“Where is everyone? The third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) find London nearly deserted after dinosaurs return to terrorize the earth. Racing against time, the Doctor unmasks top-level conspirators, just before they kidnap Sarah Jane.”
For years I’d heard that Invasion of the Dinosaurs was nearly unwatchable by quite a few people; usually because of the special effects. The CSO (green screen) effects are often cited as being atrocious, the dinosaurs are said to be bad sock puppets, and the whole thing is always shrugged off as a total mess. I only recently got to watch this story on DVD and I have to say – it’s not that bad. In fact, I think it may be one of my favorite Pertwee era stories! I think this serial may be the victim of the often misguided fan smear effect. If enough fans figuratively crap on something, enough to where it gets said to be “the worst..” of anything, many folks go into it with all kinds of baggage that keeps them from liking it.
I know that I may be in the minority of fans, in that I hadn’t seen this episode prior to it entering my DVD tray, but the special effects didn’t bother me at all. In fact I’ve seen much worse in later 1980’s episodes; ones that are lauded in a total opposite way that Invasion of the Dinosaurs is shot down. I’ll agree that the puppets of the dinosaurs aren’t anything special, but the creatures themselves aren’t even the focus of the show. In fact, they are barely in it for their name to be so prominently placed in the title!
The reasons in which I like this serial are many, and it all begins with the general mood within. When the Doctor and Sarah Jane arrive in London, presumably to drop Sarah Jane off, they soon realize that something is amiss. The streets are vacant, debris is strewn about, and there seems to be a great military presence. They soon find out that martial law has been declared, and they end up on the wrong side of it. Being a huge fan of post-apocalyptic stories, I loved the scenes involving the deserted London. The fact that the director woke up at 4AM to film these scenes (illegally!) was a great thing to find out about in the special features, and this detail really sets the scene for the story. In my reviews for Survivors, I talked about the disturbing sense one gets when they see such a sight, especially if there is a noticeable landmark in it. This worked in Survivors, Day of the Triffids, I am Legend, and many other bits on film and TV to the same effect – isolation, desperation, and terror.
We also have U.N.I.T. playing a prominent role; including a furthering of the “fall from Grace” that we have been slowly witnessing Yates succumb to. It was cool to see The Brigadier in a role as a “politician” of sorts instead of the “Doctor’s yes man” that he appears to be in some other stories. The way he deals with General Finch is nothing sort of great. At first he goes along with his superior, assuming that he knows what is right, only to discover that the Doctor was right all along. We get to see the rare “badass brig” in this situation, and it is truly awesome. U.N.I.T. combined with Sarah Jane is basically one of my favorite “companion teams” and I truly enjoy them all when they appear.
Since this is really Sarah Jane’s real episode as a “companion”, it was good to see her get a good portion of the episode to do her own thing. Her side-story involves the second half of a zany conspiracy the bad guys are hatching that involves opening holes in time (where the dinosaurs are coming from) and bringing back a “golden age” to which a group of “astronauts” are involved. Since Sarah Jane does her job of snooping around a bit too well, she finds herself kidnapped and placed with these “astronauts” onboard a spaceship that will help start this new “golden age”. These two stories seem not to fit together, but are the two complimentary halves to the overall bad-guy plan going on, and it’s nice to see a story with enough room to flesh it completely out.
Overall, I loved this story, and felt the DVD is a nice package. It comes packed with a nice offering of special features including one about Sarah Jane, one about the special effects, one showing deleted scenes, and your typical “then and now” stuff. Aside from this, the DVD also has commentary track, but I’m not really into listening to those to be honest. Despite a bit of mediocre color restoration on episode one, This DVD is a solid package, and a great addition to any collection. That is unless one is too immature for bad CSO and sloppy Dino-puppets.