I have a confession to make. I watch other Whos outside my random list. Well of course I do. You wouldn’t have me not watch new episodes like as they go to air, right? I might have missed the rampant continuity fest that was The Magician’s Apprentice, or as I like to think of it, Return to the Planet of the Genesis of the Daleks. Or The Daleks’ and Master’s Plans. Oh I mock, but pay me no heed. I squeed like the rest of you.
But it’s more than that. Because I have a little cuckoo in my nest. 3 year old Master Spandrell. Turns out he loves Doctor Who. Where did he get that from, I wonder? Mrs Spandrell says he heard the theme tune in utero and it’s had an inculcating effect. He never stood a chance.
Problem is, how do you choose a Doctor Who story for a toddler? Sure it’s a family show, but it’s not really designed for the Peppa Pig audience. You don’t want to show him something which is going to traumatise him for life. I’m sure I read that in the parenting manual.
So my random Who watching gets interrupted by Master Spandrell’s curated Who watching. He started watching Who videos on YouTube, with a particular taste for endless loops of the various title sequences (on one hand very annoying, on the other… 15 blissful minutes of quiet toddler). Soon, he stepped things up and picked up a copy of The Ark in Space DVD (the original-and-thus-not-that-special edition, for those playing along at home) and demanded it be displayed for his viewing pleasure.
Now you may think that’s a poor choice for someone specifically aiming to not traumatise their child. But here’s the thing; The Ark in Space is just fine for him. The monster moments are rare and too low budget to bother him. And least that’s how it seems to me right now. If he turns into a malignant parasitic creature seeking to usurp the human race, this post will serve as evidence of where it all started to go wrong.
But what else to let him watch? Despite classic Who‘s low rent production values, I still think most of it is too scary for him. But I was thinking too about his other obsession, dinosaurs. And surely there’s no greater intersection between these two things than Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Well, there’s also Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, which he likes too. But not like he likes Invasion of the Dinosaurs. He’s loves loves loves it, rubber dinosaurs and all. ‘Raaaa!’, he calls out when that first Tyrannosaurus bursts out of that model building. ‘Sarah!’, he cries when this particular magician’s apprentice gets bumped on the head by a falling four-by-two. ‘Doctor on holiday!, he cries when he throws his Jon Pertwee micro figure over the fence… But I digress.
So we have watched it, I don’t know, about 50 times in recent months. Man, I have been waiting for this one to pop up for freaking ages. ‘Cause I know this fecker intimately.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs is a classic story which pulls off a new series trick; the Doctor has been away from Earth for a while and taken his eye off the ball. In the meantime, things have gone to all sorts of shit. Well four things, and some lizards. It’s a good structure because it means you get to skip all the set up stuff and get straight to the main game. Although this is slightly undermined if your main game consists of six talky episodes.
The story’s length is not its strength. The first episode is a masterclass is stalling until we get to a point where a dinosaur can burst out of a building (the Brigadier’s – ever stoic Nicholas Courtney – dialogue gets increasingly convoluted as he tries to find new ways of avoiding saying ‘dinosaurs’). The fifth episode is one long chase scene. It’s a story which can’t be bothered hiding its padding.
And the plot repeats itself. Sarah (Elisabeth Sladen, enjoying the lion’s share of the investigating and deducing here) is twice fooled into trusting one of the story’s many conspirators (nearly everyone we meet is in on the game), and both times she realises it when trapped in a lift disguised as a cupboard. She’s twice imprisoned in the bad guys’ fake spacecraft. The Doctor (the Pert, bouffant in full sail) locates the enemy’s base only to be maneuvered out of it and sent back to UNIT. It all feels a bit sedate.
Which is odd because this is a story with an embarrassment of cracking premises. Dinosaurs amok in modern London. People tricked into manning a fake spaceship. A plot to roll back time. A traitor in the UNIT family. There’s enough here for half a series. Not to mention that the whole thing’s almost a rebuttal of the previous year’s The Green Death where the Doctor sided with a group of environmental activists. Here, they’re part of the problem not the solution.
The DVD documentary about this story is presented by the very brainy Matthew Sweet, who argues that there’s much more to this story than its terrible lizards. He points out that script writer Malcolm Hulke’s shot at the environmental movement is a bit odd, because it’s a cause normally with the left side of politics and Hulke was a confirmed communist. Script editor Terrance Dicks is on hand to point out that extreme leftist villains are creepier than those on the extreme right because they justify their actions by saying “it’s for your own good.”
But this is not, I think, an example of Hulke taking aim at his leftist compadres. If we have learned anything from the two previous random Hulkes (the one with the misunderstood reptilian monsters and the one with the misunderstood reptilian monsters, neither of which is The Silurians) we can see that the one thing he really hated was authority. Bureaucrats, soldiers and colonial mandarins are stupid, corrupt or both.
The gang of no good do gooders in Invasion are all of this ilk, with a mad professor (of which university?) thrown into the bargain. It’s not that Hulke is saying the left is as bad as the right. He’s saying don’t let the establishment co-opt your leftist ideals. You watch what they’ll do to them! They’ll find a way to screw it up! The ideals of The Green Death live on. Just don’t let anyone wearing a tie anywhere near them.
Master Spandrell of course cares nothing about any of this. He wants you to skip over the scenes of dull people talking. And sadly, he can’t abide Matthew Sweet. But he loves the bit where the Pert drives a jeep under a dinosaur’s legs. And the bit where a brontosaurus and a tyrannosaurus go at each other. What’s that you say? The dinosaurs look terrible? He hasn’t noticed. Just as he hasn’t noticed that Noah’s hand in The Ark in Space is made of bubble wrap. How brilliant to be able to watch classic Who as carefree as that.
LINK to State of Decay. Script Editor/writer Terrance Dicks worked on both.
NEXT TIME… We go up the Orinoco in search of the Black Orchid. Top hole!