Companion: Sarah Jane
Written by: Malcolm Hulke
Directed by: Paddy Russell
Background & Significance: As this is his last story, this becomes Malcom Hulke's legacy.
He's an interesting fellow, Malcolm Hulke, one of my favourite writers in the classic era and of a great very many stories I very much enjoy, some of which are iconic ("The War Games", "The Silurians") and others of which are just plain fun ("The Sea Devils"), so it only makes sense that this story is perhaps his most refined in terms of theme and tone and excitement.
"Invasion of the Dinosaurs" came about because of the excellent result of the CSO (color-separation overlay, think of it like primitive green screen/CGI) work done in "Carnival of Monsters" just a season previous. Excited at the prospects of new technology and making Doctor Who look even cooler and even more awesome, Producer Barry Letts sought to push the boundaries of CSO and shoot for something even more ambitious than just Drashigs flitting about or what have you. No. He wanted Dinosaurs. And he wanted them to invade.
The story itself is not terribly well-regarded. Most people will judge a story by poor special effects work and its relative cheapness (when compared to the cheapness with which Doctor Who was put on, of course) rather than... you know, a good story. To me, it's disappointing, but I understand it. Poor effects work will suck you out of a story while excellent work will immerse you in it (it's why people like movies). For me, the effects only ever magnify what is there in terms of story. If it's a good story, good effects work will make me love it more but poor effects won't kill it for me. The contrary is true for a bad story, with poor effects making me HATE it (as we'll see next week) and excellent effects seeming as little more than a consolation prize.
It then leaves me, therefore, rather enjoying "Invasion of the Dinosaurs". Like so many other Pertwee stories, it's very padded in the middle, but that's neither here nor there in the grander scope of things. There's a lot to love, not the least of which is the fantastic character development on Mike Yates or the really impressive guest cast and overall story, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
So let's get to it!
It's a bit of a "who buh wha?" to be sure, but while I'm long on record with saying that I LOVE that the Pertwee era is in colour because it is JUST so colourful and designed to be full spectrummy (in the way only the 70s were once colour became the new big thing), I really think that this episode being in black and white.... just feels right. Or at least, some parts of it do, anyways. There's certain scenes that are perhaps more effective in colour, while other scenes are perhaps more effective in black and white.
To start, I'd have to say that the opening shots of a deserted London are DEFINITELY more effective in black and white. There's an ominousness that the lack of colour gives to it. And the work of Paddy Russell positively sparkles as it shows off the empty city that instantly sets off a mystery buzzing in your head. Effective too is the arrival of The Doctor and Sarah Jane in black and white, because... again... mystery. In fact, I'd probably go so far as to say that the only things that aren't as effective in black and white is the scene towards the end when The Doctor and Sarah Jane are taken captive by the military and prepped to be shipped off to some internment camp to sit out the current situation.
Even beyond the black and white, though. There's a lot to love. Probably my favourite little sequence in here is the bit where the little pterodactyl attacks, feeling like some scene out of a very cheaply shot version of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" (albeit with a dinosaur instead of a bird so that's much cooler I think). I'll youtube it right here so you can see it, but my god do I love this. It's just so exciting, don't you think? And the way that it just feels so real and flittering around like a really awful pest?
It just works. I don't even care that you can just about see the wires from whence it dangles.
There's also something to be said about the burgeoning relationship between The Doctor and Sarah Jane. They're fairly new at this, after all.
I mean really. Who poses like that when you're getting photographed for a mugshot?
And The Doctor and Sarah Jane already go through a capture-escape-recapture thing (and all within the last ten minutes of the episode, which is just a foreshadow, I think. Just so they know that you know that this might happen and happen a bit) and there's a great bit where The Doctor riffs some cockney and does some akido because... well... It wouldn't be Pertwee without some of that, now would it?
But all in all it's a great start to a story we only know as "Invasion" (because they don't want to give away their game too early, nor, perhaps, should they) and there's some dinosaurs (but nothing like we'll see coming up) and some mysteries and intrigue. UNIT is setup as in pure panic mode and the Brigadier is already getting bossed around by some bureaucratic higher up. Mike Yates too is acting all Mike Yatesey, but if you pay just enough attention, you can already tell that something's going on with him.
And something very awesome is.
I mean… look, part one is your typical part one. We set up a big giant mystery. We get teased with some dinosaurs and an empty London. We learn that UNIT’s on the outs and things aren’t looking so good. We’re way over our head, [we’re in black and white], and there’s… just a mystery but we’re intrigued so we’ll keep watching. And that’s right and well and good. That’s exactly what our first part is and that’s exactly what it needs to be.
I mean, within the first five minutes, The Doctor’s back with UNIT, dealing with the UNIT family right in the thick of things with the Brig and Yates and Benton and this new and rather douchey General Finch who’s in charge of things. And already The Doctor’s checking out maps and looking into microscopes and building a device that will incapacitate a dinosaur so he can study it and he's going out and facing off against a dinosaur and getting right into the thick of things and shunting Sarah Jane to the side and getting aggravated when people interrupt and disrupt his work.... And really? It’s all very standard.
One of the things I love about this story is the way it starts small and gets bigger and bigger, something that Malcolm Hulke is exceptional at. “The War Games” is easily the best example of that, in which every single episode increases in scope and size and grandiosity and it just keeps pulling out and out and the stakes kinda go up and up and up. He does this in "The Silurians", I think, although to lesser effect, where it’s very much a slow burn and what have you, but he takes his time building up the Silurians and the role of everyone and the Silurian culture itself and then the virus and all that...
So knowing that about Malcolm Hulke, isn’t it a bit strange that we get so much laid out right here up front?
I mean, look at this part (which is in many ways the first real part of this story because part one was more of a prologue as I said). We meet evil Professor Whitaker (whom I might call Nyder because… well… it’s Nyder) and his faithful…. Companion? Or is it Butler? Whatever, his name’s Butler. Which is fine, actually. That’s standard. BUT we also learn that they’re the ones doing the dinosaur time travel whatevers with the time eddies or what have you. AND on top of all that we learn that Mike Yates is secretly working for him.
I guess I can talk about Mike Yates later, but it’s jarring to see a mole inside UNIT and to have him thrown out at us within the first forty minutes. I mean, the end cliffhanger is a giant moment of Yates betraying The Doctor and hanging him out to dry, leaving us to try to deal with the fact that Yates has turned spy within the organization and we have no idea what’s going to bring us out of there.
And to think that this is only part two.
But even beyond that, it’s fairly good. UNIT is still the same old UNIT it’s slowly becoming, increasingly more and more ineffectual but not the most ineffectual I’ve seen. Adding the bureaucracy to check the UNIT bureaucracy is a really good move and a good notion, I think. It’s totally rad and adds an extra layer of tension right over the top. I can’t imagine not liking this story yet. It’s just got so much going for it.
Also, Pertwee’s on form as usual. But I mean really. He’s just so good.
Now, as a precursor and for those who don’t know: The left turn this story makes is the cliffhanger that comes up at the end, but I’ll talk about that in just a minute.
It’s interesting how this story plays out. Having only seen it once before, I’m actually marveling at its continued meticulousness. It’s in this episode that The Doctor manages to capture a T-Rex, but Sarah’s nosey and falls into Mike’s trap (the one he left for The Doctor to fall in) and is only rescued by The Doctor in the nick of time.
Not that she’s ever not good (because she’s always on form), but my goodness is she good here. Hulke knows just how to write her, getting her exactly right in the beats and what have you. It’s Sarah Jane who, in this episode, gets proactive enough to photograph the dinosaur and then goes on the hunt to discover where the time eddies could be coming from, leading her to and across many different people and such and shooting the story in a definite forward direction.
The cliffhanger, as I’m sure is evident, is a bit of a game changing left turn thing, but it’s another layer to this mystery that Hulke is setting up for us to follow. Sarah wakes up on a space ship three months later? That’s CRAZY and where did that come from? Now, if you think about it, the solution is fairly obvious (seriously, you just have to think about it a little bit). But it works (even if only for a second) because the story keeps shifting. When you think you’ve got a handle on it, you really don’t, and Hulke subverts your expectations.
This sorta thing makes Hulke a strong writer. He’s about a step or two ahead of the audience at all times, clearly making it known that he has and knows all the pieces, he’s just introducing and fielding them as slow information drips (despite the fact that they don’t feel that way because this story is so wham bam). I love this mentality and it works for this story. We’re so distracted by dinosaurs that we don’t see these new things coming, nor do we need to. Everything is unfolding exactly as it needs to, and we’re only halfway through. No need to tell us all the intricate details of Project: Golden Age.
But there’s also Yates and Yates is… well… really interesting if you ask me, especially because he goes out of his way to prove himself a hero in front of UNIT by rescuing The Doctor from last episode’s cliffhanger predicament and we watch him totally do a subversion thing. Despite The Doctor’s infallibility (generally), the fact that Mike ended up saving The Doctor from what appeared to be the Doctor’s own error, Yates suddenly becomes much more reliable than The Doctor, which is bad if only because we dramatic ironically know Yates is one of the bad guys in this story.
It’s this level of detail that make Hulke’s stories so good (and boy are they good, right? Not even just this one, but all of them).
So after three episodes of setup, the story slows down and starts to get developed.
To be honest, it’s about time The Doctor went there. Not that it’s insulting that Sarah Jane got to all the good leads first (because I do like an active companion, and only two stories in Sarah Jane is already proving that she’s completely independent while still able to have a good relationship with The Doctor (I’m looking at you Liz Shaw)), but The Doctor finally chooses to follow the real lead of the story, which is good. And yeah, sure. It has to be four episodes in, but hey. I’m not really complaining too much because those first three episodes were still terribly fun.
Now, we won’t really get to see The Whomobile for another year (that’s when we here at Classical Gallifrey are slated to discuss “Planet of the Spiders”), but it’s introduced here in this episode and it’s… I dunno. I don’t think The Whomobile is ever disappointing (because it’s kinda awesome always), but it’s really kinda useless here. Honestly, The Doctor could just use Bessie and no one would really notice the difference, but I guess we need to at least setup the Whomobile so it’s not out of nowhere when he shows up in the finale.
I find myself enjoying this story despite the fact that the pacing of this episode is a huge far cry from what’s been going on in the first half of the story. I mean, there’s an entire section of this episode when Professor Whitaker and Butler trap The Doctor in their underground lair that is… well… it’s thrilling and creepy, to be honest, despite the fact that it doesn't actually accomplish anything. So it’s not exactly perfect, but it’s fun and exciting and self-indulgent but also entertaining and I find I enjoy it.
And then we have a bit at the end where the Doctor is setup by the evil bad guys and the tables are turned on him because now UNIT is forced to conclude that he’s responsible for the dinosaur attacks or whatever. It’s nefarious and good, and I do like that, probably because I love framing as a concept or story convention. And it does make me excited to see what happens next, because there’s only two episodes left and how is The Doctor going to get out of this one!
I actually find I like this as well, despite the fact that it still feels completely like it's out of left field, although if you start to put the pieces together it makes sense. But this episode does a very careful job to make it sound like these two things are totally unrelated and the Sarah Jane story is actually happening three months later after what we're watching with The Doctor and such and that these two things are unrelated despite the fact that they, of course, are not unrelated at all. This, I think, is where we get some more traditional and very hard lined Hulkean theory.
And yet it’s Malcolm Hulke’s last story, so I supposed I can handle it. But only because it’s him and his last.
For all the other episodes in this story I could forgive any sort of slow or padding sections or what have you, but here it really… Wow does it grind to a halt.
To me, the biggest padding I ever seem to mind is prolonged, self-indulgent sequences that aren’t exactly fun. The centerpiece of this part is, of course, the lengthy bit where The Doctor does a giant runaround/runaway from UNIT forces trying to hunt him down And while it is fun and clever and does give us some nice Pertwee, I can’t exactly say it’s the most progressing of things.
I mean, Pertwee is someone I haven’t really mentioned because honestly? It’s standard Pertwee. There’s been nothing terribly exciting or excellent about him in this story. That’s not to say he’s bad or even phoning it in (he’s not), he’s just doing your standard Pertwee which is fun and enjoyable. I mean, the best part of him in this episode is when he’s brought back to UNIT and realizes that Mike Yates is the saboteur or even the moment when Benton sacrifices himself (risking court martial) when he lets The Doctor get away.
And this just comes back to what makes good storytelling. The Sarah Jane stuff is strong because her character is so well-defined and comes out in every moment. I don’t even care that she’s recaptured again because that all makes sense in the context of the story. Of course she tells the first person she can. It just so happens that he happens to be in on it too. Same with the Benton and the Brigadier thing. Those are fun and exciting because they come from a place of character awesome.
It’s also in this episode that we get the big old nice info dump about what the actual plan is. Operation: Golden Age, if you will. Which is clever and interesting and definitely dispels the mystery of the mysterious spaceship, which you could probably figure out in that great scene where Sarah Jane takes a huge chance and jumps out of the space ship’s airlock.
Honestly, though, these are minor quibbles. I’m surprised it took us this long to get here, but it was bound to happen. “The Silurians” does a great job of being strong until episode six when it all just wheel spins. Here is wheel spin, but… Yeah. That doesn’t really detract from how much I’m enjoying the story or the promise of big old dinosaur invasion at the top of the next episode, which is totally awesome and has me jazzed.
So really, it’s just a weak penultimate part in an otherwise strong story.
Honestly, this story is just a fun story. I mean…. I don’t want to sound easy (although I so so am), but how can your heart not be warmed by a T-Rex/Brontosaurus fight? Sure, the effects leave a LOT to be desired, but I don’t watch Doctor Who to be disappointed. I watch it because I love seeing my imagination get sparked and this story of Doctor Who does just that. And like… I enjoy dinosaurs, but they aren’t like… “the thing” for me as much as something like Time Travel is.
And yet… come on, kids. The T-Rex bitch slaps the Brontosaurus across the face with its tail. How is that not awesome?
It’s interesting that the dinosaurs kind of disappeared for a while in the middle there. I don’t even think any dinosaurs showed up in part five until the very end… And the story does shift its focus a lot to Operation: Golden Age, which is fine, I guess. But imagine tuning into Invasion of the Dinosaurs parts four or five and expecting dinosaurs and getting… well… a generic runaround. It gets away from the premise of the title.
So enough talking about this. Let’s just show it and how awesome it is.
Honestly, it’s a fitting finale. Sarah Jane returns as the messiah to the Space Hippies and what’s-his-name shows up in a space suit which is awesome and then the Space Hippies rebel and take the fight to people and are all against what’s going on and all that (although there has to be one Space Hippy (or more) who is just like “F*ck ‘em. I’m staying here because I want this plan to succeed. Missed opportunity, I think).
But there’s one thing I flat out refuse to gloss over. And that’s Mike Yates.
Mike Yates is a terribly interesting character, one with a long term story and arc and plan. Granted, I haven’t seen a whole lot of Yates stories, but he’s still given a very specific, very interesting arc. He’s a broken man, but full of conviction. Take that moment when he is standing in the room, unsure if he’s outside the safety zone or not. It doesn’t matter to him, because he believes in what he’s doing.
Great, great stuff.
Final Thoughts?: It's comforting to know that most people are finally coming around on this story.
Sure the effects look cheap. I guess I should start there anyways because that's everyone's biggest bitch about this story. But does it really matter? If you wanted amazing effects you wouldn't be watching Doctor Who. That's fact (and don't deny it's not). So why go hard on this story? I mean... there's plenty in this that's great. And is it really so hard to just use your own damn imagination to fill in some of the gaps or holes or what have you? Like seriously. That's my biggest thing about this show. Just look past shady effects and check out the story underneath. Because what's there? It can be totally awesome despite shady effects.
Between the dinosaurs and Operation: Golden Age and the whole Mike Yates thing, this story is actually nice little fun UNIT story. It's only a little padded towards the end as it gets a nice booster shot to get them to the finish line, but the rest of it is totally solid. Pertwee's as good as ever and Sarah Jane is just as strong, if not stronger in her second outing. There's also some great stuff going on with UNIT and great character moments for all parties involved, not the least of which is Mike Yates.
Imagine this story in a modern context (fine with good effects, whatever. Not my point) and imagine how they'd play this whole Mike Yates betrayal thing. It'd be a cornerstone of this piece, and proof of the dissolution of the UNIT family after the departure of Jo Grant. Mike Yates is working with the evil bad guys and this story is a lot about the fall of Mike Yates, who's been a big thing for the past several seasons. It just gives the whole feeling of UNIT a send-off feel. We're talking finale, I think. Exploring his character from a modern context.
And now I'm disappointed they didn't do that.
Ah well. It comes with the times, and doesn't detract from the awesomeness of this story, which is still awesome.
Next Time!: 4th Doctor! Even more and more awful CSO! A poorly constructed Greek Myth! Blah blah blah I don't care! General awfulness! And the unfortunately triumphant return of Baker/Martin to a discussion place on this blog! Watch me hate life next week as I discuss "Underworld!" Coming next Tuesday!