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11x2. Invasion of the Dinosaurs
Writer: Malcolm Hulke
Director: Michael Briant
Script Editor: Terrance Dicks
Producer: Barry Letts

Synopsis: The Doctor and Sarah return to find London almost entirely abandoned and under the control of the military, as the sudden appearance of dinosaurs in the city streets has necessitated an evacuation. None of those in charge claim to know how this has happened, but the Doctor is suspicious, and with good reason: a group of extremists -- among them MP Charles Grover, the Brigadier's superior General Finch, and Captain Yates -- are using the dinosaurs as a distraction while they prepare to turn time back to a mythical "Golden Age," thus erasing thousands of years of Earth's history and wiping the entire population out of existence. The only survivors are to be themselves and a group of people whom they've kept sequestered on a fake spaceship, believing they're traveling to a different planet.

Review: It has been said that what distinguished Season 7, or at least the last three serials of it, was a recurring theme of humankind as its own worst enemy: though the Silurians, the Martian "Ambassadors," and the Primords all posed a danger of one sort or another, the crisis was mostly caused by human narrow-mindedness. Though there have been some excellent serials since then, "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" is the first since "Inferno" to embrace this theme so unreservedly. Moreover, it does so in a way that actually questions -- but does not reject -- the Pertwee era's idealism, making for a disturbing but necessary story that serves as a fitting swan song for Malcolm Hulke, one of the most politically-minded Doctor Who writers.

The first episode of "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" is somewhat tangential, in that it mostly consists of the Doctor and Sarah wandering around the abandoned city trying to figure out what's happening, then eventually being arrested and accused of looting. All of this is promptly "off the table" once the Brigadier arrives to vouch for them and explain the situation, but it's sufficiently eerie and well-paced that I'm not inclined to complain too much. After that, Hulke's script slowly reveals who exactly is behind all this and why, creating an effectively paranoid atmosphere as the Doctor and Sarah are targeted by the conspirators -- once we discover that Yates is part of it, we know that traditional good guy/bad guy divisions may not apply here. When Grover, for example, is first introduced, the Doctor recognizes him as the author of a prescient book on environmentalism, and one would thus normally expect him to be a "white hat"; in this serial, we're left to wonder if he's in on the conspiracy (which, of course, he is). With the city evacuated and the involvement of General Finch, the Doctor is left with increasingly few options, and the script definitely works on the basic level of "How is he going to solve this one in time?"

Some might see "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" as an indictment of the environmental momement as authoritarian, fantasy-prone, and indifferent to the fate of individual humans, but I don't think that's the point Hulke is trying to make. Rather, I think he's trying to show how the extremists of any movement can be dangerous, particularly when people of power are involved who don't mind abusing their authority. After all, the whole reason for the fake spaceship in the conspirators' underground facility is that the potential community leaders they had recruited wouldn't accept what amounts to mass murder, and instead had to be told they were traveling to a new planet. Significantly, the only one of them who shows a tendency toward repressive violence is Lady Ruth Cullingford, who suggests that they might eventually have to kill Sarah for her "disruptive influence." Even those who do know the whole story seem fully sincere, and Yates, in fact, has his mind so twisted around that he doesn't even care whether he personally survives the transition to the "Golden Age." The Doctor remarks at the end (perhaps even a bit too directly) that he does sympathize with the conspirators' beliefs even though he couldn't abide their ruthless methods, and in a way "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" actually has a very pro-environmental, anti-reactionary tilt. The "message" (and I don't like that term, but I'm not sure what else to call it) would seem to be that this planet, here and now, for better or worse, is all we've got. We can't solve our problems by going back to an idyllic past that never existed, nor are we going to find magical solutions in outer space or anywhere else.

"Invasion of the Dinosaurs" proves to be a trial for the ethics and loyalties of the UNIT characters. Yates' betrayal is a tricky issue: he's been a character who really only had one distinguishing characteristic, that being his laid-back demeanor and occasional backtalk towards the Brigadier, and thus I don't really have a firm opinion on whether this is "in-character." Still, it would have been decidedly out of character for the generally conservative Lethbridge-Stewart or the always loyal Benton, so Yates is pretty much the default choice for a UNIT traitor. Richard Franklin is given more to work with as an actor than in any previous appearance, and he handles it well. He's believably earnest when he talks about how he actually prefers the city evacuated because it's so quiet and clean, and his angry confrontations with those who are willing to kill the Doctor to protect the conspiracy show that, however misguided he's become, he's still an honorable and decent man underneath it all. The script might have done a better job of reconciling this with his apparent reconciliation to the eventual undoing of history, but otherwise I have no complaints, and he's a sufficiently well-established (if sometimes bland) "good guy" that his actions strengthen Hulke's examination of noble intentions turning into irrational extremism. In a nice touch of continuity, Yates comments that his mentality changed after the incident with the giant maggots of "The Green Death" -- certainly an understandable pretext for someone to develop extremist views on the issue of pollution.

Benton, meanwhile, is...well, always loyal. He's the first to take the Doctor's side unambiguously after General Finch has the Doctor arrested, actually volunteering for the Doctor's Venusian Aikido knock-out so that he can escape. Later, he even gets in a fight with  Finch, proving that he's the best kind of soldier, namely one who takes action when his superior is blatantly abusing authority rather than retreating to the psychological comfort of "just following orders." The rehabilitation of the Brigadier that began in "The Green Death" also continues here: one of his first scenes finds him vigorously protesting Finch's order to start using lethal force against unarmed looters, and he finds ways to work around Finch when it becomes clear that his commanding officer can no longer be trusted. I wasn't entirely sure, however, exactly when he began to trust the Doctor over Finch. Some have suggested that he believed the Doctor all along and left him in Benton's custody knowing he'd escape, but it's not clear from the dialogue or from Courtney's performance that this is the case. Still, he seems to have it figured out by the time he slyly orders Benton to "put himself under arrest" when Finch threatens the sergeant with a court-martial over the Doctor's escape, and later he even has Benton hold Finch at gunpoint to prevent him from recapturing the Doctor.

This is Sarah Jane Smith's second serial, and at this point she hasn't strictly become a "companion" yet. She's thrown into this situation immediately after returning from the Middle Ages, and at the end she's actually insisting she's not going back in the TARDIS any time soon. She continues to register as a strong character, putting her journalistic skills to work to conduct her own investigation, and she rightly bristles when the "boys' club" in charge of the situation don't seem to pay attention. I also liked the scene when she attempts to confront Mark, one of the "spaceship" passengers, with the fact that no Earth vessel could reach another planet in just a few months, and he replies that someone has invented a new kind of drive system: it's a nicely written bit of dialogue that effectively underlines both Sarah's rationality and intelligence and the almost cult-like brainwashing of the supposed passengers. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention that Sarah actually has the guts to open the "airlock" door and walk out -- as Joe Ford points out, it's difficult to imagine Jo Grant doing that (even as she became increasingly confident and independent in later episodes).

"Invasion of the Dinosaurs" inevitably takes some ribbing over the quality of the dinosaurs. Personally, I don't think their appearance per se is all that bad. It's only when they interact with the human characters or each other that the mediocre special effects become obvious, partly because they don't move much (the T-Rex's attack on the Brontosaurus is just hopelessly slow-mo and ridiculous), and partly because the actors seemingly didn't always know where the creatures would be in the final product. The most infamous example comes early on, in an embarrassing scene when the UNIT soldiers are supposedly shooting at a dinosaur but don't seem to be aiming anywhere near it. Fortunately, this proves to be beside the point, because this is a story primarily driven not by monsters and action scenes, but by solidly drawn characters with conflicting points of view. Subpar CSO or not, this one extends the current winning streak to three, and though it's not perfect, its virtues are those of the Pertwee era at its best.

Other notes:

- Does the Doctor really need to shout "HAI!" or whatever it is when he does a Venusian Aikido maneuver? Wouldn't it sometimes make more sense to knock somebody out quietly?

- The "Blimovitch Limitation Effect" gets another mention, with the Doctor invoking it to explain why Whitaker hasn't yet perfected time travel. The more obsessive among us might remember that the Doctor named it in "Day of the Daleks" as the reason why the guerillas couldn't make multiple trips back in time; he was, of course, conveniently interrupted before he could elaborate on the subject. (This was an amusing and deliberate contrivance to which Barry Letts pleaded 100% guilty -- no points for guessing that the Doctor doesn't say what it is this time either.)

- Speaking of largely irrelevant obsessive-fan trivia, we have another piece of evidence for the UNIT era taking place in the near future, as there's a line about "back in the Cold War days . . . ."

Rating: ***1/2 (out of four)

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