Doctor Who - Documentary s11e02 Episode Script

People Power and Puppetry

BARRY LETTS: "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" was a good script but the dinosaurs looked awful.
PETER MILES: All the fans I've met, they smirk every time you mention the word "dinosaurs".
But they liked the cast, they liked the plot.
TERRANCE DICKS: Lousy dinosaurs.
Sadly, that overshadows everything about that show.
The one with the dodgy dinosaurs.
Not the one that asks if the British establishment is at war with the British people, or the one that exposes the authoritarian side of the Green movement.
Not even the one with that crazy fake spaceship and the lady from 'Allo 'Allo! But the one with the dodgy dinosaurs.
(ROARING) Doctor Who fans seem much more bothered by not-very-special special effects than the casual viewer.
It's as if we cringe harder than other people.
The Third Doctor was always saying, "Never judge by appearances.
" And do we listen? Do we Eckersley.
(ROARING) Now, I know some of you love these features because they're full of members of the old production team telling how they were promised a fearsome monster from the beyond and ended up being fobbed off with a piece of green bubble wrap on the end of a stick.
And there will be a little bit of that.
But if you were expecting half an hour of lovely old people grousing about the stiffness of Stegosaurus legs, then you're in for a shock, because "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" contains something much more implausible than a few prehistoric monsters who can't bend at the knees.
We call it "the plot".
Just what are they going to do, Mike? They're going to roll back time.
And yet, it's the very weirdness of the events in this story that connect it with the real life of the 1970s and all its bitter cultural debates.
"Invasion of the Dinosaurs" has teeth, and not just rubber ones.
In 1973, Doctor Who's producer, Barry Letts, and his script editor, Terrance Dicks, were moonlighting, almost literally.
They were setting up a rather po-faced lunar drama called Moonbase 3.
And having exerted themselves constructing plots about people arguing in airtight domes, they didn't have quite so much time to devote to their fifth and final series of Doctor Who.
Their solution was to book writers who already knew the ropes.
One of these was Malcolm Hulke, a friend and colleague of Terrance Dicks who'd already written four classic serials for Jon Pertwee.
People say, "It's not what you know, it's who you know.
" But that's not true, it's what you know and who you know.
I mean, obviously the fact that Mac was an old friend was a factor, but I wouldn't have used him if he wasn't a good, reliable, competent scriptwriter who I knew would meticulously deliver a workable script on time.
Hulke came up with a story called "Bridgehead From Space".
It didn't have the dinosaurs and it didn't have the timescoop, but it did have the Doctor and Sarah trawling around a deserted London.
It seems to have been a kind of a satire on Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler before the Second World War.
It's about a British prime minister who does a deal with some aliens who want to occupy Central London.
They then ask for the rest of Southeast England and finally the world.
But Barry Letts had an idea about how to make that story appeal more to kids like me.
We felt that wasn't Doctor Who-ish enough, it wouldn't pull any audience, whereas "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" would get all the kids who loved dinosaurs and that applies to practically every kid.
And Barry was right.
So, Malcolm Hulke went back to his typewriter and produced a proposal called "Timescoop", about the Doctor and UNIT fighting prehistoric monsters.
But this time the government conspiracy wasn't with aliens but with a group of fanatical scientists with some pretty unusual ideas about solving the Earth's problems.
I don't understand.
By rolling back time.
By taking the Earth back to an earlier, purer age.
Anything a writer thinks or feels or believes will tend to come out in his work, as it did very much in shows that Barry influenced.
Barry had sort of beliefs about saving the planet.
Yes, of course.
You two have a great deal in common.
The Doctor's very keen on this anti-pollution business.
And so should you be, Brigadier.
It affects all our lives.
I mean, he was an early eco-warrior much before anybody else.
SWEET: Around this time, "The Green Death" was already going into production.
It was co-written by Barry Letts and it was a full-frontal attack on industrial pollution.
Let's not dip the Welsh in toxic chemical gunge, it argued.
Let them eat Quorn.
Malcolm Hulke's script addressed similar issues but from a rather different angle.
I think Mac's concern was more social, really.
He was always very sort of politically interested and aware.
And I think he was interested in the people behind the scheme of the fake spaceship.
You don't understand.
But I hope, Miss Smith, when you do understand, you'll want to be with us.
Trendy, leftie, do-gooding people who were firmly convinced that they know what's right.
You know, the way they treat Sarah when she comes round in the ship.
You mustn't say such things.
"You mustn't talk like that.
" "You mustn't think like that.
" You know, you see.
I think Mac had come across a lot of people like that during his life because he was interested in politics.
And I think he was perhaps getting some of that out of his system.
And in 1973, there were plenty of those in circulation.
Malcolm Hulke had been a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
Now, in this country, Communism never really became a mass political movement.
But in the 1960s, the left acquired an interest in what we'd now call "green politics".
And that was a bit of a turnaround because until then, those ideas had been associated with the right.
One of the founders of the Soil Association, which still puts its stamp on organic food, had been a member with the British Union of Fascists.
So, perhaps "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" reflects something of Hulke's unease about the utopian politics of the period.
-It's all ready, Whitaker? -Yes.
Professor Whitaker is a stunningly brilliant scientist who probably was paid very highly, I think, must have been, by naughty Grover.
Because he was already an established scientist in London.
I was chairman of the committee that considered his application for a government grant.
So you've seen his working papers? Oh, yes, not that I understood them, of course, but my scientific colleagues on the committee assured me that they were utter nonsense.
Charles Grover reflects Hulke's suspicions of the establishment in an era when such suspicions were rife.
In the mid 1970s, politicians and military men were having secret conversations about dismantling British democracy and putting something a little more dictatorial in its place.
There were secret government bases under Tube stations.
It's just that they were relics of the last war.
And there were people in power who spoke of the dangers of overpopulation, a key anxiety of the 1970s, thanks to books like this, The Population Bomb, which envisaged a future in which human numbers were managed down by compulsory birth control and the withdrawal of food aid to the starving.
People who took ideas like that seriously made Charles Grover look like a pussycat.
NARRATOR ON TV: The rules of so-called civilised society are breaking down as increased protest and disorder calls for stronger and more violent repression from the authorities, which in turn leads to more political violence.
We weren't so much aware in those days of the terrifying nature of isms.
We've become more aware of the disastrous nature of cults and people who get locked too much into a belief structure and the damage that can do.
We are now very much aware.
But I think in the sweet '70s, and political as they were, we didn't quite know as we tried to shove Marxism even into theatre structures or whatever of quite what we were dealing with.
So this is where the richness of "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" lies.
In many ways, it's a riposte to the eco-warrioring of "The Green Death" that has Professor Jones trying to save the world from famine with mushrooms.
Professor Whitaker is working towards the same end, it's just that he wants to erase the hungry from the history of Earth.
And it's here that the story moves off into rather wacky territory.
The Prof and his collaborators believe that the end justifies the means.
But the means are pretty peculiar.
Perhaps it's the idea of Operation Golden Age that stretches the story's credibility a little too far.
That's the thing about Grover, he's convinced the world has gone irrevocably wrong and any means, even wiping out human history, are justified to put it right again.
Do you realise what'll happen if they succeed? We shall find ourselves in the Golden Age.
We're used to the idea that the environmentalist cause can sometimes leave people to risk their lives in its pursuit.
Certainly nowadays people invade coal-fired power stations, don't they? And strap themselves to chimneys in the belief that they're doing something splendid for the planet.
But in this story we're asked to believe that those who desire a greener, better world, even good old Mike Yates, who took Jo Grant dancing and drinks cocoa in the afternoons, are prepared to countenance a species of holocaust.
It's just that the time-travel element means that they won't actually have to watch anybody die.
That happens in real life.
You've only got to go straight to Germany and France in the 20th century to see who helped whom, in the way of scientists, politicians, soldiers, who helped whom, thinking that they would Some of them thought that if they backed Hitler it would be a new world.
It's very like sci-fi, really.
Mike Yates was not a vicious killer of any sort, but I understand him being goaded on.
You can get people to do the most extraordinary things if you have a powerful personality.
I've seen it happen.
There are one or two implausible things about this plan.
I mean, even if we can accept the idea of a rogue government scientist building his own time machine and buy into the idea that rolling back time is the most efficient way of rewinding the ecological clock, why go all the way back to the Jurassic Period? Why not just dial back to the 18th century and prevent the Industrial Revolution? Well, I say "just".
To suggest that Professor Whitaker could present them with a world going backwards in time where chosen people, the elect, go to their new paradise, which only wild people would believe, anyway.
And what would they do when they get there? And finally, what about that fake spaceship? MARK: We left Earth three months ago.
These UNIT stories are set in the near future, a future in which Doctor Who predicted that Britain would be sending rockets to the moon and to Mars.
Now, that's a fairly modest proposal compared with what we see here, a whole fleet of spaceships leaving the solar system.
So, how could Mark, Adam and Ruth, reasonably intelligent people, have fallen for Charles Grover's little scam? Wouldn't that be like convincing Seb Coe, Shirley Williams and Martin Amis to found an extraterrestrial colony? I don't think the people who got hoodwinked to travel on the spaceship were particularly intelligent.
You've got a warped view of things.
How on earth can somebody go and swan into a room and have lights flicking on and off to hypnotise them and ushering them into a spacecraft and believe by looking out the window that they were watching a film, probably, of Starlight Night and A Moonlight Night.
-Where are we going? -I told you, to New Earth.
Sorry, I seem to have forgotten.
A small planet, very much like the Earth we've left behind, -but at an earlier stage of development.
-Still pure.
I thought, well, I'm going with this because it's sci-fi and it's a plot and it's an entertainment programme.
Where is this planet we're heading for? In another solar system close to Earth.
The nearest possible solar system to us is four light years away.
With the most advanced spaceships developed it would take hundreds of years to reach there.
One of our members invented a new space-drive.
They were well-meaning and idealistic do-gooders, and they had a great reverence for Grover and his message, which he'd been preaching for a long time.
So, I think it was well-meaning self-delusion.
It was in a golden age of space travel, so I don't think that's so farfetched.
If you take the premise of time travel you can do anything, can't you, really? At the time, I think we thought it was a lot of old tommyrot, though.
I found it believable.
And I found the people on the ship were an extremely dim and irritating lot when they popped up.
So I well believe they'd fall for it.
When Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke were happy with the script, it was handed over to the director, Paddy Russell, her second time out on Doctor Who, and only the fourth time the programme had been directed by a woman.
I'd known Paddy Russell since she'd been an assistant floor manager and I'd been an actor.
Years, years before.
And I always liked her and she obviously knew the job backwards.
Right from the start, she knew what she was doing.
And I liked the work that I'd seen that she'd done as a director.
So, I said to her, "Would you like to direct a Doctor Who?" She said, "Yes, as long as you don't ask me to direct any tin cans.
" Meaning the Daleks.
Because she didn't like dealing with special effects.
I mean, what she was good at was working with actors.
So you might think that Paddy Russell was an odd choice for a story that relied so much upon visual effects.
But think again.
"Invasion of the Dinosaurs" was very important from working with the actors.
It was like most of Mac Hulke's things, it was full of real characters and very strongly differentiated characters.
And you needed a director who was good with actors.
I enjoyed working with actors and actresses.
That, for me, was the most rewarding part of the job.
To see the possibilities of a performance and see if one could bring it out.
The real triumph of "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" was Malcolm Hulke's characterisation.
And Paddy Russell was a people person.
I always insisted that I actually spoke and worked with whoever had written the script.
Because unless I understood exactly what they were trying to say, I wouldn't get the performances that were needed.
But the first thing Paddy Russell needed were some shots of a deserted London.
And that presented a problem.
She could, of course, have scared away the population of the city by bringing dinosaurs back from the dawn of time, but instead she chose a different method.
The cameraman and I were very good friends and he We talked about it and he said, "Well, the only way we're going to get it "is to go at something like 4:00 in the morning.
" Back in the 1970s, sending a BBC crew out at 4:00 in the morning meant a punishing overtime claim, unless, of course, you did it on the quiet.
It was summer time, mercifully, so it meant it got light really early.
And it was actually fascinating to be in Central London, because as you know, there were shops round Trafalgar Square and places like that, and up the Mall.
At that hour in the morning, and apart from the occasional bus, there wasn't any traffic.
We were careful.
There was only me and the cameraman, literally, and the sound man.
We did actually see one policeman, and we all went, "Ah.
" And he looked.
He looked again and he decided he didn't want to know.
He disappeared off in a different direction.
Filming for the rest of this story took place in locations around London, as you'll see on the "Now & Then" feature elsewhere on this DVD.
But the most significant filming took place here at Smithfield Market, where we got our first glimpse of the Doctor's new space-age car.
You know, for years, because of a misprint in the Doctor Who book, I thought this was called the Whom-bile.
This thing appeared and I looked at it and said, "What's that?" "That," said Jon, "is the Whomobile.
"I had it built specially.
" Barry Letts, my producer, was wonderfully generous with me.
And any ideas that I came up with he usually bit on.
And so, one day I thought, "I'm not going to talk to him about this" but I went to a designer of the most extraordinary motorcars of plastic and fibreglass called Peter Farries in Nottingham.
And I said, "Peter, I want a small, super, outer-space car "that looks as if it goes under the water, "in it, on it, in the air, everything.
"So what can you design for me?" And he went "Like that?" And I said, "Not like that, that!" And it came up absolutely as it was in that drawing that he drew the very first day I met him.
It would do, I think, over 90.
The only trouble was that of course, when you were driving it, everywhere you went, the police force would stop and say, "Right, inside, please.
" And I'd pull over and raise the roof and they'd say, "Oh, God, it's you.
" And I said, "Well, what's wrong?" And they said, "You can't drive a hovercraft on the streets.
" And I said, "It isn't a hovercraft.
" They'd get down, have a look, and say, "Oh, no, it's got three wheels.
" "Well, it's too wide.
" "Where's your tape measure?" They'd measure it.
It wasn't too wide.
"The lights are too low.
" "They're not too low.
" It's perfect, you can drive it on the road.
The only thing is that we couldn't drive it on the road very much because everybody would take their eyes and say, "Oh, my God, look at that!" and not looking, they'd go bang into the car in front and we'd cause mayhem wherever we went.
(ALL CHEERING) I took it to the Acton Hilton, which is the rehearsal room in Acton for the BBC and I parked it in the car park and I took Barry to the window of the rehearsal room and I said, "Look out of the window, Barry.
" He said, "What at?" I said, "That.
" He said, "Good God, what's that?" I said, "That's the Whomobile.
" He said, "Can we use it?" And I said, "If you don't, it'll break my heart.
"It's cost me a fortune.
" So we used it, not very often, unfortunately, because I left the series just when we'd established the car.
RUSSELL: I remember my horror when it first appeared.
I can't remember now, to be honest, how much we used it but it wasn't very much.
It was just enough to keep Jon happy.
The production then moved into the studios at BBC Television Centre, where Paddy Russell was in the hands of designer Richard Morris.
It was a thrill.
I mean I was, "Oh, my God.
"I've got a Doctor Who, isn't that great?" SWEET: That faux spaceship aside, the sets were fairly straightforward, with only the underground bunker passageways causing a few problems.
The corridor set was a bit of a nightmare, really and I do remember this day in the studio.
And there must've been some confusion as to whether the doors are coming down fast or slow or whatever.
They had to be dropped in fast and of course, that made the whole set rock.
And although lots of scene men were holding it up on each side, it didn't seem to make any difference, really, it just seemed to shudder.
And actually it was quite dangerous, wasn't it? Because it dropped right behind Jon Pertwee, just missing him, really.
I could have been slightly disappointed when I read it, I think.
Because, okay, I had a spaceship, but it didn't have too many exciting things about it, not from a scenic point of view, did it? There was a lot of stock BBC scenery that you booked and put together and school partitions and windows, and apart from the spaceship, it perhaps wasn't the challenge I'd expected.
But I mean, I enjoyed doing it, of course.
And Paddy was great, and I seemed to have a really nice production team.
Paddy Russell also assembled an impressive guest cast, with big names from the past and the future.
When you talk about names being in it, the biggest one for my generation would have been Noel Johnson, who played Dick Barton on the radio serial which we used to listen, glued to.
(HUMMING THEME) Seeing the programme at home, I realised what an excellent performance Noel Johnson gave.
So you don't think that he could be behind what's been happening here? Oh, out of the question.
I'm afraid the poor fellow's just a harmless crank.
It's hard to play the villain, in a way, but it was a very subtle performance.
And one, as with some modern politicians, you think, "How charming.
"How much they're thinking of the other folk in life.
" I'm sorry you had to find your own way here, but I'm down to a skeleton staff.
-Oh, thank you.
-However, I can offer you a cup of tea.
But don't go too deep, because you'll find they're not quite so charming.
And they're not telling the truth.
It was a very nice performance.
The young lady from UNIT who was visiting me.
Where did you take her? Well, back to UNIT HQ, sir.
Are you quite sure of that? Oh, yes, sir.
I saw her go inside.
I adored working with one of my favourite actors, Martin Jarvis, who had a very humble part, quite frankly.
-Power output holding steady.
-Good.
Everybody likes to be in Doctor Who, so I'm sure he was a happy man.
Martin Jarvis wasn't a name at the time, he's since become one.
All the principle parts in "Dinosaurs" to act were well written for actors to act.
And all the cast were very strong actors.
I mean, John Bennett, who starred in The Forsyte Saga, for goodness sake, very strong actor.
Show this to my driver.
He'll take you there.
Oh, what about you? I've got one or two things to settle here.
Thank you.
He was terrific in playing a general in the British Army.
The director, Paddy Russell, I found a director who knew already exactly what she was going to do, which is always wise in television, especially in serials.
I always had a very good relationship working with actors.
So I knew the performances.
In retrospect, some of the acting looks a bit better than I was expecting it to.
I thought she was excellent.
It was a difficult thing to make, I thought, "Dinosaurs".
It took me years to learn how to do television and it looks a bit better than I was expecting it to.
It's the only programme I ever did where I used to say to the actors when we were in rehearsal, "I won't be able to give you a lot in the studio, "because I simply won't have time.
" Actors don't like being abandoned for special effects.
They were very good about it.
Which brings us to the dinosaurs.
As we've heard, they were the tail that wagged the dog of this story.
I got various ideas of how these creatures should be done, which were basically puppeteering ideas.
I've always been interested in puppets and the different ways of handling them.
And I thought you could do close-ups of a Tyrannosaurus in the same way that we'd done the Drashigs.
Barry had been very pleased by the Drashigs in "Carnival of Monsters".
And he liked that sort of puppetry principle, though in fact it didn't extend to what we needed to do.
But anyway, Special Effects were confident they could do it.
I talked to Jack Kine, who was the Head of Visual Effects, about this.
He said, "No, no, no.
Don't worry.
" He said, "I've got this firm at Pinewood that does this sort of thing.
"They're experts, they've done lots of these sort of things in the past.
"Let them get on with it.
They'll produce some very good dinosaurs.
" "We can do dinosaurs, Barry!" cried the production team, and Barry fell for it.
Once it had been agreed that we were going to have dinosaurs, I got on helping Mac, guiding Mac with the scripts and editing whatever, on the assumption that when the time came, I would be provided with a fairly respectable dinosaur.
And you know, boy, was I wrong.
There was no question that we'd have been able to do the equivalent of Jurassic Park because computer-generated imaging, CGI, didn't exist in those days.
In story terms, the dinosaurs had to do certain things, you know, the monster scenes, generically.
They had to appear, they had to menace people.
They had to advance on UNIT soldiers, they had to retreat when you threw grenades at them, you know.
And they didn't do any of those things very well or very convincingly because they were kind of basically puppets.
They were very good models but they moved so badly.
It was very, very obvious that they were models and it's been a running sore in my memories of Doctor Who ever since.
I believe they farmed it out to a specialist production company, which I read somewhere later went out of business.
Now, all I can say is I'm not surprised.
More studio time would have helped, so that we could try things out a bit more instead of going for them as soon as we possibly could.
These days, anything you can think of you can put on the screen.
You know, the Primeval ones, or the Walking with Dinosaurs ones, they really are terrific.
And they're pretty well real, you know.
But in those days, you couldn't do it.
I don't know if you could do it at all with unlimited time and money, but you certainly couldn't do it on Doctor Who.
Some of the things that were asked for were very difficult.
And I knew with it that it was going to be a devil to get all the special effects in the time.
That we were going to be up against the clock in no uncertain terms, and we were.
Everybody must've known early on they weren't much cop.
And they just battled on and did the best they could with whatever resources they had.
I was only too glad that we managed to do it.
SWEET: But the controversy didn't start and end with the visual effects.
During the production process, the title of the serial had been changed from "Timescoop" to "Invasion of the Dinosaurs".
But before transmission, Paddy Russell had a bright idea.
And Ronnie Marsh, the Head of Serials, and effectively Doctor Who's Executive Producer, agreed with her.
(DOCTOR WHO THEME) It's quite a long while in the first episode before you do see a dinosaur.
And he had this theory that if you didn't say "dinosaur", people would be on tenterhooks and they'd be amazed when the wobbly dinosaurs turned up, you see.
In the end, the first episode went out as "Invasion".
And then once we'd seen the dinosaurs, we felt that was okay, so, after that it was called "Invasion of the Dinosaurs".
SWEET: But any thought of surprising the audience was soon scuppered by that week's edition of the Radio Times.
I didn't care particularly, it seemed and indeed still seems to me a completely trivial point, you know.
But Mac took great umbrage, particularly as he hadn't been consulted, which was wrong, you see.
He should have been consulted.
And said, you know, taking dinosaurs out costs us millions of viewers.
You know, it was rubbish, because the show got perfectly good viewing figures all the way through.
But Mac was a difficult person, you see.
He was very sensitive, very tetchy, easily upset, you know.
He and I I think it's almost the only row Mac and I ever had within years and years of, you know, collaboration and friendship.
But, um He got very annoyed about that and wrote a stroppy letter and I think sent an official complaint to my Head of Department.
I refused to talk to him for about a month.
And I wouldn't return his phone calls, I wouldn't talk to him at all.
And eventually he got through to me, somehow and he said, "Look, "I have the feeling you're avoiding me.
" And I said, "You're bloody right I'm avoiding you after what you did.
" So we then had a row about it and I stormed at him, to which Mac didn't say anything, didn't say a word, just sort of sat there.
And then he said, "I see, right.
" I thought, "Well" I'd got it all off my chest by then.
And I was still immensely fond of him and I owed him a lot.
And it kind of faded away, you know, over a period of time.
But it was a big thing to Mac at the time.
SWEET: It was a sad note to end Malcolm Hulke's distinguished career on Doctor Who.
He never again wrote for the series and moved away from TVwriting altogether.
Mac always had a million projects on the go.
And he was always keen to find a way of making a living other than by writing.
I don't think it was because he didn't like writing or other than by writing fiction and drama.
I remember he was very keen on guidebooks and guides and he had great hopes of a book of conference venues, you see.
This means, you know, checking places and dates and access.
And Mac loved all that, you see.
All that kind of fiddly statistic stuff that drives me crazy, Mac loved it.
So I think he got little more into that kind of area, but he was always casting down for some scheme or other to do something different.
Very enterprising, old Mac.
SWEET: He certainly was.
And "Invasion of the Dinosaurs", for all its faults, could only have been written by him.
It reflects his pragmatism as a writer, his willingness to incorporate B-movie spectacle into a plot that he'd already concocted.
It reflects his concerns about the world, too, about that population bomb that was ticking, about the Doomsday Clock, too, about those in British society who thought that democracy ought to be dismantled, that extreme situations called for extreme measures.
But Hulke was rightly sceptical about enlightened elites who thought they knew best.
As he sat down to write "Invasion of the Dinosaurs", the Chinese Cultural Revolution was in full swing.
And Carmen Silvera's reminder room had nothing on that.
And two years later, in Cambodia, a real-life set of murderous idealists tried to take a culture back to year zero without the aid of a BBC time machine.
"Invasion of the Dinosaurs" contains many things that are implausible.
But at its core is an idea that we can all believe in, that a better world can't be imposed upon its inhabitants.