Title: Doctor Who: The UNIT Files
Directors: Paddy Russell (Invasion of the Dinosaurs) and Barry Letts (The Android Invasion)
Starring: Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Nicholas Courtney, John Levene,
Released: 9th January 2012
The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith arrive back in the present day to find a deserted London. Dinosaurs have overtaken the city and are blinking in and out of time. UNIT are investigating the crisis but as the Doctor gets closer to the truth and Sarah is kidnapped, he begins to wonder who he can trust within his team.
The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith discover that all is not well within the sleepy English village of Devesham. The locals are acting rather strangely, figures in white suits patrol the borders and UNIT are guarding a local space defence station. As the duo investigate the mystery they meet impossible astronauts, androids, Kraals and realise that they may not even be on Earth at all...
Anyone expecting The UNIT Files to be the cream of the crop from the boys in green or to contain the long awaited Terror of the Zygons will be disappointed. The UNIT Invasion Files, or even The UNIT Betrayal Files, may have been better monikers but as usual I’m just having a moan. This boxset contains Invasion of the Dinosaurs, which is an excellent, yet underrated, Jon Pertwee story from the end of his era and The Android Invasion, a rare non-Dalek story from Terry Nation which sadly loses its way despite an intriguing premise.
One cliché that is being trotted out more and more these days is that the setting is a character in itself such as the Village in The Prisoner and it's one that could be said of both these stories. Invasion of the Dinosaurs by Malcolm Hulke, the most political of Doctor Who writers, opens with scenes of a deserted London as the TARDIS arrives back from its medieval jaunt in The Time Warrior. From here on we see the underside of the city and one that is probably more reminiscent of shows like The Sweeney and Minder. Pertwee and co visit the backstreets and alleyways alongside places like Moorgate tube station and Wimbledon Common. UNIT are even holed up in a school, away from their usual HQ, and it helps to heighten the sense of a city in crisis. It's a shame it's living in fear of such a rubbish menace and indeed this serial is often dismissed as being “the one with the shitty dinosaurs” but here it’s a case of the plot being so much better than the effects which are mercifully reduced. Here we have Primeval: 1970s style! The dinosaurs themselves are rubbery, Ray Harryhausenesque affairs and although some of the CSO work does well, the fringing does stand out in other scenes. From the documentaries it doesn’t seem like they weren’t the biggest hit in 1974 either. The first episode is available in either black and white or a new coloured version which does unfortunately look a bit grainy. We also get a rare glimpse of Pertwee’s bizarre replacement-Bessie, the Whomobile.
Back to the story and we find one bereft of alien influence, with the dinosaurs being the only monster. They are being controlled by Operation Golden Age, a secret conspiracy to use time travel to send the best of mankind back to the past and wipe out anyone else. As the plot wears on it is plagued by the fact that almost everyone seems to turn out to be a traitor including a high profile UNIT character. This is one of the better serials to use the six part format to throw in many intriguing twists and turns. Sarah Jane Smith’s second serial shows off the character wonderfully, in fact I would say it’s one of the best for any companion, and shows that Who girls do more than just totter around in high heels and mini-skirts screaming. Sarah is brave, she asks questions and is as hungry to find a solution as the Doctor: especially if she can get a story out of it. She particularly shines in the scenes after she is taken aboard the spaceship and tries to convince the populace that it’s all rubbish. However it’s clear that she now looks up to the Doctor and is happy to slip into a role as his assistant although that may only be because she gets to stay in the loop. Sergeant Benton also gets some wonderful lines, especially when he fights a superior officer while still being courteous to him. The rest of cast do really well and a few pop up again in different and more notable roles in the series. All in all, a fantastic UNIT tale if you can look past the terrible effects. And you really, really should.
The Android Invasion was broadcast nearly two years after Invasion of the Dinosaurs but it feels like a much larger chasm. By now Sarah is beginning to tire of travelling with the Doctor and seems to have lost her earlier edge, so perhaps she began to feel more comfortable with her new life. UNIT’s involvement feels rather half-hearted too and although it’s good to see Harry Sullivan and RSM Benton again, they don’t get much to do and the absence of Mike Yates and the Brigadier only reminds you that this is not as good as the team’s glory days. For Harry and Benton this is their final shout in the series. Patrick Newall tries to fill the void as Colonel Faraday but he ends up as simply a fatter version of Lethbridge-Stewart. At least director Barry Letts, producer during the Pertwee years, knows his way around a UNIT serial. The first episode is suitably creepy and reminiscent of The Avengers or Sapphire & Steel as the Doctor and Sarah amble through the deserted village of Devesham which is very picture postcard and suitably so. The eerie stillness of the locals is especially good. The cast do well especially Martin Friend as the hunchbacked Kraal leader, Styggron, and Milton Johns as the confused astronaut Guy Crayford.
It’s just a shame that it wasn’t better thought through but as usual Baker and Sladen enliven proceedings and do a decent job playing their own robot doubles too. When Sarah Jane’s ‘face’ pops off at the end of episode two, it’s still quite a startling moment despite the retro electronics. If anything that makes it creepier. Unfortunately we also get that well-worn trope the countdown cliffhanger and a ‘Doctor in peril’ moment that would not look out of place at the end of an episode of the 1960s Batman series.
For fans of 1970s Doctor Who, Sarah Jane Smith, and those brave boys and girls of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce this is a great purchase. Invasion of the Dinosaurs is a solid classic provided you can look past the dodgy effects while The Android Invasion may be one of the lesser tales from Tom Baker’s golden era but it’s enjoyable enough. ATTENSHUN!
Extras: Invasion of the Dinosaurs: Disc 1: Commentary with Toby Hadoke, Paddy Russell, Terrance Dicks, Richard Franklin, Peter Miles, Richard Morris and Terence Wilton. Coming Soon trailer, text commentary and the option to watch episode one in either black and white or colour.
Disc 2: People, Power and Puppetry is our ‘making of’ here while Now and Then returns to the various London locations of this story. Doctor Who Stories: Elisabeth Sladen: Part One features a 2003 interview from the actress and we see a brief clip of an in-character Jon Pertwee and the Whomobile from Billy Smart’s Circus. Also included is a ten minute commentary on episode five by John Levene, some deleted scenes, a photo gallery, Easter egg and PDF material.
The Android Invasion: Commentary with Toby Hadoke, Philip Hinchcliffe, Milton Johns, Martin Friend and Marion McDougall. The Village That Came To Life is the ‘making of’ here and Life After Who sees ex-producer Philip Hinchcliffe interviewed by his TV presenter daughter Celina about his post-Who projects. Also included is a Weetabix advert, photo gallery, text commentary, Coming Soon trailer and PDF material.
Continuing Adventures: The Seventh Doctor Virgin New Adventures novel Original Sin (1995) by Andy Lane reveals that Operation Golden Age was funded by Tobias Vaughn. He was previously an ally of the Cybermen in Second Doctor TV story The Invasion. The Kraals are going to be returning later this year in Big Finish audio The Oseidon Adventure (2012) in a story which will see them team up with the Master against the Fourth Doctor and Leela. They also received a brief mention in The Brilliant Book 2012 in which it was noted that the Eleventh Doctor and Jenny, Madame Vastra’s maid, stopped them from planting an android duplicate of Prince Bertie in 1881. The Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler novel The Monsters Inside (2005) by Stephen Cole also reveals that the Slitheen like to disguise themselves as Kraals to make money.
Trivia learnt from the disc: While shooting Invasion of the Dinosaurs, Elisabeth Sladen was told by a prank-playing cameraman that she would need special underwear for shooting with CSO otherwise she would appear virtually naked on screen. This led to her hammering on a now-locked dressing room door demanding her non-existent CSO undergarments.