Doctor Who and the Silurians *****

A race of reptile men emerge from caves in Derbyshire in this gritty, provocative seven-parter

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Doctor Who story guide
Mark Braxton
Mark Braxton
Doctor Who and the Silurians *****

Season 7 – Story 52

"This is our planet. We were here before man. We ruled this world millions of years ago" - Old Silurian

Storyline

The Doctor and Liz are ordered by the Brigadier to investigate power losses and staff sickness at Wenley Moor underground nuclear research centre. Exploring adjacent caves where one potholer has been killed and another injured, the Doctor discovers a huge dinosaur and an intelligent race of bipedal reptiles or Silurians. A scientist called Quinn has been helping the creatures in return for knowledge but is later murdered by one. It seems that power from the nuclear reactor has revived the Silurians after millions of years and now they want to reclaim the Earth from humans. As the Doctor struggles to achieve peace between the two races, a lethal Silurian virus is unleashed. Can he discover an antidote…?


First transmissions
Episode 1 - Saturday 31 January 1970
Episode 2 - Saturday 7 February 1970
Episode 3 - Saturday 14 February 1970
Episode 4 - Saturday 21 February 1970
Episode 5 - Saturday 28 February 1970
Episode 6 - Saturday 7 March 1970
Episode 7 - Saturday 14 March 1970

Production
Location filming: November 1969 in Surrey at High Street, Godalming; Hog's Back Transmitter Station, Guildford; Hankley Common, Rushmore; Sheephatch Farm, Tilford; Milford Chest Hospital, Surrey; and in London at Marylebone Station and Edward Woods Estate, Shepherd's Bush
Studio recording: December 1969 in TC3 (ep 1) and TC1 (eps 2, 3), January 1970 in TC1 (eps 4, 5) and TC8 (eps 6, 7)

Cast
Doctor Who - Jon Pertwee
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart - Nicholas Courtney
Liz Shaw - Caroline John
Dr Charles Lawrence - Peter Miles
Dr John Quinn - Fulton Mackay
Major Baker - Norman Jones
Miss Dawson - Thomasine Heiner
Edward Masters - Geoffrey Palmer
Spencer - John Newman
Davis - Bill Matthews
Roberts - Roy Branigan
Dr Meredith - Ian Cunningham
Corporal Nutting - Alan Mason
Doris Squire - Nancie Jackson
Squire - Gordon Richardson
Captain Hawkins - Paul Darrow
Sergeant Hart - Richard Steele
Travis - Ian Talbot
Private Robins - Harry Swift
Hospital doctor - Brendan Barry
Private Wright - David Pollitt
Old Silurian - Dave Carter
Young Silurian - Nigel Johns
Silurian scientist - Pat Gorman
Silurians - Paul Barton, Simon Cain, John Churchill
Silurian voices - Peter Halliday

Crew
Writer - Malcolm Hulke
Incidental music - Carey Blyton
Designer - Barry Newbery
Script editor - Terrance Dicks
Producer - Barry Letts
Director - Timothy Combe

RT review by Mark Braxton
The production crew has a lot to live up to after the filmic sheen and heightened scares of Jon Pertwee's inaugural story. An unwieldy, seven-part structure and collision of studio and location work - now more visible than ever in living colour - don't augur well. But there's a depth and richness to Malcolm Hulke's story, and Timothy Combe's translation of it, that make The Silurians a standout.

With the Doctor now shackled to Earth, there'll be plenty of aliens invading, either brazenly or by stealth, in ensuing stories. But making the featured monsters indigenous is a masterstroke by Hulke, one that allows him to create a cautionary tale of mankind's underlying xenophobia and destructiveness.

The longer running time means the jigsaw pieces of plot can be revealed at curiosity-pricking intervals (a dinosaur in the caves, a suggestion of sabotage, pictures on the wall, a globe depicting Pangaea …). But what of the eponymous troglodytes themselves? Vocally, they're utterly wonderful. They sound like they're gargling with porridge. Visually, they're a pleasing design, too - the Chris Achilleos illustrations in Target's novelisation made them fearsome and dynamic, with their forehead weapons and expressive claws - but their rubbery realisation on screen is disappointing.

The Silurian actors' overzealous nodding during speech or third-eye activity makes them look silly, and a toppling headpiece in episode seven almost gives the game away. But it's their clever use by Hulke that counts: as a species they mirror our own suspicion, hatred and general insecurity. "They only attack for survival," as the Doctor points out.

The "Unit family" won't become established until the following season, but there are signs of the sparky Doctor/Brigadier relationship beginning to bed in here, despite the initial mistrust.

And it looks as if Gok Wan's had a go at Liz Shaw. After the frosty-librarian look in Spearhead from Space, she's been zhoozhed up with tumbling hair and orange minidress. I keep expecting someone to say, "Good heavens, Miss Shaw, you're beautiful!"

I always had a soft spot for Caroline John's Liz. Because she was intelligent, a handed-down perception dictated that she was cold as well. Brisk and conscientious, maybe, but she was too caring to be cold. And while there isn't the same companionly affection that we'll see later between the Time Lord and Jo, or Sarah Jane, there is innate respect. I like the moment here when he casually annoys the Brigadier to get him out of the room so he can talk to his friend. Asking Liz to sit down, he carefully breaks the news about Quinn's death, confiding in her in a way that he's not yet prepared to do with the Unit leader.

In interviews, the late, great Verity Lambert criticised the Third Doctor for being an establishment figure. That certainly isn't the case in his formative stories. See the way he disrespects authority, turning his back on the uptight Lawrence the moment he begins briefing Unit about the Cyclotron. Smile as he ridicules government hierarchy ("I've got no time to chat to under-secretaries, permanent or otherwise"). And applaud as he becomes a one-man Acas in the name of peace. For someone ostensibly in the employ of Unit, he doesn't for one moment side with their approach to interracial relations.

Aside from the mature, ultra-serious story (it's a refreshingly downbeat ending), there is quality in spades. The location footage is uniformly high, for one thing. The symbolic emergence from the caves of a Silurian at sunrise and its prismatic point-of-view shots, Unit's ground and aerial hunt over the heather-carpeted moors, and the panic-inducing spread of the Silurian virus via Masters' journey through London… all are supremely choreographed.

And it's a serial for firsts, among them: the first and only time "Doctor Who" is included in the title; the first appearance by vintage yellow car Bessie; and the first use in the programme of the dreaded Colour Separation Overlay, a compositing technique whose early use is nearly always obvious due to the sparkly outlines of people or objects. As (first-time) producer Barry Letts once explained to me: "We were the pioneers in the use of CSO in Doctor Who and indeed they encouraged us to be, because there was plenty of money about in those days from people getting new colour licences and so on."

If the use of CSO is see-through, so is the overlit, cheap-looking cave set and the Posh Paws lookalike masquerading as a 30ft-tall dinosaur. And being distinctive doesn't make Carey Blyton's electro-bagpiped Silurian theme any less painful on the ears whenever it's heard. Which is way too often.

But production shortcomings can't spoil a gritty, provocative story, furnished by fine character actors (Fulton Mackay, Geoffrey Palmer and Peter Miles) and discerning content. The magic is best summed up by the episode four intro: when the fugitive Silurian bears down on the Doctor, the latter calmly offers his hand in friendship. It's the kind of wrong-footing gesture that makes the Doctor so admirable. And the show so revolutionary.

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RT feature introducing Jon Pertwee and Bessie   RT billings episodes 1-4  episodes 5-7

[Available in the BBC DVD boxed set Doctor Who: Beneath the Surface; soundtrack available on BBC Audio CD]