From the January 2012 issue of Panic Moon. Slightly edited.
There’s no ambiguity about the dinosaurs in‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’. They’re rubbish. In other respects, however, this is a deeply ambiguous tale. The ambiguity allows the script to make some scathingly ironic political observations, but ultimately leads us to a very bleak and bitter place.
In this story, contrasting with other scripts from the period, the eco-activists are the ‘baddies’. It’s like Malcolm Hulke, influenced by the decline of the radicalism of the 60s and early 70s, was reacting against the whole idea of changing the world. It’s possible to read the people on the (space)ship of fools as a jaundiced parody of the left: a tiny, closed-off, self-appointed vanguard who plan to “guide” others while ruthlessly policing their own internal orthodoxy. But they’re also like Daily Mail readers, with their “pure bread”, their plaintive cries of “I sold my house!” and their TV room where they can go to tut at the modern world. The film in the Reminder Room blames protestors even as it shows them being truncheoned. Ruth seems more worried by “moral degradation” and “permissiveness” than she is by the mercury in the fish.
The script is full of such queasy ironies. For instance, the conspirators oppose and blame technology, but their plans depend upon it. Whitaker’s Time Scoop is high-tech stuff, powered by a nuclear reactor. We need hardly comment on the absurdity of a man sitting in a spaceship (as he thinks), waggling hand-made wooden kitchenware as proof of his non-technological simplicity! Such idealising of the pre-industrial is undermined by the medieval peasant accidentally caught in the Time Scoop. He speaks of getting his priest to burn a ‘witch’. Meanwhile his king is off sacking the Holy Land. Some Golden Age! But then feudal standards of law and order would probably be quite convivial to General Finch, a man eager to use live rounds on looters.
Are these people radicals or reactionaries? Seemingly, they’re both. However, the leaders of the conspiracy can be summed up by their prefixes. Rt Hon, General, Professor, Captain. They hide in a bunker designed to protect the government during a nuclear war. They will emerge safely after they have obliterated the world, just as the politicians of the Cold War planned to. They are the establishment, the powerful, the privileged. This is the brontosaurus in the room. Even the fake spaceship is run by ‘Elders’, one of whom is a peer.
Moreover, the plan of the ship-people sounds like colonialism. In the novelisation, Sarah even compares them to the Pilgrim Fathers. They will, so they think, “guide” the “simple, pastoral people” of “New Earth”. These refugees from civilisation will bring civilisation to the natives. They assume that right. They despise the ‘evils’ of modernity, yet take it for granted that they won’t replicate them because – and this is the unspoken basis of their whole plan – those evils are somebody else’s fault. Looters, meanwhile, can be shot for their “greed”, the abstract original sin (in others) that the conspirators seem to blame for everything.
This story doesn’t counterpose establishment reactionaries with middle-to-upper class hippydom; it depicts them as intertwined, as equally cynical or deluded. A disillusioned ex-Communist might’ve come to see a similar deluded cynicism in his own political background. This, I think, is why the ship-people are simultaneously vulgar Leninists, Puritans (complete with Biblical names), Mary Whitehouse types and ringers for that couple in The Good Life. A spectrum of ideologies – blue, red, Green – are tacitly implicated as lumbering dinosaurs: outdated, ungainly, but deadly. One dinosaur might fight another, but they’re all essentially monsters (deeply unconvincing ones at that), and people get squashed under their scaly feet as they rampage through the world.
This is Hulke’s darkest, most nihilistic story. It contrasts sharply with ‘The War Games’, which he co-wrote during a high point of worldwide protest. Hulke’s last Who script reeks of disappointment. In it, the Doctor proclaims (as tritely as the conspirators) that the real problem is “greed”. However, the script seems to say that the real real problem is belief. Belief in anything.
June 20, 2013 @ 7:51 am
Depressing, but accurate. Another interesting and informative read.
June 23, 2013 @ 11:40 am
Oh, quite marvelous, thank you for the lovely meta.
Note that even friendship can't be counted on, with the defection of Yates, but there's still one belief that's upheld, as represented by the Doctor: that the truth can be known, and the clever can make sense of the absurdity of the world, which is truly rooted in human beings. This is, in part, why Sarah's a suitable companion for him, as an investigative journalist with the same motives.
Still, this is ultimately a conservative tale, because it's the status quo of the present day that's being conserved. There are no new power relations.
June 23, 2013 @ 5:02 pm
"…there's still one belief that's upheld, as represented by the Doctor: that the truth can be known, and the clever can make sense of the absurdity of the world, which is truly rooted in human beings"
Yes, indeed. Hulke doesn't fear or dismiss this particular ideology in despair… but only because he doesn't identify it as an ideology at all.