Who Review: Invasion of the Dinosaurs

It’s “I” day on the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Couple this with the fact that I haven’t done a “Who Review” in a while, and you get today’s look at the recent DVD release of the classic Doctor Who story, Invasion of the Dinosaurs. The story was first broadcast in 1974 and features The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee), and assistant Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen). This was Sarah Jane’s second adventure with The Doctor. After their adventure with the Sontaran in medieval England (The Time Warrior), The Doctor returns Sarah Jane to her own time. However, when they step out of the TARDIS, they find London deserted and under martial law. Eventually making their way to U.N.I.T. HQ, our heroes discover that there are dinosaurs terrorizing the streets, which is why there have been mandatory evacuations. But the soldiers are powerless against these mighty beasts which seem to appear and disappear at random. The Doctor and Sarah need to find out who’s bringing prehistorical monsters to the 20th century, and stop them before they wipe out civilization.

As usual, the DVD presentation of this story is superb. The original video and film have been lovingly and painstakingly restored, with wear-and-tear removed, and the color enhanced and sharpened. The soundtrack has also received the usual careful restoration, with background hiss, pops, clicks, and other noises removed or reduced to produce a clear and crisp audio. Those familiar with the history of this story will know that while originally recorded and broadcast in color, the first of the six episodes was lost soon after broadcast, and all that remains in the BBC archive is a black-and-white copy. When this story was released on videotape some years ago, the only way they could present it was with part 1 in black-and-white, and the remaining 5 parts in color. Now, however, by use of recent color recovery techniques, the people behind the restoration of classic Doctor Who for DVD (known as the “Restoration Team”), have managed to create a color version of part 1. Time and finances prevented them doing a full-scale colorization to “broadcast quality,” but the result is at least as good as a VCR recording. Because it’s not broadcast quality, for this DVD release, they offer the option to watch the original black-and-white (fully restored and cleaned-up) part 1, or the new color-recovered version. Also on this two-DVD set are some entertaining features, including (among other things) a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, and an episode of “Doctor Who Stories” wherein Elisabeth Sladen recounts her time with the Third Doctor.

Spoiler Alert: If you have never seen this story, and want to know who’s behind the dinosaur invasion, don’t read on. In the discussion that follows, I will assume you either know how it all pans out, or don’t care about being told.

You know how no matter how much good you might do, the moment you mess up, that becomes the story. You may have had a really good day, but it only takes one bad thing to happen, and that then overshadows all the good things. Well, that’s basically the story of Invasion of the Dinosaurs. The story concept is quite strong; the script by Malcolm Hulke (who co-wrote The War Games, and wrote Inferno, so not a shabby writer at all) is great; the acting is also very good. You would think with all these elements, you would have high-quality Who on a par with its predecessor, The Time Warrior. But the special effects…. The dinosaurs… *sigh.* All the commendable qualities of this story get crushed under the weight of the universally decried (even by the most avid Who-lovers) dinosaur model effects. And this wasn’t simply a case of low-budget BBC production issues. As I understand it, the company contracted to produce the dinosaur effects did a lousy job, and by the time the producers realized this, it was too late to do anything about it. The dinosaurs were too ubiquitous to just edit out, and they didn’t have the digital know-how of today to “clean up” or “cover up” the worst of it. So they had no choice but to roll with it, and hope people would pay attention to everything else. But it’s Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Ignoring the dinosaurs in this would be like trying to ignore Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. You can’t.

So, let’s just get it out there: the dinosaur effects in this story are crap. And I mean CRAP. No point trying to sugar-coat it. Even by 1974 standards, they are totally and utterly awful. Ray Harryhausen could (and did) do much, much better. Heck, Blue Peter could have done better! And it’s a shame, because it’s a very good story. At it’s heart, the story explores what happens when people with good intentions go too far. In this case, riding the wave of environmental concern current at the time (see the previous season’s story The Green Death), what we have here are a group of scientists who believe that the problem with Earth is the human race, and in particular, man’s constant quest to destroy the planet in order to pursue his own pleasures. Their plan is to take Earth back in time to a “golden age,” before man ravaged the planet, and preserve a team of specially-selected people who will try to survive by working with the environment and not against it. Of course, to do that requires wiping out humanity as it exists. You see? A good story concept, loaded with moral dilemma and lessons-to-learn. And crappy plastic dinosaurs. *sigh*.

I recommend this story, though with the caveat that if you are really bothered by bad special effects, you may want to find a clip of it somewhere before you spend money on the two-DVD set. However, if that caveat doesn’t apply to you, the story, the restoration work, and the special features make for an entertaining and thought-provoking package. If you don’t already also own The Time Warrior, that story gets my unreserved approval, since I consider it one of the best classic Who stories ever made. Get these two stories and watch them back-to-back. Personally, that sounds like a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon!

12 Responses to Who Review: Invasion of the Dinosaurs

  1. Hmmm…do I dare say that I have yet to watch any Doctor Who (original or new)? It sounds quite intriguing though! Thanks for sharing, Colin!

    • You really do need to watch some Doctor Who, Elodie. And if there’s one episode I would recommend to you, it’s The Girl in the Fireplace from Season 2 of the new series (starring David Tennant as The Doctor). Something tells me you’ll like it… and not just because it’s set in Versailles :)

  2. Hahaha! That pic at the bottom kind of looks like an old Godzilla movie :) I didn’t read who brought the dinosaurs because I still plan on watching some Doctor Who. If I love the later ones, I might be persuaded to go back and watch these older ones :)

    • The Godzilla movies look like modern CGI compared to the dinosaur effects in this story, sadly. I did wonder whether I should bother putting the spoiler warning because this is not usually among the first classic Who stories people see, and if you watch all six seasons of the new series first, by the time you get to Invasion of the Dinosaurs you’ll probably have forgotten the spoiler.

      If you didn’t read after the spoiler alert, let me sum up in a spoiler-free way what you need to know: this is a good story with good acting and an interesting premise ruined by crap dinosaur effects. And the bad dinosaurs were not the fault of a low budget, but the incompetence of the people hired to do them.

      Since I recommended a Who story to Elodie, I should probably recommend one to you too given what I think I know of your taste. Mmmm… you would probably enjoy The Girl in the Fireplace too… but you might also enjoy The Shakespeare Code from Season 3. There you go. One episode. 45 minutes of your life. Go on… :D

  3. I could never get into the old Dr. Who because the effects were so terrible. However, I love the new one and watch it every week.

    • I understand classic Who is not to everyone’s taste. I grew up with it, and while sometimes the effects really aren’t that bad, they could never compare with what can be done today. For me the show has always been more about the characters and the stories, so I can by-and-large overlook the production values of the classic series. But I’m really pleased that the BBC has given the new series a big enough budget to make it appealing to a wide audience. The new version is great, and I’m glad it’s so popular.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Michael! :)

  4. I didn’t read on, because I plan on seeing Invasion of the Dinosaurs very soon! I have just recently started watch the third Doctor, he’s great.

    - T’Laina

    • Excellent! The Third Doctor is my daughter’s favorite of the classic series. And this one is a good story. Come back after you’ve watched it and see if you agree with my comments. :)

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, T’Laina! :D

  5. Bit surprised that they have re-released this one to be honest.. As it was (one of?) the last VCR to be released.. And to devote all their efforts into colourising episode one, instead of CGIing some decent Dinosaur’s!

    I can’t believe they haven’t released Terror of the Zygons on DVD yet (Hopefully with a CGI lock Ness Monster!!).

    • Hello, Steve–thanks for commenting! The plan is to have all complete stories on DVD by the 50th anniversary in November of next year. CGI-ing new dinosaurs was never an option. Way too expensive and technically time consuming–the colourised episode 1 was probably a lot cheaper to do. And I don’t think they expended a lot of effort–it doesn’t look like it. I believe Terror of the Zygons is up for release in the not-too-distant future. Dinosaurs is a good story, though, and this is a good release.

  6. Pingback: Who Review: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship » Colin D Smith

  7. Pingback: A-to-Z Blogging Challenge 2013: Reflections » Colin D Smith

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