Here’s an upsetting thing I realised a couple of years ago. Somewhere in New York, there’s a disorientated fifty-year-old vagrant wandering around with a permanently bewildered expression, asking anyone who will listen “Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?”. No one will tell him, because no one knows the answer. A few people with good memories tell him to follow his nose until the air is sweet, but you really have to go out of town for that sort of sensation, so he wanders, aimless, mumbling. (Actually, even though Sesame Street was set in New York, the vagrant is probably in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is full of people like that.)
We have been watching a lot of Sesame Street this past week, largely because Thomas has taken a sudden interest. I’m glad. Sesame Street was essential viewing when I was his age, but it occurs to me now – living in the UK, where it is no longer shown – that there is a generation of children growing up who have no real awareness of the adventures of Bert, Ernie and Mr
Snufilop Snuffalop Snuphalop – oh, the mammoth. Sometimes you reach a point where you assume that everyone has a similar level of knowledge about various cultural icons, and it comes as something of a shock to discover that no, the kids can’t name a single Beatles song, nor do they know what a record player is. You get round this – at least I get round this – by playing YouTube videos of ‘Monster in the Mirror‘ every chance you get, if only because it features Jeff Goldblum.
Coincidentally, I also combined last night’s hour ironing session with the second half of ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’. If you haven’t seen this one, it features a sinister minister who – if you’re of a certain age – cannot be taken truly seriously once you learn his name.
Even without the presence of Charles Grover, ‘Invasion’ is ridiculous. It is full of people who are either in on the conspiracy or too blind to see that the conspiracy exists. The colonists who are sitting in a ‘spacecraft’ that’s actually three rooms in an underground bunker and thus not vibrating at all are so colossally stupid you cannot imagine how anyone could ever have thought that they were the creme de la creme of what 1970s / 1980s* society had to offer. There is the sad and somewhat unjust fall of Mike Yates. There is the bunker map and its unfortunate visual resemblance to a Cluedo board. There is the wildly implausible idea of rolling back the world to the Jurassic era in order to start again, although one of the offending scientists is played by Martin Jarvis, which means I’m prepared to be a little more accommodating than usual.
* see UNIT dating controversy.
It’s a shame, because the cast in general is great, with Pertwee on fine form and some wonderful scenes with Benton and the Brigadier. But in fandom this is one of those stories that is remembered largely for its ropy effects (indeed, that seems to be Lis Sladen’s overriding memory of things, from what I can remember of her autobiography). Allowances do need to be made for the passing of time, but in this case the criticism has weight – the dinosaurs in ‘Invasion’ are like the England football team, in that they actually look reasonably effective until they have to start moving. There is a fight in Smithfield Market between a brontosaurus and a T-Rex that borders on laughable, but even this is eclipsed by the scene in which the Doctor fights off a swarm of pterodactyls with a mop – a scene that might have worked if they’d manage to source some decent sound effects, rather than having the puppeteer shouting “Caw! Caw!” just off camera.
I mean they should have done this. This would have worked.
“I think,” says Bob, “that this could be the bestimost story ev-”
Look, I was talking about Sesame Street. I was struggling a little with the obvious crossovers. You will recall, of course, the Martians who appeared out of thin shimmery air in order to look at household objects (and, occasionally, sing about babies). I asked Gareth if they reminded him of anything, and his initial answer was the Axons, “but it’s not that close”. And it isn’t, but if we add the Ood, and a certain Lovecraftian eater of worlds –
Elsewhere, there is Sam the Robot, who is convinced he’s actually on Mulberry Street, rather than Sesame Street. “My first thought was that it was a bit like a Mechanoid, but not much,” says Gareth. “And then I thought no, if anything, it’s much more like the TARDIS console”. And indeed, it is.
But it’s left to the cast themselves to drop in a direct reference to Doctor Who, courtesy once more of Grover:
Anyway, I was thinking about all this the other day when the boys were watching a classic Sesame Street sketch in which Ernie makes a statue of Bert, and – well…
Me: Look! What’s wrong with the statue?
Daniel: He’s got no nose!
Me: Right! How will he smell?
Thomas: He can’t. He’s a statue.
Me: Ha ha.
Thomas: Unless he’s a Weeping Angel or something.
“Whatever you do,” said Gareth, “don’t stink.”