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Doctor Who XI.5-10: Invasion of the Dinosaurs

July 7th, 2012 (07:34 pm)

Despite my best intentions, I didn't leave my flat today until early evening, and even then that was only a shopping trip to a different town and a different supermarket to the ones I normally buy from. This was not only a consequence of the weather, but that the splitting headache I'd developed on Friday had not gone away. Exactly why I decided one of the most notorious Doctor Who stories of the third Doctor's tenure might have a medicinal purpose is lost to time and the unfathomable workings of my mind.

Invasion of the Dinosaurs is the only story of Jon Pertwee's last season where UNIT play a consistent and substantial role in the action; they are also returned to the streets of London for the first time in several years, since (I think) The Mind of Evil in 1971. This return to quasi-realistic spectacle shakes some of the cosiness out of the UNIT set-up, but in doing so it shows how much Doctor Who had changed within Jon Pertwee's tenure as the Doctor. The hard-edged near-future of most of his first season could not be returned to, and instead the deserted London under martial law is a self-consciously allegorical landscape, where order is maintained under emergency powers. Looters are detained in the expectation of a revival of old norms, but those norms didn't include prehistoric monsters roaming the streets, nor allow that authority figures are actively working to erase the very society which authenticates their power and status.

The DVD's picture quality is remarkable, and the colour restoration on part one (the videotape of which was mislaid, presumed destroyed, probably not long after transmission in 1974, leaving only a black and white film print presumably made with the intention of being exported to non-colour markets outside the UK) impressive even if it's of variable quality; the colours of the location scenes on part one bring out the dry grass of a hot summer evening in mid-1970s England when the sun is low in the sky, and is fitting for this London forced into a twilight existence. Throughout the story the film exterior sequences have more vibrant colours than 1970s telecine often manages, and the model shots of the foam rubber puppet dinosaurs are well served. The dinosaurs are not that bad, with the apatosaurus in particular well-realised; but then, large, placid and stupid is probably easier to achieve than fierce and terrifying. It's to be regretted that too much is demanded of the weakest of the models, the tyrannosaurus rex, and that some of the angles chosen during the model sequences expose the artificiality of monsters and their miniature sets.

Matthew Sweet's visual essay puts the contributions of the production team in context and points out just how hard the political allegory is made. The films in the 'Reminder Room' on the 'spaceship' on which the self-deluded colonists believe they are travelling to New Earth (though no cat-nuns will they there find) represent the selective, alarmist hand-wringing of sometime bien-pensants who have given up on the vast majority of their fellow human beings. Matthew Sweet observes that writer Malcolm Hulke was a longstanding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and in the 1960s many on the established left looked on askance as ecologist politics previously associated with fascism became adopted by their comrades. There's definitely something of the crisis of the social democratic state in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, from the political new directions offered by Charles Grover to the misguided idealism of Mike Yates and the drive for efficiency of General Finch, to the petty grandiose dreams of Professor Whitaker, a salutary tale of what can happen when the grant application of an Oxford don is rejected. This isn't so frivolous an observation as it might seem - Oxford has had a reputation as a more political university than its fellow ancient university Cambridge, educating several shapers of the so-called post-war consensus. Malcolm Hulke and script editor Terrance Dicks were perhaps inclined to reflect wryly on this, as they were Cambridge men.

Jon Pertwee might have resolved to leave the role of the Doctor, but he was still the consummate showman at this stage, seizing the opportunity for comedy when arrested as a looter, deploying a couple of variants of his Cockney accent, and convincing as a man of action through sheer authority despite - as David Brunt's production notes remind us - suffering from a long-term back injury that meant most of his falls were performed by Terry Walsh. Elisabeth Sladen observes in a 2003 interview included in the set that on this, her second story, she found herself playing a gentler, less assertive character than she did in her debut, The Time Warrior. Even there, Sarah was perhaps less dominating than she would have been had she been played by April Walker, whose casting, and sacking following objections from Jon Pertwee, was revealed in David Brunt's infotext in this set and is perhaps the greatest coup of the production notes. Lis Sladen describes her resolve to keep putting her all into the part despite its becoming a more passive companion role than expected with her usual smiling, positive demeanour, and it was not really a surprise that it was while watching this interview that my headache disappeared.

Also posted at http://sir-guinglain.dreamwidth.org/523947.html.


Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: July 7th, 2012 11:02 pm (UTC)
Eleventh Doctor

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<Plug, plug>More on the politics of <i>Invasion of the Dinosaurs</i> can be found in my review in the forthcoming <i>Outside In</i>, although I wish I'd known that "in the 1960s many on the established left looked on askance as ecologist politics previously associated with fascism became adopted by their comrades" when I wrote it.</plug, plug> (Yes, I know you knew this, parrot_knight; I'm engaging in self-promotion among your readers, which I'm not usually good at.)

I didn't realize Malcolm Hulke was a Cambridge man. Of course, two seasons previously, the Master passed himself of as a Cambridge man too and Liz Shaw genuinely was there. I'm not sure what this proves.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 7th, 2012 11:56 pm (UTC)
St John's cufflink

Cambridge in Jon Pertwee Doctor Who evidently represents the polymathic and imaginative, and possibly the theatrical; Oxford disappointed idealists led to corrupted actions.

I'm looking forward to seeing what your review looks like in the book. Matthew Sweet points out the personal connection between the Soil Association and the British Union of Fascists in the documentary. I gather from some reading about the artistic circle around the early organic farming movement that most were nostalgists and occasionally fellow-travellers to Nazis and Fascists, rather than a cadre of heartfelt ideoogical sympathizers to Nazism, but it is on such alliances that atrocities are built. Atrocity is the word the Doctor uses of the Whitaker-Grover scheme, and it must represent the authorial voice here.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: July 8th, 2012 12:39 am (UTC)
Eleventh Doctor

I'm probably another Oxford-educated disappointed idealist, but at least I haven't tried to wipe out most of the human race!

The review in the book is almost the same as on my blog, bar one or two superficial changes. Is your review much different? I recall you posting about rewrites some time back.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 8th, 2012 01:07 am (UTC)

The review is a little longer and some of the points have been refined, but no more than redrafting would do.

I too have no desire to wipe out most of the human race...

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: July 8th, 2012 10:37 pm (UTC)
Eleventh Doctor

Radio 4 Extra is currently promoting Forty Nights in the Wildebeest with what looks to me awfully like a photo of the puppets from Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Given that Dan Freedman went on to write Death Comes to Time, I wonder if this is coincidental.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 8th, 2012 10:41 pm (UTC)

Not a coincidence at all, I think, and I'm sure you are right.