Doctor Who (Classic): S07E02 “Doctor Who and the Silurians”

Season 7
Directed by Timothy Combe
Written by Malcolm Hulke

Last time, Doctor Who took its first steps into reinventing itself in colour and more relevantly to the plot as an Earthbound show.  It was an effective serial both on its own and the way it managed to introduce this new normal (complete with mostly new cast).  No longer would The Doctor be gallivanting through time and space with his various companions, now he was trapped on Earth and working with a more fully established UNIT.  In the comments last week, I noted that robbing The Doctor of the ability to travel in space and time was a significant risk, but it also offered a chance for the show to prove that it and its lead character are defined by more than that.  So, with a full story devoted to this new concept, what exactly makes The Doctor special and how does Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor stand out from the rest?

That’s perhaps a tall order for one serial as I also noted last time that Patrick Troughton and the show took a while to more fully differentiate the Second Doctor, but it’s one “The Silurians” is up to.  Spelunkers in an underground cavern start hearing noises before one is attacked by some giant reptilian monster.  A research center and proton accelerator have been built into the caves to develop cheap energy, but the center has been suffering from a bunch of issues with its workers going crazy and missing while the power mysteriously leaks.  It’s an even more pressing concern as they have a nuclear reactor on site that is at risk from these power drains.  It’s also a center that the head of the project is determined to keep open at all costs and is extremely unwelcoming to the UNIT team (especially The Doctor who doesn’t even use his new pseudonym) attempting to keep their work from UNIT and expressing constant annoyance at the intrusion.

While exploring the caves, The Doctor finds the monster and comes to the belief that there are two kinds of creatures down there, the one larger one, and one smaller and in control of the others.  Most crucially he believes that the smaller ones are not a threat and this conflict in philosophy from everyone else drives most of the story’s plot.  He’s right about the smaller creatures as one worker has been in contact with the creatures and who have been supplying them with knowledge (albeit in limited form).  The worker has been covering this up, ripping out certain pages of the power logs (or at least I’m pretty sure it was him responsible for that) while the injured man from the opening is also being kept in secret.

The first Silurian doesn’t appear until the third episode cliffhanger.  The rubber suited creatures the Silurians use as watchdogs (I’m pretty sure they got called Reptars which delights me but I can’t find any information confirming their names online) and which look like T-Rexes that one buys on the cheap for your kids birthday party are incredibly lame, but the design of the Silurians themselves well-done especially among the many humanoid races on the show.  They are still obviously rubber suited creatures that look like take offs of the Creature from the Black Lagoon (who was a Silurian/Sea Devil according to Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), but it’s an effective one in spite of the ill-fitting costumes.  They come from an early period of Earth with the planet once belonging to them.  They ultimately went underground when a small planet came at the Earth, though it turned out that their planned apocalypse never happened as the small planet wound up being an egg the Moon.

The Doctor tries to help the Silurians but they are frightened, at first attacking only for survival.  There is however conflict among the Silurians about what to do with the humans as one wants to study them and their “civilization” while the other wants to destroy them.  The conflict forms an interesting parallel with the humans and I always appreciate when the show doesn’t just craft its other races as one homogeneous mass.

With the two sides at odds (within the Silurian race and between the Silurians and humans), it leaves The Doctor in the position of constantly mediating force, one who nevertheless seems ineffective in this regard.  On the Silurian side, the “kill all humans” faction is the one that winds up winning out as they unleash an alien disease that affects only humans.  It also causes their downfall in the end as The Doctor and Liz blow up their dispersal unit when the Silurians get greedy in asking for more power while forcing the two to help, having intended to use the site’s generator to reanimate all the Silurians in hibernation.

They escape with their life for a time as they leave all the humans to die from the radiation caused by the explosion while they retreat back underground.  They set themselves to be revived in fifty years, swearing to destroy the humans when they return in what initially promises to be a cool cliffhanger.  Even after all that went down, The Doctor still wants to revive them one by one and try to negotiate, but nothing comes of this.  The Brigadier however orders the Silurian base sealed permanently with explosions when The Doctor and Liz step away.  It’s a wonderfully downer and bitter ending that in a few minutes says so much about The Doctor, Liz, and the Brig.

Liz starts to get better drawn time out as she bristles at being given assignments going over personnel and being held back from exploring the caves while the men go in with their guns.  t seems clear she sees herself as the scientific adviser or at least someone who should be doing that stuff alongside The Doctor.  And sure enough, later in the serial, she gets that opportunity to (continuing on from her work last time), when she helps the Doctor develop an antidote to the disease with some real proper lab work.  Scenes that I loved as someone who likes when sci-fi programmes at least try to pretend the science matters.

There’re signs though that this partnership with UNIT isn’t meant to last on the other hand.  The Doctor is also uncomfortable in his new role, uneager to follow rules, be ordered about, not go wandering about, and snarking about UNIT’s usage of guns when confronted with a problem they don’t understand.  It’s that last one that really gets to him as it undercuts his ability to negotiate, escalates the situation, and goes against everything he believes in.  While we don’t get to see The Doctor confront the Brig and UNIT after that explosion at the end, he accuses them of murdering an entire alien race and the look on his face after is one of anger, disappointment, and resignation.  It also sets Liz apart from the rest of UNIT again as she claims to have not known it was going to happen and while not reacting as strongly as The Doctor, also not appearing sold on that course of action.

There may not be a ton of explicit ties between episodes (just small touches here and there), but so far, for the first time in a while, there does seem to be actual development in relationships between serials.  It’s really selling me on this settling down (at least for a little while) and the new narrative and character possibilities it offers.  It also helps that “Doctor Who and the Silurians” is one of the best stories to date for the show and in running for the top title thus far.  Some of the goofier elements arguably hold it back as does the length, but show does find a way to keep developing the story and changing the focus enough each episode so that it both feels natural and so that it isn’t spinning in circles.  Between this and “The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve”, I think it’s clear how I like my story closes.

Grade: A-

Stray Observations

– You know what I hate most of all about these long serials?  It’s that most come on two discs which messes with my Netflix scheduling (especially this time when they were split up in weeks because Netflix finally delivered another disc I had been awaiting for a while).
– While an episode of “The Chase” had previously been called “The Death of Doctor Who”, this is the first and only serial to explicitly call The Doctor by the name of “Doctor Who”.  The serial’s name itself came from the script titles that were traditionally used and while never confirmed, was likely just a result of poor communication and error.  Regardless, the practice of calling scripts “Doctor Who and the [insert whatever here]” ended after this serial.
– The Doctor may not have gotten the car he wanted from last time, but he does get a yellow roadster which he names Bessie.  It’s also one that appears to need quite a bit of tinkering just to get working and later to maintain.
– Real subtle with that license plate.
Silurians 2
– The video quality has taken a noticeable (though understandable considering it has moved back to tape) dive back down though it’s still looking better than say the Second Doctor’s run
– One of the Silurians’ modulated voice and rubber suited nature gave me some distinct Power Rangers villain vibes which does undercut their effectiveness some.
– Likewise, The Silurians’ light up forehead/third eye which is capable of killing people which treads a thin line between effective low budget and just being silly.  The most surprising part of it though is that it works so well on each other.
– I’m not going to get on the show for dodgy science since they named the Silurians for the Silurian Period where they supposedly come from despite it making no sense, because I’ve long since come to expect very soft science from this show.  It’s nice that they are trying to make it science-y, and with a programme like this, it’s enough.
– The tattoo returns!  There’s something about The Doctor in an undershirt that just feels wrong, as if he’s going to jump back to the ’50s and start getting in fights with other toughs with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve.
– The TARDIS doesn’t even make an appearance this time out, one of ten times (seven Classic, three NuWho) it has ever happened.
– This was the last serial to be filmed in the 1960s.
– Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks, and Trevor Ray all make cameos.
– At one point The Doctor mentions “fusing the control of the neutron flow” which is so close to the line he would come to be known for.
– This Week in Cliffhangers: With The Doctor and Liz driving off not able to yet confront the Brig.

Next Up:  I only have to track down one-disc next time which is nice and should help me actually meet my next deadline for Doctor Who (Classic) of 5/13 with “The Ambassadors of Death”.  In the meantime, feel free to enjoy more of Star Trek: The Original Series with “Tomorrow is Yesterday” and “The Return of the Archons” on 5/6.