Wednesday, May 23, 2012
DVD Detail – Doctor Who: UNIT Files Box Set
This year’s first Doctor Who DVD release, neither story in the UNIT Files is among the year’s strongest, though they’re both impressive as DVDs, with engaging and extensive extras. You can see the DVD Coming Soon Trailer here (spoilers for the conspiracy). Given their reputation amongst fans – one praised only by revisionists, the other not praised at all – it may be a surprise that each got the highest audience ratings in its season. Both stories have some superb location footage; both have uneven scripts, one a striking central story with quite a lot of quite thought-provoking politics but some pretty poor plotting (better-captured when reworked into a novelisation with an incredibly memorable cover), the other intriguing but often dumb; yet I have a massive soft spot for them both, and have hugely enjoyed the DVDs. Perhaps it’s because of fond childhood memories, or because both stories are as close as Doctor Who comes to doing The Avengers, albeit colliding with a more distinctively ’70s paranoia. So I was slightly chastened to see that I’d apparently marked them lower than other fans; back in September 2009, Doctor Who Magazine 413 published “The Mighty 200” – 6,700 fans’ votes on all 200ish TV Doctor Who stories to that point – which placed Invasion of the Dinosaurs at 131 and The Android Invasion at 123. Fond as I am of them, the list I made of my own preferences at the time put them respectively about forty and thirty places lower. So perhaps today I’ll convince myself as well as you that they’re worth a kinder look.
What you might expect of a UNIT box is stories set back when the Doctor was exiled to Earth, where the Brigadier would come in with a problem and the Doctor would set out to investigate it, aided by the chummy soldiers of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. That’s not the case for either of these (if you want a more ‘representative’ UNIT set, here’s one I prepared earlier as a selection for the Brigadier; you might perhaps swap out The Green Death for The Dæmons). Both of these come once the Doctor’s exile to Earth has been lifted and he’s only dropping in for a visit, the Brigadier himself – played by Nicholas Courtney, and central to the UNIT set-up – is only in one of them, and, even more startlingly, both times the Doctor becomes a fugitive, hunted by the army he expected to help him. So while they’re far from the best of UNIT, they’re certainly stretching them in different ways; you might call this the ‘UNIT Goes A Bit Iffy’ box set. The actual story titles, of course, tell you far more than that…
While this ‘Detail’ obviously goes into considerable detail, incidentally, my usual policy in these is not to be too spoilery, so you can read on without fear of finding out too many key twists from the end. That’s a problem with these two stories, as for each of them the major twist is given away by the title (at least it’s held back for Part One of the first one but, well, you can’t avoid reading it on the box). Each has one or two more twists, though both times there’s not much more to say past the half-way point; as a result, watch out for the menu on Invasion of the Dinosaurs, which gives away most of what’s left (I’d say ‘just press “Play All”’, though I’ll explain later why you may want to detour first), and for the spoiler sections I’ve had to include below, otherwise I’d have to shut up pretty early…
Doctor Who – Invasion of the Dinosaurs
Prolific writer Malcolm Hulke’s final story for the series, this started life as a political fable about Britain giving way under a Vichy-style government. Producer Barry Letts didn’t think this exciting enough, but he had a solution: the previous year, Doctor Who – Carnival of Monsters had featured the Drashigs, giant space dragons that looked better than they had any right to. So, clearly, this meant they could now do a story full of dinosaurs! And for the rest of his life, poor Barry told everyone how much he regretted it. Hulke, despite having featured dodgy reptiles in each of his annual scripts for Pertwee’s Doctor, was unimpressed by these ‘terrible lizards’ even at the writing stage – so brilliant scientist Professor Whitaker is Hulke’s Mary-Sue, constantly telling everyone that he’s got a great plot, but is pissed off at having to stick dinosaurs in it. And, to be fair to him, it is a great plot – much of it inspired by Seven Days To Noon and, separately, The Avengers – The Morning After, but with the added frisson of post-Watergate conspiracy thriller, some strong characterisation and a powerful, unusually complex political central idea that’s one of Hulke’s best. Unfortunately, Invasion of the Dinosaurs displays not just his strengths but his weaknesses as a scriptwriter, with a strong story stretched out so far that it snaps, in repetitive (and unimpressive) cliffhangers and the penultimate episode probably the most empty of plot in the entire series to that point. The key problem with the plotting is that he’s simply run out of anything to say by five minutes into Part Four, something that wouldn’t be so noticeable in a four-part story where he could then dash to the climax, but which here gives the impression that Hulke had delivered his first three scripts and then exclaimed, ‘What do you mean, it’s meant to be a six-parter? Oh, Christ.’
Of these two stories, though, Invasion of the Dinosaurs is certainly the one that gets the attention – because with an interesting idea and some disastrous special effects there’s always something to talk about (The Android Invasion is much less noticeable on either count). It’s also from a season of just five stories, mostly very mediocre ones, so people take what they can get, whereas the other adventure was part of a season of six stories, mostly brilliant, so people can afford to ignore one. It’s even talked about in one of the stories in the latest Doctor Who DVD release, Ace Adventures’ The Happiness Patrol, which starts with Ace asking the Doctor about his encounters with a pterodactyl and a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Lots of them (or the same one, every twenty-five minutes). And it has rather an impressive cast, with most guest stars – Martin Jarvis, John Bennett, Peter Miles – better-known for later appearances in much better stories, the exception Noel Johnson, who is superb here in a plot with considerably more dignity than his previous Doctor Who story…
That Golden Moment
“There’s no bus.”The eerie opening moments remain the story’s most visually effective, suggesting the coming debt to Seven Days To Noon (not least in a ‘moral’ motivation for at least some of those behind the threat) and, like The Avengers – The Morning After, having our heroes suddenly appear in an evacuated area where the authorities offer hostility rather than exposition (that one has the advantages of doing the story with more verve, one third the running time and no bloody dinosaurs). Though the sequence isn’t as creepily crafted as The Avengers’ equivalent, it has an added punch and immediacy through the deserted locations being so familiar – the first shots pan around an empty Westminster to establish a dead London. After the one-off episode title “Invasion”, we’re clearly supposed to think of aliens, and I wonder about a third source that may have inspired this, or if it’s just serendipity that so many of the sites and angles echo the series’ first ever major location filming for The Dalek Invasion of Earth. We see a dog eating out of a car that’s been left behind with its door open, then trotting off towards a couple of ruined houses; the camera pulls out from an abandoned satchel full of money, to broken milk bottles, to a milk float left carelessly in the road; it pans up from lonely toys on the grass to the TARDIS materialising in a park. Dwelling on this sort of domestic detail is rarely seen in Doctor Who, and for us now to see it but all smashed up, especially following on from the sights of familiar London landmarks gone wrong, has a powerful double impact.
“There’s no anything. No, nothing’s moving. No bicycles, no pedestrians, no cars, nothing.”
“Well, perhaps it’s Sunday. Great Britain always closes on Sundays. Come on – I think we’d better walk.”
Director Paddy Russell and her trusted film cameraman Tony Leggo deserve most of the credit here, going out guerrilla filming at 4am with neither BBC nor police permission, but Jon Pertwee and Elisabeth Sladen carry it well once they arrive, resulting in one of the best quarter-hours of the third Doctor’s period. New to travelling with the Doctor, Sarah Jane’s already got an idea of how unreliable he is – and he admits they’re back when they left… “Give or take a few weeks.” But what’s been happening in those few weeks? She’s a local – give or take her spots of Scouse, but she lives there and then, at least – and clearly feels the dislocation more than he does; she’s right, of course, that they aren’t back to normality. The more blasé he gets, the more the evidence piles up: the phones don’t work (which he, typically, takes as the opportunity for a put-down); there are no buses, just a lone, reckless driver who nearly hits them; when they walk to the nearest shops, the only sign of life is a looter – who threatens them and runs, but soon comes to a bloody end, his car caved in. Meanwhile, rather than soldiers being presented to us as the lovable bunch we know sitting around with mugs of tea, the jeep full of squaddies zooming by looks a palpable threat, with their big guns and someone hiding from them. It’s all gripping until the dinosaurs turn up, not just terrible but blown long before their scripted reveal at the cliffhanger (an inexplicable change the director fails even to try to explain in the special features).
This grim opening was rendered grimmer still for many years, until the DVD came out. The BBC’s infamous purges destroyed many Doctor Who (and many other TV series’) episodes from the 1960s; from Tom Baker’s first story as the Doctor in 1975 onwards, every Doctor Who episode exists in its original format. Jon Pertwee’s stories are in between both chronologically and in their state of repair, all originally made in colour but with many destroyed, leaving only black and white copies exported to countries which didn’t yet have colour TV in the early ’70s. Almost all of these have had their colour restored with painstaking work from fuzzy overseas recordings, but Part One of Invasion of the Dinosaurs is the most notorious exception, with fans often saying it looks better in black and white – though for me that’s less to do with monochrome moodiness than the relative lack of dinosaurs. Now, however, most of the colour has been recovered from patterns in the black and white copy, though it’s a bit patchy and lacking in blue. As a result, the hard-working but pedantic Restoration Team who clean up old stories for DVD release chose to start the story in black and white if you press “Play All”, not wanting it to look as if they’d not done a good job: if you want the muddily coloured version closer to the original, you must first select “Special Features” and then “Episode 1 Colour On / Off”. Which is a bit fussy. If they’re that pedantic, you’d think they’d be able to read that it’s called “Part One” on screen, wouldn’t you…
Something Else To Look Out For
I confess that I often find this season of Doctor Who – Season Eleven, Jon Pertwee’s last – rather weak and tired in comparison to others. There are times when both Pertwee and the production team give the impression they’re just going through the motions, and though not all the stories are bad, there’s no one adventure that I can point to and champion as ‘the terrific one’. So you might expect me to lay into this story – except that, for all that it often fails, it tries. It has ambition to do something different. And it suits Pertwee, who mostly gives an impressive performance, helped enormously by being out of his comfort zone. After four years as part of the establishment, it’s a refreshing change for both audience and, perhaps unwillingly, actor as his Doctor’s put in jeopardy by the army rather than bossing them around for most of it (though I could do without his sanctimonious sermonising going into overdrive in the final episode: the first, “There never was a golden age,” is well-played and to the point. But then there’s the second homily, which goes on rather longer. And the third…). Like season opener The Time Warrior, where he’s suddenly uprooted from his time and place with UNIT, and aided by new companion Sarah Jane Smith still having the sharp edges to her character, shaking up the format does the series good. Even the Doctor’s new Time Lord superpower at the climax is both appropriate and rather well done.
That’s not to say that the Doctor is perfect here – though there are several points where his arrogance is deliberately shown up (not least all the times that Sarah Jane’s right and he doesn’t listen to her), in others the actor’s over-indulged. An attempt late in the story to reinvigorate the ‘deserted London’ setting because they’ve run out of plot isn’t effective once we know all the mystery, and even the Brigadier visibly almost corpses at the sight of the Doctor’s (and Pertwee’s) new car. That’s nothing to the director’s reaction when presented with it, and it has been called “the world’s only vagina-shaped penis substitute”. Part Five’s extended chase sequence is for me the outrageous padding that others unfairly associate with Planet of the Spiders Part Two, not remotely advancing the plot, not a hint of mystery, and nothing left in the script. That can make it deeply tedious… Or, with my brain switched off, I can appreciate some impressive filming, effective music and inspired use of stock helicopter footage: there’s even a moment where the Doctor himself looks quite sinister, stalking his own pursuers like the Viet Cong. His other main new gadget is a stun-gun best known for a posed picture in which he holds it like a mandolin, though after much build-up on screen the special effect it produces is… Nothing. At least there’s an element of poetic justice when the Doctor suffers ‘guilt by gadget’ at one not completely coherent cliffhanger, though he also gets a magnificently self-unaware moment where he blows a whacking great hole in a roof and then claims he can’t bring the Brigadier because on his own he’ll be inconspicuous.
Sarah Jane Smith gets some strong moments in only her second story – and many frustrating ones, telling the Doctor that a desolate London’s wrong and being ignored, telling the Doctor about a suspicious scientist and being ignored, telling the Doctor about a nuclear generator and being ignored… But while the Doctor’s eagerness to be clubbable with more male and establishment figures than his companion gets its own comeuppance, Sarah Jane is already both less self-reliant and more impetuous; introduced as resourceful enough to break into a top secret base and impersonate someone for a scoop, here she waits for ages, asks if she can have a camera, rebels very slightly by taking one, then screams and forgets it – before rushing off into peril and escaping (rinse and repeat twice a week). She’s also firmly established as the Hypnotism Queen of Who, ironically under the influence in 55% of all her original stories despite their almost precisely bracketing a time without the Master. She does, however, get two outstanding moments. One’s a perfectly judged character scene between her and UNIT Captain Mike Yates in which the audience could easily side with either of them, Mike poetic about suddenly clean, empty London but Sarah Jane sceptical (“And nightingales in Berkeley Square?”) and missing the busy, dirty city that was. Mike Yates gets by far his best scenes here, with more later, while Sarah Jane’s other one comes much later and more sparkily when, rejecting that hypnotism, she ‘disruptively’ insists:
“I’ll say whatever I like!”The rest of UNIT, coming in later than usual, at first seem as cosy as ever and a bit slack. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, in particular, has been sniffing the mind-rubbers again, calling the Doctor’s testimony “pretty unbelievable” despite all they’ve been through and, in a scene that better deserves the description “pretty unbelievable”, announces:
“I never thought I’d find myself blowing up Tube stations.”Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, of course, spent quite a bit of time blowing up Tube stations in his first appearance in Doctor Who, but The Web of Fear otherwise has little in common with Invasion of the Dinosaurs, being a story in which Lethbridge-Stewart enforces martial law in a London already evacuated before our heroes arrive because of lost-world beasties on the rampage, there’s a secret base under Central London accessible via the Tube network, a traitor in the ranks and a devious plan behind it all for which the beasties are largely window-dressing [Miranda Hart look to camera]. Besides, this is only 1974, and that was set in 1975… Fortunately, he’s much more on the ball at other points, asking Sergeant Benton – who gets some unexpectedly watchable moments himself – the crucial questions, standing up to his superiors and with several droll lines. Or, at times, camp ones, as when he and the Doctor note that Sarah Jane’s gone (“She went off in the General’s car.” “Ohh!”) like a couple of gossipy old things across Les Dawson’s washing line, or when the Doctor invites him into the closet only to find his knob’s fallen off. Of course, the Doctor also gives a catty “Yes, I’m sure he’ll enjoy that” when Sarah Jane says she’s going to chat up Captain Yates, which seems almost to be saying ‘Mike’s gay’ to camera and makes me wonder just what Malcolm Hulke’s agenda was: from the War Chief trying to seduce the Doctor onwards, his stories (particularly his novelisations) have more than a few subtle little touches, and this story more than the rest – while some of the villains rant against “moral degradation” and “permissiveness”, Professor Whitaker is lightly coded on TV and, in the book, blatant. His ideal historical figures to talk to are Oscar Wilde and Noël Coward, while he repeatedly judges men (but not women) on how handsome they are, to the extent of Martin Jarvis picking up the subtext in his audiobook version and rather overdoing it with Whitaker’s reaction to the Doctor given an extra first word in the reading as “Ooh, he’s terribly handsome!”
The Terrible Lizards
The longest-cherished, least likely fan dream for the Doctor Who DVD range also judged the story on its looks. It was that, when Invasion of the Dinosaurs was finally released, it would replace the terrible lizards with lovely new CGI, so that casual viewers would stop laughing at them (and, more woundingly, us). The story’s producer, Barry Letts, had exactly the same wish, seeing them as a huge failure. But it was never going to happen: the DVD range’s occasional replacement CGI of adding a prettier glowy effect to a death-ray is simply on nothing like the level of rendering a menagerie of photorealistic Primeval-esque dinosaurs. I wish it could have been done, too, but short of finding a couple of million quid down the back of the sofa, it was impossible. Because when I was little, I loved The Doctor Who Monster Book and couldn’t understand why, otherwise packed with exciting photos of Who monsters from TV, for the dinosaurs it republished Chris Achilleos’ thrilling cover painting for the novel. Much as it mystified me that there was no picture of the previous story’s robot knight in The Adventures of K9 and Other Mechanical Creatures. It simply never occurred to me that this was because they looked rubbish. But they did.
Most of the ambitious range of dinosaurs here look pretty bad staying still, and far worse moving about (though never very much). Worse, the most-featured dinosaur – inevitably, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, as for obvious diegetic and extradiegetic reasons the selection covers the ‘most famous’ ones – is the worst of the lot, despite appearing repeatedly at moments of ‘threat’ and in far too many cliffhangers. It roars, it wobbles, it moves like a novice ice-skater; most infamously, at one point it has what was conceived as a Ray Harryhausen-style monster smash with a “Brontosaurus” (Apatosaurus). Instead, as they rub up against each other, they look like two inanimate pieces of rubber making out, and in one merciless fan video they were edited into place as part of Jurassic Park, as the scientists drive up and look on in wonder at their first sight of a prehistoric creature – with, playing over the snogging toys, the seductive tones of Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus. I wonder if the Radio Times illustration was sending it up even then, or if the artist’s own dinosaur sex was just lucky chance? Or there’s the close of Part Five, in itself an utter waste of space that almost redeems itself with the principal villain calmly explaining his vision, then moves into a ‘terrifying’ monster montage that culminates in a prolonged, wobbling, mouth-flapping T-Rex. What were they thinking? Even the script makes a mess of them: “Bullets are having no effect,” says a soldier. Why not? These aren’t alien beasties, and the fact that humanity has a destructive impact on other Earth species turns out to be one of the main points of the villains’ plot.
The pterodactyl is probably the best of them – shocking, sudden, and at least it moves about a bit, all of which are improvements on the camera just being frozen in incredulous horror while a beastie stands there and wobbles slightly, which is what happens with all the other dinosaurs. It still has its problems: introduced midway through Part One, it blows the surprise; “the best of them” still doesn’t mean ‘good’; it’s particularly hilarious when Pertwee later tries to fend it off with one of his old wigs; and, given that of all the dinosaurs it’s the one you’d expect to find it not just outside but swooping through the air, it’s a little odd that this pterodactyl is only ever seen hiding indoors in the dark. I bet you’ll always find him in the kitchen at parties, too.
The Plot – Spoilers
When I was a boy, Invasion of the Dinosaurs was simple to judge: the third Doctor, UNIT and Sarah Jane Smith obviously equalled a classic, and the excellent novel proved it. Many others felt the same way. When I grew up and the original story became widely available on video, its critical standing plummeted as fans ran screaming in terror from the dinosaurs. Then, over the past few years, it’s rallied again, with revisionist opinion saying that effects don’t matter, however terrible, and that in fact it’s a brilliant script. I know the lovely John Dorney, a talented actor, writer and reviewer, and his piece on Invasion of the Dinosaurs opens with a plausibly argued summary of the revisionist case:
“If you don't like Invasion of the Dinosaurs, I think you have your Dr Who priorities wrong.”This argument has two key weaknesses. First, there’s something slightly iffy about telling other people what their critical priorities should be, like an edict from the Reminder Room; not only would most kids say ‘It’s about the monsters’, but it acts as if reading a script is the same as watching a TV programme, as if Oscar Botcherby’s definitive Hamlet is identical to Kenneth Branagh’s and should be afforded the same applause. It’s also essentially saying ‘Barry Letts’ priorities were wrong’, which in this case is a perfectly tenable position, but it really starts with him rather than fans. There are some terrific Doctor Who stories with terrible monsters that a lot more people give a pass to because the monsters are essentially window-dressing that went a bit wrong; they don’t work, but they’re not central to the story and so it still does despite their brief appearance. Invasion of the Dinosaurs does not use dinosaurs as a momentary, disposable peril: it was commissioned as a showcase for dinosaurs; everyone in it goes on about the dinosaurs; it’s structured around repeated appearances by dinosaurs. They were, explicitly, the priority, which is why Barry Letts always singled them out for such pained criticism. Now, I often go against received ‘fan opinion’ and would love to go along with the revisionist case but, though I can find a lot to admire in it to balance ‘Worst dinosaurs evahhh!’, for me there’s another massive weakness in the revisionist argument, and that’s in how much it omits. Much of John’s case – and Matthew Sweet’s, on the main DVD extra feature – is to polarise: to put on one side the central concept (brilliant!) and on the other the terrible dinosaurs (bad but immaterial!), and to judge not the story but anyone shallow enough to weigh the effects over the ideas. But there’s more than that in between – there are two and a half hours of television, in which some of the direction is good, some not; some performances are strong, some not; and, crucially for me, some of the script and characterisation good, but a lot not.
“Doctor Who is all about the stories. The characters. That's why you should be watching. …Because it's got a great story.”
To be fair to John, he does go on to look at the story in more detail, and praises a key turning point here as one of “three great twists in Doctor Who history” (his first comes in The Enemy of the World, a story from which this one arguably borrows quite a bit too; I don’t know his third). And that twist is that – and here comes the spoiler, last chance to look away – UNIT’s Captain Mike Yates, a regular in the series for the last three years, is working against UNIT from the inside as part of the “Operation Golden Age” conspiracy. Though he’s reluctant to expose his old friends to danger, by the end he’s a starry-eyed true believer who doesn’t even worry if he himself survives: “I’m not important.” It’s a terrific twist, well-characterised and believable, with his having a conscience about one person, but not about billions, familiar to Stalin. The problem is, it takes place half-way through Part Two. Then the Government’s Minister in charge of the emergency while the rest run off to Harrogate, Noel Johnson as Sir Charles Grover, appears in the exact next shot and within a few seconds of the ‘traitor Mike’ revelation, and may as well be carrying a sign that says ‘I’m the next villain’. There’s also the Brigadier’s near-fascist superior, General Finch, so keen on a shoot-to-kill policy that it’s almost a sign that he sees everyone else as expendable… Outed by Mike, for no particular reason, a couple of minutes into Part Four. The Brigadier puts his finger on it:
“Is everybody in this conspiracy?”At one chilling moment the Doctor doubts even the Brigadier but, that paranoia aside, the script falls off a cliff just half-way through when it runs out of members of the cast to reveal as conspirators. It desperately needs another twist… And it has one, and a good one, but unfortunately that, too, has been blown by a few minutes into Part Four. Which is why the Doctor must spend an episode driving around to get as far away from the plot as possible, and Sarah Jane an episode running as far into the plot as possible so that she then has to escape from it. Again. By far the most effective cliffhanger is to Part Three, when – having been captured by the conspirators – Sarah Jane wakes up… From suspended animation. On a spaceship. Three months out in space. I’ll let that sink in…
While Sarah Jane is taken into the secret base beneath London – appropriately, a relic of the Cold War – and, sent to the spaceship, can’t do anything useful with the information, the Doctor finds his own way in… Only for no-one to believe him, which strains credulity. Even more driving around would be preferable to his actually having found the villains weeks before the end and then faffing about. Hulke does, at least, fix the gaping hole in his previous story and have the place covered with CCTV so that he’s spotted and the Kklaxons go off, while the sinister machine music is something novel from Dudley Simpson – but it all looks shoddy and makes the script’s failings literal by having the Doctor go round in circles and never get anywhere. Much as when, deeper within that base, Grover explains the plan to Whitaker, the man who invented the technology and who has been putting that plan into operation for weeks, then Whitaker demonstrates the technology to Grover, the man who came up with the plan and who has been overseeing the reaction to that technology for weeks. You’d think that with so many people in on it, they could have found someone who might not know everything already to do the exposition to.
The Politics – More Spoilers
That spaceship: a brilliant development, eh, sending the story somewhere different entirely? Unfortunately, this gobsmacking twist lasts about as long as it takes to read the previous paragraph, as no sooner is Sarah Jane welcomed to the People, a cult looking forward to settling a New Earth, than she realises it’s all a con, that the spaceship’s a fake, and that even if they’ve been taken in, they’re still not a nice lot. Though they’re often simplistically described as an example of the counterculture and ‘left wing’, while obviously informed by both, the script is in fact much more subtle than that, letting you see a much wider range of politics in them. If anything, the People more resemble Christian movements of the time with the religion taken out, the counter-counterculture: they’re rigidly hierarchical, not freethinking hippies; they’re uniformly middle-aged, middle class and white, with at least as much about them of fascism as of communism. Just because the current Green Party is on the extreme left, many critics carelessly assume the People must be the same – ignoring that the conspirator who formed them is a leading Government Minister, the very heart of the establishment, in concert with a top general to mount a military coup through martial law, which also might just send the teeniest of signals the other way. It’s part of the laziness that tries to fit all politics on a left-right economic spectrum, which as far as I can see has no bearing on the People; they are, however, clearly positioned on the liberal-authoritarian scale and the green-ungreen one. Ecological politics has been found all the way across the left-right axis (and opposed from all the way across it, too): the far left might see green economics to replace capitalism; liberals see environmentalism as linked to internationalism and opportunity for future generations; conservation is a value of old-fashioned landed Toryism; and of course many fascists see one type of ‘purity’ in concert with another.
I suspect it’s the impossibility of pinning green politics to any one point in ‘traditional’ politics that leads people simply to label it countercultural, but it strikes me that, within the story, that might have enabled a Cabinet Minister and deeply establishment politician who’s clearly at the top of a ‘traditional’ party to found the “Save Planet Earth Society” which could then act as a cult appealing to people from any political background, usefully dodging any left-right questions about society by setting up an entirely new world instead. And that appeal to ecologically concerned suckers across the board within the story, even taking in the Brigadier’s aide-de-camp, is exactly why the story can be an uncomfortable experience to watch for ecologically concerned viewers across the board. In 1974, the programme was usually siding with us, but the one time ecologists get into power, they behave just like the would-be totalitarian standard Who establishment always do; taking over the world, but in a patronising way. No wonder people find it easier to say, ‘Well, it’s just the far left / far right,’ rather than dealing with Hulke’s complexities that are actually saying to many viewers, ‘This could be you’. With their lack of concern for human life and love of bossing people about, for example, I find it most comfortable to think of them as New Labour. In retrospect, it’s also unsettling that the ‘greens stage fake disaster to frighten people’ plot (though the fakery is nothing to do with environmental damage) takes a similar line to today’s anti-green propaganda from US conservatives. Even without that, when the script simultaneously tries to persuade us of the harm humanity is doing to the world and that there’s very much a wrong way to go about dealing with it, it’s not surprising that any viewer might have a conflicted reaction to it. It’s certainly one of the series’ most in-your-face warnings against utopianism and the idea that the ends justify the means.
The celebrity recruits in charge of the ‘spaceship’ have given themselves Biblical names – Ruth, Adam, Mark – with both the act and style of renaming implying a religious cult without too-sensitive-for-BBC religion ever being mentioned (at least they don’t name their new world ‘Eden’, though they clearly think of humanity as fallen and themselves as the second coming). Self-styled leaders Ruth and Adam are even called the “Elders”. And while many viewers can’t help but notice Mark’s very impressively tight jeans, it’s Ruth who grabs the attention with not messianic but a rather more down to Earth sort of zeal (and try to forget her in ’Allo ’Allo ). While you may assume that Ruth is also known as ‘-Less’, it turns out that her actual other name was “Lady Cullingford”, a member of the House of Lords and probably an old-fashioned Conservative conservationist taking the most drastic possible ‘Get off my land!’ action. The People and the conspirators behind them are all deeply authoritarian, but Ruth positively revels in it, and at the time was presumably intended to smack of Mary Whitehouse (now, more Ann Widdecombe). Sarah Jane’s finest moment in the story comes challenging Ruth in a dark mirror of that conversation with Mike, with Sarah Jane once again defending modernity:
“Don’t you think that people have a right to choose what kind of life they want?”Note that of all the ills of modern life that Ruth wants to roll back, the environment’s not the main thing that riles her. When she talks about going to a place that’s still pure and undefiled, it’s not just technology she’s thinking of. She wants to be free of pollution, but much more so free of other people’s views – and when Sarah Jane is the serpent in her Eden, Ruth instantly starts persecuting the pure who aren’t pure enough. “Moral degradation, permissiveness, usury” weren’t key words restrained to the environmental movement but to people who felt that, like Lady Cullingford, after centuries of being on top, now other people were getting a look in, and they didn’t like it. It’s hard not to see these as code for ‘the gays and the Jews’ (maybe she’s not necessarily a Conservative; that sounds just like Ken Livingstone).
“People on Earth were allowed to choose. And see what kind of a world they made. Moral degradation, permissiveness, usury, cheating, lying, cruelty.”
The key to Ruth is that she’s terrified of losing control; even in her little bubble of hand-picked fanatics, all thought to be true believers, the presence of a single heretic exposes Ruth as having so little faith in her own creed that she fears Sarah Jane “could corrupt the whole of our group” and may have to be destroyed. For the moment, she has her locked up in the Reminder Room, where the soothing voice of Martin Jarvis (he’s their favourite, but, ironically, outside the spaceship, the violent henchman) reads endless columns by Polly Toynbee over TV images of humanity’s evils. It’s another of the story’s preoccupations with television – Sarah Jane looks at colour TVs, the Doctor’s watched on CCTV, and most significantly Tat Wood in his About Time 3 points out that the technology of time travel here is that of TV, with “roll-back” revealed as the ultimate plan… Though, of course, it’s also very much in tune with conservative dreams of rolling back the state and turning the clock back on modern life. But where are they rolling back to? While it’s tempting to want to see the dramatic irony of Grover and Whitaker appear in the Jurassic Period only to be gobbled up by an unconvincing T-Rex, making this story’s inspiring of Primeval’s main story arc absolutely explicit, Ruth does in fact make it clear that they will “guide” some “simple, pastoral people”, so they intend to boss around people anywhen from early homo sapiens to Stone Age humans, rather than corralling dinosaurs (in the novel, they compare themselves to the Pilgrim Fathers, and give Sarah Jane short shrift for suggesting “I don’t think the Red Indians liked the Pilgrim Fathers very much”).
The ultimate secret behind the fake ‘spaceship’ is that calm, reasonable Cabinet Minister Sir Charles Grover, convinced that humanity is destroying the Earth, has decided to ‘save’ it by the greatest genocide ever conceived. In many ways, he’s the best thing about this story – so quiet, reasonable and determined that he doesn’t regard himself as a monster, convinced he’s right and utterly chilling for it. The horrible truth of “Operation Golden Age” is that the dinosaurs are only a device to frighten people away from London – but that the time technology used to do so is crucial to the plot, and will be used to roll back time to a ‘purer’ age. Only the People still secretly in London will be carried back; the rest of humanity, and for many centuries previously, “would never have been born”. And the ‘spaceship’ at the dark heart of this plot has been created to ensure the “New Earth” will have an inspiring history and not one of terrible guilt. Sarah Jane confronts the People’s leader, concerned not just about mass murder but even about the People who castigated and imprisoned her:
“What you’re doing to those people is cruel. You told them they were going to a new world.”Grover’s ambition for “innocence” can only work if its People are kept in the dark about genocide. And here, even in the most powerful part of the script, there’s a problem. Never mind the stars looking suspiciously similar, nor the landmasses when they come to map them. They’ve cleared the whole of Central London even of troops, to stop absolutely any riff-raff being dragged along. So… What is in the “zone”? Yates’ lines suggest the time field will sprawl right across London, from Westminster to as far out as UNIT’s field HQ, close to Perivale. I can see that Lady Cullingford has her eye on a palace to strut about in, and with most of the People seeming pretty useless it would be a sensible practical step to crate around a pre-assembled city… Except that wouldn’t it be full of all manner of nasty humanity-created things that would corrupt their purity, even ignoring the biggest one – its very presence would be a great big prompt to ask questions (which is pretty much original sin for the Elders)? The other alternative is that just the people are transported (ignoring the usual questions about clothes and things)… Which would also make them ask questions. ‘Where did the spaceship vanish to?’ So, either ‘spaceship gone’ or ‘London present’. Either takes a bit of explaining.
“And so they are. But their new world is ours, swept clean and restored to innocence.”
Perhaps they’re just counting on the People not to clock anything; if ever there was one bit of sci-fi that inspired Douglas Adams to create the Ark Ship B, full of useless whingeing middle-management types conned onto a spaceship and sent off to patronise the cavepeople into changing the future of humanity, then surely this was it. And it does make the subsequent Dalek story even more worthless, pre-spoofing its Von Dänikenism with humanity aspiring to become its own ‘space gods’. The man who sounds most like he’s delivering Golgafrinchan lines from The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (“I used to be a bank manager… I went into it all very thoroughly. I sold my house”) even turns up again in Doctor Who a year later, having fallen for literally the next bunch of eco-fascists to come along – well, perhaps it’s just the same actor, but it’s funnier to assume it’s the same man – in Robot, a more tautly delivered story that’s clearly influenced by this one. Which in is turn followed by The Ark in Space, another story in which the chosen are taken up from Earth in a techno-Rapture in order to create it anew, though that time it’s done for real.
Special Features and an Extra-Special Location Shoot
Remarkably for a story that’s nearly forty years old, the DVD release presents several deleted scenes – though, irritatingly, on the second disc, so you have to faff about swapping them – with some no great loss but one droll one where Grover’s charmingly perfect memory of “Miss Sarah Smith” is neatly undermined. Way back in 1999, in the days when the BBC regarded Doctor Who as a shameful joke rather than a ratings juggernaut, BBC Choice (pre-BBC3) repeated the whole story, largely to take the piss out of it, but including for the only time an extended edit of Part Three incorporating five cut sequences. Brilliantly, the sarky continuity man announced that Part Four was the one which has “Footage never before seen in public,” when in fact viewers alerted by this would have just missed it.
There’s a slightly odd commentary, with half the episodes a conversation between moderator Toby Hadoke and stiff old director Paddy Russell – though she warms up considerably for Part Five, where she stops talking about Doctor Who altogether and ranges across the rest of her fascinating career (the BBC’s first woman director). Toby refers to the “very left wing” baddies, which shows he’s not quite considered all the implications… The other half have a more standard commentary, featuring script editor Terrance Dicks, villainous scientist Peter Miles and turncoat Captain Richard Franklin, among others, starting off rather movingly the day after Nicholas Courtney’s funeral, which is even sadder in retrospect as they go on to praise Lis Sladen. The exception is Franklin, who tells a story about how funny he was, and Nick wasn’t, and how Nick then claimed credit. What a graceless hack (who, naturally, fails to see any connection between his character’s descent into deluded fascism and his own drift into ever-more extremist politics). Much more winning is Terrance getting in immediately on the dinosaur designers – “They said they could do it, and they lied. They lied in their teeth” – then expressing satisfaction that they went out of business, or Peter loving Noel Johnson as a “smoothie” villain like that “beautiful actor” Claude Rains. There’s even an especially fannish anecdote about a young actor called David Tennant… John Levene, not in any way an actor who nobody else will speak to, gets to do a bit of commentary too. Recorded separately. Supplied on a different disc.
Just this once, though, the text notes on the episodes are far more interesting than the commentary. All right, so there’s rather more jeep-spotting than I can bother with, and it starts off by mentioning that there was a separate Welsh transmission but not if that was included in the high audience ratings just given… But there are some marvellous snippets from the script, where Malcolm Hulke is persistently on the side of the dinosaur (making the Doctor implicitly the villain to the poor “victim” he wants to capture), with details of the many cut scenes and, before them, the original and very different storylines. There are amusing snippets of BBC indulgence – the TARDIS had just been renovated, for example, “at a cost of just over £10” – or the series’ history, such as the news that Pertwee was leaving having broken during transmission. The comment in Part Six about a single-frame close-up of Ruth isn’t right, though through no fault of the text notes; I noticed this clumsy edit on my old copy recorded from TV, but the Restoration Team have removed it for the DVD. Where the production notes’ researcher / writer David Brunt really comes through, though – and even makes Part Five worth watching, with this coming half-way into it – is having finally traced the never-to-be-revealed truth of who was originally cast as Sarah Jane Smith and then sacked. It’s a genuine scoop, and wittily set out, too.
Writer and broadcaster Matthew Sweet’s People, Power and Puppetry is a fascinating half-hour video essay, rather than a conventional ‘Making of’. While there are many of the expected views – Terrance Dicks the harshest on the dinosaurs, the late Barry Letts the most hurt – Sweet is firmly in the revisionist camp, walking the London locations as he puts the case for the defence, the message that a better world can’t be imposed. It’s one of the most authored pieces in the DVD range, and persuasive with it as he zooms in on the politics, the crossover between the Soil Association and the British League of Fascists, a form of holocaust where the time travel element means you don’t have to watch anybody die… Though he makes the usual assumption that the Golden Age is a trip back to the Jurassic, rather than preventing the Industrial Revolution. It’s lovely to get a snippet of old interview with Jon Pertwee in there, too. My favourite bit of gossip is Terrance Dicks recounting his one big row with old friend Malcolm Hulke: Mac outraged by changes to his script; Terrance an indulgent uncle telling the story from his own point of view, of how these writers take offence at “a completely trivial point,” “a difficult person, very sensitive, very tetchy,” who really should just calm down because wise old script editors know best. This is much funnier when you consider that it was during this very story that Terrance begins handing over that job to another writer friend, Robert Holmes, who takes over in earnest as Tom Baker takes over from Jon Pertwee. Writer Terrance provides the first script for new script editor Bob, and all is sweetness and light… Until his next script, a year later, which wise new script editor Bob famously decided needed a few changes of his own. So when it was writer Terrance’s script being dicked about with, did he take it more blandly? Guess.
Doctor Who Stories: Elisabeth Sladen Part 1 is a rather lovely interview that ranges across several of Lis’ early stories, accompanied by witty animations. The “CSO knickers” story and the Sontaran impressions are a scream. It’s a shame, though, that there’s no The UNIT Family Part Three, which should surely have been the companion piece to Lis’ behind-the-scenes stories for the late UNIT period, completing earlier features on the Inferno and Day of the Daleks DVDs. Other extras include a Photo Gallery, Radio Times pdfs (with a Peter Brookes cartoon of a smashing jeep and pterodactyl) and, as you may have guessed, a Now and Then piece on the London locations. With its sterling aid, I brought a triceratops back to Moorgate Station with my own timescoop… Only to discover that to take a photo of the most recognisable street from the most recognisable angle, I’d need to stand in the middle of the road. And in the middle of a building site. So, I went to the guy in the hard hat at the security gate and asked a small favour that he was unlikely to hear very often, brandishing the tools of my ‘special effects shoot’. He pissed himself, then ushered me in; while self-consciously positioning camera and terrifying beastie, I felt the back of my neck prickle. A semi-circle of goggling men in hard hats was behind me, trying not to fall about.
Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion by Malcolm Hulke (and, more importantly, Chris Achilleos) – “KKLAK!”
Malcolm Hulke’s novelisation expends on much of the characterisation, giving us more of an insight into many of the main villains while thankfully shrinking down the second half and letting you see far more impressive dinosaurs in your head, demonstrating the novels’ Pertwee Gap at its most remarkable. Yet however compelling his prose and however convincing his reworking of the story to help the plot, for this one book that most beloved of Target novelists’ contribution is forever overshadowed by the cover painting.
The most famous – and infamous – example of Chris Achilleos’ work on the early Doctor Who novels, his bosses at Target were horrified by the Pop-Art sound effect and told him never to do it again. It was only years later that he started to hear from fans meeting him how thrilling it had been to them as kids, the caption, oddly, far more memorable than the actual pterodactyl. It’s a cool Pertwee and an awesome Tyrannosaur against the sun setting on London, but it’s the “KKLAK!” that we all took to our hearts (I still wouldn’t pay £105 for an A2 print, though). I once met Chris Achilleos and asked him about it; he was amazed people loved the cover and the word, it having caused him nothing but trouble, but he set me right on the pronunciation – and startled everybody else in the shop – with a very loud demonstration. I’d always thought of it as a sharp, percussive sound, the beak closing as it attempts to bite the Doctor, but it is in fact a shrill bird-scream, more of a ‘Kklawwwkk!’
Later editions of the book had different covers, but none had the same impact. The last, Alister Pearson’s 1993 edition, is the most striking of them; David Mann’s American edition for Pinnacle less so, despite the skulls (the US printing itself claims it features the fourth Doctor, but they’ve put in no effort to change him: he talks like Pertwee throughout, is still called a “great dressed-up twit”, and the only rewriting appears to be to Americanise the spellings and remove a “frock” from his coat, ironically as Tom’s Doctor was more often found in one than Pertwee’s). Jeff Cummins’ painting of a T-Rex in front of St Paul’s Cathedral is technically excellent but just not as exciting; intriguingly, like Hulke reworking his scripts into something much more satisfying in his novels, many years later Cummins’ cover painting for Doctor Who: The New Adventures – Blood Heat comes across as his having another go at the same idea, his second rearing Tyrannosaur in front of St Paul’s being far more exciting and dynamic. If only the Blood Heat dinosaur was going “RROAR!” as well, it would surely be one of the most-beloved of all Who covers! Following his gorgeous cover for 1975’s The Doctor Who Monster Book, incidentally, Achilleos went on to paint more dinosaurs for 1976’s almost as exciting The Doctor Who Dinosaur Book; both are worth looking out for second-hand, though the spin-off factual series Doctor Who Discovers… was never as big a hit, despite some fascinating topics.
The book itself opens with an unusual but neatly considered prologue – titled simply The Dinosaurs, it’s a factual account, ending in questions about their sudden extinction:
“Perhaps no one will ever know.This means that the memorable opening sequence to the story itself, though I always think of it as the Prologue, is actually the beginning of Chapter 1 and flows straight on into the TARDIS’ arrival; rather than just describe the empty streets of London, Malcolm Hulke vividly evokes the last few days of drunken Glaswegian football supporter Shughie McPherson, long-abandoned by his wife, abandoned by his friends as the emergency’s declared, and taking six bottles of whisky as his only companions for the four days until he staggers outside, and… Several critics have found this a remarkable leap in children’s fiction, but perhaps it’s because it was so inappropriate that it’s always stayed with me. At the other end of the social scale, before Sir Charles Grover’s secret agenda is revealed he too gets a little character moment that ought to ring multiple alarm bells for the reader – not only does it recall the villainous Stevens in Hulke’s Doctor Who and the Green Death novel but the second sentence, innocuous early in the book, is chilling once you’ve read his revelation at the climax of Chapter 8. He’s remembering a time before he went into politics:
“Certainly no one ever expected them to come back.”
“They were happy days when the future seemed full of hope. He wished he could have that time over again.”Later, he’s more cynical (or, perhaps, just more self-aware):
“Grover was pulling on the heavy trousers over his expensive suit. ‘Twenty years in politics has taught me that people only believe what they want to believe.’ He paused to think. ‘I suppose that goes for us all in a way.’”The book makes plain several of the TV version’s subtexts, and not just in Professor Whitaker being the most blatantly gay character in all the Target range. When Mike Yates reveals himself as a traitor to the Doctor and the Brigadier very long after he’s done so for the reader, we sadly lose the edge of Yates’ fanaticism but the Doctor’s biggest homily makes explicit rather than through the metaphor of Silurians his view that “you can treat people with different coloured skins as equals,” while the Brigadier gets a deft punchline to finish the chapter. Hulke ups his religious metaphors, too, closing the novel by suggesting that some Biblical visions may be sightings of aliens or time travellers (though not of Grover and Whitaker) and, along the way, underlining the Elders’ fanaticism:
“Adam, ignoring Sarah’s reply, continued: ‘We shall take the good, but leave the evil behind.’Mark, formerly an athlete, had here been famous for running the three-minute mile – a more plausible record for Sarah Jane to remember than the TV’s points of a metre jumps. And with Hulke favouring the production team’s concept of UNIT stories as some way in the future, this one’s clearly set many years after 1974: there’s a reference to John Stonehouse as a long way in the past and something a young journalist like Sarah Jane wouldn’t know about. He also slashes down ‘Part Five’ to just a few pages through a series of radio reports of the hunt for the Doctor, as well as dumping his ‘new car’ in favour of a more easily imagined motorbike. And, of course, he gets inside the dinosaurs’ tiny heads:
“‘And who decides which is which?’
“‘It’s all so obvious.’ Adam’s eyes began to look like those of a prophet who was in personal communication with God.”
“A giant stegosaurus was standing peacefully outside Westminster Underground Station contemplating the Houses of Parliament. It thought that the great grey buildings were other monsters; if it stayed very still perhaps they would leave it alone. Then a small and very mobile monster came hurtling round the corner making a lot of noise and smell. It stopped with a screech. An even smaller creature jumped out of it and threw something. There was a loud bang and a flash of fire that disturbed the stegosaurus’s peace of mind.The CD version – the easiest way to get hold of the book today – is read by Martin Jarvis, a superb choice for far more than having played the character “Butler” on screen. On TV little more than a sneering henchman, Richard always regrets that the one time in Doctor Who the Butler did it, so did everyone else. In the book, his role is greatly expanded, as well as being given a distinctive scar so that the reader can recognise him even as other characters don’t when he’s creeping about doing his dirty work. There’s a good pay-off to the scar, too, almost an anti-twist… And, of course, where on TV one of Butler’s more unusual hench-duties was to read the interminable sermons for the Reminder Room, in the audiobook this reaches marvellously metatextual heights: Martin Jarvis, known in the decades since as the nation’s favourite reader of audiobooks, now reads the audiobook of a story in which he originally starred, reading his own lines, and including Martin Jarvis reading in audiobook form the talking book lines that Martin Jarvis originally read within the story. Well, it tickles me, anyway. And he’s good at everyone else, too.
“‘It’s doing you no harm, Brigadier,’ shouted the Doctor. ‘Leave the poor thing alone.’”
Doctor Who – The Android Invasion
Prolific writer Terry Nation’s penultimate story and producer / director Barry Letts’ last hands-on story for the series, this is never as deep as Invasion of the Dinosaurs, but is shorter and much more fun. This time, producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes asked back the two old hands as writer and director because that would let them do more work on other stories, and what could go wrong? The ideas are mostly shallow but exciting; the effects generally all right (a couple brilliant, a couple crummy); while the problem with the penultimate episode here is that it probably makes less sense than any other in the entire series to that point. Prompted by a friend to justify this claim, I once wrote a rather cruel 30 Holes in the Plot of The Android Invasion which, having already spent far too long on Invasion of the Dinosaurs, I’ll spare you here. On the bright side, there are plenty of twists and turns – it’s just that few of them make any sense, and most of those that do have already been given away by the title (improbably, the first android ‘reveal’ isn’t even kept for the cliffhanger, but about a quarter of an hour in, just like the first dinosaur; fortunately, it looks very much better). Just imagine it’s called something different, that you don’t know it’s androids, and put your brain in neutral, and it’s very entertaining, particularly with Tom Baker and Lis Sladen sparking off each other in a great partnership.
The story benefits from some gorgeous location shooting in a little English village, used to give the first episode a marvellous sense of the uncanny and unnerving. Most iconically, the Doctor is bound to the war memorial (with, of course, a ticking bomb) by a group of blank-faced mechanics / astronauts, an image that held me watching it on TV when I was four – it looked like it could happen in any village Mum and Dad took us to as kids – then was reinforced by the cover of the novel and, now, the DVD. Yes, for me the village of East Hagbourne is more evocative than even that of Aldbourne, and four years ago my lovely Richard drove us down a great many winding little roads to make a brief visit there. I’d love to go again and try the pub, but I fear it’ll take a lot of lemon meringue fudge and Lego to persuade him, particularly as he’s not nearly as fond of this story as I am. And while it goes some way to proving that the heart and soul of UNIT, despite being a large international organisation, really was the Brigadier – because while it’s meant to feel wrong, it feels much more wrong than it should simply because Nick Courtney’s not there – at least one bit-part actor gets a decent send-off. No, not John Levene; Dave Carter had taken many roles in Doctor Who over the previous decade, largely unspeaking and uncredited, but in these two stories he finally gets some lines and, here, a role in the climax. So let’s hear it for the Dave Carter Box Set!
That Golden Moment
There are many moments to love here, often better as moments, too, rather than knitting them into a plot. The fantastic cliffhanger to Part Two, suggested by producer Philip Hinchcliffe – the Doctor losing his temper and Sarah Jane losing face, easily the story’s most forceful moment? But that one’s a bit of a spoiler, so how about the Doctor and Sarah Jane coming into the picturesque village only to find it empty – then suddenly filling up? But, no, three Golden Moments in a row of unnervingly deserted streets might be a bit much. There’s another moment I love for its turning the familiar and trusted unfamiliar and wrong. Turn to Part Four to find several eerie mirrorings, not least of Part One – again, Sarah Jane rushes through the woods; again, she finds the TARDIS, a long pod nearby; again, she shows her relaxed rapport with the Doctor…? She gives a gasp as there’s a tap on her shoulder:
“Oh, Doctor, don’t do things like that!”In sudden full-face close-up, the Doctor looks very cold – then, having cautioned Sarah Jane, switches on a brilliant smile. Our heroes have been reunited, she’s glad to see him, and everything’s all right. Then Sarah Jane notices more signs of the incoming invasion, and makes ready to hurry to warn everyone… But the Doctor doesn’t seem in a hurry at all. It’s an electric moment.
“I’m sorry. I had to be sure. You see, there’s a replica of you around somewhere.”
“It would suit our purposes better if no-one was warned.”Behind him, the pod on the ground opens, coffin-like… And this time an identical Sarah Jane rises from it, face cold. The real one runs back into the woods as the fake Doctor helps his fellow android stand, then tells ‘her’ they have much to do as he strides towards us… Tom Baker gives a very different performance as his duplicate, distant rather than robotic, and the whole scene’s a lesson in how to be sinister even in summer sunshine and beautiful countryside. And with this story one in which Tom and Lis’ easy chemistry with each other is particularly strong, undermining it like this in the final episode is especially unnerving.
Oddly, at times Terry Nation seems to write better for the duplicate Doctor than the proper one: after being curiously establishment in his military-centred approach in Part One (as ludicrous as Liberal Democrats making excuses for the security state would be), here it turns out the ‘real’ Doctor has gone looking for the authorities before looking for Sarah Jane, then even shows the sentry his pass – surely suggesting it’s not the Doctor at all. Thank goodness Tom can tell which of him is which, as can the villains, one of whom at least gets the point:
“The data that was drained from the girl shows the Doctor’s long association with libertarian causes. His entire history is one of opposition to conquest.”
Something Else To Look Out For
The themes and influences of The Android Invasion are less political than those of Invasion of the Dinosaurs, but still vivid – perhaps most strikingly, while both stories were written by former Avengers writers, the earlier tale borrows from one Avengers episode in particular, while this deliberately evokes the ambience of The Avengers in general and a string of episodes from The Town of No Return to They Keep Killing Steed. Part One has an especially Avengersish feel, with strange goings-on in a sleepy English village and Sarah Jane at her strongest, even supplying information from her own area of expertise rather than leaving all the exposition to the Doctor. The traditional red phone booth enhances the sense of Britishness and of being filmed on the outskirts of AvengerLand, as does the village shop / Post Office (the sign actually says “A.V. & N.G. Kirby”, but at a glance…) – and when Nick Courtney’s place in charge of our heroes’ secret organisation is taken by Patrick Newell, you could almost call it ‘The Androids of Tara’. Add in strong dashes of The Prisoner and of creepy situations as far back as Quatermass II and Invasion of the Body Snatchers or as then up-to-the-minute as The Stepford Wives, and there’s a strange familiarity in… Well, the strange familiarity of a village and villagers that are nearly but not quite right.
Of course, a lot of the familiarity here is even closer to home. Writer Terry Nation may, unusually, not be using the Daleks (though you can find at least five infiltrating this disc), but he makes up for it by including many of his other favourite thingumajigs – android doubles (obviously), radiation, viruses, countdowns, twisted ankles, contrived separation from the TARDIS – while Barry Letts’ last hurrah in the director’s chair makes it seem all the more plausible early on that this is going to follow Spearhead From Space and Terror of the Autons into ‘The Auton Invasion III – This Time It’s St Mary Mead’ (even if the structure’s the other way up: hand-guns first, meteorites later), while the excellent audio play Brave New Town has even stronger echoes. Most strikingly of all the Doctor Who influences, there’s a lot of this that mirrors Terror of the Zygons, broadcast just three months earlier to open 1975’s Season 13, making these two the most nearly duplicated stories until Season 25 – though at least it’s thematically sound here, as both of these two stories are about duplicates. They also both feature a pub with a secret spy-camera, hi-tech hi-jinks with a big chunky cable in a cell, a spaceship launching at the same crucial cliffhanger, a playful offer of a lift in the coda and the Doctor tortured in technicolour agony, amongst much more.
The excellent Frank Collins identifies that torture scene here as part of another, much older, underlying influence. Tom Baker’s superb first three seasons under Hinchcliffe and Holmes played with many Gothic themes, most blatantly in the dark religion of their final season in charge but previously seeded throughout many less traditional settings than catacombs massing with evil monks. While many more shallow critics claim that ‘Gothic horror’ doesn’t apply to this story, Frank argues convincingly otherwise, based on the key Gothic theme of the doppelgänger and the sadomasochistically sexual overtones of torturing the hero. There’s betrayal, too (unlike in the other UNIT Files story, more from pique than conviction, though Frank describes it in more Romantic and spoilery terms); secret passages; and, though it may be stretching the point, a version of the doomed inheritance in which a radiation-soaked world carries its own legacy of death.
The Doctor and Sarah Jane
Season 13 is, for me, Sarah Jane Smith at her absolute best. At last paired just with the Doctor as they travel the Universe together (technically, this is a very UNIT-heavy season, but just watching stories like this shows you otherwise), Lis Sladen and Tom Baker have reached such a brilliant rapport that you can see exactly why the young journalist is the most fondly remembered of all the Doctor’s companions, and the one to return to first the series and then a new one of her own. Unusually, Terry Nation writes an excellent part for a woman, giving Sarah Jane a lot to do this time – even rescuing the Doctor, more than once – in contrast to his usual wet girlies or occasional butch stereotype. And though on top of his macho sci-fi scripts Terry Nation was an accomplished writer for both comedy and comedy-drama such as The Avengers, and script editor Bob Holmes is still the finest dialogue-writer ever to have worked on Doctor Who, the DVD’s text notes make it clear that an unusually large number of exchanges between the Doctor and Sarah Jane were rewritten by the actors in rehearsal. Their scenes in the woods that top and tail the story are particularly gorgeous, with the latter almost an Avengers tag scene. Though not quite as clothes-proud as a pair of Avengers, they both get striking new outfits here, too: him a sudden change from dark jackets to a more summery oatmeal, her a pink trouser suit with white accessories (coincidentally close to Romana’s main wardrobe in Terry Nation’s next and last script for the series).
Just take a look at Part Three for both of them in the villains’ base: Sarah Jane startlingly resourceful and dangerous (there’s a neat reverse in the writing, where something innocuous is meant to kill Sarah but she uses it instead to mount a wholly different attack, with both her and her target unaware of their respective dangers); the Doctor, shockingly, physically picked up and shackled in a garish video-effect torture porn chamber with his adversary promising him “a most – disagreeable death”, and particularly horrible it sounds, too; then both of them simply fantastic, Sarah Jane saving the day and the Doctor (and, indeed, an ad-libbing Tom Baker) dazedly mixing together Chekhov and Carroll in treacle. It’s inspired, exciting, and very funny.
“I feel disorientated.”There’s plenty of wit throughout the story, both in the script and in the performances, with Tom overcoming what sounds like a nasty sore throat to treat every threat with delight, from an “Oh! Hello” on being seized to “Those are the first friendly words I’ve heard since I got here” on being held at gunpoint (though the following chase has the camera unwisely show a machine gun shoot him squarely in the back to no apparent effect). The only point at which he doesn’t seem at all happy is ordering ginger pop. The Doctor’s ill temper is because he’s already told the landlord; Tom’s, clearly because he’s ordering ginger pop. What a let-down, after the sheer exuberance with which he exclaims:
“You’re in the Disorientation Chamber!”
“That makes sense.”
“Let’s try the pub!”The pub itself is at first deserted, full only of disconcerting clues, then filled with silent, still patrons, then, after a tense countdown to the stroke of noon… Doomsday? No. Just a set of drinkers who suddenly come to life and make Sarah Jane so unwelcome with their “We don’t have strangers here” that she postmodernly tells them how ridiculous they’re being. Perhaps this is entirely a postmodern story, where everything is deliberately designed to make sense only on the surface, to encourage you to think beneath it? Probably not but, even as the Doctor comes across as a bit dim for coming up with the wrong answers when the audience has been ahead of him from the opening credits, he’s still in with the postmodern swing, telling Sarah Jane not to worry – “Who’d notice me?” And so, between them, they carry many parts of the story that really shouldn’t get off the ground. Lis Sladen’s voice breaking on “Don’t leave me” almost makes you believe the TARDIS’ incredibly contrived “pause control”, but nothing else does – it’s not a web page that resets if you’ve taken too long with your password, and surely it can’t navigate by peeking around the Universe at random for what looks right?
With the Doctor and Sarah Jane so much fun, the UNIT boys who formerly co-starred with them… Don’t. That the Brigadier is missing is an early moment of tension that’s simply thrown away – because, in Nick Courtney’s absence, there’s nowhere for it to go save for introducing the appropriately-named Colonel Faraday. Patrick Newell’s Faraday is something of a disappointment; in theory great casting, like Patrick Macnee replacing Leo G Carroll in The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. – The Fifteen Years Later Affair, but poorly written and with the actor looking rather poorly, too (not half the man his Mother was). Just how the man whose memory supplies all the security details knows the Brigadier’s away in Geneva at this precise moment is open to question, but then, asking almost any questions about the androids is unwise, whether it’s their taste buds, their scarves or their ‘invulnerability’ (comparing that boast with how many of them cop it, I suspect Oseidon of having really lax advertising standards). And it would have been funnier for them to have built a Doctor android that looks like Pertwee and, when Tom turned up, gone ‘Bugger!’ This is much less a UNIT story than an anti-UNIT story, a ‘UNIT Unbound’ where everything’s seen from the wrong angle. Invasion of the Dinosaurs might have one officer gone rogue, but here the whole organisation’s the problem, with little contact with the Doctor and of no use to the plot, its head gone AWOL and, jarringly, the last appearance of two friendly servicemen being as pitiless doppelgängers. The explanation lies in double-booked actors and slightly careless scripting, but if it had been a master plan to wean the audience off UNIT, it couldn’t have been more cleverly or cruelly structured. The villains even satirise the cosy old relationship of blustering scientific adviser and frustrated military man.
Behind the Androids
“Science, Chedaki! Science will make the Kraals invincible!”Who – or what – is behind this take-over? Intelligent machines rebelling against humanity? Home-grown mad scientists, mounting an invasion of the Earthmen? Or could all those distorted shots hinting at a hideous form – before the director fluffs their big reveal as ‘two of them having a chat’ – mean that there’s an alien threat behind it all? Well, yes. It’s the rough, ugly Kraals. Considering the other UNIT Files story, the Kraals have a bit of a look of a highly – well, moderately – evolved triceratops, but they’re really more like rhinoceroses. It’s one of those moments to weigh up different periods of Doctor Who: if you want a space rhino, the Judoon are a better design than the Kraals, but if you want a decent Sontaran, go to 1975, not the ballet dancers of 2008. Come to think of it, the Judoon don’t just make better rhinos but better Sontarans than the modern Sontarans, too. And just to complete the circle, next month a several-times-Sontaran is going to be playing a Kraal… This is one of the few Who stories that points up the tension between organic and mechanical but separates them – the grumpy Kraals and the passionless androids – rather than combining them in one body like the Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans and others. Yet there’s a touch here, too, of Terry Nation’s first Dalek history: Martin Friend as Kraal leader Styggron is the original Dalek to whom cold, destructive science is the answer; Roy Skelton as his military subordinate Chedaki is the warlike but dumb original Thal, and of course he’s best known in Doctor Who for playing Daleks (you may recognise his voice from other famous TV roles, too; good, good. That is a good idea).
‘And Clarins will make us beautiful!’
Milton Johns is great fun as their human ally, the slimy traitor – he does a lot of those – Guy Crayford, which is handy, as his performance has a lot of ‘characterisation’ to paper over. He starts off cold and snippy; before long, he’s puppyishly explaining the Kraal plan, a strangely sympathetic sort of Stockholm’s Syndrome wheedling. And along the way, he’s so desperate to kill the Doctor that he seems almost feverishly psychotic – until Styggron finally decides to go along with him, at which point he becomes Mr Brainwashed Peacenik, clinging to a promise of no killing. The androids, which have even less will of their own, are just as bad, shooting at the Doctor only until he stops in front of them, at which they too, sportingly, stop in order to give him a ‘Take me to your leader’ moment (though Tom’s ad-lib is a better line). And as for the ‘too much information’ android who blabs at the finale… I won’t give my full list of 30, but Lawrence Miles’ and Tat Wood’s About Time 4 is representative of critical opinion: “Things That Don’t Make Sense: The Kraal plan. All of it. Where do we start?”
I’ll start and finish my more measured pick of nonsenses here with a couple of my favourites which are also (taking them more seriously) Terry Nation’s. Sarah Jane asks the Doctor about radiation: “Wouldn’t that make us ill?” “Well, it’s not that bad, yet,” then “Any level of radiation is too high,” as well as “Soon it’ll be uninhabitable.” These can’t all be true, but they’re all in the same scene. There’s also one of those Doctor Who viruses in a bottle where one drop could kill the whole human race (as I can’t help thinking each time I drip in my eye-ear drops) but which, when inevitably spilled, stays exactly where it’s required to be rather than even the most minute particles spraying out and killing everyone in the room – much the same as in an early ’80s story which shares a similar but much more dull plot and, remarkably, has very much less convincing androids. So you get the feeling that to destroy humanity, the androids are going to have to run about the world and personally touch everyone with individual drops of virus, like a deadly game of tag. For such a genocidal bunch, too, the Kraals seem very squeamish: they keep just tying up humans who they’re going to kill anyway, hope Sarah Jane will drink something nasty out of sight rather than killing her outright, and shy away from a tiny but crucial mutilation. As for the infamous twist at the end… Well, you won’t believe your eyes. Or his.
Barry Letts’ direction has many of his signature touches in it, the good and the bad: his rapid intercutting of heavy close-ups is very effective; his enthusiasm for the magic of matting-in by CSO bluescreen is as misplaced as ever. The great locations include one of the series’ more intriguing-looking big concrete installations, but it’s not improved by plonking a huge and hugely unconvincing dish on top. For three weeks now (plus two different courses of antibiotics, and one of eye drops in my ear – yes, you read that right; no, I don’t know why) I’ve had a painful and dizzying ear inflammation, a mixture of perforated eardrum, middle ear infection and outer ear infection, and as I feel it throb and swell I keep picturing it as a giant CSO tin ear sticking out of my head. Or at least one of Styggron’s. Sadly, the strange concrete outside isn’t matched by the studio corridors of the Space Defence Station, which are exceptionally naff (and the spyholes hilarious, particularly alongside CCTV). The Kraal base is quite interesting, like an old battleship not so much welded as melted together, though its jagged ‘teeth’ are insane as airlocks or blast doors. You might enjoy the patriotic red, white and blue flickering missile tube-like lights within – Top of the Pops did; I’ve seen a clip of them behind the Jam, a few years later. On a less tuneful note, regular ’70s Doctor Who composer Dudley Simpson had been at a high point in 1975, with his previous score – Pyramids of Mars – arguably a career best. Despite the odd eerie tickings and whirrings, though, he suddenly has an unfortunate off-day here, with most of his music overplayed and a particularly inappropriate kitchen sink bombast when androids – or even Sarah Jane – wander in the woods.
Special Features and Secret Daleks
The DVD commentary is once again hosted by Toby Hadoke, here with producer Philip Hinchcliffe, villains Milton Johns and Martin Friend and assistant director Marion McDougall (a “very great fan” who simply loved working on the series). Milton steals it with his anecdotes and his attitude, not least in remembering that he did a Patrick Troughton story with a good Doctor and an evil Doctor – that’s all of his, really, isn’t it? People still stop him at the National and ask about the series – one year he was very excited about doing a BBC Wednesday Play with a young Ian McKellen and an ailing Jack Hawkins, he says, but nobody remembered that three months after it went out, while everyone still watches Doctor Who. He praises Tom Baker, Nick Courtney, Paddy Newell and scary stories for kids, too. I like him. So does Toby. And Milton likes Toby liking him:
“I can take any amount of criticism, as long as it’s unalloyed praise. Like most actors.”Milton’s observation that “Give an actor an eyepatch and you can’t go wrong” sets Toby off on how much of this story has been borrowed by Steven Moffat; he’s right, of course, and though last year’s eyepatch was more plausible, I have to admit I prefer watching this to several of those. Shhh. Philip’s at his best cackling at scaring kid visitors, though mostly a little more downbeat, regretting not giving a better send-off to Ian Marter’s Harry Sullivan and being rather bleak about the Kraal design, thinking them too crude for surgeons – Martin disagrees, having enjoyed being frightening (and having a laser gun, which Toby really ought to know wasn’t one). But the last word has to go to Milton: the only notice he’s ever treasured was a Yorkshire paper calling his death in King Lear “baroque”.
A secret Dalek in the extras is Nicholas Pegg, who writes this disc’s production subtitles – not quite as striking as the previous set, but still an entertaining and informative read. He likes taking us through Terry Nation’s tropes; he doesn’t like a stock BBC backcloth. There are details of cuts, ad-libs and Kenneth Williams – as well as the most in-depth history of the non-speaking extras (including, naturally, one who was usually a Dalek) I’ve read on one of these. I think I recognise pretty, dark-haired, vividly blue-eyed “Young Farmhand” Simon Christie in his splash close-up as someone who got another shocked close-up as the Autons attacked, but the Spearhead From Space notes are less comprehensive… There aren’t quite any deleted scenes here, but we do get the soundtrack of several alternative takes from “The Enemy Within” (now, why didn’t they keep that title? Or any other?).
Two excellent half-hour special features vie for your attention. Nick Briggs, another Dalek, hosts The Village That Came to Life from East Hagbourne – and from the pub, with some of the children who mobbed Tom in 1975. It’s good for the producers, a little short on actors, nicely held together by Nick, but my favourite part’s still the first few seconds, done in the style of The Avengers. Ahhh. Life After Who with Philip Hinchcliffe, presented by his daughter Celina, is a terrific overview of arguably Doctor Who’s most successful producer’s extraordinary career, relaxed, informative and even having shelled out a bit of cash to get clips of some – but not all – of his later work. Private Schulz is a favourite of his and, I have to admit, one I’d love to see again now I’m old enough to appreciate it. But the most exciting extra for me, improbably, is a pdf for which there’s even an absurd TV ad – complete with, at last, a fully-fledged Dalek (with someone both expected and unexpected doing the voice). Yes, this DVD boasts not just Radio Times clippings but two whole sets of cut-out-and-keep Weetabix Doctor Who card ‘figures’ and games. I was thrilled by those as a boy – and not just me, as these fantastic new versions from Vworp Vworp! illustrate – despite loathing the cereal itself to the point that it was one of only two foods that physically made me gag. Shockingly, my Mum refused to buy a ton of the boxes and just throw the disgusting stuff away, so I only ever had a handful of them. Thank you, BBC DVDs!
Doctor Who and the Android Invasion by Terrance Dicks
I have a soft spot for the novelisation, too, though in a different way to the TV version; while television’s The Android Invasion is exciting, fun, and bright in one sense but definitely not in the other, the book is brisk, more serious, and tries to patch up a few of the holes… But has a terrific cover (Tom lashed to the war memorial again, memorably captured by Roy Knipe. And Styggron. Even the Pinnacle line-up’s pretty good) and an intriguing set of questions on the back blurb, only partly frustrated by every reader knowing the A-word before reading them:
“The Doctor and Sarah arrive safely back on Earth – or do they?By the time he came to this in 1978, Terrance Dicks was writing rather a lot of books and no longer fleshing them out very much: it’s down to what would be the standard 25,000 words and rather than additions (save for one cut scene being reinstated), surprisingly, loses a fair bit of what was on TV. Mainly, it misses – and suffers from missing – the ad-libbed banter between the Doctor and Sarah Jane, making the lines much less interesting and losing the whole lovely coda between them. That makes for the most abrupt ending of any Terrance book, replacing a relaxed stroll with a determined full stop of a final paragraph in which the old script editor wraps up the loose ends with a thud, just as he throws in a line just above it to fix the complaint everyone has about the Doctor android but that doesn’t bother me. Earlier on, he has the Doctor announce, “Let’s try the village inn,” which is somehow more old-fashioned and safer than letting Tom loose on the pub. And yet there are many deft touches – what’s under the mechanic’s visor, an aside on Kraal history, a very effective sequence as Sarah Jane is rushed to a nightmarish ‘hospital’, and one sly in-joke on when poor Tom’s a-cold:
“Why does the mysterious soldier march straight over a cliff – and then reappear unharmed?
“Why is a picturesque country village at first deserted – then filled with mindless zombies?
“And why are their best friends suddenly trying to kill them?”
“The Doctor squelched towards the village, thankful that at least some of his clothes were still dry. Luckily his Time Lord constitution was strongly resistant to colds.”
On the whole, it’s an efficient book rather than an outstanding one, but in the closing few chapters there’s another cut – or series of cuts – that shows Terrance has thought about the story structure as well as his flurry of plot fixes on the final page. It’s true that on TV there’s a tiny peek that gives away the ‘evil Doctor’ android too early, but Terrance goes quite the other way. Don’t look for my “Golden Moment” in his book, because it isn’t there; he clearly made the decision that the best moment to reveal the android Doctor to the reader was when it first confronts the real one, making a dangerous turn in the plot for him suddenly much worse, and so simply drops all its earlier appearances. This makes for one dramatic moment, but at the price of losing one of my favourites, several others… And rather arbitrarily having Sarah Jane vanish for a whole chapter. If I’d rewritten that bit, I’ve sometimes thought, I’d at least have written something for her to do in the meantime. But then, if I’d been rewriting The Android Invasion, I’d make a few more changes than that. Like some other stories I loved as a boy that don’t seem much cop now, wouldn’t it be fun to rework them and make the good bits shine? Revenge of the Cybermen, for example, I’ve had a think about; Underworld, I’ve even published some ideas for on here; but the one I’d most love to have the time, energy and creativity to take over is The Android Invasion. Starting with the title. Let’s see, now… What are Terrance’s chapters? Well, there’s Takeover, of course, among some of his more familiar ones (Hunted, Captured, The Countdown), but Strange Arrival has a ring to it, or Village of Terror for the traditional Doctor Who schlock. How about Hero’s Return…?
*I saw this photo and, as (spoilers) even the villains join in with the catchphrase this time, was instantly reminded to nick this joke. Then had to search about online to remember who made it first. Turns out it was the Wife In Space.
Labels: Books, British Politics, Doctor Who, Douglas Adams, DVD Details, Invasion of the Dinosaurs, Jon Pertwee, London, Pictures, Reviews, Sarah Jane Smith, The Android Invasion, The Avengers, The Brigadier, Tom Baker
And, yes, I'm definitely of that certain age; I wonder if fans discovering the series today will only ever consider the DVDs, even if they read the novels too? I'll certainly continue to write about it, particularly for the Pertwees, which I think it's pretty obvious I have the most complicated feelings about. I wonder what the next reissues will be? Given that the first batch were clearly a success, it's interesting to note that while all of those have also been made into audiobooks, the newly-released second set mostly haven't, yet (though there's one I'm wishing for). Will the two ranges continue to diverge?
I'm afraid that Target failed to salvage 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' for me: on first transmission it had been the first story to bore and - worse - embarrass me and not even imagining that it was the chef from the Crossroads Motel being marmelised by prehistoric beasts in the intro could help surmount this.
And that’s a brilliant fact, Graeme! Now I’m marking down those production notes for missing that out. I’m torn between being intrigued and, er, knowing what his face looks like…
Thanks, Tat – I didn’t know that. Though to be fair to Terry, no-one ever said his ideas were original, but he probably injected more keepers into Who first than anyone else (even if he didn’t always do them best). I’d not thought of Barry as coming in on The Enemy of the World, either – too busy thinking about Milton Johns. I think you’re right about the John Wyndham in there, but then, that’s Terry’s melting pot; his Avengers episodes included something violent and claustrophobic, but also spoofs of The Maltese Falcon and High Noon, so while it’s not as flexible a format as Who, there’s quite a bit in there.
I’m trying to think of a story that had that sort of effect on me when I was slightly older? I wonder if Malcolm Hulke novelising the Myrka could have saved it for me? I can’t imagine him writing Warriors of the Deep in the first place, though. Oddly, though, despite it being shorter, and having had a less exciting book to prepare me (and lead to disappoint), I find Death to the Daleks more boring. I’m hoping to find something new in it next month.
Incidentally, readers, I couldn't find an appropriate place to mention it above, but if you look carefully at the "Let’s Try The Pub!" photo, the old Baker’s right next to me...
Absolutely no idea why.
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