Mike — and he’s one more story to go yet — but I like that they gave him such a strong character story to play having been a regular presence in the series for so long.

I’m giving this one an 8/10, and I’m so pleased to discover that my first Doctor Who story is still able to give me so much pleasure. I think this is only the third time I’ve seen it (my first viewing in 2003, again for my marathon in 2014, and now) and I imagine I’ll give it another decade or so before I watch it again. It’s so brilliant that I never want it to grow too familiar — I’d love it to feel as fresh as this again on the fourth go.

< Day 184 | Day 186 >

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Will Brooks

English Boy in Wales. Freelance Writer and Designer. Doctor Who Art for Big Finish, Titan Comics, Cubicle 7. TARDIS Fan. Pinstripe Counter.