Doctor Who: U.N.I.T. Files DVD boxset (DVD review).

December 9, 2013 | By | Reply More

This boxset contains two stories: Invasion Of The Dinosaurs and The Android Invasion.

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Doctor Who: Invasion Of The Dinosaurs by Malcolm Hulke

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBCDVD33764. 2 DVDs 150 minutes 6 * 25 minute episodes with extras.)

cast: Jon Pertwee, Elisabeth Sladen, Nicholas Courtney, Richard Franklin, John Levene, Peter Miles, Martin Jarvis, John Bennett and Noel Johnson

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The Doctor (actor Jon Pertwee) and Sarah Jane Smith (actress Elisabeth Sladen) arrive back on Earth but not at UNIT HQ but in a deserted London park, although approximately the right time. Mystified as to where everyone has gone, they have a couple mini-adventures coming across few looters and a couple pterodactyls before they themselves are mistaken as looters and arrested by the army. Attempting to escape, they are re-captured and get their first encounter with a dinosaur and flee in handcuffs. In another shed, the Doctor releases them both from the handcuffs and encounter a man from Richard the Lion-Heart’s day before he is suddenly returned to the past.

By this time, the Brigadier (actor Nicholas Courtney) has caught up with them and gets them to the nearby UNIT site and fills them in as to what is going on. Dinosaurs have been appearing and vanishing all over central London and apart from looters, the population had been evacuated.

As the Doctor prepares a weapon to capture one of the dinosaurs and to trace the energy trail that returns them to their own time, no one has really noticed that Captain Mike Yates (actor Richard Franklin) is acting rather strangely. He is working for the two scientists, Whitaker (actor Peter Miles) and Butler (actor Martin Jarvis) behind this operation, and given a small device to attach to the Doctor’s gun to prevent it working and track them down. At the first test fire, the brontosaurus vanishes only to be replaced by a tyrannosaurs rex and the Doctor’s gun doesn’t fire. Yates, not wanting to see the Doctor harmed, secretly disables the gadget and uses the gun to render the dinosaur unconscious.

The t-rex is then shipped to the UNIT base where the Doctor rigs a device to monitor when it dematerialises. While the Doctor returns to UNIT HQ to get some devices from his TARDIS, returned there by a UNIT team, General Finch (actor John Bennett) arranges for Sarah Jane to go to his HQ to get a proper pass and her camera so she photograph the captured t-rex alone. She is locked in and stunned by the waking dinosaur. Fortunately, the Doctor returns, rescuing her so they both escape the damage it causes. The t-rex causes some damage before dematerialising. When they investigate the Doctor’s equipment later, they find it has been sabotaged and no information taken.

The Doctor makes a portable version of his tracking device and uses his new ‘Whomobile’ to triangulate the position. Meanwhile, a dejected Sarah Jane decides to do her own investigation and track where the nuclear reactor is that is powering the device and goes and talks to the remaining Cabinet member in charge, Charles Grover (actor Noel Johnson), only to find he’s the head of the conspiracy and awakes on a space mission to a colony a little into the future. The scratch to her forehead proves to Sarah Jane that she hadn’t been in suspended animation despite what she’s told and they see her as a hostile who needs to be ‘re-educated’.

Meanwhile, the Doctor’s tracker has led to an underground station and he’s able to observe Butler using a concealed lift down deeper to an underground bunker and follows the same route. Unfortunately, their surveillance cameras spot him and he’s herded back to the surface and attacked by another pterodactyl before fleeing. He brings back the Brigadier but they both find the lift apparatus has gone. A talk with Grover makes the Doctor suspicious but he has no proof but thinks something is going on. However, they conspire and make it seem like the Doctor has been doing it.

Fortunately, although the Brigadier convinces Finch to leave the Doctor in his custody and then has to go with the General to see Grover. When Sergeant Benton (actor John Levene) sees that Yates is involved, he arranges for the Doctor to escape.

Meanwhile, on the spaceship, Sarah Jane escapes and discovers things aren’t what they seem and returns to ‘Earth’. How requires UNIT clearance or watching the DVD. She manages to get back to the UNIT base and leave a message only to run into Finch and is unwittingly captured again.

After evading an army detail, the Doctor finally meets up with the Brigadier and plans take place…did I say you had to have UNIT security clearance for the rest?

In a weird way, the dinosaurs are incidental to the main plot which considering the aims was going to be done rather insidiously and it’s amazing that certain military figures were convinced this was the only way to do things. In many respects, the opening episodes have a Wyndham feel to them, except there are dinosaurs instead of triffids. It is also more convoluted and the dinosaurs are really only a small bit of razzle dazzle to what is really going on, a rather vile way to commit genocide by time displacement.

‘Invasion Of The Dinosaurs’ has had a lot of flak over the years, mostly for the poor quality of the beasties themselves. Looking objectively, considering the small budget, its only the tyrannosaurs rex that really comes off badly in the second episode and looks much more menacing in the third and both versions appeared in the fifth. The others are passable at a distance and the pterodactyls work better than they should in a confined space and some careful editing. Objectively, when compared to re-used footage of dressed up reptiles from films in TV series, on the BBC limited budget, they could have been a lot worse.

Things I spotted. Martin Jarvis was once a Menoptera in ‘The Web Planet’, Carmen Silvera had previously appeared in ‘The Celestial Toymaker’ and Peter Miles would return in the future as Nyder in ‘Genesis Of The Daleks’. In their lab, one of the flashing light panels is the same as one ran in the ITV ‘UFO’ series.

There’s a musical chairs with the audio commentaries but three are devoted to director Paddy Russell. She might have had problems remembering much about this story but it was fascinating hearing her stories of the early 50s BBC, the various people, Prince Philip and being a set manager.

Other people providing audio commentary are actors Richard Franklin, Peter Miles and Terrance Wilton with designer Richard Morris and script editor Terrance Dicks. All of them looked back fondly at this story, which as they all point out was less about dinosaurs and more about the abuse of power.

The rather extensive extras DVD cover a multitude of info related to the story. Of specific interest was when the original plot was given to scriptwriter Malcolm Hulke was that it sounded like it was remade as the penultimate story of ‘Torchwood’ as if describes an alien race wanting a little and then taking more each time.

The first part of an interview with Elisabeth Sladen from her casting and working on the various stories with Jon Pertwee covers things I’ve heard of but always nice to hear it from the people involved. John Levene gets his own ten minutes covering his own significant parts in the story. Considering so many were involved in the main audio commentary this is hardly surprising.

The photo section shows a lot of behind the scene material and a chuckle over the attacking pterodactyls head being held by a hand off camera.

In terms of screen time, the dinosaurs don’t really take up much air-time and it’s the implied threat and danger which carries the story over. In many respects, there is a lot going on in this story. Not only the aforementioned abuse of power but also the colonisers on the spaceship. It’s amazing how much was done without people getting wind of it. I mean, if the examples of the star colonisers is anything to go by, you would have thought more people would have noticed that they had gone.

What carries the story for me is the performances and this still makes this story worthwhile to watch.

 

Doctor Who: The Android Invasion by Terry Nation

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBCDVD33768. 1 DVDs 100 minutes 4 * 25 minute episodes with extras.)

cast: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Milton Johns, Ian Marter, Martin Friend, Roy Skelton, Patrick Newell and John Levene

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The Doctor (actor Tom Baker) and Sarah Jane Smith (actress Elisabeth Sladen) step out of the TARDIS into a forest glade. An oak tree with acorns confirms to the Doctor they are on Earth, although one of his devices indicates a recent high energy use and a damp atmosphere is contradicted by the dry ground. Things get murkier when they spot a UNIT soldier just before he jumps off a cliff to his death. An examination of his body reveals loose change all mint and of the same unspecified year. They then have to flee from some humanoids wearing white suits and astronaut helmets who shoot at them with finger guns, although quite why the Doctor didn’t think these could be Autons beats me.

They discover a deserted village which Sarah Jane recognises as Devesham, not far from a British space centre. Even the local pub is deserted, but not for long. Looking outside, they see the arrival of a truck with some white suited spacemen and the villagers who enter the pub as the Doctor and Sarah Jane watch through a doorway. The villagers, including the dead but now resurrected UNIT soldier, get into position and come back to life with the clock chimes. The Doctor gives her the key to the TARDIS and to observe what happens in the pub while he goes to the space centre to contact UNIT.

Sarah Jane goes into the pub and after hostile looks from the villagers, takes the landlord’s hint to leave as they think she is a test. Outside, she sees one of the spacemen with its helmet up and sees it’s a robot. She flees back to the forest glade and puts the key into the TARDIS lock. As she examines a strange large rock nearby, the TARDIS dematerialises. Thinking the Doctor has left without her, she goes to the space centre to call UNIT.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is at the space centre and seemingly deserted but instead of Lethbridge-Stewart in his assigned room, there is Senior Defence Astronaut Guy Crayford (actor Milton Johns). Although he’s heard of the Doctor, he’ll have him locked him up until his identified. The Doctor escapes for a while but is eventually recaptured and locked up. Sarah Jane arrives and frees him but they are being observed by aliens. The leader, Styggron (actor Martin Friend) of the Kraals changes his mind in having them killed and wants them processed instead.

Briefly coming across an odd Sergeant Benton (actor John Levene) who shoots at them, they flee into the forest and Sarah Jane has a near ankle sprain, so the Doctor leaves her up a tree as he leaves a false trail. Unfortunately, Sarah Jane is captured and the Doctor meets her duplicate but suspects from the start that she’s not the original and as she collapses, her face drops off.

The Doctor returns to the village, sees the androids leaving and then is tied up in the village square and watch the countdown of a bomb. In the Kraal spaceship, Sarah Jane wakens and hearing that she is going to be a guinea pig for a new poison flees and succeeds in rescuing the Doctor. Unfortunately, when they get back inside the Kraal spaceship they are captured and imprisoned as the village is destroyed. Crayford visits them and says the Kraals don’t intend to kill the humans, only take over the northern hemisphere. They don’t think to search the Doctor, so he uses his sonic screwdriver to open a power conduit before he is taken away. Sarah Jane is left a meal of bread and water but as he leaves the Doctor reminds her that water conducts electricity. Instead of drinking it and the poison, Sarah Jane uses the water with the electrical conduct to disable the guard android. The Doctor was having his brain copied as Styggron leaves, confident that left unattended, it will burn his brain out. Fortunately, Sarah Jane comes to the rescue and they manage to get into Crayford’s rocket before it takes off. He has managed to convince the people at the real Devesham space centre that he survived and on its last orbit it’s going to dispense androids in pods to land on Earth and replace the people. Unknown to Crayford, they will then poison the water supply and in an estimated three weeks the extinction of mankind.

Surviving the take-off, the Doctor and Sarah Jane use the pods to get to Earth and although the Time Lord suspects there might be duplicates of themselves. After that, it’s a matter of who’s who and who’s Sarah Jane and for that, you’ll have to watch for yourself. This is also the last UNIT story for some time.

The audio commentary musical chairs is split between actors Milton Johns and Martin Friend, Production Manager Marion McDougal and Producer Philip Hinchliffe. The two actors compare how filming techniques back then and now are filmed. Milton Johns makes a telling point that TV then was a mix of stage and TV, allowing sufficient time to rehearse and sort out how they react to each other which is missing today. There is a lot of discussion about their various jobs and my favourite bit has to be Milton Johns discussing why it’s easier to play villains than heroes and Martin Friend pointing out you have to dig deeper into your psyche to utilise your own flaws to make it work.

Watching it again, there is one obvious flaw. I mean how did the Kraals have the necessary knowledge to duplicate the people of Devesham and the space centre when their devices clearly had to have the people in person there to make an exact copy. Watching ‘The Village That Came To Life’ and discovering that the physical shape of the Kraals as being delicate surgeons wasn’t quite what they wanted at least demonstrates what we, the viewers, accepted back then. Looking at the androids’ interiors, the Kraals certainly looked more solid state before we had solid state.

Producer Philip Hinchcliffe being interviewed by his daughter, Celina, about what he did after his three years tenure on ‘Doctor Who’ ended up me playing a game of recognising some of the shows as he described before naming them. It certainly gave some insight into how a producer works and the differences between working for BBC and ITV. One obvious change that really needs to be sorted out is selection by committee rather than the man at the top, especially as so many programmes never get off the ground or end up circling these days. Granted, a single person carries their own prejudices but these seem to be multiplied these days.

This story holds together well, even on a limited budget which is skilfully employed in outside and indoors. Philip Hinchcliffe and director Barry Letts note that through lack of time that they had to omit one scene, showing how the Doctor resurrected and reprogrammed his android to work despite the big turn-off. Objectively, had we seen that, there wouldn’t have been any surprise in the finale. It does make me wonder why the Kraals never attempted such an attack again but maybe the fleet not hearing back from Styggron must have thought that they had underestimated the humans and tried their luck elsewhere. An enjoyable story nonetheless.

GF Willmetts

December 2013

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBCDVD 3376. 3 DVDs 250 minutes, 2 stories plus extras. Price: £ 9.00 (UK) if you know where to look)

check out website: www.bbcshop.com

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Category: Doctor Who, TV

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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