Invasion of the Dinosaurs ***

A roaringly good script from Malcolm Hulke is undermined by dire dinosaur models

Comments
Doctor Who story guide
Mark Braxton
Mark Braxton
Invasion of the Dinosaurs ***

Season 11 – Story 71

"The monsters are a side issue, Brigadier, a device to clear central London. No… some vast scheme is under way, I'm sure of it" - the Doctor

Storyline
The Tardis returns Sarah and the Doctor to modern-day England, where dinosaurs roam the near-deserted streets of London. The pair are reunited with the Brigadier who explains that the Army has evacuated the city. The Doctor learns that time-travel scientists are scooping the monsters from prehistory. And with a government minister's help, they are duping an elite group of people into believing they are on a spaceship approaching a new planet, while in fact they are using their time device to return Earth to a pre-pollution Golden Age…

First transmissions
Part 1 - Saturday 12 January 1974
Part 2 - Saturday 19 January 1974
Part 3 - Saturday 26 January 1974
Part 4 - Saturday 2 February 1974
Part 5 - Saturday 9 February 1974
Part 6 - Saturday 16 February 1974

Production
Location filming: September 1973 at various locations in central and west London; Wimbledon Common; Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey
Studio recording: October 1973 in TC6 and TC8, November 1973 in TC3

Cast
Doctor Who - Jon Pertwee
Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart - Nicholas Courtney
Captain Mike Yates - Richard Franklin
Sergeant Benton - John Levene
General Finch - John Bennett
Charles Grover MP - Noel Johnson
Professor Whitaker - Peter Miles
Butler - Martin Jarvis
Mark - Terence Wilton
Adam - Brian Badcoe
Ruth - Carmen Silvera
Lieutenant Shears - Ben Aris
Sergeant Duffy - Dave Carter
Corporal Norton - Martin Taylor
Private Ogden - George Bryson
R/T soldier - John Caesar
Phillips - Gordon Reid
Lodge - Trevor Lawrence
Warehouse looter - Terry Walsh
Peasant - James Marcus
Unit corporal - Pat Gorman
Private Bryson - Colin Bell
Robinson - Timothy Craven

Crew
Writer - Malcolm Hulke
Incidental music - Dudley Simpson
Designer - Richard Morris
Script editor - Terrance Dicks
Producer - Barry Letts
Director - Paddy Russell

RT Review by Mark Braxton
This enterprising reptilian romp was made 30 years too early. Just think how CGI would enhance its trickier visuals today. The rubbery, over-lit antecedent to Jurassic Park and Primeval is in many ways pioneering and stuffed with decent ideas. But the excitement conjured by the title quickly turns to sniggering disbelief.

Many words have already been devoted to the Achilles heel of this Primark Harryhausen, so let's deal with that aspect as painlessly as possible. The dinosaurs are all visibly models, and friendly-faced ones at that, but the production team can't be held to account for this entirely.

A freelance effects man had convinced them that he could give them realistic-looking model dinosaurs, and thus was the story commissioned. But despite being set in some impressive urban dioramas, the mini-beasts look exactly like what they are. Dawdling camerawork and liberal use of CSO merely compound the problem.

It's a shame the dinos comprise such a mammoth chunk of the story. Because the other plot elements - the abuse of a scientific breakthrough, London under martial law, a traitor in Unit's midst, the enforcement of a new world order - are adventurous and meaty. In short, it's a roaringly good script from Mac Hulke.

The eerie street scenes are efficiently handled by Paddy Russell, and chases involving Land Rovers, a helicopter and (for the first time) the Doctor's fin-tastic Whomobile are all exciting if extraneous fare.

There's also pleasing continuity from an earlier story (The Green Death). The same themes of human greed and industrial pollution pervade. But Invasion of the Dinosaurs shows the flipside: the mania that comes from breathing the rarefied air of the moral high ground. As the Doctor himself says of the aims of Operation Golden Age, "In many ways I sympathise… but this is not the way to go about it."

Another narrative boomerang is the duplicity of Captain Yates. His susceptibility to mind control came to the fore in The Green Death even if, on that occasion, it was inadvertent. Perhaps being brainwashed by corporate computer Boss drove him in the opposite direction - towards extreme environmental campaigning. At any rate his mental fragility explains the irrationality of siding with Whitaker and co.

Speaking of whom, full marks to the casting department. Noel Johnson, John Bennett, Peter Miles and Martin Jarvis make a classy quartet of conspirators. And fledgling companion Sarah is given plenty of material to get her journalistic teeth into.

The grand plan is rather potty, and raises all sorts of questions about how the new, jump-suited generation of mankind was smuggled aboard the fake spaceship, or how a big, nuclear-generator-powered underground base could be built unnoticed.

Otherwise it's a big, brash story that just happened to be fatally flawed - the will was there but the technology was not.

Episode one was originally transmitted with the story title "Invasion" to preserve the surprise of any dino-content, but Radio Times printed a cartoon and caption that gave the game away. In response, producer Barry Letts described RT as "a law unto themselves"!

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Radio Times billings   Parts 1–3   Parts 4–6

[Available on BBC DVD]