Thursday, 12 April 2018
Inspirations - The Silurians
As Terrance Dicks tells it, when he heard about the new Earthbound format for Doctor Who, writer Malcolm Hulke thought it a bad idea - claiming that you would only be left with two kinds of story: alien invasion or mad scientist. When you look at the run of stories from Spearhead From Space through to The Three Doctors, when the Doctor's exile is lifted, it may surprise the casual viewer to know that neither of these things feature prominently. It is claimed that the Pertwee / UNIT era consists entirely of alien invasions of the Home Counties, but this is simply not the case at all. Derbyshire isn't one of the Home Counties...
I jest. This story shows that you could have the Doctor encounter an "alien" invasion that isn't. The Silurians were already here, in hibernation for millions of years, whilst we evolved and invaded their territory. They've woken up and, naturally, want their planet back. Imagine you went abroad for a year and left your house locked up. You get back and find it overrun with mice. What do you do? Live in peaceful co-existence? I think not.
There is a mad scientist of sorts in this story, but he's only driven that way by infection by the Silurians' plague. Prior to that, Dr Lawrence is simply obsessive, hubristic and inflexible. The Cyclotron is his baby, and he has staked his reputation on it working. When it starts to fail, he cannot envisage that it is due to prehistoric lizard people, even when confronted by the evidence. He is one of those people who twist the facts to suit their theories, rather than the other way round.
As the Fourth Doctor once said (in The Face of Evil): "The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't change their views to fit the facts. They change the facts to fit their views".
Before we proceed with the story, a word about what was going on behind the scenes. This is the first story to be produced by Barry Letts. He had directed a Patrick Troughton story - The Enemy of the World - during which he spent some time talking to the star about the unsatisfactory working conditions he was forced to put up with. These included giving up days off to do location filming (and missing rehearsals for the same reason), plus lack of holidays. Letts took this away with him, and from now on there would be fewer stories per season, and filming would not impact on other productions quite as much.
Letts was not the BBC's first choice to take over from Derrick Sherwin. They wanted someone else who had directed for the show - Douglas Camfield - but he declined. Subsequent events would show that this was a lucky break. If directing a story could leave Camfield seriously ill, producing the series might have killed him.
Letts had been a promising film star, but the war intervened. After serving with the Navy he went back into film, only to find his potential star status diminished. He went into TV instead, and worked on many serials in the 1950's and '60's, but decided that directing would be a safer long-term option for him. When offered the producership of Doctor Who, he only agreed on the condition that he could direct the odd story himself. As it was, he not only produced and directed but wrote for the series as well.
This was Malcolm Hulke's first solo writing credit for the series. He had tried to have stories produced ever since the programme started, but so far had collaborated with other writers on two scripts. With David Ellis he had written The Faceless Ones, and with Terrance Dicks he had written the mammoth The War Games. We should mention at this point that this story is the only one to have ever been broadcast with "Doctor Who and..." as part of its on screen title - thanks to a breakdown in communications with the people who prepared the captions. When it came to the Target novelisation, Hulke totally renamed the story as "The Cave Monsters". Good job, as otherwise it might have ended up "Doctor Who and Doctor Who and the Silurians".
One inspiration for the story is immediately apparent when we see how encountering a dinosaur whilst pot-holing has reduced one of the scientists to drawing on walls, the way that one of our prehistoric ancestors might have painted the walls of their cave. The experience has caused the man to regress - acting out a race memory. Last week, we looked at how Quatermass II had influenced aspects of Spearhead From Space. This week, it is to Quatermass and the Pit that we need to look.
The unearthing of a crashed Martian spaceship on a Knightsbridge building site triggers race memories in certain individuals. This is because the Martians, nearing extinction, had taken ape-like men from Earth and genetically engineered them to carry Martian traits, so that the race would live on through them. The people affected are then influenced by psychic emanations from the spaceship to reenact the ancient culls, which targeted those genetically different. Nigel Kneale's story was itself inspired by recent race riots - with the like attacking the not-like.
This is the first of a run of stories which is centred around a large scientific establishment, and the first of several which feature scientists striving to come up with alternative power sources. Our reliance on gas and oil was topical at the time - especially when it had to be imported and we were at the mercy of the oil-producing nations when it came to supplies and prices. A couple of years before we had Fury From The Deep, which was topical as gas supplies were switching over to safer North Sea Gas at the time, and writer Victor Pemberton wanted to tap into fears about some little understood substance being piped directly into peoples' homes.
Here we have the Cyclotron project, built into a cave system in Derbyshire. (The county is never named in the story, by the way. Liz merely states that the part of the country they have been summoned to by the Brigadier is famous for its caves. It is only in the sequel of sorts - The Sea Devils - that Derbyshire is specifically mentioned).
The first Cyclotron was invented in 1929 by Ernest O Lawrence at the University of California, Berkeley. Basically, atomic and subatomic particles are accelerated by sending them spinning round a toroidal machine, held in their circular path by a magnetic field. They are used for experimenting into the nature of particles, and have a medical application, but they don't do much for electricity generation.
Apparently Lex Luthor once used one to trigger an earthquake...
The name Silurian comes from one of the scientists - Dr Quinn. He's a particle physicist, which might explain his lack of knowledge regarding geological epochs. The Silurian Epoch began some 444 million years ago, lasting until 419 million years ago. There would have been no small furry apes around to steal the Silurians' crops back then. There was a lot going on in the oceans, but on land all we had were plants and some basic arthropods. Hulke has the Silurians co-exist with ape-like mammals and dinosaurs, so he was probably thinking of the Jurassic Epoch (201 million years ago, lasting until 145 millions years ago), or the Cretaceous Epoch which followed it, and lasted up until 65 million years ago, when a time-travelling space freighter crashed into the Earth.
We'll talk about the Eocene Epoch, and how wrong that was as well, when we get to The Sea Devils...
Quinn has been given a globe of the Earth as it was at the time the Silurians went into hibernation. This shows the land masses bunched up, before plate tectonics separated them into the "Classic Earth" design we have today. (I hope you're paying attention to all these other story references - there'll be a quiz later). The idea of "continental drift" was first espoused by a meteorologist named Alfred Wegener in 1915. He saw the continents as being like icebergs, floating on lava. Over millions of years they drifted apart from one large land mass, which later became known as Pangaea. Geologists argued about this for decades, and it wasn't until the late 1950's that people began to accept the theory. At the time of writing this story, this was all quite new.
Pangaea lay mostly in the southern hemisphere, and it formed 335 million years ago. The break up began around 175 million years ago. The name comes from Pan as in All, and Gaia, as in the Mother Earth goddess. As well as a super continent, we also had a super ocean - Panthalassa.
Silurian can also refer to the Silures - an ancient Celtic tribe who were based in southern Wales. There's a Silurian Place in Cardiff, and a Silurian Park near the bay.
The Silurians have gone into hibernation because they have observed the approach of a small planetoid which they fear will rip away their atmosphere as it passes, devastating the surface of the planet. This is generally taken to be the arrival of the Moon - but we all know that this is a giant egg laid by a space dragon. Now, there are three less nonsensical theories about how the Moon was formed. The popular one is that the Earth was hit by a smaller planet (Theia). Part of this was absorbed by the Earth, and the rest formed the Moon - which is why rocks from both Earth and our satellite can be the same. A second theory is that the Moon was formed from several smaller impacts. The third theory is that the Earth and Moon were formed simultaneously, the Earth grabbing the lion's share of material. No-one seriously believes it drifted into orbit fully formed.
Some other possible inspirations behind this story, literary this time might include Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, and Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Doyle's other famous creation was Professor Challenger. We'll be talking about him again in a couple of stories time, but The Lost World sees contemporary explorers encountering living dinosaurs. The 1925 movie version has Challenger bring a Brontosaurus back to London, where it escapes and wrecks Tower Bridge.
Bulwer-Lytton wrote a book in 1871 called Vril: The Power of the Coming Race, sometimes simply titled The Coming Race. This tells of a threat to the planet from a technologically superior master race who live beneath the surface of the Earth and who want to reclaim the surface. Vril is a magical substance that can do almost anything - a bit like Axonite - and is the source of the master race's power. It gave its name to Bovril - the popular beef extract drink. The book was very popular, especially amongst Hollow Earthers and neo-Nazis.
Bulwer-Lytton can be credited with a number of phrases which have entered common parlance, by the way. "The pen is mightier than the sword" comes from his play Richelieu; he coined the phrase "the great unwashed"; and he was the first writer to begin a story with "It was a dark and stormy night...".
As well as inheriting the Earthbound format for the show, Letts also found that Sherwin had commissioned three 7 episode stories. In order to sustain these, Dicks helped devise sub-plots, allowing the action to go off at a slight tangent for a couple of episodes. Here we have the Silurians releasing their plague bacteria to wipe out the upstart apes - giving us a medical drama part way through the story, as the Doctor strives to find an antidote. Germ warfare was as much of a concern as the atomic variety at the time.
One final inspiration before we go relates to the early scenes where a farmer and his wife encounter something nasty hiding in their barn. Many is the thriller in which an escaped convict or spy is found in this way, but quite a few monsters and aliens have picked barns for their hiding places as well. Just one example which springs to mind is a sequence from the excellent 1958 British science fiction film Fiend Without A face.
Next time: we bid adieu to one of the formative influences on Doctor Who, as David Whitaker gets his final screen credit. Sadly, what we get has very little to do with him...