Planet? Spaceship? What are you talking about?
Doctor Who has never been accused of subtlety, but Malcolm Hulke’s “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” (Story Production Code WWW) manages the closest thing: misdirection. From all the evidence on display, one expects the six episode story to be what it says on the tin, a tale of dinosaurs rampaging across London. Taking a page from Robert Sloman’s book, though, Hulke brings us an extended diatribe on pollution, zealotry, and nostalgia. Plus, yes, dinosaurs. So many dinosaurs.
At the start of the story, the scenes of deserted London streets summon some of the series’ most striking visual moments to date: Daleks crossing the Thames with Big Ben in the background, Cybermen marching in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral, and Autons smashing forth from a high street window. Here, director Paddy Russell paints an eerie, desolate setting with a few deft strokes. But then, she has to add the prehistoric stars to the mix.
For a variety of reasons, the dinosaurs never actually appear threatening. In part, the combination of puppetry and green screen/CSO effects, though executed with great audacity, doesn’t work to great effect. Soldiers fire their weapons away from the beasties superimposed behind them, and the puppets jerk back and forth, particularly the Tyrannosaurs Rex model. Even when the seams aren’t showing, the Doctor insists to all who listen that they are (mostly) pea-brained vegetarians anyway and not to be feared. By the final episode, where the Doctor and the Brigadier drive a jeep under a Brontosaurus, the effects begin to come together, but at that point, the saurians have been relegated to plot nuisances.
Rare amongst Doctor Who stories, the true villains in “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” take up most of the character list, such that everyone seems in on the conspiracy: a Minister of Parliament, a British Army general, a mad scientist, and…Captain Mike Yates?