Classic Who: Invasion of the Dinosaurs & Terror of the Zygons

So, I’m back. A couple of things to start off with:

1) I had another great adventure in Guatemala, and will be blogging about it in due course.

2) After all that worry, Preston North End are in the Championship after all! Internet access was very limited where I was, so I only found out the result of the playoff final a few days afterward. Next season’s going to be a cracker.

So I’ve got a few different things I can blog about, but let’s start off easy with a little more Classic Who, which I watched as I recovered from those long plane journeys. The order in which I’ve been choosing to watch these has been quite haphazard; some might say it would make more sense to just do it in order, but I want to experience the best of Classic Who, and I’ve got some idea of the show’s continuity anyway from background research. Sometimes, it’s just what takes my fancy, but I’ve also been using the list of best episodes as voted for in Doctor Who Magazine. Based on this list, I’m getting up to some Second Doctor adventures which currently don’t exist in video format and can only be experienced via audio, which should be an interesting experience.

Invasion of the Dinosaurs (1974 – Third Doctor with Sarah Jane Smith)

The Doctor and Sarah Jane land in present-day London to find the place almost completely deserted; the area appears to be under martial law, and even more bizarre, prehistoric animals are occasionally materialising in the streets. Operating secretly in London, someone is conducting a dangerous temporal experiment which they believe will save the world – and the Doctor and Sarah soon learn that they can’t trust anyone around them.

This one is quite a mixed bag. Some things work really well, such as the eeriness of the empty London that the Doctor and Sarah initially arrive in. The Third Doctor possesses his usual class while also providing a few comedic moments – for example, putting on a common accent while staging a fight with another prisoner. Jon Pertwee and Elisabeth Sladen have brilliant chemistry, such as in their photo session after being captured by the soldiers; even when the Doctor is rude to Sarah, she just takes it in good humour. There’s also an interesting twist about halfway through as Sarah suddenly finds herself onboard a spaceship; this is pretty unsettling too, as the attitudes of the people onboard – cheerful and courteous, but unwilling to accept any dissension – feel rather cult-like.

There are more elements, however, that let things down. The appeal of seeing dinosaurs wandering about in an urban environment is really all the creatures have going for them; their appearance and movements look pretty terrible even by the standards of the time, as does the super-imposing of dinosaurs and actors that occurs in some scenes. The first creature encounter sees a pterodactyl attacking the Doctor and Sarah in a garage; with the fakeness of the pterodactyl, and Sarah’s screaming, it feels like something out of an old horror film where the damsel is attacked by a vampire bat on a string. The battle between a T Rex and Apatosaurus, which sees the two combatants slowly wandering over and nudging their heads against each other, is also laughable. I can’t really say that even these special effects seriously detract from the overall story, however; they even provide a little extra fun to the experience.

There was a lot about the villains and their plans that I didn’t like, either. Their initial plans, and attempts to stall the heroes’ attempts to figure things out, felt very clumsy and not well thought out, pretty much inviting someone to stop them. Even the ideas of using as dinosaurs as terror weapons to ensure the evacuation of London, or putting future colonists in a fake spaceship (which Sarah can quite easily demonstrate is fake), feel like there’s plenty that can go wrong. Also, while the characters can’t be sure who’s in on the conspiracy, the audience is never fooled, which is a bit frustrating. And I couldn’t buy Captain Mike Yates’s role in the whole thing: he’s unwilling to harm the Doctor or murder anyone as part of the plan, but it turns out at the end that he’s aware the overall idea is to wipe the human race from existence, and he’s apparently fine with that. Is it just about not getting his own hands dirty?

Invasion of the Dinosaurs is very mixed, not brilliant, but still fairly entertaining overall. Rating: 2.5/5.

 

Terror of the Zygons (1975 – Fourth Doctor with Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan)

Along with his companions and UNIT, the Doctor heads to Scotland to investigate the inexplicable destruction of offshore oil rigs. The investigations soon lead to the reveal of a group of Zygons; stranded on Earth, these shape-shifting aliens intend to take over the planet – with help from the Loch Ness Monster, of all things.

This is a four-episode adventure, so relatively short for Classic Who, and it’s very well paced. The Zygons make their presence known to the main characters at the end of the first episode, and events continue at a good speed from there. It also manages to use the relatively bland setting of a Scottish village and its surrounding moors very well, with a range of action and chase scenes. I really liked the visual design and voice of the Zygons; their costumes are very detailed. As for other special effects, the use of minatures in some scenes felt very reminscent of Thunderbirds. While the Skarasan – the giant monster controlled by the Zygons – isn’t brilliant when viewed through modern eyes, it’s a damn sight better than anything in Invasion of the Dinosaurs. And it’s also fun to see Doctor Who incorporating the Loch Ness Monster into a story; that’s another classic reference from the revived series that I understand now!

The main actors, and the way they play off each other, are also really good in this one. The Fourth Doctor demonstrates his detachment from the people around him – not really appearing to be listening when being told important information – and those moments of crazed enthusiasm that he does so well. He has some good lines, such as when he tells the Zygons, “You can’t rule the world from hiding. You’ve got to come out onto the balcony sometimes and wave a tentacle.” The contrast between the normal good-natured Harry, and his sinister Zygon counterpart, is well done without being overly dramatic. Sarah Jane, meanwhile, is smart enough to be suspicious of the real Harry when she encounters him after being attacked by the double. And you can see how comfortable the whole team are around each other at this point, as when Sarah Jane is able to laugh at the Brigadier for wearing a kilt.

Definitely an above-average adventure. Rating: 4/5.

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About velociraptor256

Hi, my name's Richard. I created this blog to talk about my interests - and I have quite a few of those. I love zoology in general, herpetology in particular (especially snakes!), writing (have won National Novel Writing Month seven times so far, plus three Camp Nanowrimos), reading, astronomy, palaeontology, and travel. Thank you for coming to my blog, and I hope you find something that interests you here!
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