Saturday 4 December 2010

Doctor Who and the Silurians

The Third Doctor and Liz discover intelligent reptiles that ruled the earth millions of years ago.

Get the title right! Its not 'The Silurians,' it's Doctor Who and the Silurians. He really is called Doctor Who. 'Who' may not be his real name, but it is at least a pseudonym that he has used on occasions. Fans who insist that he is not 'Doctor Who,' but 'The Doctor' betray their ignorance of the show.

As I have said on many occasions, I am really not at all keen on John Pertwee's Doctor. However, Season 7 is a really excellent period in the history of the show. Season 7 gave us a new format, a new style and fresh ideas. Of the stories in Season 7, I think Doctor Who and the Silurians is the best. It is a lot better than the rather overrated Inferno. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, fans seem to be a little too faint in their praise of Dr Who and the Silurians. I am not sure why, but there is a peculiar reluctance to accord it the classic status it deserves. Fans make various criticisms of this story that are really not deserved or justifiable. This story should be recognised as one of the best written and most intelligent Doctor Who stories.

This story deals with the destructive power of nationalism. It considers the issue of immigration with some irony (mankind as immigrants). It deals with the inadequacies and wilful blindness of government departments (Lawrence and Masters). It questions the morality of a violent military response to threats, but avoids passing judgment (the Doctor gives his opinion, but Liz gives no reply- the viewer is left to decide).

Timothy Coombs gives this story some brilliant direction. On the whole, it has a really dark, gritty atmosphere. The location work creating the moor is excellent, the caves are convincing and the scene of people dying of the plague in London is really disturbing. The Silurians (or more correctly, Eocenes) are very well created. Their costumes are rubber suits with zips occasionally visible, but they have a texture that later monster creations lack. In the first episode, they are hidden from view which helps to build suspense. The acting in this serial from both the regulars and the guests is of a very high standard and the characters are given space to develop.

A common complaint is that this story is too long at seven episodes. It is suggested that with the story about the plague and then the attempt to destroy the 'Van Allen Belt' it loses the way. I disagree. It's easy to fall back on the old defence that it was never intended to be watched on DVD like a feature length, but even without this, the story is full of meaty bits. The slower pace allows the characters to develop and take on a life of their own, such as the mental breakdown of Lawrence, the paranoia of Barker and the relationship between Quinn and Dawson. We simply would not get this richness in a four-parter, let alone in the single or double episode format that we are tragically served up by BBC Wales.

Another complaint is that Eocene society is not well developed in this story, making it difficult to sympathize with the Eocenes. The example of the young Eocene killing the old Eocene is particularly pointed out as a sign of their violent and dangerous nature. The answer to this is that Eocene society is not portrayed in this story because it no longer exists. They have woken up out of hibernation and their civilization has been lost forever. It would be ludicrous to think that it is normal for an Eocene subordinate to kill his leader and take over. Surely you have seen how people behave in post-apocalyptic films and stories? It is to be expected that with the loss of Eocene civilization, the normal chain of command would be weak and a dispute might be resolved through a violent coup.

Some suggest that we will inevitably agree with the Brigadier's military response at the end in blowing up the Eocenes and will have little sympathy for the Doctor's disapproval. I am not sure that I don't disagree with the Brigadier's action. I think the story leaves it open to the viewer to agree or disagree with the Doctor. Note that Liz gives no response to the Doctor. We don't know what she thinks about it.

It would have been nice if the tension between the Brigadier and the Doctor had been maintained throughout the Pertwee era. The two men become just a bit too cosy during Season 8. We see a little of the disagreement about methods in Claws of Axos, but this is largely dropped after that serial. I cannot help thinking, however, that the Brigadier/ Doctor conflict is largely the Doctor's own fault. When I watch Dr Who and the Silurians, I get really frustrated at the Doctor's contempt for the Brigadier. He shows no enthusiasm for going where the Brigadier sends him at the beginning, he avoids sharing information with him and takes action without consulting the Brigadier. The Doctor wants the humans to trust the Eocenes and the Eocenes to trust the humans, but he deviates from this ideal in his own behaviour. If he cannot even trust his own closest ally, how can he expect his ally to trust an enemy? I suspect that the Doctor would have done a much better job of persuading the Brigadier to seek peace with the Eocenes if he had been open and honest with him right from the beginning. We see in this what I really dislike most about the Third Doctor, his arrogance. I really dislike the high-mindedness and contempt for others that this Doctor shows. This contrasts enormously with the more self-effacing Second Doctor, who had a very effective relationship with the Brigadier in The Invasion. It is also difficult to imagine the Second Doctor being at all bothered by the destruction of the Eocenes. He had taken enormous pleasure in blowing up the Dominators and had no moral objection to wiping out the Macra.

Quatermass and the Pit is clearly an influence on this story, with its idea of a prehistoric alien race on earth and the race memory stuff. There is that Quatermass sense that the alien holds an unimaginable terror for humans. Where it differs from Quatermass is in the belief that peace and goodwill is a real possibility.

I have no idea whether writer Malcolm Hulkes ever read any Lovecraft stories, but there are clear similarity of themes here. The fact that people are driven mad by the Eocenes is very much a Lovecraftian element. At the Mountains of Madness deals with a pre-human civilisation, though a very different kind of creatures. Lovecraft refers to a number of reptilian races in his stories, most notably The Nameless City.

John Pertwee looks absolutely terrible in a t-shirt.


  1. The Silurians is a story which grows on you. When I was younger it seemed long, dull and boring but as I got older and could appreciate the themes and the ethical questions it raises, I began to appreciate it more and more.

    Today it's one of my favourites and it has surpassed Inferno, though personally I wouldn't say that was overrated either.

    BTW: I do like the Pertwee doctor - better than Tom Baker (now HE's overrated).

  2. Thanks for visiting and leaving your comment.

    I tend to think of Tom Baker as the 'Vanilla Doctor' as he is what most people think of as the Doctor.

    On the whole, I think Baker was brilliant, but particularly in Season 16 and 17, his performance became just a little overstated. He got into the habit of wanting to dominate the whole program.

    As a person, I have to say that I can't stand Tom Baker. I think he is such an egotist. I really don't enjoy his contributions to DVD commentaries and interviews with him are never much fun to read.

  3. Another superb analysis. If I have read your blog correctly, your opinion of Jon Pertwee as the Doctor is the only real point of departure in opinion that you and I have discovered so far on Doctor Who. It took me a very long while to warm to Pertwee as the Doctor. Back in the day, I swore by McCoy, Colin Baker and Davison, but these days I think of him as one of my absolute favorites along with Troughton and Hartnell (I can't possibly rank them).

    Silurians is possibly the best Pertwee story and unfortunately we never really see the level of sophistication and intelligence in the remainder of Pertwee's era. In fact, the following year it all gets a bit like a comic book. If a viewer is going to ever get into Pertwee, I think this is the perfect story... although Time Warrior is also a nice start.

  4. Thanks.

    I think the Pertwee era went into terminal decline after Season 7. The introduction of Jo Grant and the Master was a really bad idea, as was using the Brigadier for comic relief.

    Outside of season 7, Carnival of Monsters is excellent, as is Curse of Peladon. Claws of Axos is very well produced and fun to watch, but rather dumb.