Friday, 11 January 2013

Story 52 - (Doctor Who And) The Silurians

In which UNIT is called in to investigate a series of problems plaguing a research centre built deep beneath Wenley Moor, Derbyshire. The experimental Cyclotron power generation system has been suffering inexplicable energy drains, there is an abnormally high level of staff sickness, and then an accident takes place in the nearby cave system. One staff member is killed, and his colleague driven insane after going potholing. The Doctor at first refuses to heed the Brigadier's summons - but Liz points out that it would make a good test drive for his new car. This is a sprightly yellow Edwardian tourer which he has named "Bessie".
The Doctor can find nothing wrong with the Cyclotron, but he does find signs of tampering with a log book. The man driven mad by his experience in the caves is now drawing strange creatures on the wall of his room - and the Doctor likens them to primitive cave drawings, as though the man has regressed to some race memory. He goes alone to the scene of the "accident" and sees a large dinosaur. An electronic sound is heard and it disappears into the darkness.

Security chief of the research centre, Major Baker, accompanies the Doctor and UNIT troops into the caves. He sees a bipedal figure and fires  a warning shot, but a ricochet hits the creature. He is then attacked and injured by the dinosaur. The Doctor now knows that there are two types of creature in the caves. The bipeds control the dinosaur and must possess great knowledge and technology. The wounded creature has  made its way onto the moors, and a major hunt is instigated. Senior scientist Dr. Quinn goes into the caves and enters a subterranean base. He had made contact with the creatures - Silurians - some time ago and has been shielding their activities - hoping to learn from them. They task him with recovering their wounded comrade.
He keeps the Silurian in his cottage. The Doctor guesses what he is up to due to the high temperature he  notes when he visits. When he decides to hold it hostage, the Silurian kills Quinn. Baker breaks out of the centre's sickbay and returns to the caves - only to be captured. The Doctor and Liz search Quinn's belongings and find notes on prehistoric Earth, and a map leading to the base. They sneak into the base and see the Silurians and their dinosaur, and find Baker locked in a cell. They return to the centre and the Doctor discovers that the Brigadier is going to lead an armed party into the caves. To prevent bloodshed, he returns alone to the base to warn the Silurians - to Baker's disgust.

The young Silurian heir uses their technology to trap the UNIT group. The elderly leader of the creatures decides to listen to the Doctor, and frees the Brigadier's party. He recognises that humans are the dominant species on the planet and they should try to make peace. The young Silurian sees mankind as vermin which has infested their world. It transpires that the Silurians were the rulers of Earth millions of years ago, when humans were still primitive mammals. A rogue planet approached the Earth, and the Silurians took refuge in underground shelters, putting themselves into suspended animation until the planet had passed - as they feared great devastation. Their reactivation was never triggered. The activities of the centre have woken some, and they are draining off its power to reanimate more. The young Silurian infects Baker with a plague virus and releases him. When the old leader finds out, he releases the Doctor and gives him a sample of the virus in order to formulate a cure. After the Doctor has gone, the young Silurian murders the old leader.

A visiting civil servant named Masters inadvertently spreads the disease to London and beyond. The Doctor and Liz battle to come up with the antidote. The Silurians decide to attack the centre to stop them. They abduct the Doctor. When they realise that the virus will be cured, they devise another scheme. They will harness the Cyclotron to power a device that will destroy the Van Allen Belt. This will prove fatal to humans but make the planet suitable for their recolonisation. The Doctor sets up a power overload - destroying their machine and forcing them back into their base. Fearing a nuclear blast, they return to suspended animation, apart from the young leader. The Doctor halts the overload then returns to the base. The Brigadier follows and kills the Silurian. The Doctor plans to reanimate the creatures a few at a time and forge diplomatic relations with them. When he leaves, however, the Brigadier blows up the base.

This seven part adventure was written by Malcolm Hulke, and was broadcast between 31st January and 14th March, 1970. Unusually, the story title included "Doctor Who and" on screen. This would never be repeated so appears to have been an error. A new producer had just taken over - Barry Letts - and it may have been overlooked in the transition.
The seven episode format which this season follows for its remainder was introduced as a cost saving measure. The expenditure on casting, costume and sets could be spread over more episodes. The only problem with this was sustaining the story over this length. It was necessary to introduce some new plot elements part way through the story - in this case the plague sub-plot.
Hulke had earlier feared that the new Earth exile format might limit the range of possible plots to alien invasion and mad scientist. He got round this by having we humans as the invaders. The Silurians had been here long before us and wanted their planet back. This gave the story added moral dimensions.
Had the old leader survived to the end of the tale, it would have made the Brigadier's decision to blow up their base much more abhorrent, but by having the firebrand younger Silurian take over his actions can - just about - be justified. There are parallels with PM Harriet Jones destroying the Sycorax ship. Despite all the Doctor's declared intentions, sometimes you just can't take the risk.

Jon Pertwee has settled into the role very well, and we can already see exactly what kind of Doctor he is going to be. "Bessie" is introduced to show his love of gadgets and unusual modes of transport; he has no time for bureaucrats and other authority figures (including the Brigadier); and we witness his deep moral sensibilities. His previous incarnations could simply slip into the TARDIS at the end of an adventure, leaving the locals to clean up whatever mess he has helped resolve, but he can no longer do this. He has to live in this imperfect world of ours.
Caroline John's Liz is given quite a bit to do. She is a scientist and becomes frustrated when pushed into an admin role. In many ways this foreshadows what happens to most companions - a strong start, a particular set of skills etc, but soon enough they're reduced to helpless screamers.
It's a strong story for Nicholas Courtney as well, still without any regular UNIT colleagues. In this, his second in command changes for the third time. He had Captain Munro in the previous story, and Captain Turner in The Invasion. His number two here is Paul Darrow's Captain Hawkins, who is killed off late in the story.
Guest artists of note are the wonderful Peter Miles as the centre's authoritarian head Dr. Lawrence; Fulton Mackay as Dr. Quinn; Norman Jones (Khrisong in The Abominable Snowmen) as Major Baker; and Geoffrey Palmer - in the first of three doomed roles in Doctor Who - as Masters.

The Silurians are a very well realised creation - both in costume and in background and motivations. If you or I woke up after ten years and found our home overrun with mice or rats, we would feel entirely justified in getting rid of them and to take the place back for ourselves. It is little wonder that they and their marine cousins were brought back to the programme - and feature prominently today. Such a pity they dispensed with the third eye. The voices in this are by Peter Halliday.
Episode endings for this story are:

  1. Alone in the caves, the Doctor is threatened by a massive dinosaur...
  2. Liz is investigating the barn where the wounded Silurian was last seen. She suddenly discovers that it is still here, as it rushes to attack her...
  3. The Doctor has gone to Quinn's cottage and has found the scientist dead. The Silurian stalks towards him...
  4. The young Silurian attacks the Doctor with his third eye as he is helpless in a cell...
  5. The Doctor and the Brigadier arrive at the hospital, in time to see Baker collapse and die - the first victim of the plague...
  6. The Silurians have broken into the centre to abduct the Doctor, blasting him with the power of their third eyes...
  7. After witnessing the explosion of the base, the Doctor is appalled. He and Liz return to London in silence.

Overall, a very strong story - one of my favourite Third Doctor adventures. An excellent cast. Hulke's writing raises the Silurians above the usual monster. The sequences of people collapsing at the railway station are quite adult - more akin to Doomwatch than anything we have seen in Doctor Who so far.
Things you might like to know:

  • Those railway station sequences (London Marylebone) had to be reshot as there was a problem with the original footage. Members of the production team can be seen as infected travellers - including Letts and Terrance Dicks. The ticket inspector is the assistant script editor Trevor Ray.
  • This story marks the first use of CSO - Colour Separation Overlay. Letts agreed the construction of a dinosaur costume, to be worn by an actor. It was so heavy its head had to be held up by chain. Letts then had a "doh!" moment when he realised that with CSO he could have used a puppet or model one at a fraction of the cost.
  • Whatever it is, it isn't a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
  • And whatever it was, it wasn't the moon which sent the Silurians into hibernation - as we now have a pretty good idea of its formation.
  • "Bessie" has the number plate "WHO 1". The real vehicle had the licence plate "MTR5". Letts hated the self-referential nature of the number plate - and the fact that it was actually illegal on a public road.
  • When they go back into hibernation in part seven, the Silurians set their alarm clock for 50 years hence. That means they would be waking up in 2020 - which just happens to be the setting for The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood.

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