Flipping forward quite a bit in the collection, and we’re on UK Gold for some more Doctor Who. Jon Pertwee is the Doctor, in… a black and white story called Invasion? But wasn’t The Invasion a black and white Patrick Troughton story, one that’s partially missing from the archive? Hmmm.
London looks deserted. There’s some lovely, atmospheric shots of empty streets to open the episode. A bag is lying on the ground, cash spilling out of it. I can’t tell if it’s the poor picture quality, or if that’s not actually cash at all but just a bunch of metal discs.
The Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith arrive, puzzled by the quiet. The Doctor has to find a phone box to call UNIT HQ – I guess he was still waiting for BT to fit his landline to the Tardis.
This recording is plagued by a lot of satellite encryption dropouts, which is annoying. It’s the 90s version of buffering.
The only sign of life is a car that won’t stop when flagged down. When they follow it, they find it belongs to a thief, who menaces them before speeding off in his car. They hear a loud noise and a crash, and find his car (and him) rather smashed up.
Cut to UNIT headquarters. At last we’ll get some answers. The Brigadier is hoping the Doctor will return soon. They’re worried about gangs of looters, but more concerned about tracking something else – sightings of something they’re marking on a map.
The Doctor and Sarah see another vehicle, and follow it to a lock-up. And while they’re investigating, they’re attacked first by the looters, then by a flying dinosaur. KKLAK!
That’s a joke for anyone who read the old Target novelisations.
They get picked up by the military as looters, and the Doctor is at his most Doctorish as he gently has fun being questioned and photographed. “How about one of us together? You can join in.”
Then we finally get to see a big dinosaur, as a group of soldiers confront a T-Rex. Not quite as impressive as I remember it being when I first watched this story, but it’s not bad for the budget.
The episode ends of a cliffhanger when The Doctor and Sarah are being driven to a detention centre, and they come across another huge dinosaur.
The next episode is in colour. The reason for this is that the first episode was called merely Invasion so as not to give away that there were dinosaurs in the story. Subsequent episodes have the full title, Invasion of the Dinosaurs.
But why would that mean the first episode is in black and white?
The answer lies in the rather shameful way the BBC ran its archive in the 70s and 80s. At that time, the archive was only seen as valuable if there was an overseas broadcaster who wanted to show the series. By the late 70s, most of the stories had been sold to all the likely customers, so the episodes themselves were seen to have no value. Home video recorders didn’t exist, there were only three channels, and no real scope for repeats.
So the BBC decided to start saving space in their archive by junking the old episodes.
They started with the Hartnell and Troughton stories, which is why so many of those are still lost, but they also junked the colour masters of some of Pertwee’s early stories. Several of his first season exist solely or partially as black and white film recordings – 16mm film shot from a synchronised TV screen, made for sale to overseas TV stations who didn’t have the equipment to play from videotape. Film was the one format everyone could use.
But why only the first episode? That’s because of the trick they played with the title. Because the episode was only marked as ‘Invasion’ it was mistaken for one of the episodes in the Troughton story of the same name, and the colour master was junked.
Ridiculous, and appalling that the BBC treated their archive so badly. They weren’t alone – many of the ITV companies threw out many programmes from their archive – but you expect better from the national broadcaster.
Rant over, back to the show.
Now in glorious colour (or as close to it as 1970s video recording technology can manage) Sarah and The Doctor escape from the Land Rover while the soldiers are shooting at the T-Rex, and take refuge in yet another garage. There they find a strange man babbling about wizards and witches. There’s a nice moment where the Doctor asks him “What year are you from” and Sarah then asks “What’s the name of your King?” as she realises that an uneducated man from long ago probably has no idea of the calendar, but would absolutely know who was on the throne. It’s a nice character bit, and another reason why we all love Lis Sladen’s Sarah.
Then they’re finally found by the Brigadier, and taken to UNIT’s command centre where they’re reunited with Sergeant Benton and Captain Mike Yates, last seen in The Green Death.
After observing another dinosaur, a stegosaurus this time, the Doctor figures that they’re being brought through time deliberately, and starts planning to stun a dinosaur and track the power source of the time eddy.
We then cut to the people responsible, Martin Jarvis and Peter Miles, working as part of something called Operation Golden Age, and in a shocking twist, Captain Yates turns up there to warn them about the Doctor’s plan. I never trusted him.
So when the Doctor is facing a T-Rex, his sleep gun doesn’t work. Cue titles.
Captain Yates has second thoughts, and fixes the stun gun to save the Doctor and stun the T-Rex.
Sarah has been doing some digging, and has found a Professor Whitaker, who had published some results on theoretical time travel, but the minister in charge, a man who has written at length on the perils of pollution, dismisses him as a crank. But Sarah’s reporter’s instinct tells her it’s a real lead. She persuades the General in charge to get her set up with a pass, so she can try to find the missing professor, so he sends her off with his driver.
She goes to the Minister, and asks him if there were any secret installations built in the last 20 years that might have been able to generate enough power to run the time fields. He’s skeptical, but takes her into his document archive to look. Amazingly, after trying only one or two files, she finds exactly what she’s looking for, and it’s built right beneath the building she’s in. Then the minister opens the door, and she’s not where she was – the whole room was a secret lift. Sladen’s perfect in this scene, going from surprise, to a glimmer of fear, then straight into a beautifully annoyed look, that she’s been tricked this way. She really was the best.
She’s taken to a room in the underground lab, and locked in. Then, light and sound start playing, clearly some sort of hypnotic device, and she drifts off…
…and wakes up in what I think is one of the most brilliant plot turns in all of Doctor Who. She’s greeted by a man called Mark. “Welcome to the people” he says, that kind of turn of phrase that immediately starts alarm bells ringing for anyone who watched telefantasy in the 70s. When she asks where she is, he says “The spaceship. You see, it’s all come true. We’re on our way. Soon we shall arrive at the planet that will become our new home. We left Earth three months ago.”
I think this is as good a cliffhanger as any other in Doctor Who history, as it pivots the entire story.
The next episode starts back at UNIT. The general is angry that the T-Rex they captured escaped, but the Doctor points out the chains holding it were broken, sabotaged.
When he leaves the room, Yates confronts the General, and complains that he didn’t agree to murder. So the General’s in it as well. Is there nobody in power who isn’t involved in the scheme.
But none of that’s important, as the Doctor’s got a new car. It’s the Whomobile. This must be its first appearance in the show.
Meanwhile, in space, Sarah meets more of her fellow travellers, including Allo Allo’s Carmen Silvera as Ruth, a former member of the House of Lords and anti-pollution campaigner.
They explain to her that they’re on their way to ‘New Earth’, a planet much like Earth, but at an earlier stage of development, and it will be their job to guide the indigenous population, to avoid all the bad things people wrought on Earth. There are seven ships, each carrying hundreds of people in suspended animation.
Sarah’s not sure. “I’ve been asleep for three months?” she wonders as her hand feels her forehead, and the recent cut there from a dinosaur attack…
The Doctor is tracking the power surges, and finding his way to the secret lair. But the scientists set another pterodactyl on him, which he just manages to escape thanks to skillful use of a broom.
Naturally when he returns with the Brigadier, the lift to the underground bunker has been deactivated, and just looks like a storage cupboard. And the Minister, of course, assures him that no such underground bunker was ever built.
Sarah is sent for Re-education because she’s deemed a disruptive influence. And the evil Ruth says that if she continues to be disruptive, they’ll have to destroy her.
And because the Doctor is getting too close, they lure him to the hangar where they had the T-Rex, materialise a dinosaur there, then the evil General walks in with the Brigadier and says “There’s your monster maker.”
It all looks bleak, until Yates instructs Sergeant Benton to lock up the Doctor. Benton knows things aren’t right, so he believes the Doctor, and allows him to escape.
Sarah, also, escapes, after telling Mark that the whole spaceship is just a fake, and they’re actually in a building under London.But then, as soon as she’s back at UNIT, the Brigadier isn’t there, but evil General is, except she doesn’t know he’s evil, so she takes him back to the Minister’s office, and gets to do yet another furious look as she’s captured again.
After another cliffhanger, with the Doctor menaced by dinosaurs outside Kensington Olympia, he evades them again, only to be found by the Brigadier and the General. We get a lovely stand-off as the Brigadier insists he’s a UNIT prisoner, and the General has to back down.
Back at UNIT HQ, Yates tries to take them all prisoner, and the Doctor gets to make a nice speech about how you have to make the best of the world you’ve got.
Sarah returns to the ‘spaceship’ and tries to persuade everyone there they’ve been duped. But it’s hard to persuade the single-minded, as Twitter tells us every day.
The plan for Operation Golden Age is to use the Professor’s time experiment to send the Earth back to an earlier era, before man had polluted it so much. The people on the ship will be protected from the time shift, so when they emerge, it will indeed be a new world.
The Doctor and the Brigadier set some explosives in the Underground to get into the bunker, and the Brigadier does his best Jeff Goldblum impression.
It all comes to a climax in the bunker control room. Sarah has led the spaceship people out to seek answers, and the Doctor and the Brigadier made it down there to stop the plan. Whitaker starts the time slip, but the Doctor uses his mad Timelord skillz to get to the control panel and turn the switch off. Then, the Minister tries to start it again. “No” warns Whitaker, “He’s reversed the polarity” and as they struggle, they’re sucked back in time. “Back to their Golden Age,” says the Doctor. “I hope they like it.”
Now, I realise nostalgia is a big factor, but this really is a corker of a story. Even the dinosaur effects, limited though they are, have a Thunderbirds miniature vibe that’s quite charming, and because they’re shot on film, the look OK. Some of the CSO foreground work is as clunky as you’d expect, but at least they want to deliver dinosaurs fighting.
This period of Who was really working. Lis Sladen is always excellent, and she’s given plenty to do in the story. Even her multiple captures make sense, and her reactions to them are wonderful. Pertwee is on form too, and the scene where he’s been captured as a looter is the kind of scene that wouldn’t be out of place in a modern episode.
As a six parter, it does have a little bit of back and forth, but it doesn’t feel slow, thanks to the brilliant pivot into the spaceship plot. And in this story, the Doctor and Sarah are also heading into the story for the whole of the first episode, as they were in Revelation, but here they’re not bickering and wandering aimlessly, they’re actively investigating the mystery.
Even the mad scientist plot was mostly staffed by idealists wanting a better world, and most of them had no idea of the true implications of the plot. Much better than armies of evil henchmen.
It’s not Genesis of the Daleks or Caves of Androzani, but this does show that even average Who can be jolly good fun.
There’s nothing else on the tape, and I was ruthless in excising the UK Gold ad breaks, so it’s just the programme.