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Doctor Who: The UNIT Files

Review by: 
Black Gloves
Release Date: 
1974/1975
Studio: 
2 Entertain
Genre: 
Sci-Fi
Format: 
DVD
Region: 
2 PAL
Aspect Ratio: 
1.33:1
Directed by: 
Paddy Russell
Barry Letts
Cast: 
Jon Pertwee
Tom Baker
Elizabeth Sladen
Nicholas Courtney
Movie: 
4
Extras: 
4
Bottom Line: 
4

The 2012 release schedule for the classic DOCTOR WHO DVD range kicks off with a double dose of earth-based UNIT tales from the ‘Golden age’ of the 1970s -- although both stories selected for this set come from near the last hurrah of that esteemed era, the second barely even counting as a bona fide UNIT adventure at all. First up is ‘that one with the dodgy rubber dinosaurs’ -- the frequently derided 1974 six parter from Jon Pertwee’s final season, “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”. This adventure might not exactly enjoy the best ever reputation out there in the land of fandom, but it still gets the two disc treatment here, and I think deservedly so. Dr Matthew Sweet gets to host and write the obligatory half hour ‘making of’ documentary heading up the  extensive disc two collection of extras -- a sure sign that there must be more to ponder in Malcolm Hulke’s very last writing commission for the series than many fans are willing to allow, since Sweet is usually given the stories which are able to sustain a certain level of historically aware analysis and a degree of thought spent in consideration of their apparently abstruse narrative gymnastics as the accompaniment to the various ‘talking head’ reminiscences of cast and crew which one expects and usually gets from these lovingly produced documentaries. “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” emerges from this fresh investigation as an obviously flawed piece of work, with a plot that is wild and whacky to the verge of being nonsensical; but even so, it’s crammed full of great characters and terrific performances, and has at its core a set of concerns motivating it which succeed in bringing home the political and social climate of Britain in the early- to mid-seventies like very few other afternoon family-orientated programmes about rubber dinosaurs terrorising Central London have been capable of doing. Put it this way – there is more going on underneath the surface here, beyond all those duff miniature models and their rubbery escapades, than there ever was in the recent CGI-laden, dinosaurs-in-modern-London ITV sci-fi series “Primeval”, which is based essentially on the same premise as this wobbly 1974 DOCTOR WHO story made on a shoestring budget.

A particularly dapper blue velvety third Doctor, in his best tartan Inverness coat & cape, emerges from the newly materialised TARDIS with new companion Sarah Jane Smith at his side (this was only Elisabeth Sladen’s second story after her season 11 opener “The Time Warrior”) and onto an eerily deserted Wimbledon Common after being carried home again to the weird alternative version of the 1970s they inhabit (and in which the UNIT tales always appear to be taking place) -- a land where colour TVs are still a novelty to be rented rather than bought, but in which the phones on important Government ministers’ desks are improbably sleek examples of futuristic space-age design. Episode one, which is titled merely “Invasion” to keep the dinosaur theme a surprise, even though the Radio Times soon gave it all away anyhow, sees our two heroes ambling around an empty, apparently deserted London where not even the public telephones are in proper working order any longer. The ‘deserted London’ motif was already an oft used one in British 1960s/70s TV adventure drama by this point, having had its popular origins in Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel “I Am Legend” and the several high profile film adaptations which followed it, “The Last Man on Earth” (1964) and “The Omega Man” (1971). A favourite plot device in shows such as “The Avengers” during the late sixties, involved the protagonists waking to discover that the capital had become a ghost town overnight. This particular version starts with the obligatory shots of London landmarks -- the Embankment, Trafalgar Square, the Haymarket, etc. -- shown now mysteriously vacant and utterly desolate.  This was an effect achieved by the time-honoured method of getting up at 4 O’ Clock on  a summer’s morning with a skeleton camera crew, and quickly snatching shots of the litter-strewn streets before the working day in the city got going. Because of strict BBC overtime rules, Director Paddy Russell had to shoot this material herself, unofficially and without police permission, with the aid of cameraman Tony Leggo.

The Doctor and Sarah both very quickly realise that things are seriously awry: the few people they do stumble across in the deserted city turn out to be petty thieves engaged in looting empty shops and businesses whilst being hunted down by the British army, which is now enforcing Martial Law and operating under a government-declared state of emergency. The entire population of the capital has been evacuated, it turns out, and The Doctor and Sarah spend the first episode themselves being hunted as suspected shop looters. We soon find out the reason for this extreme state of affairs though: prehistoric dinosaurs from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods have been appearing out of thin air all over Central London; Tyrannosaurs Rex, Stegosaurus and ‘yer actual Pterodactyls’ (as Sergeant Benton later describes them when he explains to the Doctor UNIT’s colour-coded flag method for documenting each dinosaur visitation on a map of greater London) all of these creatures and several more -- coincidentally all the kiddies favourites, as it turns out -- have been popping up and causing mayhem in the city for the last few weeks, ever since the Doctor and Sarah left on their last adventure. In the meantime, the British Government has been relocated to Harrogate, leaving MP Charles Grover as the only Government minister in authority to oversee the Martial Law  that’s now being enforced by the regular army under General Finch (John Bennett), assisted by UNIT, who are trying to battle the dinosaur apparitions and figure out their origin at the same time. These creatures vanish into thin air before they’re capable of being caught, but the Doctor realises that he can track down the source of the time eddies causing the phenomena if he   can stun and capture one of the creatures, then monitor it as it disappears to get a fix on the source of the power …

Dinosaurs were all the rage in 1974 and were going through one of their regular, periodic bouts of popularity with British kids. Dinosaurs and DOCTOR WHO was a naturally attractive combination then, but the whole ‘prehistoric dinosaurs roaming deserted London’ idea was a Terrence Dicks concept, sold to producer Barry Letts after he rather naively believed the Pinewood based firm, Westbury Design and Optical Ltd, when they insisted they’d be able to deliver convincing dinosaur model effects on a very slightly higher than usual BBC effects budget. Rather than stop-motion animation (which would have been far too time consuming), what they ended up with were rubber models operated through wires passed up through one of the legs of each model, which were then placed inside miniature mock-ups of the locations and combined with the actors when they needed to be (which was thankfully not very often) using the usual CSO techniques of the Letts era. Some of these models don’t actually look as bad as reputation suggests, so long as they’re glimpsed only briefly in long-shot and don’t have too much to do. The trouble comes when they’re called upon to indulge in feats such as the ill-advised fight which takes place between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and an Apatosaurus at the start of episode six: a tottering rubber T-Rex with bendable teeth pecks at the head of its equally unconvincing long-necked foe, the scene punctuated by Jon Pertwee trying to look suitably awed in filmed cutaways. Other dubious spectacles include Pertwee fighting off a puppet Pterodactyl with a mop and a hopping, bendy rubber T-Rex.

If there was nothing else worth mentioning about “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” other than its more-than-slightly ropey effects (although to be fair, there are a number of shots that don’t actually come off too badly) then that would be case closed on another over-ambitious folly. But Hulke tosses the dinosaur menace theme imposed by Dicks into the middle of a story that was bang up to date with regard to social themes emerging at the time, and acts as a kind of extension or partial riposte to the previous season’s “The Green Death” -- an ecologically aware story about industrial pollution, written by Robert Sloman and series producer Barry Letts. At the time the ecology movement had become the ideological locus that provided a strange meeting ground for both the radical right and left wings in British politics: the Left saw issues of industrial waste and pollution as an explicit example of the implicitly destructive nature of capitalism – not only did it enslave the working class it destroyed the planet to boot – while the extreme Right had long since nursed fantasies about returning to a pre-industrial idyll, when people supposedly knew their place in society and in the greater hierarchical scheme of things. Ecology suited both sides’ programme in that it was seen as an unarguable ‘good cause’ which both could exploit in the name of imposing a certain way of life on the populace by force and ultimately ‘for their own good’.

At least this is the message that seems to come through in Hulke’s story, himself a left-leaning former communist party member. It feeds into that other obsession of the seventies, again deployed on both sides of the political spectrum: paranoid conspiracies about the breakdown of democratic society. The story taps into Cold War-inflected tales of secret command bases underneath Whitehall, from which the country would be run in the event of nuclear war; treasonous plots to assume control of government (one of them almost involving Prince Philip’s uncle, Lord Earl Mountbatten, in a 1967 ‘plot’ drawn up by eccentric Press Baron Cecil King, to replace the Wilson government with his own cabal of approved businessmen – such plots becoming a regular source of paranoia for a failing Wilson as the 1970s progressed) in the event of an national emergency; such stories were surprisingly commonplace  in the late-sixties/early-seventies and thrived against a backdrop of widespread economic gloom, when the threat of British troops being called upon to restore order to riotous streets didn’t seem so far-fetched.

These influences are manifested in Hulke’s characterisation of the group of mandarins, scientists, military top-dogs and ‘benevolent’ politicians who turn out to be behind the dinosaur materialising events. One of the noticeable things about this story is that all the guest characters turn out to be in on the plot. Charles Grover (Noel Johnson), the ecologically aware MP and head of the Save Planet Earth society (a kind of fictional amalgam of The World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace) is much admired by the Doctor, who has read and agreed with the anti-pollution message in his book Last Chance for Man, yet Grover is in charge of ‘Operation Golden Age’: a plot to implement the ultimate back to basics scheme whereby time is to be literally ‘rolled back’ to a golden age before capitalist industry and permissiveness in modern ethics and society  ‘ruined’ the world -- using time travel technology developed by embittered scientist Professor Whitaker (Peter Miles, in the second of his three villainous roles for the series) and his assistant Butler (Martin Jarvis). General Finch is behind the part of the plan that involves evacuating London, leaving it free of everyone but the chosen few, hand-picked by Grover to represent humanity in the new age that will result once history has been, quite literally, rewound. The dinosaur materialisations are the rather drastic measure used by the Golden Agers to provide a reason for getting everyone out of the area.

The thing everyone remembers about this, of course, is that the converts to Grover’s cause turn out to include among their number one of the family of regular UNIT characters, Captain Yates (Richard Franklin), who had appeared in the show on a semi-regular basis since 1971, fighting alien invasion plots alongside the Doctor and Jo Grant. He has in the meantime apparently become concerned about pollution and the direction the planet is headed in, especially after the events of “The Green Death” (during which he was brainwashed by the BOSS super computer) and has therefore become easy prey for recruitment to Grover’s plan. This kind of developing character story arc, in which a good, likable character becomes corrupted over the course of several years of regular appearances, was a new departure in sophisticated long-term plotting for the series at the time. Yates gets a chance to redeem himself in Pertwee’s final story “Planet of the Spiders” but for now, his willingness to go along with a scheme that involves mass genocide by use of time travel in the re-setting of the Earth’s history to an earlier pre-human period, thereby ensuring that the vast majority of the planet’s population would never even get to be born – was a shock to viewers, despite his gullible belief that Grover, Whitaker and General Finch wouldn’t kill the Doctor and his UNIT friends.

There’s rather a lot of gullibility in this story as it turns out, and that’s one of its chief downfalls. The hundred or so chosen survivors deemed worthy by Grover of taking humanity’s future forward in a new direction on a re-settled, pre-technological Earth, include a trio of Elders that consists of an Olympic athlete (Terence Wilton), a top British intellectual (Brian Badcoe) and a campaigning MP (Carmen Silvera -- better known from her role in “Allo, Allo!”) who are each tricked into thinking that they have been launched into space on a newly developed, superfast space vehicle, and are set to colonise a new planet and start again, when in actual fact they’ve been all the time secreted inside a fake spaceship for months in the conspirators underground base in Central London. The fact that these supposedly intelligent people have been completely fooled by such a ridiculous plot (even Sarah quickly realises that the nearest star to Earth is still so far away that it would take hundreds of years to reach it!) rather highlights the absurdity of the entire Golden Age scheme, and yet every guest actor gets plenty of memorable moments during the course of the story’s six episodes: John Bennett’s General Finch crackles with heavy-browed, authoritarian Karloffian menace (the actor would go on to play that other iconic villain for the series, Li H'sen Chang in 1977’s  “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”); Grover is always eminently and chillingly reasonable in his gentle determination to erase the majority of humanity from history; and the UNIT regulars, John Levene as Sergeant Benton and Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, each get their individual chances to shine in the story thanks to Hulke’s sympathy for interesting character beats. One highlight involves Pertwee’s Doctor, for reasons we shan’t go into here, inviting the Brig to come stand in a darkened broom cupboard with him; you can see the Brig’s embarrassed puzzlement fighting to hide itself behind a stiff resolve registering in Courtney’s pitch perfect performance during this lovingly daft sequence, which seems to show Hulke revelling somewhat in the essential silliness of the story. This being an early Sarah Jane Smith story also gives us another chance to recall that the tone of Elisabeth Sladen’s performance was somewhat harsher, during the first stories of her first year, than it would subsequently become by the end of this Pertwee series. Here she still has her reporter’s instincts and is rather more pro-active than the devoted, slightly softer Sarah we would come to know during her partnership with Tom Baker’s Doctor.

“Invasion of the Dinosaurs” is a perplexing mixture of the best and the worst of ‘70s DOCTOR WHO. Disappointingly, there are wobbly sets in this story – the cliché which WHO fans so often correctly dispute is completely true here, during scenes in which the conspirators trap the Doctor inside a labyrinth of corridors in their underground complex, resulting in the cardboard walls swaying each time an exit is blocked off by a roller-door slamming shut; and when Sarah attempts to climb through an air vent inlaid in what is supposed to be a brick wall, the entire set seems about on the verge of collapse. Add to that the amusing rubber model dinosaurs and unconvincing CSO effects and it’s easy to see why the serial gets written off so often. Even so, Hulke’s instinctive storytelling skills make the thing eminently watchable, the ideas behind it make it attractive if inherently bonkers, and the characters are cast well and played with enough conviction to keep the story from becoming boring, which means it is a long way from being the worst of the era’s more debatable serials.

Disc one includes all six episodes of “The Dinosaur Invasion”. Although the serial was supposed to have been wiped six months after it was originally broadcast in 1974, only episode one of the original PAL colour tapes actually met with this fate, episodes two to six surviving in their original form to be included here as normal. Episode one has so far only been recovered in the form of a 16mm black & white film print which doesn’t include the colour information that’s previously been used in the reconstruction of all the other episodes from the Pertwee era that now only exist as black & white duplicates. The restoration team have therefore used the black & white version of episode one as the disc’s default option, but have also included a ‘best attempt’ at colour reconstruction,that is selectable from the special features menu. It is actually not that bad, and although the quality is nowhere near the team’s usual standard, I should imagine most fans will prefer to watch the story via this version from now on.

Toby Hadoke ably moderates all six episodes on the disc commentary track, which mostly implements a revolving door approach to the serial’s cast and crew members, who come and go in various combinations throughout. We have script editor Terrence Dicks, designer Richard Morris (who is quick to point out that he isn’t responsible for the dinosaurs), and actors Terrence Wilton, Peter Miles and Richard Franklin indulging in good natured rounds of reminiscing and mutual mockery on episodes two, three and six, while episodes one, four and five feature director Paddy Russell in one-on-one conversation with Hadoke, where she often provides an engrossing overview of her time directing “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” on the first episode, while during episode five, Hadoke changes tack and invites the veteran director (one of the few female directors working during this era) to talk about her career as a whole. This takes us right back to an historic period in the BBC’s history, as Russell came up through the ranks after working as a production assistant to famous director-producer Rudolph Cartier, and worked on the Quatermass serials as well as on Cartier’s infamous 1954 BBC production of George Orwell’s  “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. During the communal reminiscing on the other episodes, Hadoke, Dicks and Miles et al, make mention of having just attended Nicholas Courtney’s funeral the previous day, but their tribute is made all the more poignant by the fact that they’re still referring to Elisabeth Sladen in the present tense throughout.

Disc two is headed up by the half-hour ‘making of’ doc, “People, Power and Puppetry”, in which critic Matthew Sweet provides a perceptive critical overview of the themes and ideas at work in this much-maligned adventure, as well as overseeing the usual collection of talking heads remembering this impossible attempt to bring kiddie-pleasing Godzilla-like action to 1970s TV screens. Then there’s the first part of what will eventually be an overview of Elisabeth Sladen’s time on the series playing companion Sarah Jane Smith. In an interview conducted all the way back in 2003 (two years before the series was brought back to TV screens, and way before Sarah Jane Smith returned in her own TV spin-off) Sladen remembers each of her DOCTOR WHO stories in turn. This instalment covers her casting and her first series of stories starring opposite John Pertwee, and is full of the actresses customary self-effacing and humours anecdotes, all of which will be familiar to most fans but are delivered with charming exuberance.  

“Invasion of the Dinosaurs” also introduced John Pertwee’s ‘Whomobile’ to an unsuspecting world -- his self-financed, hovercraft-like vehicle which only appeared briefly here, and once more in Pertwee’s last story as the Doctor, “Planet of the Spiders”. The flamboyant, gadget-obsessed actor made a public appearance driving a glittery glammed-up version of this futuristic car in a televised edition of Billy Smart’s Circus, which was captured on film and is included here as an extra, where it depicts the Doctor, two rather bamboozled stage-struck children, and a small black poodle.

The regular featurette “Now and Then” revisits the extensive list of London locations which became backdrops to numerous rubber-based dinosaur visitations during this story, and John Levene crops up on an extra piece of commentary for episode 5 in which he remembers his favourite sequence from the serial, acting alongside John Pertwee as the Doctor is invited to perform some of his ‘Venusian ooja’ on Benton. There are also a few deleted scenes, a photo gallery, PDF Radio Times listings and on-screen text production notes. Look out also for a short easter egg in which John Pertwee respondents to a reprimand from a floor manager with a string of bleeped out expletives that seems to go on for at least twenty seconds.

“Invasion of the Dinosaurs” is partnered up on this set with what is possibly the only other adventure from the end of the UNIT era that possesses a more nonsensical plot than the one concocted by the Golden Age conspirators. Tom Baker’s second season in the role of the Doctor saw writer Terry Nation invited back by the recently installed series producer Philip Hinchcliffe in order to contribute a non-Dalek story (his last work for the show having been the now-classic “Genesis of the Daleks” the previous year) and “The Android Invasion” is the entertainingly batty result of his endeavours. Nation had previously been involved with a great many of the popular filmed action series which proliferated throughout the sixties and early seventies, when he often worked in either a script writing or a script-editing capacity on a number of similar shows like “The Avengers” and “The Persuaders”. “The Android Invasion” starts with a similar scenario to that which can be found in numerous episodes of “The Avengers” (“The Town of no Return”, “Murdersville”), “Department S” (“The Pied Piper of Hambledown”) or “Danger Man” (“Colony Three”), in which a picturesque English village becomes either deserted or unexpectedly populated by murderous doppelgangers. Outlandish espionage tales in which enemy sleeper agents infiltrate the country’s defences from within by replacing the original population town by town, were a common enough narrative element back then, as were stories in which the main protagonists get replaced by evil lookalikes; and these series often traded in quaint representations of English village life, first idealised for overseas consumption then rendered sinister by some strange miscellaneous element. A fortuitous shift in the scheduling of DOCTOR WHO around this time saw it being screened in the autumn months rather than in the summer, which meant that location filming for “The Android Invasion” now took place in the height of summer, adding to the sleepy village atmosphere of the piece. It’s notable that the Doctor’s speculations about the causes of the situation encountered when he and Sarah stumble across a similar ‘ghost village’ scenario in this story, provides exactly the kind of explanation which probably would have been correct in any other series (an evacuation after a radiation leak that makes the people exposed to it become suicidal) but turns out to be completely wrong here – one of the few examples of the Doctor’s theorising turning out to be totally redundant to the actual plot.

 When the TARDIS deposits the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) on the wooded outskirts of the sleepy, traditional country village of Devesham (or does it?  – The fact that the name of the village seems to be an amalgamation of the words ‘devious’ and ‘sham’ might be a scriptwriter’s clue!) on a beautiful summer’s morning, the duo are perplexed to find the village square (with its quaint thatched cottages and local rustic-looking pub) and the surrounding area entirely deserted apart from a suicidal UNIT solider (who plunges off a cliff, yet turns up again alive and well a bit later) and robotic, white-suited spacemen in darkened helmets sporting Auton-like hand weapons built into their pointy fingers, who mercilessly hunt them through the sunny meadows and woods. Furthermore, the village’s missing residents later arrive en masse in the back of a truck, escorted by the robot men, and resume their afternoon activities in the village pub as though everything were perfectly normal. What can be going on? Is it related to the nearby Space Defence Station at which an astronaut mysteriously vanished after the launch of his space rocket two years previously? Why have all the coins in the village been newly minted with the same date, and why does every page in the pub calendar also display the exact same day and date?

The answer is that the entire village is in fact a replica, and that the Doctor and Sarah aren’t actually on Earth at all! The replica village is a test ‘training ground’ built on the planet Oseidon in preparation for an alien invasion of Earth. It’s been populated by android replicas of the original human inhabitants which have been created from the harvested memories of kidnapped astronaut Guy Crayford (Milton Johns) by a dastardly race of aliens called Kraals. Actually, there only appear to be two Kraals in charge of the entire invasion plot; their crazy scheme is presided over by crack Kraal scientist Styggron (Martin Friend) – the kind of alien scientific wunderkind who can realise perfect, sentient android replicas of human beings easily enough, and even manages to simulate authentic ginger pop (the Doctor’s favourite pub tipple in this story, for some reason) from the vague two-year-old memories of a gullible astronaut, but nevertheless remains completely bamboozled by the complexities of pub calendar dating! The Kraals get short shrift from producer Philip Hinchcliffe on the accompanying commentary track since the producer had a dread of actors in heavy, immovable latex masks being required to deliver endless scenes of verbose dialogue. But when you have one of them played by Roy Skelton, as is Kraal military commander Chedaki here, Hinchcliffe’s nightmare scenario in fact becomes rather more pleasurable for the viewer, since we end up with a hunchbacked, beady-eyed rhinoceros-faced villain who sports a fetching pair of clumpy silver Doc Martins boots and has a tendency to sound like either George or Zippy from “Rainbow” in alternating scenes.

I could fill several lengthy paragraphs detailing the almost surreal levels of absurdity and nonsensicality inherent in the Kraals’ invasion plans, but frankly it’s exhausting just thinking about it! One can only speculate that Styggron suffers from some sort of acute procrastination syndrome that makes him prone to dithering around in the creation of highly elaborate plots such as this, which are full of irrelevant details, depend on huge coincidences and unforeseeable circumstances occurring to order just for them to even stand a chance of working, and expend large amounts of technological ingenuity on what in the end turns out to be the usual default Terry Nation ‘Dalek plot’ where the aliens intend to wipe out humanity with a virus. Of course, it’s all massively entertaining stuff; Baker and Sladen are on a roll at the height of their dream partnership, the guest actors Martin Friend, Roy Skelton and Milton Johns take a firm grip of their ridiculous characters and enter fully into the pantomime spirit of Nation’s absurd tale, and an unusual amount of location filming in the sunny, picturesque Oxfordshire village of East Hagbourne means the serial reproduces just the right Avengers-like vibe; which is appropriate seeing as how Styggron’s plot takes all its elements from an average Avengers or ITC-type drama without connecting them in a way that makes any kind of sense whatsoever.

Nation delivers everything you’d want to see in an alien-directed doppelganger story though (which is just as well seeing how season 13 had already had one of them a mere eight weeks earlier in “Terror of the Zygons”): we get a replacement robot Sarah giving its-self away to the Doctor by guzzling the ginger ale the real Sarah previously admitted to hating, then falling over and literally losing its face (Sladen’s subtlety different performance as the android alter ego proving just what a great actress she was, if proof were ever needed); the Doctor fighting his own android doppelganger replacement (cue stunt double in prestigious curly wig & scarf) and previous series regulars John Levene and Ian Marter appearing as evil doubles of Sergeant Benton and former companion Harry Sullivan. The latter two turn out to be making their last ever appearance in the series, but neither is given the appropriate  farewell moment – indeed, it comes across like Benton’s been casually killed by his double, although a later story from season 20, Mawdryn Undead, reveals otherwise.

If the occupants of Charles Grover’s fake spacecraft were gullible fools for falling for the MP’s ludicrous hippy-baiting claims in “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”, then that’s as nothing when compared to the level of credulousness displayed by Guy Crayford, the ‘real’ British space astronaut responsible for providing the Kraals with the English village template that eventually plays no part whatsoever in their ensuing invasion plans. As part of their pointless ruse, the Kraals persuade Crayford that his spacecraft exploded in space, and that they had to put him back together again, out of the kindness of their hearts, with their superior surgical techniques. Apart from the one eye that is … which they apparently were not able to recover from the wreckage, therefore necessitating the donning of a large eye-patch by the trusting space farer. This is a complete lie on the Kraals’ part, of course -- perpetrated in order to gain the astronaut’s trust. There seems to be no fathomable reason for them to lie about that missing eye though, and it gives Crayford an easy way of testing the Kraals’ story, if only he were intelligent enough to remove the patch -- which he would presumably normally have to do when washing his face, so goodness knows what this says about Crayford’s hygiene habits. Daft as it all is, the final episode takes place inside the real UNIT-occupied Space Defence Station on the real Earth, with the Doctor trying to fend off fake android UNIT personnel (who have been shot to earth in artificial meteorites) as they plot to replace the inhabitants of the entire station so that it can be used as a Kraal base from which to distribute the deadly virus. This episode introduces Patrick Newell as blustering Colonel Faraday (a replacement for Nicholas Courtney, who was unable to appear as the Brigadier because of a prior booking) and is perhaps the most appropriate piece of casting for this style of story, seeing as not only had Newell played the regular character ‘Mother’ in the final season of “The Avengers”, he’d also had a guest part in the Avengers story which most closely parallels this one, the Brian Clemens scripted “The Town of no Return”!

For all its clumsy plot holes, its total disregard for even the skewwhiff brand of special DOCTOR WHO logic we habitually accept let alone the prosaic everyday variety, and despite its slightly useless monsters (although I have to admit a bit of a soft spot for the hapless Styggron), the plot keeps moving at a fair lick even though the wheels come off it fairly quickly. This is a story that’s full of memorable moments, skilfully orchestrated by director Barry Letts  in such a fluid way that it all seems to make perfect sense at the time, until you stop to think about it afterwards! he can’t resist resorting to using the photographic CSO backdrops he was famed for introducing when he produced the show during Pertwee’s tenure, though. In this case they’re utilised to stand in for the flight deck on Crayford’s rocket, presumably after the money starts running out during the last episode. Set beside all the other stories in season 13, “The Android Invasion” is clearly the weakest link, but then we’re talking about a season that includes the likes of “Planet of Evil”, “The Brain of Morbius” and “The Seeds of Doom” so that’s hardly surprising. Even so, both “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” and “The Android Invasion” fare far better today than their reputations suggests. “The Android Invasion” still comes from a period when Tom Baker could do no wrong, and was perfectly attuned to his unique incarnation of the Doctor: the mock sonorous manner in which he asks for ‘ginger pop, please’ at the village pub for instance, is classic Baker – deadpan serious in its gloriously childlike silliness. Both adventures are really rather wonderful in their slightly shambolic way and consequently work extremely well together as partners in crime on this classic set.

The dependable Toby Hadoke returns to moderate producer Philip Hinchcliffe, production assistant Marion McDougall and actors Milton Johns and Martin Friend in a commentary spanning all four episodes of “The Android Invasion,” during which Hinchcliffe talks about his fondness for the macabre mystery elements in Nation’s story but expresses disappointment at the galumphing appearance of the rhino-like Kraals. Johns and Friend found Baker and Sladen to be very welcoming at the time, Baker yet to develop the difficult reputation he later became infamous for. The half hour ‘making of’ documentary “The Village That Came to Life” (presented with a title sequence that mimics the classic ‘70s action thrillers from which the scenario derives) is introduced by Terry Nation fan Nicholas Pegg, who chooses to focus more on the experiences of the people of East Hagbourne who found themselves besieged by children from the surrounding area when DOCTOR WHO came to town for extensive location shooting (some of the interviewees, of course, were those children at the time). “Life After Who” is an eye-opening half hour in which Philip Hinchcliffe’s daughter Celina interviews her father about his post-WHO career, a career which started with a BBC attempt at a gritty, Sweeny style filmed drama series “Target”, and went on to include many prestigious productions such as “Private Schulz” and historical biographical series “Nancy Astor”, and an early Anthony Hopkins drama “Strangers and Brothers”; while a move to LWT resulted in Hinchcliffe’s involvement with the popular Nigel Havers series “The Charmer”. The producer talks about the changes he’s seen in the industry over the years and the accumulation of tiers of bureaucracy in the production process.

The usual photo gallery roundup of production stills and behind-the-scenes shots, on-screen text production info, PFD Radio Times listings, and an easter egg featuring eight minutes of location sound rushes in which Elisabeth Sladen gets increasingly breathless while repeating endless takes of a single scene are included, along with subtitles and a ‘coming soon’ trailer for “The Sensorites”. And let’s not forget the inclusion of the immensely nostalgic Weetabix advert for promotional packs featuring free Doctor Who cardboard figures, in which a red Dalek threatens to exterminate your Weetabix box! This was indeed ‘the golden age’ of DOCTOR WHO for many of us; even the glaring faults in these two stories don’t diminish the era’s shine.

 
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