Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"Doctor Who and the Silurians"

Aired Jan. 31 - Mar. 14,1970

7 Episodes

Story 52

Written by Malcolm  Hulke

Directed by Timothy Combe


UNIT is called to an underground research facility where an experiment to test a prototype nuclear reactor is suffering from baffling power losses and a high incident of nervous breakdowns among the staff. 

When the Doctor decides to investigate the cave system near the base, he discovers a vast hidden complex housing a race of intelligent reptiles dubbed Silurians. These beings were the first intelligent life on earth, but the entire race went into suspended animation millions of years ago when they predicted an environmental catastrophe that never came. Ambient power from the research station has revived a group of them, and the Silurians now want to reclaim the dominion over Earth. 

Striving for peace between the humans and the reptiles, the Doctor builds a relationship with the Elder Silurian leader. However, a young Silurian, fearful of humanity, kills the Elder and releases a deadly plague that quickly spreads throughout London.

Although the Doctor and Liz successfully create an antidote to the virus, the Silurians manage to take over the research station and threaten to destroy Earth's Van Allen Belt, which shields the planet from deadly solar rays. The Doctor manages to deceive the Silurians into believing the reactor is going to overload, which forces them back into hibernation. 

The Doctor remains optimistic that a peaceful solution can be achieved, and is outraged when the Brigadier has the Silurian base destroyed.


One of the strengths of writer Malcolm Hulke was his ability to craft realistic and varied motivations for different characters within a story, a talent that is particularly on display here. Each character, from Dr. Lawrence to Major Baker to Dr. Quinn to the Brigadier to the Old Silurian to the Doctor to the Young Silurian, has a different aim and motive. The result is a story about misunderstanding and the inability to communicate. The tension builds not only from the threat from the Silurians, but also from how the motives of the Silurians will be interpreted by humanity, with only the Doctor and Liz trying to build some foundation for peace. 

True, the serial, at seven episodes, does drag, but it does so far less often than you'd think, and Malcolm Hulke’s script must be praised with presenting an alien invasion by creatures that are not, in fact, alien at all. Additionally, he makes some attempt to create a sense of individuality amongst the monsters, which was quite an achievement when you look at how the series had treated alien races in the past. In the end, the tension comes from a tragic sense of inevitable misunderstanding and ignorance, rather than from overt evil, and that's heady stuff for tea-time family adventure television. Timothy Combe provides solid direction, with the film sequences of the plague descending on London especially well done.

The elephant in the room must surely be the music. There are those that absolutely hate Carey Blyton's unusual score for the serial, and those who adore it. I'm in the middle. There are times when I think its unconventional qualities serve to elevate the action on screen, and other when it's just distracting. I alternate between hating the Silurian theme with a passion, and then enjoying it. But anything this divisive at least has the virtue of being bold.

The performances from the cast are uniformly superb, with particular kudos going to Peter Miles' resentful and increasingly neurotic Dr. Lawrence, Fulton Mackay's good-natured but ultimately hugely misguided Dr. Quinn. Thomasine Heiner's against-type portrayal of Miss Dawson as a competent and reasonable scientist who nevertheless gives into fear and prejudice is an unusual part for a woman in this era, and future stars Paul Darrow and Geoffrey Palmer give nice supporting turns. Pertwee's Doctor continues to be defined more sharply with a strong anti-authority streak and yet he remains the dominant personality in every scene. His Doctor is arrogant and impatient, even waspish, but he retains his fierce morality and has gained a more direct and forceful persona.

The more adult feel of the show is evident here; with some serious questions being asked and serious conflict that defies black and white morality. The renaissance of the series continues.

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