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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Doctor Who battles the "Invasion of the Dinosaurs"

     BBC's newest Doctor Who DVD release, on sale this Tuesday, January 10th in the U.S., is Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Airing in January and February 1974, as the second serial of the eleventh season, "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" finds the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee, Worzel Gummidge) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen, The Sarah Jane Adventures) arriving back in London, to find it nearly deserted. The streets are plagued by dinosaurs, and most of the citizens have been evacuated. Teaming up with UNIT, which remains behind, they attempt to find the cause of it all, only to be blocked by a government conspiracy.

     Much crap has been given by Doctor Who loyalists for the look of the dinosaurs in these six episodes, so let's dispense with that issue right away. Yes, they look ridiculous. They are stiff, often change appearance, there are only about five of them, and they don't do much of anything interesting. They are the epitome of cheese, and no one will ever defend the look of the dinosaurs in this episode, even allowing for the technological limitations of that time.

     That being said, Invasion of the Dinosaurs has a mostly excellent story. The real tale is about a group of fanatics who think that the world has gone to pot, because of government corruption and militarism, among other things, and are seeking a restoration of society's Golden Age. The dinosaurs are partially a distraction, partially a way to scare off the current residents of London, and partially a test of the time bending technology. They have several hundred people sequestered underground, tricked into believing that they are on their way to another planet, and ready to try building civilization 2.0 when they are let out. It's an idealistic, and insane, plot, timely then and now, and one that the Doctor and Sarah Jane cannot allow to happen. The Doctor probably puts it best when he remarks there never was a Golden Age, no matter what people believe.

     Now there are problems with Invasion of the Dinosaurs, certainly. Such as that the two protagonists are too trusting, being captured by people they think are helping them on multiple occasions. Also, it's a little stretched that Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) falls for the conspiracy a little too easily, rather than trusting the Doctor. However, in the end, things shake down in an exciting way, and the bad guys are, of course stopped.

     There is some truly excellent acting in this Doctor Who serial. Besides the show's stars, Richard Franklin (Emmerdale Farm) is fantastic as Captain Mike Yates, a recurring character who falls out of favor after he is taken in by the plot. John Levene's Sgt. Benton is very funny, and John Bennett makes Finch appropriately sleazy. Taking the cake is Noel Johnson as Minister Charles Grover. It's hard to tell if Grover feels at all guilty about all the people who will cease to exist should the plan be acted upon, but Johnson makes him charming and firm in his beliefs.

     The first episode of Invasion of the Dinosaurs plays in black and white by default, though a colorized version is available if one goes into the special features on the first disc. The rest of the episodes are in color, each remastered. The picture does appear fuzzy at times, but for as old as this adventure is, it looks and sounds remarkably well. Certainly well enough to enjoy a viewing of and not get distracted by picture quality.

     There are a wealth of extras in this two disc set. Not only is commentary provided by select surviving cast and crew, but deleted scenes have also been found. A half hour documentary briefly addresses the dinosaur puppets, before spending most of the time discussing the story and the process of making the episodes. Sladen gives a fourteen minute interview as part of a larger series made a few years ago. She has some fascinating memories about her co-star and the origin of her role. There is also a photo gallery.

     Less exciting is the thirteen minute "Now and Then," which basically shows locations used for shooting this episode both in the show, and now. Sure, it's interesting, but goes on far too long. Also, "Billy Smart's Circus" is short and campy, not really adding to anything.


     Doctor Who: Invasion of the Dinosaurs goes on sale this Tuesday.

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Article first published as DVD Review: Doctor Who: Invasion of the Dinosaurs on Blogcritics.

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