"There never was a golden age, Mike. It's all an illusion."
IN THIS ONE... Revolt aboard the fakeship, and our heroes crash Grover's time reversal party before we're all erased from history.
REVIEW: It's the last episode for the plastic dinosaurs, and they're mostly well used as obstacles along a course taking the Doctor and the Brigadier to the secret bunker. Sadly, the one that works the least well, the T Rex is the one we most see, and its battle with a "brontosaurus" only manages to make them look like they're making out. Thumbs up on at least making it look bloody. Later, the UNIT jeep must drive under a bronto's legs, which is pretty cool, the Brig throws a grenade at a stegosaurus, and a poor triceratops - finally in full view - is trapped in the tube, held at bay by flares, and likely getting a faceful of explosives in the heroes' daring raid on the villains' underground lair.
I've also come to realize those villains are also a kind of dinosaur. You might think them progressive in their environmental concerns, but what they're really after - Yates included - is a "new Golden Age". This is about Empire, and how England has lost what it had during colonial days. They want to start fresh and avoid humanity's mistakes, but they mean to subjugate New Earth's primitive population to do so. Another clue is that Mark, the youngest of the "Elders", is the only one willing to listen to Sarah Jane (though to their credit, they all rebel when they discover they were duped by Grover and are about to become responsible for the erasure of human civilization from history). The Doctor, a man who has seen history first hand, is well placed to declare there never was a Golden Age and that the good old days only seem that way thanks to nostalgia. His speech about working with what you have and forging a future before it's too late is effective, and might even be a lesson he learned dealing with his exile on Earth. His sermon about pollution and humanity's other sins, siding with Grover philosophically, if not with his methods is much too heavy-handed however. It's the time to celebrate victory, not slap us on the wrist for producing too much refuse.
That victory, and the ending in general, is a bit ambiguous however, to the point of being unsatisfying. Too many questions linger! Where were Grover and Whitaker sent? Erased from history? To the time of the dinosaurs? Did history roll back even a little bit? The Doctor seems to say so, but there's no evidence that people got younger, or that anything got undone. And why DID Yates join Operation Golden Age? The gullibility shown by the good Captain and the chosen Elders seems to point to a high degree of suggestibility, even some kind of mind control (more than endless documentaries on pollution, certainly, and those blue lights had no little effect on Sarah, nor were they referenced again), but there doesn't seem to be any time for an explanation in the episode. Mike's fate is played off-screen (we'll learn more the next time he guest-stars, stay tuned), but I'm kind of glad the Brig has taken care of him so that he isn't publicly disgraced.
This is a good episode for our Brigadier, one in which facing a dinosaur armed with nothing more than a glorified match seems easier for him than disobeying an order he knows is wrong from General Finch. Look at him swallow hard when he has to break his own military code. That's a big sacrifice for the Brig. Sgt. Benton has more fun with mutiny, enjoying the hell out of kicking Finch's ass, apologizing for it mid-swing. John Levene is quite good at rapid bursts of violence (as he showed in The Daemons) and here uses his prowess not only against the General, but against his friend Yates too. A bit of revenge for that time Mike stole his lunch in Day of the Daleks. And then there's Sarah Jane Smith. She's been resourceful throughout this serial and does what's required of her, but the moment I love is the final one in which the Doctor tries to woo her into taking another trip in the TARDIS. 10 episodes in and she still hasn't been secured as the next companion! He describes a planet of flowers and she refuses to entertain the idea. He keeps talking until she puts her hands over her ears, but she can't stop herself from smiling too. She's so in.
VERSIONS: In the Target novelization (entitled Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion), the Doctor uses a motorbike instead of the Whomobile. An opening sequence features a full-fledged character finding a deserted London and praying over a dead body, and an epilogue on the road where the Doctor shows Sarah Jane a relevant passage from the Bible. Hulke adds lots of little details, like a scar and backstory for Butler, Sarah Jane remembering her journalism mentors, and a contribution to the UNIT dating controversy - 1977. The American edition changed just enough details to turn this into a 4th Doctor adventure.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Lots of dinosaurs for the kids, gritty action for the teens, and Imperial themes for the parents. Shame about the preaching at the end.
STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Yes, it's got rubber dinosaurs and at times ropey effects. So what? It's also got a tense atmosphere, irrevocable changes in the lives of the UNIT family, and a potent theme. And the Whomobile, if that's something that turns your crank.
Happy 49th Anniversary Doctor Who! Look at me, I'm already starting on this project's second year!