“People on Earth were allowed to choose. And see what kind of a world they made – moral degradation, permissiveness, usury, cheating, lying, cruelty…” – Ruth
Setting aside the famously bad dinosaur effects for now (see Regrets below), Malcolm Hulke offers up a script full of his usual action and socio-political commentary. The story opens brilliantly—the many panning shots of an entirely deserted city of London are eerie at first and, as we begin to see abandoned cars and scattered belongings, it takes on a post-apocalyptic vibe. Since they took the highly unusual step of hiding part of the title in the credits so as not to give away the surprise, we have no idea exactly what kind of invasion could have led to this scene.
Having the Doctor and Sarah arrive in the middle of the setting serves to deepen the mystery for us. The sense of dread this brings is taken to its height when upon hearing a roar and subsequent crash, they find the mysteriously mangled remains of the looter’s car that had just left them followed by the poor man himself, shown in a surprisingly gruesome shot for a children’s program. The sudden switch to UNIT HQ with our well-known friends in high activity thus comes as a welcome normalcy, an assurance that the world hasn’t gone totally astray. This and other small touches make this a nicely done directed story over all.
After this it’s kind of fun to watch the Doctor and Sarah trying to establish their credentials (and failing) for a while. It’s interesting to see how they have Sarah Jane very clearly looking to the Doctor for cues on how to respond—when he doesn’t take their arrest too seriously, you can see her take the signal to begin laughingly playing it up too. She also proves why she’s a good journalist—tracing paper trails, using contacts, going after hunches and scoops—and it’s probably the most use this aspect of her character gets put to in the program. She really comes across well as the new companion.
It’s also made clear in this story that UNIT pretty much now serves the role of keeping a problem in check while waiting for the Doctor to appear from who knows where and actually solve it, an arrangement frequently highlighted in the new series. When it suddenly starts to turn out that almost everybody in sight is a traitor (no Mike, not you too!), it’s rather heart-stirring to see the Brigadier and Benton’s absolute belief in and loyalty to the Doctor. Indeed, it’s funny and endearing to see Benton, ever the polite soldier, slamming his traitorous superior against the desk while with all earnest deference yelling “Yes, sir! Sorry, sir!”
The writer returns to a theme and agenda of anti-corporate environmentalism that is common to many of his stories, but here it is presented in a way that actually makes the people adhering to it seem at best gullible and easily manipulated or at worst willing to achieve their ends through deadly means. We do get a closing speech by the Doctor that sets the idea more positively, but it’s surprising that Hulke was willing to indulge some criticisms in his work. Somehow he gets the rather convoluted plot of the bad guys to work reasonably well within the story. He does a good job of catching a lot of little points that would otherwise be lingering questions or plot holes and answers them in lines of dialogue in advance.
Unfortunately, much of it is undercut by some very lacking effects of the main focus of the story which is the dinosaurs.
Best (or worst) unsettling moments:
As already noted, the eerie stillness of what should be a bustling London is quite a good opening for this story. There’s also a little unsettling darkness in the fact that Ruth, supposedly a model citizen ready to start society over for the good, is perfectly willing to kill Sarah Jane to protect her ideals. One wonders in the how she will live with herself in the future, and what the others will say about her, now that she realizes what she is capable of.
- The Doctor’s futuristic car (sorry Bessie)
The story is not remembered for anything except how bad the dinosaurs were. What’s so regrettable is that it’s not even all of them that are that bad. If you look at just the brontosaurus, stegosaurus, and triceratops, for example, they are actually not too badly done designed and, in several shots, come across quite well. Unfortunately, it’s the T-Rex that is the centerpiece of the story and it seems the designer ran out of time before getting to it. As a result, we’re left with an exceedingly unrealistic child’s puppet that is almost painful to watch and skews the perception of the whole show to the negative.