DOCTOR WHO: U.N.I.T FILES – INVASION OF THE DINOSAURS and THE ANDROID INVASION
Released as a double DVD (three discs) from 2ENTERTAIN
Reviewed by Scott Weller
Monsters from the dawn of time and creatures from the farthest reaches of deep space threaten Humanity, and only the Time Lord alien known as The Doctor, alongside his trusty friends from the Earth-based military organisation U.N.I.T, led by the stalwart Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (the much missed Nicholas Courtney), can gallantly save the day in two lively new DOCTOR WHO adventures released by the BBC and 2ENTERTAIN- Invasion of the Dinosaurs and The Android Invasion – part of the U.N.I.T. FILES box set sprung from the well that was the shows seventies peak of success, and written by two of the series most distinctive writers-Malcolm Hulke and Dalek creator Terry Nation, both of whom would put their indelible mark on WHO’s long term story-telling history.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs gets things off to a fine start with the eerie atmosphere of a deserted London: it's people evacuated due to a menace not revealed to the newly arrived investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith (the always lovely and talented actress Elisabeth Sladen) and The Doctor (in his third Dandy’ish incarnation, played with charm by Jon Pertwee) until the mid-part of the opening episode. As the tale of unfolds, we soon discover that the menace is Dinosaurs: the extinct beasts having been literally scooped from time and planted in modern day London with a purpose, as a group of well meaning but deranged scientists and politicians, as well as a traitor working within the heart of U.N.I.T itself, plan to bring about a new Golden Age for the planet, which threatens the Human Race with annihilation!
DVD trailer for both stories in the box-set: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsKe8sFqb7Q
|The U.N.I.T family of Invasion of the Dinosaurs - L-R: Sgt. Benton (John Levene), Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin), The Doctor (Jon Pertwee), The Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen). All WHO images: BBC.|
Though it’s in the beginning of its necessary end during this phase of the shows history (the final coffin nail delivered by the end of Tom Baker’s ultra-confident and much different in style second season), all of the UNIT regulars get a good share of the storytelling in Invasion (though sadly less so in the later The Android Invasion), especially Richard Franklin, receiving some well-deserved character development as Captain Mike Yates, and the always amiable John Levene as loyal Sgt. Benton, who not only gets to be a good solider but provides some welcome light comedy moments.
Malcolm Hulke’s last script for WHO also turns out to be one of his best (his hatred of officialdom and politicians clearly showing once again, alongside other firm elements of his scribing talents that would help define the Pertwee era to the viewing masses), with some good twists and turns, backed up with sterling direction from Paddy Russell (one of the BBC’s first female directors) and a fine guest cast including such acting stalwarts as John Bennett, Peter Miles, Martin Jarvis and ALLO ALLO’s Carman Silvera.
|The very wonky dinosaurs of the title!|
With such strong elements highlighted it’s just a terrible shame that the most important element of the production-the actual visual effects realisation of the Dinosaurs-are so shoddy. I remember vague images from watching this tale as a kid in its original 1973 BBC 1 transmission, as well as the two superb and evocative pieces of cover art for the adaptations of this story in Target Book form. Sadly, re-watching the episodes after so long, the on-screen creatures fail to live up to such great imagery and artistic ambition held in the mind: a factor that would plague WHO in its classic series history, primarily down to lack of time and money.
Granted, there are a couple-just a couple! - of creature shots that look okay, but in this new digital age of effects and CGI wonders, Jurassic Park it certainly ain’t! A pity, as the man assigned the visual effects work- a freelance veteran, Clifford Culley- was a talented professional who had done some excellent model work on the previous seasons highly successful epic six-parter Planet of the Daleks. On the plus side, however, both this and the accompanying release have some inventive and fine for their time electronic effects.
Of the supplementary materials, the Invasion behind the scenes documentary, presented and co-written by Matthew Sweet, reveals an intriguing look at the time in which the story was made and makes a worthy examination of the shows strengths and weaknesses during the early seventies. There’s also some good deleted scenes material from a longer edit of one of the episodes and a lengthy interview with the much-missed Elisabeth Sladen from 2003: a welcome treat and a lively reminder of the talented lady who always gave good interview anecdotes. Also a nice curio is Jon Pertwee’s visit in the Whomobile Car (specially created for the actor, and which would soon see use in two of his final season stories) to Billy Smart’s Circus in 1973/4, and a Weetabix cereals TV advert for their then DOCTOR WHO collectible card series.
|The Doctor is attacked by a very nasty Pterodactyl.|
A final special treat for fans is that Episode One of the tale is now available to see in an optional colourised version alongside the surviving black and white copy (it’s original colour master having been accidentally junked due to the tales first episode being given a different title-just Invasion (so as not to give the game away as to who the monsters were to viewers), and similar to the Patrick Troughton B/W story of the same name from 1968, of which several of its episodes were wiped or destroyed alongside it by the BBC in the same time period). This new colourisation, ambitiously handled by the shows dedicated Restoration Team with the best affordable technology currently available to them, is a decent job that bodes well for the future in restoring copies of other Pertwee’s stories that currently only exist in black and white or partial colour form.
Moving into regeneration mode now, and The Android Invasion. Almost a forgotten story in many ways from Tom Baker’s second year, sandwiched between what would later be regarded as several classic tales, the second adventure of the box set sees a more traditional take on the invasion of Earth plots that Classic DOCTOR WHO always did with gusto, as the Rhino-like alien Kraals use various means-duplicate human androids, space suited drones who fire weapons from their fingertips, and a deadly virus- to wipe out any resistance, in a grand scale plan of which the Doctor (the dominant and inspiring Tom Baker) and Sarah Jane literally walk into unawares at first…
|The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) is captured by Kraal robot servants in The Android Invasion.|
Always capable of spinning intriguing yarns with super openings, Terry Nation’s four-part tale proves a good, fast paced romp despite a seemingly rushed ending- a grand mixture of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Avengers (of which Nation had been a Script Editor for a season)- in a thankfully Dalek-less tale, breezily directed by Barry Letts, that would be initiated by the now fully settled in new producer Philip Hinchcliffe and legendary story editor Robert Holmes, both of whom wanted to take the series in a bolder new dramatic dimension and not have the Time Lord stranded in one particular path of Earth history. Android is the story which daringly says adieu to what’s left of the U.N.I.T family that’s available (including the late Ian Marter’s portrayal of loyal and bumblingly heroic Doctor Harry Sullivan)- the organization’s penultimate appearance (with a brief battle with a Krynoid plant monster to come in this seasons finale, The Seeds of Doom) until it re-emerges in a bigger fashion during the Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy’s era in 1989…
It’s lower budget, in-studio production values may show at times, but Android counterbalances this, like the prior London-set Invasion, with some of the shows best location shooting in picturesque Oxfordshire. The film work of these seventies WHO stories looks great-it’s a pity that the whole Classic Series couldn't have been shot entirely in that format. (Both stories also have accompanying Now and Then documentaries that nicely delve into their heavy use of location filming.)
|The villainous Kraals behind The Android Invasion.|
Forwarding to the disc extras, Android’s behind the scenes documentary, introduced by Nicholas Briggs, is of a good standard despite only a few of the original program’s cast and crew being available to talk about it’s making, plus there’s a nicely produced featurette on the series most iconic producer, Phillip Hinchcliffe, who enthusiastically talks about his packed career in film and TV post WHO, in an interview conducted by his daughter Celina. Across both story bonus discs there’s the usual informative and lively audio commentaries (including a rare commentary track from John Levene for Invasion’s fifth episode), Radio Times magazine listings, production information, PDF materials, a fun Coming Soon trailer for the Hartnell era The Sensorites, a couple of Easter Eggs, and photo galleries (Invasion having some great images I hadn’t seen before).
|Sarah rescues The Doctor from Kraal torture.|
Seeing them listed on paper, to many of the shows die-hard fans the two titles comprising this new release may be considered poor in comparison to so many great and classic stories of the Pertwee/Tom Baker eras, but this welcome release is more than a fine showcase for everybody’s favourite alien fighting military organisation during a most fondly remembered era of DOCTOR WHO. Technical limitations of the time may hinder the enjoyment of young fans blindsided by modern WHO, but the overall storytelling is strong (if sometimes implausible, I agree, alongside a few plot holes), with high calibre main and supporting casts hard at work. Watching these tales again you can't help but admire and enjoy their conviction in front of and behind the scenes in conveying these adventures to the mass audiences.
Overall, the U.N.I.T FILES box set is a good value gig of TV entertainment, with both lead WHO actors, with Elisabeth Sladen as their companion, at the very top of their powers and popularity, presented in episode re-mastering’s that are of the best standard you’ll ever see on DVD.
KOOL TV RATINGS: OVERALL EPISODES: 7.5, OVERALL SECONDARY FEATURES CONTENT: 8
Order the U.N.I.T FILES box set from AMAZON here: Doctor Who - U.N.I.T Files (Invasion of the Dinosaurs and the Android Invasion) [DVD]: Amazon.co.uk: Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Nicholas Courtney: Film & TV