Sunday, April 20, 2014

Invasion of the Dinosaurs - "Don't worry, Brigadier, it's a vegetarian."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Invasion of the Dinosaurs - Details

Season 11, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #71) | Previous - Next | Index

Words don't ...
via @classicdw

This isn't the sort of story you give a high grade and wax poetic about, but it is one that strikes me as a perfect story to get a bit drunk and watch with your mates. It's not that you have to be drunk to enjoy it, though it certainly wouldn't hurt, because it's a decent enough story and, for a six-parter, moves along briskly enough. But, you have to sit through those dinosaurs. In Doctor Who's long, storied history of not quite getting it done in the special effects department, this is a jim dandy of a face plant. I gave JN-T hell for the Kamelion debacle, so it's only fair to lay this at feet of Barry Letts and his team. I understand from the DVD extras that the f/x were farmed out, so it's not entirely their fault, but seeing what they got back, I think somebody needed to make the executive decision to minimize the screentime of the dinosaurs and pad the episodes with longer reaction shots or something, anything. (Exactly what Philip Hinchcliffe did later, it turns out, when the Zygons' Skarasen was similarly ill-achieved.)

So let's get it out of the way, acknowledge that those puppets aren't fooling anybody -- heck, don't even seem to be designed to be convincing --and not let it detract, but instead enhance the experience. There's a scene in the final episode where the bad guys have let loose a last wave of dinosaurs before executing the final stage of their plan. The Doctor encounters a T-Rex and a Brontosaurus (remember, this was 1973, the bones hadn't all been sorted out yet) and manages to get clear of them when the T-Rex decides to go after the other dinosaur instead of him. That scene, where the puppet T-Rex gently caresses the neck of the puppet Bronto, its rubbery teeth bending away so as not to give the impression that any puppets were harmed in the filming of this story, is either an inexcusable failure ... or it's hilarious. I choose hilarious.

Don't let the story's name fool you, plot-wise the dinosaurs are just a distraction dumped in Central London so the real villainy can proceed. It's not like this is Jurassic Park trying to skate by using kids' toys instead of ponying up for CGI. Nobody, back when it was new, should have been coming into this expecting DW to suddenly be turn into a Toho production; anyone watching this today must do so in full knowledge of what they're getting themselves into on this front.

There's another viewing experience hurdle today's viewer needs to clear as well. Episode 1 has to be watched in either b&w, or with some of the worst colorization ever seen. I watched in 'color', but I'm going to suggest that, unless a new and improved version is released, you stick with the b&w.

Now, that all out of the way, we can settle into what they got right. The opening scenes in deserted London are suitably eerie and disconcerting. Pertwee and Sladen have good chemistry, despite this being only the second story with Sarah Jane Smith as companion. When the Doctor and Sarah Jane are arrested as looters and brought up before a slapdash military tribunal (London is under martial law due to all the dinosaurs stomping and flying around), they have so much fun getting their mug shots taken you can't help but smile along with them.

Dramatically speaking, letting on that Yates is part of the conspiracy so early in the story was probably not the most effective way to handle that. However, that decision did make it possible for us to wonder the rest of the way if he would ever change his mind and decide he couldn't go through with it. On the whole, the build up of the conspiracy story was handled rather well.

There's a nifty bit political sleight-of-hand going on here. This might seem like a conservative-minded story with environmentalist baddies pursuing a radical agenda of liberal fascism, but when you when you look closer, what's happening is the Minister and General behind the whole thing are co-opting environmentalist issues and appealing to the understandable desire to have clean air to breathe to advance a purely regressive agenda -- a return to a Golden Age. What they're after is getting rid of all the peons (you know, working people, non-whites, etc.) and establishing a new society without all the complications of modern society. One where the elites can have the world to themselves. The thing about Golden Ages is there never were any. Anyone trying to sell you on the idea we had utopia and let it get away, and we can return to it through any sort of eliminationism (let's get rid of the immigrants, the infidels, the hippies,the gypsies and the ... you see where I'm going with this, right?) is not someone to be taken seriously.
DOCTOR: Look, I understand your ideals. In many ways I sympathise with them. But this is not the way to go about it, you know? You've got no right to take away the existence of generations of people.
YATES: There's no alternative.
DOCTOR: Yes, there is. Take the world that you've got and try and make something of it. It's not too late.
Whatever else Malcom Hulke and this era get wrong politically, they get this right. It's not exactly news, but it seems to escape the conservative mind across time. The answer isn't to stop trying, to just let the oligarchs set the course and rig the society so that nobody can hamper their accumulation of capital; the answer is to gather all the information you can, figure out what steps you can take to achieve a society that balances individual liberty with the general welfare, so that everyone benefits from progress, and nobody is left behind, then roll up your sleeves and get to work.
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