The Scales of Injustice
The Sea Devils
Warriors of the Deep
Doctor Who and The Silurians
|Dates||Jan. 31, 1970 -
Mar. 14, 1970
With Jon Pertwee, Caroline John, Nicolas Courtney.
Written by Malcolm Hulke. Script-edited by Terrance Dicks.
Directed by Timothy Combe. Produced by Barry Letts.
|Synopsis: The Doctor, Liz, and UNIT investigate strange occurrences in an underground cyclotron, and make a discovery that dates back to prehistoric times.|
A Review by David Masters 26/5/97
This is one of my favourite Who stories, and one of the many examples that cast doubt on the recent school of thought that says Doctor Who works best in four episodes (with only one companion). Stretched over its seven episodes, the story still marches quite briskly to its conclusion. The characters have time to breathe, to become more real, and the actors are able to develop their characterizations accordingly. Especially effective are Fulton Mackay as the doomed Quinn, Norman Jones as the bitter Major Barker and Peter Miles as the ineffective, promoted beyond his abilities, Dr Lawrence. The regulars all get a good slice of the action too.
The length also allows Hulke to expand the basic storyline, taking in the spread of the plague (far more effectively than Terry Nation was to in Survivors) from the London railway station, and properly develop the conflict between the young and old "Silurians". A four-parter would have been forced to have the Silurians as totally hostile from day one, making them just another nasty bunch of lizards, rather than a genuinely popular foe that a later producer would mistakenly resurrect.
A Review by Jen Kokoski 20/1/98
As opposed to the Troughton/Pertwee regeneration story line, Doctor Who and the Silurians offers a compelling sci-fi conflict worthy of classic Who. In the latter years of the program, when silliness dominated most plots, Silurians capitalized on the use of mysterious camera shots, foreshadowing and an array of conflicting motives among the main characters. The result is a story line where there are neither clear villains nor absolute innocent victims. Keeping the Silurians hidden from view in the first few episodes (even to the extent of adding camera shots from the wounded creature's point of view) allowed the tension to build in the audience's mind. Just who or what was lurking in those caves? Of course, the expectation far outweighed the typical cheesy BBC costume design which relied heavily on rubber suits, but even that let down does not nullify the entertainment of the remaining four episodes. Germ warfare, military might versus diplomacy, the petty jealousies and weaknesses of the research scientists and the internal struggle between old and young Silurian producing an intriguing story line to the end. Indeed, this was an episode that I could not quite forget. Even after seeing it just once a few years ago, the closing scene where the Brigadier fails the Doctor in a brutal act of military massacre remains firmly entrenched in my mind.
Morals And Monsters by Christopher Fare 11/1/99
Malcolm Hulke's Doctor Who scripts were always full of genuine shades of grey for all sides involved in the central conflict. The finest example of the Hulke technique is most probably seen in this story.
Doctor Who and The Silurians shines in virtually every aspect. Firstly, the performances of the main guest cast are fantastic. Peter Miles' Dr Lawrence is a great character -- a man whom the audience perceives as a villain, but is given a believable motivation for doing so. Fulton Mackay as the tragically misguided Dr Quinn is superb, as are Geoffrey Palmer as Masters and Norman Jones as Major Baker. Perhaps the only letdowns are Thomasine Heiner as Miss Dawson -- her performance doesn't quite gel with me; and thank goodness Squire is a bit part -- "Dorith! Thereth something in my barrrn!".
Jon Pertwee gets to grips with the Doctor here -- although I am as much a fan of his later performance, he is perhaps never better than in Season 7. His impatience at the narrow-minded view of both humans and Silurians, and his ultimately fruitless attempts to play mediator between the two, are great. Caroline John is perhaps weaker here than in the other adventures of the season, but Liz is just as formidable as the Doctor in this story, using the Doctor's notes to synthesize an antidote to the Silurian virus. And Nicholas Courtney is at the height of his powers as the Brigadier as well -- the military man as always, but here blessed with the ability to think constructively and he comes across as being just as skilled as the Doctor at his own craft.
The Silurian creatures themselves are also given personalities and moral conflicts by Hulke, with leads to the story becoming more than just an "us-versus-them" battle as so many later Pertwee stories would. They are strikingly designed, with their red third eye tools being particularly memorable -- although I don't know whether I agree with the silly head shaking that goes on whenever they are activated!
In the final analysis, Doctor Who and The Silurians is a superb story, with a brilliant set of scripts complemented by Timothy Combe's solid direction, some astute and well- judged performances and good design of the titular monsters.
"I've got no time to talk to under-secretaries, permanent or otherwise!" by Will Jones 26/7/99
For every Doctor, there exists an utter classic - a story that survives examination and re-examination to become the definitive and greatest example of that Doctor's era, and the benchmark by which all other stories should be judged. Doctor Who and the Silurians is one such story - in my opinion, the best Jon Pertwee story ever.
So many people, myself included, see Season Seven as the strongest season the Third Doctor had. The Silurians exemplifies why I feel this way - it's dark, darker perhaps than almost any other story, it shows UNIT as a group of independent-thinking military professionals, the Brigadier in particular, and it feels far more real than invasions of Axons or trips to Dalek planets. The world in which this story is set is quite clearly the real world of the 1970s - perhaps never was there such a clear connection between story and society in which it took place. Scenes such as the populace of London succumbing to the virus, and the constant telephone calls from the M.o.D. really establish The Silurians in reality. This is how the Earthbound Doctor's stories should always have been presented.
For a seven-episode story, the tale is a taut one, engagingly told and always coming up with new and fresh twists from the beginning to the very end. It achieves this level by changing the main plot almost by the episode - first of all it's a tale of industrial failure at a power plant while something lurks in the caves, then it becomes the story of a scientist who wants to exploit an alien race, and goes through several more twists and turns including the excellent virus sub-plot before reaching one of the best story endings of them all. Here more than ever the Brigadier is more than the Doctor's stooge or strong-arm man, as, acting on orders (or is he?) he destroys the cave network and massacres the Silurians.
The scripts of this tale can't be faulted either, coming as they do from the inconsistent Malcolm Hulke, able to produce fantastic stuff like this and at the same time dull stuff like Colony in Space. The actors chosen for this story also do magnificently in bringing the scripts to life - this is an acting masterclass, with just about every major character and a good proportion of the minor ones brought excellently to life. Peter Miles, Fulton Mackay, Paul Darrow and all the others all shine, as indeed do Pertwee (who has already got to grips with the part), Caroline John and the ever-impressive Nicolas Courtney. The seven episodes allow everyone to have something important to do, as well.
It's nice to see an alien race which isn't 100% good or 100% bad, as well (typical Hulke this) and we feel frustrated along with the Doctor as humanity sees only their bad points and refuses to give them the benefit of the doubt. Indeed you feel that this story would have had a far more positive and happy ending if the Doctor had been allowed to negotiate with the Silurians without any interference from the bureaucrats who try to stop him (hence my choice of quote for this review). One minor quibble about the portrayal of the Silurians (and it is a minor one) - in such an advanced society, would they really have a political system which allows anyone who disagrees with the leader's policy to declare them unfit to rule, kill them and take command?
Other than that, however, this is fantastic stuff, and one of the best Doctor Who stories ever, easily getting into my all-time Top Ten. 9/10
Down to Earth by Mike Morris 26/7/99
A memorable story, this one, chiefly for two reasons. One is that it is an excellent tale, highly intelligent, that uses its seven episodes well and has a number of diverting subplots. The other is that it has the worst title of any Doctor Who story, and I reckon it's time something was done about it. If they can change the name of An Unearthly Child, then surely we can dig out some documentation which proves that there was no mention of "Doctor Who" (who?) in the story's title?
Silly names aside, Doctor Who and the Silurians (aaaargh!!!!!) is one of the better storys of the Pertwee era and keeps up the high standards of Season Seven. It's sinister, thought-provoking, and morally and conceptually intelligent, the story deserves every one of its seven episodes. The sheer scale of the action, particularly when the narrative takes us to contemporary London, gives the impression of a self-contained mini-series rather than a mere story, and this is accentuated by the expensiveness of the production. All those filmed location shots! Big military operations and a helicopter... a helicopter! With the exception of the dinosaur-that-isn't-a-tyrannosaurus-rex, there's not a shot that isn't believable. Yeah, yeah, okay, so Doctor Who isn't about big budgets, but isn't it nicer watching that than The Krotons?
Certain tried-and-trusted sci-fi plotlines are handled competently (the Silurian plague being the best example), whereas others are extremely inventive, the presence of the Silurians intuding on the collective unconscious being a good example. It's a shame that, despite the Doctor's protests that the Silurians are a race of intelligent beings, the Silurian society isn't really treated with the depth it deserves, and the creatures' voices and agitated head movements are rather more comical than alien. However, these are minor quibbles amid a tale that has an awful lot going for it.
Of course, you could probably cut out a lot of the dialogue and cut this down to five episodes if you wanted, but this misses the point. The slower pace gives the story a plausible edge that adds to the drama, and shows that some Doctor Who stories work well when they are long and epic. The padding of Pertwee-era stories is well known, but The Silurians shows that maybe some of the later Pertwee stories might have been better had they been a little longer - The Claws of Axos being a case in point.
Timothy Combe's direction is excellent, and there are some memorable shots - notably the early shot of a Silurian, silhouetted, rising in the sunlight, and the zoom to a Silurian face at the end of Episode Three. The shots of the plague victims are noteworthy as well, and all performances are superb. The script shows up the simplicity of Doctor Who's previous "blow-up-any-monster-if-it's-green-and-ugly" stories by at last treating an alien race intelligently, and although we have a prototype for Pertwee-era moral speeches, the Doctor backs them up with action, siding with the Silurians, working against UNIT, and in the process showing just how small and limited their xenophobic reactions are. The end, where the Brigadier betrays the Doctor and destroys the creatures, is one of the best conclusions to a story ever, downbeat and all the more disappointing because of its inevitability.
If only Barry Letts had realised why Season Seven was so well received - good scripts and acting, not the flabbiness of the UNIT family. At this stage in the show's history UNIT is a serious military operation rather than a cosy comic foil for the Doctor, Bessie is a car that goes surprisingly fast rather than a substitute for plot development, the Brigadier is a leader of poise and stature, and the Doctor doesn't get involved in dreary fight scenes and use Venusian Aikido at the drop of a hat. There are no fencing duels with comic-book arch-villains here, and the story is all the better for it. Quite how the show degenerated from this to the cosy rubbish of The Mutants and The Time Monster in just two seasons is quite beyond me.
A quick checklist of other bad bits - Pertwee gurning when he's attacked by the Silurians, the dawn of the era of terrible CSO, incidental music reminiscent of a five-year old playing a kazoo, and the Doctor should never, ever, wear a T-shirt. Also worth mentioning - Liz wears a ridiculous mini, establishing her legs as supporting characters in a similar vein to Peri's breasts, and Avon from Blake's Seven is in it!!! I mean, could you ask for any more?
Thoroughly recommended. Watch it and weep for how good the Pertwee era could have been if they'd all been like this.
Do you like the lamp in my head? by Steve Scott 19/1/00
In short, a magnificent story. But why?
Dodgy T-Rex aside, there is an uncanny sense of realism in this tale. The "Silurians' (bummer, Mr. Hulke!) are well designed, realised and interesting creatures - it's a great pity that they are reduced to bland megalomaniacs in 1984's Warriors of the Deep. The human characters are also well-drawn, and Hulke places both races on the same multi-layered pedestal - giving the story an edge unique to other "aliens" encountered by Jon Pertwee's big-nosed Time Lord.
Though Doctor Who gave some tantalising hints of a new direction during 1970, there are several stylistic throwbacks to earlier, Troughton-flavoured Who. Peter Miles' Dr. Lawrence is the classic authoritarian-yet-ineffectual-and-obstinate leader so beloved of season 5 (think Ice Warriors's Clent, Wheel in Space's Jarvis Bennett, Fury's Robson). And the reactor plant, though not exactly the isolated-base-under-siege, is also demonstrative of a production team still playing it safe. What is new is the conspicuous level of physical punishment that the Doctor suffers (giving us yet more classic Pertwee gurning!) and the extremely downbeat nature of the story.
There are some excellent performances here. It's interesting how Hulke gives a certain character central emphasis then kills them off. Fulton McKay's driven yet doomed Quinn is a character you know is going to be killed by the race he wants to exploit (reminiscent of Klieg in Tomb of the Cybermen - though McKay gives a far more realistic performance). Norman Jones' Major Baker is another good character, and there's a real sense of sorrow gained from his performance when you realise he's going to die from the virus. Peter Miles' Lawrence is interesting enough to avoid the season 5 cliché, and the scene where he dies from the virus needs a caption reading "BAFTA performance here" to make it complete.
Timothy Coombe's direction is consistently solid, and there are some excellent set-pieces to keep the story alive. For once, we have an adventure exceeding the standard 4-episode length that doesn't outstay its welcome. Episode 6's depction of people collapsing from the "Silurian" virus at Waterloo station is as disturbingly real as the Autons' high-street rampage in Spearhead. The story also boasts an impressive set of cliff-hangers, with episode 5's "The first one......" being one of the finest in the show's history
If the Pertwee years followed this stylistic template, then you'd have no Jo Grant, no cosy UNIT family nonsense, but maybe fewer viewers. Season 7's uncompromising nature also rendered it the least-watched Pertwee season, so Barry Letts was right to steer the show into more family-orientated viewing. Nevertheless, we can still enjoy this, one of the coldest yet engaging stories in the entire canon.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 17/9/00
Often thought of as Doctor Who`s first real foray into adult territory, (something which could be applied to stories such as The Massacre and The Ice Warriors) The Silurians certainly sees the series heading into pastures new. If you can ignore the zips on the Silurians and their head-shaking, as well as the their pet, then you end up with a thought provoking and compelling story.
Jon Pertwee is really just getting to grips with the meatier side of the Third Doctor, Caroline John proves to be an effective foil as Liz and Nicholas Courtney impresses as the Brigadier. Of the supporting cast Fulton Mackay, Norman Jones and Peter Miles also deserve special mention. Visually the Silurians are not overly spectacular, but as characters in their own right they work well, as we are given an insight into their society; particularly when The Doctor tries to act as mediator between them and the humans. This aside it could have done with being six episodes as opposed to seven although the cliffhangers - particularly to part five and The Doctor`s disgust at the Brigadiers actions - make up for this.
Darkness in the Caves by Andrew Wixon 17/10/01
This is another of those stories with an impact on the mythology of the series far greater than one might have expected. For all that, though, for fans in the UK it may well come to be remembered as the story that got the Great 1999 Colour Rerun off to such a flying stop and sent viewing figures into such a decline that not even Genesis of the Daleks could save the day. Perhaps the two things are linked to one fact - that this is very unusual DW.
It's very difficult to imagine this story occurring anywhere else in Pertwee's tenure as the Doctor. He works with UNIT, but the relationship is a distinctly uneasy one - he deceives the Brigadier to further his own agenda, the Brigadier deceives him to further the government's. This isn't the cosy organisation with the Doctor as its de facto commander that we see in later seasons but an almost-plausible security agency with internal politics and conflicts of its own.
But if UNIT isn't a force for good to help the Doctor, who is? The answer is that there isn't one. Other than the Doctor and Liz, the only major characters not depicted as being fatally tainted by paranoia, race hate, xenophobia, or greed are Masters and - ironically and significantly - the Old Silurian. This isn't a simple good vs evil, humans vs monsters tale. Both sides have their divisions and shades of grey, initially at least. It's only when the Young Silurian seizes power and embarks on a programme of genocide that the story enters a more conventional mode.
The plague sequences in episode six have a chilling power born of their very plausibility - in many ways they're reminiscent of those in the first episode of Terry Nation's Survivors. In many ways they're the making of the story, giving it a real sense of a wider threat, but they're so unlike traditional DW fare that when the story cuts back to the men-in-rubber-suits Silurians it's genuinely jarring. But they lack the opportunity or a traditional climax and thus we have the much less interesting plot device of the Disperser to wrap up the story in episode seven. It feels oddly tagged-on and somehow contrived - despite the fact that monsters-invade-base has been a Who staple for most of its history.
The story has an unusual structure and if I have a criticism, that would be it - very little actually happens in episode one (watch those BBC2 viewers desert in droves) and though things take off like a bullet in episode two, it's not until nearly halfway into a very long story that we actually see or learn much about the Silurians themselves. The lack of monsters adds to the maturity of the story, true, but they remain central to it and their absence doesn't help it much.
Technically the story is extremely proficient (well, okay, apart from the dinosaur, that is). The score is effective, particularly the percussive Silurian music. It'd be perfidious to single out any one performance for praise, given that they're all pretty good (though the rather over-animated Young Silurian reminded me of Kermit the Frog).
And, of course, there's the ending. Familiarity has robbed it of some of its effectiveness, as has the fact that the Doctor himself has seemed prepared to countenance equally terrible acts on other occasions. But it's the perfect conclusion to one of the bleakest DW stories of all - a story where it seems that good may not just fail to triumph over evil, but perhaps not even exist at all.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 8/11/01
UNIT comes of age here in this solid story from the pen of Malcolm Hulke. They are sent to figure out the problem in the caves, which is seriously denting the research of an Atomic Research Station in Wenley Moor. The Doctor is along for the ride too, with his new roadster – Bessie. It was surprising how quickly Jon Pertwee got into the role of the Doctor in Spearhead. Here he looks like he has playing the Doctor for years!
The problem in the caves is our Reptilian cousins – the Silurians. Forerunners to our species on earth. It’s a brilliant idea from Hulke, to have a race which has lain dormant throughout the millennia – now to resurface and re-claim their planet. The Silurian culture is touched only lightly throughout the ensuing 7 episodes, I hope our friends at Big Finish can elaborate more on things in Bloodtide (they don’t). There is never more than a handful of them, and compared to the fire-power of UNIT – they are easily overwhelmed. It’s a mismatch, but yet the story is great nonetheless.
The Silurians are much more interesting in the first few episodes, when little is seen of them. They are in the shadows, and our imaginations have to do the work. They reek of menace and other-worldlyness. Some superb Direction makes us genuinely fearful of them. The wandering Silurian of episodes 2 and 3 is very good.
When the Silurians do appear, in all their glory – so to speak – they are less effective. Their shaking at everything that moved is a trifle silly, better in the shadows. An okay monster though. The Human cast are excellent. Featuring many faces that would find fame and fortune elsewhere, it’s something of a nostalgia-fest of TV drama. Porridge, Butterflies and Blakes Seven would benefit more from these great actors.
There are number of very good set pieces. My favourites are when the Silurian disease spreads. As Masters gets the train to a wonderfully early 70’s London (You really do travel with Doctor Who through time, as the TV show gets further and further into our past) the spread of the disease is well depicted. Also worthy of mention is Dr Lawrence, with his attack on the Brigadier.
I like this story. It has a moral message that is relevant for all of us. The performances are excellent. The Doctor is wonderful. All very well put together by all concerned. A 7-parter that does not drag at all. 8/10
Good but not great by Mike Jenkins 22/2/02
This one it seems has always been hailed as a classic. The only person who reviewed it that I've ever read that didn't really like it was David Howe, who enjoys the more colorful fun Pertwee stories and while I would agree with him on that, I think I like it more then he did. A 7/10, but no more. There's far too much repetition in the dialouge (we have a problem, really? Yes. Are you sure? Yes) and while there are a lot of Doctor Who stories like this, like so many overated 'classics' it seems it gets special treatmeant.
In some stories such as this one a slowly paced story is saved by excellent acting (Ambassadors of Death) but like the story, the acting is good not great. The regulars are fairly good but still learning their way around as it were. It is not, as many fans say, as though Pertwee has been playing the role for years. Much of the characterization and acting seems a little forced (Lawrence, Quin, Baker, UNIT incidentals), it's the central concept of the story that is truly wonderful. Those who play the Silurians are the ones who deserve special treatment. Geoffrey Palmer (the permanent undersecretary), is, as with everything else he does, a wonderful relief from the overused characters. This is probably Caroline John's best performance on her stint and the ending is truly well done and dramatic not to mention the way Pertwee and John play off each other. The direction is superb, like it's predessessor, Spearhead from Space and while the story is good, it is not at the classic level of that previous story.
A strong message and story by Tim Roll-Pickering 11/3/02
Wisely, the second story featuring the Doctor exiled to Earth does not focus in any way on the reasons behind the Doctor's exile and his attitude to it but rather shows just how the Doctor fits into the entire UNIT structure whilst at the same time presenting an interesting variation on the UNIT format showing how flexible it is after only a few stories of the type. It speaks volumes that Jon Pertwee's first scene shows him tinkering with Bessie rather than with the TARDIS and thus showing him attempting to improve his situation on Earth rather than emerging from the TARDIS after yet another failed attempt to depart. Malcolm Hulke's scripts are highly intelligent and challenging, presenting a set of characters who are all highly believable as they face the unusual developments at Wenley Moor.
One feature of the story that stands out is just how much of a loose cannon the Doctor is. He travels about in his own classic car which he has heavily modified, steps in to help with technical problems, ventures off into the caves by himself on several occasions and is routinely out of sync with even the Brigadier. Nevertheless there is a strong bond of respect shown between the two with the result that when the Doctor desperately needs the Brigadier, such as when the plague spreads at the end of Episode 5, the latter is willing to do everything he can to help even though the the Doctor as ever does not provide the greatest of reasons to be trusted.
The guest human characters are all interesting, ranging from Dr Quinn who is driven by vanity to be known as the discoverer of the "Silurians" (okay the name's inaccurate but then so is the alternative version of "Eocenes" given in The Sea Devils and that sounds even worse) to Miss Dawson who doesn't understand much of what is going on around her other than her love for Dr Quinn to Dr Lawrence who becomes increasingly paranoid as the research centre becomes ever more diverted and he appears ever more unable to keep things going. The Silurians themselves are equally well portrayed, evoking both our sympathy for their plight but also our revulsion for the actions taken by the Young Silurian, often at odds with the Old Silurian. The message of the story is clear - that when two highly developed communities encounter one another it must always be the moderates on both sides who must win through to prevent bloodshed - and this is as strong a message today as it was at the time of the story's original transmission when the Troubles in Northern Ireland had only just begun one of their most bloody phases.
Hulke's scripts are backed up by some strong production values which, with the odd exception such as the dinosaur, never let the story down, nor does the cast. One particular good feature is the way that many on both sides are killed off including even normally 'untouchable' characters in a story such as the civil servant (Masters - ably played by Geoffrey Palmer) and the second in command (Hawkins - portrayed by a young Paul Darrow before Blake's 7 made him famous). The Silurian costumes are good and even their head shaking when using their third eye makes sense as it implies that they are focusing their power. CSO makes its first appearance in Doctor Who in this story and it works well here since it isn't used to make the critical action shots. Direction wise this story works well, with the location work giving it a strong edge and also making the plague seem especially menacing as it strikes down commuters at Marylebone Station. Although the story's title is rather silly, this can be easily ignored as a cock up (and there are many books where the 'Doctor Who and...' variant also appears in story titles, such as The Making of Doctor Who) and in no way detracts from a highly rewatchable story that never slows down throughout its seven episodes. 10/10
A Review by Terrence Keenan 1/4/03
This is a seven episode mini epic involving two non-trusting groups waging war based on origin. Only one group will survive the carnage, but does that make them right, or heroic in the effort?
Aye, there's the rub.
Malcolm Hulke's story specialty was moral dramas. And in The Silurians, Hulke presents extremism on both the human and Silurian fronts. Each side sees themselves as the superior species and their opposite and evolutionary mistake, monsters that have jumped out of their station as mere animals.
The Doctor is thrust into the role of peacemaker. And with increasing desperation, he tries to have both sides see reason in order to prevent genocide. In the end, he fails. He has to fail, in order to drive the point home Hulke wanted.
Is there a more downbeat Who serial than this one?
The only person who seems to understand what the Doctor is trying to achieve is Liz. This seems to be more out of loyalty to the Doctor than in actual belief that he is right. Most of the other humans in the Wenley Moor research center are in denial about events -- Director Lawrence, Masters, Quinn -- or see events in terms of us versus them -- Major Baker, The Brigadier, Miss Dawson. The Silurians are no better, as only the "Old Silurian" is willing to try to respect the rights of the humans to exist. The rest of the Silurians only see humans as jumped up apes who need to be eliminated. It is fitting that the Old Silurian is killed by his own kind. The voices of reason are constantly subverted in their efforts.
Acting is brilliant on all levels. Jon Pertwee, Caroline John, Nick Courtney all shine. Peter Miles steals the show (like he did in Genesis as Nyder) in his role of Director Lawrence as he becomes unhinged. Geoffrey Palmer does a great job as Masters. The rest of the cast all hold their own.
The direction of this serial is superb. The scenes of the plague spreading are downright harrowing. There's a wonderful dissolve montage in episode six showing the Doctor's work in the lab, Lethbridge-Stewart manning the phones, and the plague spreading all over London. Timothy Combe manages to keep thing moving along throughout all seven episodes.
The only point of the episode that rings a bit false is in episode seven, when the Silurians try to destroy the Van Allen Belt and the Doctor overloads the reactor in order to stop them. It seems more of a sop to end the serial with an explosion of sorts. However, the sad denoumet of Lethbridge-Stewart first killing the Young Silurian to save the Doctor's life and then the Doctor's reaction as the caves are blown up more than make for it.
The Silurians is nothing short of astounding. It's a bleak, powerful story about racism and extremism that never gets bogged down in proselytizing.
A Review by Brian May 8/9/03
Why is it that the six episode stories of Jon Pertwee's reign as Doctor Who are, for the most part, extremely slow and padded, while the seven parters are much more engaging? Perhaps because of the solid production values of season seven? The well written and engaging scripts? Whatever the case, Doctor Who and the Silurians is extremely good.
While for anoraks it should be called The Doctor and the Eocenes, Jon Pertwee's second adventure benefits from strong writing, acting and direction. It is perhaps Malcolm Hulke's best script for the series - it includes his trademark moral issues and balanced viewpoints. There are no villains as such, the Doctor acts as mediator between the humans and aliens, and the humans are sometimes the more monstrous. These aspects are staple Hulke, working well in a variety of thought provoking scenarios - but here he is at his best.
Most of the characters are well portrayed and three-dimensional. Hulke actually cares about them - they are not simply extras or plot fodder. For example, the ambition and evasiveness of Fulton Mackay's Dr Quinn - the always impressive Mackay brings to life an intriguing character - from the outset we know he has something to hide, and he goes through an interesting development. So too does Miss Dawson, his confidante; it is implied their relationship is a bit more intimate simply through their interactions, done in a way totally free of any overt insinuation. She adopts an aggressive attitude toward the Silurians, but only out of her affection for Quinn and her reaction to his death - misguided yes, but handled with a sympathy that only Hulke could achieve, with his usual finesse that avoids purely black and white interpretations.
Other memorable characters - and their actors - include the arrogant but earnest Major Baker (Norman Jones) and the arrogant and ambitious Dr Lawrence (Peter Miles). They are both particularly unlikeable, but can still draw some sympathy given the positions they find themselves in. Geoffrey Palmer is also excellent as the sceptical but pragmatic civil servant, Masters. Even minor characters like the researcher Travis, who spends his whole thirty seconds of screen time showing up Dr Lawrence, are interesting. The Silurian characterisations are also good - the Old Silurian, the Young Silurian and the scientist are all individual identities, not just monsters - a major failing in Doctor Who thankfully avoided here. Even the lizards' minor inflections, twitches and arm movements enhance them as characters and not just another alien race.
I think the weakest performance is Paul Darrow as Captain Hawkins - he seems a bit inexperienced, but perhaps I'm just comparing it to his excellent portrayal of Avon in Blake's 7 - it's hard to imagine Avon being so polite and courteous, saying "Sir" so much!
The regulars also shine in this story. Jon Pertwee and Caroline John are on fine form. Nicholas Courtney turns in one of his best ever performances as the Brigadier. After all, this season emphasises UNIT at its best, before the unfortunate decline into self-parody that would occur later in the Pertwee era. The Brigadier is resourceful and hard-edged - a good leader in the scenes where he leads the force into the caves, only to be trapped by the Silurians, and his reaction to their predicament. His hard edged military approach makes for a chilling moment in episode six when he draws his revolver on the doctor and the nurses in the hospital grounds - he knows the spread of the Silurian disease is to be avoided and takes the practical approach. His evasiveness at the end, when he shuffles the Doctor and Liz out of the research centre and his subsequent sealing of the Silurian caves, also makes Lethbridge-Stewart a foil for the Doctor, not just the buffoon-like sidekick he would later become. From the Brigadier's point of view, blowing up the caves is the only thing he could have done - another great example of Malcolm Hulke's ability to blur the lines of black and white.
As a seven parter, the story is slow, but never drawn out. Rather, the plot and characters are allowed to evolve. The first three episodes see the story unfold - even scenes like the search on the moors are not padded; parts four and five allow the Silurians to be introduced, while part six focuses on the spread of the virus - which itself is suspenseful, dramatic and very harrowing, injecting a real sense of "race against time" despair. The only problem with the plotting is the final episode. After the virus, Hulke just seems to run out of ideas to wind things up. The "climax" concerning the Silurians' attempt to dismantle the Van Allen Belt and the overloading of the nuclear reactor is neither exciting nor engaging. As is the problem with many Doctor Who stories, the Doctor saves the day thanks to some technobabble and fiddling with some wires. However the epilogue, the Brigadier's aforementioned blowing up of the Silurian caves and the Doctor's reaction, compensates for the dull episode with a strong comeback - a final twist to sour the victory and provoke some thought.
Director Timothy Combe does an excellent job - it's a pity he directed only a few Doctor Who stories. The search on the moors makes for some stunning location photography, as do the scenes in London, involving the dying Masters. The footage makes for some wonderful moments - the injured Silurian stepping out onto the moor, silhouetted by the sun, and the commuters collapsing at the railway station as the virus spreads. Effects wise, even the dinosaur isn't that bad (particularly in episodes four and five). Carey Blyton's incidental music, always very brass oriented and sometimes not appropriate for other Doctor Who adventures, is quite fitting here, including that weird kazoo noise. The Silurian costumes are very much alien rubber suits, but their design is excellent.
The story's cliff-hangers are not among the programme's best. Four of them (episodes one, three, four and six) are close-ups of Jon Pertwee pulling a face! Episode three's image should really have ended on the Silurian, as this is the story's first full view of them. The best cliff-hanger is undoubtedly part five - ironically, another close-up of the Doctor, but thankfully pulling no face! His softly spoken words, "The first one", after Major Baker succumbs to the virus, provide an excellent dramatic moment.
In conclusion, Doctor Who and the Silurians is a triumph. It is an excellently written, acted and directed story. The strong production values of season seven are in full evidence here, making for a gritty and gripping adventure. 9/10
A Review by Hannah Isaacs 1/5/05
I'm never quite sure what I think about Doctor Who and the Silurians. It's certainly not a serial I can claim I like very much. Not because of any flaws in it but because I find it so terribly painful to actually watch.
It's very rare that while rewatching something, I pray it'll somehow all turn out differently in the repeat. The Silurians is one programme where every time I see it, I hope that somehow what I'm watching will change. All through the story I find myself wincing at the sheer stupidity of nearly everyone involved. I scream with frustration at the Silurians and humans for being so bloody blind. Why can't any of these people understand how easy it would be just to TALK to each other? Why does the young Silurian have to be such a closed-minded idiot? Likewise Miss Dawson and her cries for the destruction of the Silurians. And don't get me started on Major Baker - he must have had concussion, it's the only explanation for how he could possibly be so brain-shatteringly stupid. Why did Marsters have to be such a fool and leave the base and spread the plague around London? Why does no one except the Doctor and Liz Shaw think in this story?
The fact that I really don't like this story is probably a sign of how successful it is. It doesn't feel at all padded despite its length. It's gripping and frightening, even to me, a self-professed cynic. The scenes where people are collapsing in London are horrifying - I find the scenes in the station deeply disturbing on a number of levels. The Silurians look quite effective despite obviously being men in suits. They look their best in the shadowy caves - you can believe they are real creatures, living their lives down there. Their pet dinosaur is slightly less effective (why did the third Doctor always get the unconvincing dinosaurs?) but it doesn't really detract from the story. The ending is very well done and even rather moving. While you can understand what the Doctor is saying, you also find yourself sympathising with the Brigadier's position. (Well, I did anyway!) The acting is excellent, particularly Peter Miles as Doctor Lawrence, who is wonderfully chilling all the way through. His attack on the Brigadier is particularly well done.
One thing the story does seem to be missing is any humour. With the exception of a few moments in the first episode (the scenes with the Doctor and Bessie are a hoot!) there is very little to laugh at all the way through. This isn't necessarily a flaw but it would make the story less distressing to watch if there was a little more to smile at. An interesting comparison is Genesis of the Daleks (I noticed this because I have the first episode of this story on my Silurian video so generally just keep watching right the way through both stories) - the story is equally dramatic but there's more to laugh at, making it less harrowing in the long run.
This story also proves that all the people whinging about the new series of Doctor Who using the word "alien" too much are really being memory-selective as the Doctor calls the Silurians aliens at least four times and he's totally wrong as they were here in the first place and therefore aren't aliens anyway!
One small point. Did I perhaps miss something though or is there still a Silurian running around out in the moors? No one ever mentions that the injured Silurian returned to the caves. Also, it's the only Silurian that was ever called a Silurian to its face. Wasn't that a complaint about Warriors of the Deep? Could that perhaps explain that continuity error?
Overall, Doctor Who and the Silurians is an excellent story - just not the most pleasant to actually watch.
And it has a god-awful title.
A Review by Michael Bayliss 15/6/09
I really enjoy the direction, the acting, the epic feel and particularly the central theme. Straight and narrow, good vs. evil stories really bug me, and I seriously doubt anything tickles my fancy more than a healthy, solid dose of moral ambiguity. Two species, neither of them good nor evil, both want the planet all to themselves and are too pigheaded to talk things through, preferring to resort to violence and genocide. A theme that continues to apply to this day, in its myriad of forms.
However, I think the realisation of the Silurian people seriously undermined the opportunity here. Given that most viewers of Doctor Who are human, it takes a bit to sympathize with a race of monsters that try to kill off the entire human race not once but twice in the same story. In order for the audience to sympathize (or at least understand both sides of the coin) the Silurians have to be constructed as realistic, three dimensional characters. This almost happens in episode 4 and 5 with the introduction of the old leader who is the only fully realized Silurian. From his dialogue with the Doctor, one can grasp the point of view of the Silurians in regards to land rights and one can appreciate that he is acting not really out of any villainous megalomania or self interest but more out of a desire to provide the best for his species. So far, so good.
However, there are only two other Silurians with speaking parts; a young, self-interested megalomaniac who comically shakes his whole body from side to side when he talks in his high shouty voice, and a scientist whose only character development involves one incredible scene where the young Silurian says (pretty much) "let's kill our leader" and the scientist pauses for one second to consider his options before saying (pretty much) "Okay." So once the leader is killed you have a couple of two-dimensional characters whose only motivation seems to be the death of all humanity, and a bunch of wooden henchmen who kill humans in confined spaces, like only a good season 5 monster should. If one were to start watching the story after the leader was killed, you'd only have to Doctor harping "They're such an intelligent species, one musn't use violence" to have any indication that there is any shade of morality to these mass murderers.
After a first attempt at genocide with the brilliantly cast plague scenes in episodes 5 & 6, the Silurians go at it again in episode 7 with the Van Allen belt. Although I can forgive one attempt at mass global genocide (hell, haven't we all made mistakes?), call me a prude but I find twice in one story is just plain rude, and a little difficult - being human myself - to forgive, sympathize or understand the other side of the coin. Such was the course of events, I was actually rooting for the Brigadier when he ordered their caves blown up.
There were only two times when my heart was really ever behind Ol' John when he chanted "they're so intelligent and we mustn't use violence and Brigadier you are a nitwit" like a broken record. These pivotal moments were with the old Silurian leader in episode 4 and the feeling of cognitive dissonance when UNIT sunk to the same low level as Silurians at the end (but mummy - the Silurians started it!) So I'm afraid the moral ambiguity of a nearly 3 hour story is hung on two pivotal scenes, where the rest isn't that much more cerebral than your typical Cybermen invasion.
There are several changes the story should have made in order to make the theme work and render it the "gritty and real" classic that many nostalgic fans claim that is to be so. If you would hear me out, this is how, as director, I would have changed things.
a) It would have helped if the young Silurian upstart did not act like a complete idiot. Make him ruthless, for sure, but explore his character a bit rather than making him shake like a Caucasian Ice addict trying to pull off street moves. He looks ridiculous enough in that rubber suit as it is, thank you, so don't add more salt to the wounds.
b) Make the scientist Silurian not so casually swayed by off-the-cuff-suggestions such as "let's kill our leader." Give him at least two minutes to weigh up the pros and cons; he's got the time cos it's seven whole episodes and episode 1 was already wasted with absolutely no plot progression, so it's not like the production team was in a hurry. Also, it would be good if the scientist got a little remorseful and questioned his actions later on after killing the elder, by realizing the younger replacement is a whackjob. You know, the sort of thing that real, thinking people with a conscience do after hurting or killing people they know.
c) Wouldn't it have been great if, in episode 7, the Old Silurian ended up not dead but just maimed, recovered, got the other Silurians to barrack for him again (who were feeling a bit remorseful about their killing of everyone and everything) and after imprisoning the young upstart for being a mass-murdering whackjob, they plan with the Doctor ways to renegotiate the peace process with the humans and reverse some of the wrongs committed. They have just started to do this when they Brigadier, in an act of vengeful spite, blows them up. Wow, message delivered, much pathos, so much promise destroyed. Instead, what we get in episode 7 is yet another, much sillier, genocide attempt by the Silurians involving Van Allen belts which was funny to watch at the time, but, looking back, was just a really lousy plot device.
d) The Doctor was the only "human", other than Baker and Quinn, to ever talk to the Silurians. I liked Quinn's interaction, which really showed up the human selfish, profiteering side to the relationship. Baker was just a glorified chav who yelled a lot, so he doesn't really count. I think the intention was to keep the Silurians away from the humans in order to maintain the lack of communication between the parties so the acts of xenophobic can go on largely unopposed, but I think it would be more powerful if the UNIT soldiers, when trapped in the cave, got to meet face to face with the Silurians, the Doctor tried to mediate a diplomatic debate, the two sides ended up getting increasingly caught in their misunderstandings and getting shitty at each other, to the point where they were driven to hate the other side even more. Not only would this have been ironic, but also played up the "bloody mindedness" of each side, given the Silurians more room to state their viewpoints, and given the Silurians more of a justification to commit genocide (as they've now met a bunch of humans and are now aware of what a bunch of idiots we are).
I think if the script had explored some of those options, it would have nailed the moral ambiguity and the divided loyalties down to a tee. Of course, antiseptic families seeking harmless unchallenging television would have been repelled even more than they were with a slightly less challenging story that was the finished product, and you can bet that the Mary Whitehouse fanclub would have gone to even larger fits of hysteria, leading Barry Letts to resort to Jo Grant and the Master before we even got a chance to see Inferno. But for me, 30 years later, it would have been worth it.
This sounds like I hate the story. I really don't. Episodes 1 and 7 suck. Episodes 2-6 are edge-of-your-seat thrills per minute. I love all of the human characters: Masters, Quinn, Dawson, Lawrence, the Brigadier. Liz Shaw is the best female companion in the world. The direction is superb, with so many memorable images, the location scnes are perfectly shot, and although the music is horrible, being dated and distracting from the tension rather than contributing to it, The Silurians still scrapes into my top 10 Whos ever. I just think the premise of the story promised so much potential that the eventual delivery frustrates more than it probably should, leading me to complain for far longer than I probably should.
A Review by Finn Clark 8/11/09
If it hadn't been for the plague stuff, that would have been a load of old cobblers. That's close to saying Jaws would be boring without the shark, but it's true. This story is admittedly radical for the time, but in a slow, dull way that's very Malcolm Hulke and a bit Cold War. Look, the Silurians are arguing among themselves! Look, so are the Doctor and the Brigadier! This is interesting, but mostly in a theoretical kind of way that probably plays better with fans than a general audience. If you keep watching for a few more episodes, something might even happen!
Fortunately, it does, and it's called the plague. It's basically episode six, with a bit of topping and tailing in episodes five and seven, and it's extraordinary. I don't think there's anything else in Doctor Who quite like it. The episode begins with a sinister Brigadier ready to pull a gun on a perfectly innocent country hospital doctor and just keeps escalating, with the infection spreading ever further as people collapse with disfiguring skin conditions. We have lots of London filming... and when I say "London", I don't just mean some anonymous street that's been cordoned off and might as well be anywhere. No, I mean Marylebone station, as busy as it always is with passengers pouring through the ticket barriers. These are the people who get infected. It's far more real and identifiable than we normally get.
Meanwhile the Doctor's busy in the laboratory, but in a way we don't usually see. Normally he's just playing with toys from the visual effects department. This time he's got blood, slides, drugs, a microscope and what could be mistaken for proper scientific procedure. This episode wouldn't have worked in 1980s Doctor Who, but in 1970 you believe in it. They're taking the epidemic seriously and you don't doubt that if the Doctor had been a little less lucky, he might have been struggling to save even a little of the world's population.
Apart from the plague, the main thing this story has going for it is moral ambiguity. That's a Malcolm Hulke trademark, but never again would he take it this far. What we have here is startling. The Doctor and the Brigadier lie to each other about matters of life and death, keeping the other in the dark because they don't trust each other to do the right thing. The Doctor practically changes sides in the middle of the story, giving away the humans' secrets to the monsters and almost getting the Brigadier and his men killed as the Silurians walk them into a trap. Then, of course, in the finale, the Brigadier blows up the caves the moment the Doctor's back is turned. Watching this story will lead you to imagine a completely different kind of Pertwee era, in which the Brigadier and the Doctor are practically at war and one of them probably ends up killing the other.
Meanwhile the Silurians are having similar arguments. This is the first story in which monsters have this kind of fundamental disagreement among themselves, unless you count The Sensorites or The Faceless Ones. The latter's by Hulke too, by the way. All this is good, rendered even more remarkable by the indistinguishable monster costumes. Despite this, note how clearly the individual Silurians are differentiated. They come across as characters rather than costumes, even if this is done through means that in a less po-faced story would have been hilarious. Old Silurian is hunched like a frog, while American Silurian wiggles like a 1980s Cyberman when he talks and seems to be made of rubber. I'm not referring to the construction of his costume, but to the fact that his upper body wobbles like a suction cup toy. Or maybe he just likes to boogie.
Incidentally, note that the stupid warlike Silurian is the American. He really is a tosser, by the way. I'm all for moral ambiguity, but some people are just too stupid to live and he's one of them. However, I was surprised to see how blatantly the story's setting up a sequel, with Scientist Silurian still alive and doing something to the hibernation machine, which in any case had been set to revive in another fifty years. Hmmm, only another decade or so to go. Another fannish point is that I don't think the Silurians are telepathic, but that's some wacky mojo they have with their third eye to rebuild walls they've previously destroyed.
I've been rude about the Silurians' appearance, but I still prefer their designs to those of Warriors of the Deep. Love that silhouette. The problem with all this earnest discussion is that in practice it tends to reduce the story to talking heads. The humans stay in their nuclear research centre, the Silurians lurk in their hibernation chambers and never the twain shall meet. There's a No Man's Land of the caves and of course the Silurian incursion in episode seven, but broadly speaking the conflict in this story is between the militarists and the peacemakers. Every so often an ambassador goes over to parlay, usually at risk of being thought a traitor by the other humans. Sometimes he'll get thrown in a cage, blasted with third eye radiation or exposed to lethal diseases, but it's all worth it for the sake of peace! The Cold War really rides again, doesn't it?
As a story, it's obviously overlong but in a different way from a six-parter. These seven-parters seem aware of their unwieldy Frankenstein natures and are more clearly divided into mini-stories. Once you've identified that, you'll find that individual episodes often go surprisingly fast. Part two covers a lot of ground, for instance. Best are episodes 6 (the plague) and 4, which is where the Doctor stabs his friends in the back. His reaction on meeting a Silurian for the first time became immediately one of my favourite Doctor Who moments. "Hello, are you a Silurian?" Best. Cliffhanger. Resolution. Ever.
Incidentally, seven episodes is more or less the average length of a Malcolm Hulke story! In addition to this, he did five six-parters, The Ambassadors of Death and The War Games. No four-parters at all.
The direction is noteworthy, with Timothy Combe putting in all the effort that would lead to him going over-budget on Mind of Evil and never asked back. There's an establishing shot in the first episode which starts with the Doctor and Liz driving through a town, but then zooms out until you see it's been done in long-shot from somewhere high up. Did he need to do all that? No, he didn't, but it's nice. Episode six is where the location filming really comes into its own, of course, but I'd also point out the money they spent on all those army maneuvers in part three. There's even a helicopter. Then there's the stylish point-of-view stuff with the Silurian's third eye.
Where the production falls down is unsurprisingly with the alienish stuff, such as the Silurians' slightly underwhelming base and of course the Tyrannosaurus. In fairness, the latter looks better than I'd expected, but that's not the same as looking good. It also strikes me that the poor thing can't have been happy being kept in a cave.
Oh, I nearly forgot the music. This is the story for everyone who ever wanted to hear a farting kazoo.
The cast is noteworthy. Fulton Mackay is strong. Geoffrey Palmer is less Palmer-ish than I'd expected for some reason, but he's still good enough that he made me want to put on Voyage of the Damned. I think it's that his jowls are less jowly. Peter Miles has a couple of oddly flat line readings near the beginning, but he takes a character type we've seen a million times before and makes him a lot of fun basically by giving us Nyder from Genesis of the Daleks. He's the paranoid leader who doesn't believe the truth even when it's about to kill him, which could have been tiresome beyond words. However Miles plays him as: (a) almost evil, and (b) in the end, mad.
Of course there's also Paul Darrow as Captain Of The Week. He's definitely a minor character, but add up all his scenes and by the end you'll have had enough bits and pieces to give a tiny buzz to those who want a Blake's Seven crossover that isn't Timelash. He's not playing Avon, but he does have a gun.
Meanwhile, the Doctor gets a few good moments. I laughed at him bulldozing his way into Dr Quinn's cottage, then again later at his casually felonious "hand me that paper knife." However, most startling for me was the sight of Pertwee in a T-shirt. He's a big guy, you know. Take him out of the poncy get-up and suddenly you're looking at someone you might back in a fight against Eccleston.
Overall, this story strikes me as seven episodes of Cold War metaphor. There's remarkably little direct conflict between the Silurians and the humans, with what little we have generally being the result of someone or other getting trigger-happy. There's Major Baker to represent the gung-ho face of the military that the Brigadier ostensibly isn't... but by and large the Brigadier agrees with him, as eventually do even civilians like Miss Dawson. It has sinister bits and little funny bits. It's terribly earnest and convinced in the importance of what it's saying... and, y'know, might even be right at that.
It's just that I think you've got to be cutting it a little slack to stick with it, especially these days. I find it impressive, but I stalled after episode three and didn't bother watching the other episodes for a week and a half. I'd been watching it episode by episode, but it hadn't caught fire for me at that point. If someone adores this story, I'd guess there's a good chance they're a fan.