Featuring eerie, deserted streets, London landmarks empty of tourists, darkened shops and the authorities on the lookout for curfew breakers, this is the perfect episode for CoVid lockdown viewing. Paddy Russell’s location filming is one of the highlights of this episode. It’s reminiscent of the show’s first big out-of-studio set pieces: the Daleks patrolling conquered London, and, as in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the initial excuse for the quiet is that it’s probably Sunday. But as we’ve already seen a dog eating something out of an abandoned car, and a milk float with its curdling cargo smashed about it, we’re already primed to expect something more sinister. Later, there’s an absolutely horrible shot of a looter, head bashed in, which is made more disturbing because it’s so brief and gives no time to take in the details. And as a result of the only partially successful colour recovery from the B&W telerecording, the whole thing comes closer than any other Doctor Who episode to looking like a grotty print of a grottier 1970s exploitation horror movie. No wonder I love it.
This is a spectacularly good opening for the serial. Like Malcolm Hulke’s previous script it has a slight feel of his masterpiece, The War Games, about it, as the Doctor and Sarah are caught up in military justice, processed by a system that gives no opportunity for the Doctor to practice his charm or gift of the gab. In this context, the Doctor’s defiant facetiousness, smiling for a mugshot, comes across as an attempt to keep Sarah from panicking. Even when the Doctor does manage to escape, it only takes him and Sarah to the truck that will transport them to a detention centre. This has the relentlessness of a nightmare.
Obviously there are bits that don’t work. The pterodactyl that attacks the Doctor and Sarah in a warehouse is good enough when it’s being puppeteered like Emu (‘Gerroff,’ the Doctor shouts as it kklaks him), but it’s less convincing when it’s meant to be flying. And the switch from location to a model set every time the rubbery tyrannosaurus turns up to smash through building is jarring. The effects are definitely a case of Barry Letts being over-confident in what can be achieved, having pulled off the Drashigs last season. But it’s such a boring thing to focus on when everything else about the episode shines. In particular, the Doctor and Sarah Jane make a winning partnership. Sarah is less indulgent of the Doctor, more willing to question him, and with a glorious, unpretentious practicality about her (the Doctor’s reaction to her suggestion of getting a bus instead of a taxi is excellent).
Next episode: Invasion of the Dinosaurs – Part Two