Category: Doctor Who

Doctor Who episode 362: Invasion of the Dinosaurs – Part Three (26/1/1974)

While it’s easy to over-state the differences between companions (they’re mostly there to ask questions, get into trouble and be the Doctor’s strength and weakness), the way they each fulfil their role can vary a lot. Dropping Sarah Jane into a UNIT story creates a very different dynamic than with Liz or Jo, both UNIT employees. Sarah needs both a reason to be accepted by the Brigadier, and a reason to want to stick around. Last episode dealt with the former essentially by having the Doctor appoint her his temporary assistant. This episode focuses on what’s in it for Sarah. She’s not getting paid to be the Doctor’s assistant, so she needs a different angle: a story, ideally with some juicy photos of a captive tyrannosaurus. Later, she smells something interesting about a secret nuclear reactor, and goes off to interview Sir Charles Grover MP in a very business-like way. The result in both cases is the same as would have happened with Jo: Sarah gets into danger. But the route to the result is quite different, and spices up what could have been fairly routine.

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Doctor Who episode 361: Invasion of the Dinosaurs – Part Two (19/1/1974)

When I was a kid I absolutely adored dinosaurs. I had picture books, toys (not even smart toys, literally just solid, dinosaur-shaped chunks of plastic), I’d go mad for any film or TV that had them in. For my birthday one year my parents took me to the Natural History Museum in London to see the dinosaur skeletons. I could recite their names and tell you that the tyrannosaurus was the most ferocious dinosaur ever to walk the Earth. I was obsessed. They were the only thing that rivalled my obsession with Doctor Who. All of which is to say, if Invasion of the Dinosaurs had aired when I was six years old I would have been buzzing. It’s deeply unlikely I would have noticed or cared that the dinosaurs have all the mobility and liveliness of Liberace’s face. I would have been hooked. And I expect this would have been equally true for a big chunk of the target audience in 1974.

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Doctor Who episode 360: Invasion – Part One (12/1/1974)

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.

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Doctor Who episode 358: The Time Warrior – Part Three (29/12/1973)

This continues to be Robert Holmes’ funniest script to date. Bloodaxe, on first impressions a Baldrick type figure, slyly mocks Irongron’s pretentions: ‘Tis a cunning plan, Captain… Yours is indeed a towering intelligence’. Holmes even dares to poke fun at Pertwee (‘A long-shanked rascal with a mighty nose’), and while some of the quips about the ‘fair sex’ are a bit cringey nowadays it’s notable that Sarah is both willing to admit when she’s wrong, however grudgingly, and continues to be a driving force behind the fight against Linx and Irongron, leading the raid on the castle to capture the Doctor, and convincing Sir Edward and Lady Eleanor to give him a fair hearing.

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Doctor Who episode 357: The Time Warrior – Part Two (22/12/1973)

Apparently, the historical setting for The Time Warrior was suggested by Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, and Robert Holmes was less than enthusiastic about the idea. The only tell is how irreverent this is: Holmes has resurrected the comedy historicals last seen in The Gunfighters, where modern sensibilities and humour make the past seem a less distant and unknowable place, and even the sexism of the Middle Ages is played for laughs. In many ways this story is the model for the bulk of 21st Century history episodes, which focus heavily on the sci-fi elements and assume that, funny accents and clothes aside, not much separates us from our ancestors. Compared to The Time Meddler, which largely kept the Monk’s plot separate from the grim reality of Vikings vs Anglo-Saxons, this plays much faster and looser with the concept of the (grits teeth) pseudo-historical.

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Doctor Who episode 356: The Time Warrior – Part One (15/12/1973)

The striking new title sequence and logo emphasise that this is a new beginning of sorts for the series. With the UNIT Fam broken up, the Doctor free to roam time and space, and (behind the scenes) Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks looking to move on, the transition to the Tom Baker years is beginning. Which makes this something like The Invasion in Season Six: a story that features the current team, but anticipates many of the elements of the next era of the show. In this case, most notably the arrival of Sarah Jane Smith, a character that will go on to surpass Jo Grant both in tenure and popularity.

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Doctor Who episode 355: The Green Death – Episode Six (23/6/1973)

The logical climax of this story is much more convincing than Robert Sloman’s last two scripts, with the first half focusing on ending the threat posed by the giant maggots (and, oh dear, the giant fly) and the second switching to defeating BOSS’s plans for global domination. As a result, there’s an unflagging pace, helped by holding back the meaning of Professor Jones’s mysterious declaration of ‘serendipity’. The neatness of the script is reflected both in the method of defeating the maggots (the edible fungus that’s been a running joke for the last five weeks), and in the Doctor’s appeal to Stevens’ humanity which is vital in foiling BOSS (‘sentimental friend,’ the dying computer proclaims, having called him a ‘sentimentalist’ back in Episode Three). All this is wrapped up in Jo’s departure, which has been seeded since practically the first scene.

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Doctor Who episode 354: The Green Death – Episode Five (16/6/1973)

After the army were drafted in for The Mind of Evil and the Navy for The Sea Devils, this time it’s the turn of the RAF. It’s a bit of a half-bothered effort though, with one lo-tech helicopter lobbing some bombs out of the door. Where are the Harrier jump-jets with cruise missiles? It’s a good sequence, though, in a serial that’s already well above its quota of iconic images. It’s also a nice twist that UNIT and BOSS share the same goal: the elimination of the maggots. They aren’t part of a grand plan to take over the world, but an unintended consequence of Global Chemical’s pollution and ruthless efficiency/corner cutting.

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Doctor Who episode 353: The Green Death – Episode Four (9/6/1973)

If you squint, The Green Death belongs in an alternative universe where the Season Seven approach wasn’t so comprehensively binned by Terror of the Autons. The third Doctor is possibly closer to Derrick Sherwin’s concept than in any other Pertwee story: dressing up and doing funny voices. UNIT is more central than they have been in anything since Season Eight. There’s a clear, contemporary ecological message, and, no alien villains for the first time since Inferno (plus, obviously, green slime). After three series increasingly focused on getting the show back into outer space, and a tenth anniversary season that’s focused on bringing back Troughton and recreating a Hartnell epic, this is the one for viewers nostalgic for 1970.

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Doctor Who episode 352: The Green Death – Episode Three (2/6/1973)

One of the good things about The Green Death is the way it instantly rehabilitates the Brigadier. In his last couple of scripts, the Brig has been a fairly reduced, comic relief character, with little of the steel and smartness that Nick Courtney brought to his appearances between Seasons Five and Eight. In The Time Monster and (to a slightly lesser extent) The Three Doctors he’s written as a comedy buffoon, apparently unable accept exactly the kind of strangeness UNIT was set up to handle. By The Three Doctors, even the loyal Benton suggests that his CO is having a nervous breakdown. So it’s a relief to get a scene like the Brigadier’s face-off with Stevens, declaring this is a security matter, and will be investigated by the UN, and it takes no-one less than the Prime Minister to make him back off. Later, at the lovely domestic dinner scene at the Nuthutch (the Brigadier, delightfully, has turned up in full evening dress), his incredulity at Professor Jones’ plan to go searching for a fabled mushroom in the Amazon is played as healthy scepticism rather than utter closed-mindedness. I’m so pleased Nicholas Courtney is again getting worthy material, even if he’s suddenly looking very much the middle aged Brig of the Fourth Doctor stories.

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