The former rulers of Earth have awoken and are causing power drains on a nuclear testing facility at Wenley Moor, so The Doctor and Liz go to investigate with U.N.I.T. However, what they find will put the Doctor and the Brigadier’s relationship under considerable strain.
Despite having a complete runtime of around two and a half hours, The Silurians feels much shorter, thanks to strong central and guest performances and a gripping story. The main heart of the story is the friction between the Doctor and the Brigadier, new colleagues as of the end of the last story, and this tension combined with the climax serve to deliver a truly great episode.
Due to the length of time in which Malcolm Hulke has to tell the story, the story has time to breathe and allows us to see the difficulties in the Doctor and the Brigadier’s working relationship, before introducing the central antagonists of the story. This allows for several great scenes featuring just Pertwee and Courtney sparring, the free-spirited Doctor’s reluctance to conform to the needs of the establishment fully seen early on. One of my particular favourite scenes comes in part one, where the Doctor is frustrated that the Brigadier is not taking his concerns about events at Wenley Moor seriously, leading the following exchange:
Brigadier: Then I suggest you discover something I can’t dismiss.
The Doctor: You’re not exactly a little Sherlock Holmes yourself, are you?
The lights dim and the air conditioning goes off.
The Doctor: What the devil’s that?
Brigadier: It’s another power failure. Come on, Doctor Watson.
Despite this, there are still signs of mutual respect between the two men, such as when the Brigadier tells Dr. Lawrence that the Doctor is qualified to do “almost anything”. Part of the Doctor’s frustration must come from the fact that he is no longer free to come and go as he pleases, and he is now utterly reliant on the Brigadier and U.N.I.T.
The strength of this part of the story means that we don’t need to have a full glimpse of the titular creatures until the end of Part 3. We get the sighting of the dinosaur at end of Part One, when the Doctor goes into the caves on his own, and various glimpses and point of view shots from the wounded Silurian, especially effective at the end of part two, where they sneak up behind Liz. When the story allows us that first full glimpse of the Silurian, the story continues to escalate towards its climax: Lawrence calls in the government in the shape of the Permanent Under Secretary, Masters, and disagreements between those who favour attacking the Silurians head on and those who want to attempt to ensure peace, namely the Doctor and Liz. The Silurians show themselves to be quite a threat to the human race, especially with the virus that they unleash towards the end of the story, and the scenes shown in London of the victims almost look like something out of a horror story.
What has been created here by Hulke and the production team is a multi-layered and morally ambiguous story. I find it easy to see where both the Doctor and the Brigadier are coming from: rather than fighting with this re-animated previous occupier of Earth, we should look to seek peace and share the Earth with them, as both races have an equal claim. However, the Brigadier’s viewpoint is understandable – the Silurians possess dangerous technology and there is no guarantee that peace between the two races would succeed. We see the Silurian Elder who the Doctor discusses peace with killed by the younger Silurians. To Hulke’s credit, the Brigadier remains a sympathetic character, who is seen to be under multiple pressures, from both Dr Lawrence and from Masters, which leads him to eventually ordering the destruction of the Silurian base at the end of the story.
There are also themes that tap into the contemporary concerns of the adults who were watching, such as the Cold War, nuclear technology and an increasing distrust of politicians and scientists. Fulton Mackay’s Dr Quinn and Peter Miles’ Dr Lawrence embody distrust of public servants, who were seen to be looking to further their own concerns. Quinn is looking to utilise the Silurian technology to further his own career, whilst Lawrence refuses to take the threat of the Silurians seriously and refuses to allow the closing down of the Wenley Moor plant because of the damage it will do to his reputation. Even when he is dying from the Silurian virus, he is still furious at the Brigadier for ruining his work at Wenley Moor. Meanwhile, Geoffrey Palmer’s Masters, who unlike in later Pertwee stories, does not turn out to be a disguise for the Master, reflects a changing attitude towards the establishment following scandals such as the Profumo Affair in 1963, thanks in part to a rise in scrutiny of politicians by the media and satire as a medium.
The final scene of the story is also perfectly done – we don’t see the Doctor’s immediate anger at the Brigadier addressed, which will remain to have an impact on the relationship between the Doctor and the Brigadier for the remainder of the Third Doctor’s life, and perhaps for the Doctor’s continuing distrust of the military to this day.
Verdict: The Silurians is rightfully seen as a classic story in Doctor Who history. The relationship between the Doctor and the Brigadier is sufficiently expanded and it shows how well the Earth-based Doctor can work. 10/10
Cast: Jon Pertwee (Third Doctor), Caroline John (Liz Shaw), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Fulton Mackay (Dr Quinn), Norman Jones (Major Baker), Peter Miles (Dr Lawrence), Thomasine Heiner (Miss Dawson), Ian Cunningham (Dr Meredith), Ray Branigan (Roberts), John Newman (Spencer), Bill Matthews (Davis), Paul Darrow (Captain Hawkins), Nancie Jackson (Doris Squire), Gordon Richardson (Squire), Peter Halliday (Silurian Voices), Geoffrey Palmer (Masters), Richard Steele (Sergeant Hart), Ian Talbot (Travis), Dave Carter (Old Silurian), Nigel Johns (Young Silurian), Harry Swift (Private Robins), Pat Gorman (Silurian Scientist), Alan Mason (Corporal Nutting), Derek Pollitt (Private Wright), Brendan Barry (Hospital Doctor), Pat Gorman, Paul Barton, Simon Cain, John Churchill & Dave Carter (Silurians)
Writer: Malcolm Hulke
Director: Timothy Combe
Behind the Scenes
- This is the only one to feature the titular prefix of Doctor Who and…, which appeared on production notes since the show’s inception in 1963. This seems to have been down to inexperience: previous producers Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin had left at the end of production of the previous story and Barry Letts was still committed to another show, leaving Terrance Dicks in charge of production. First time Who director Timothy Combe instructed the art department to include the prefix and it slipped through the net, resulting in it being omitted to prevent it happening again.
- The story marks the debuts of Bessie, the Doctor’s canary-yellow Edwardian roadster, which was part of the Doctor’s agreement to work with UNIT during his exile on Earth, as well as introducing the Silurians. The Silurians would reappear in Warriors from the Deep and return in the revived series in The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. Whilst we are not given a year in which this story takes place, Chibnall’s takes place fifty years after it was broadcast; the same amount of time that the Silurians go into hibernation for.
- This story marks the debut for usage of colour separation overlay, a precursor to blue screen, and videotape recording.
- This is one of ten stories to date not to feature the TARDIS, and at the time of broadcast, just the second not to feature the famous blue police box.
- There are cameos for members of the production team in the scenes at Marylebone Station, where Terrance Dicks, Barry Letts and most noticeably, Trevor Ray, appear as the Silurian plague reaches London.
- This story is still technically “missing”, as the master tapes were wiped by the BBC. Fortuitously, it was also recorded in several other formats, and so survives to this day.
- Fulton Mackay was one of the actors considered to replace Jon Pertwee in 1974.
- Norman Jones played Khrisong in The Abominable Snowmen and would go on to play Hieronymous in The Masque of Mandragora.
- Peter Miles would go on to appear in Invasion of the Dinosaurs and Genesis of the Daleks, as well as appearing in numerous Big Finish and other fan made productions. A full list of these can be found here.
- Bill Matthews would appear in The Mind of Evil as a Prison Officer, and had appeared in uncredited roles in Spearhead from Space, Frontier in Space and Planet of the Spiders.
- Paul Darrow would appear as Tekker in Timelash. He also voiced Guidance in the Big Finish play The Next Life and provided the voiceover for a 1996 Vodafone advert which also featured Jon Pertwee as a character who seems very similar to the Third Doctor.
- Geoffrey Palmer would go on to appear in The Mutants as the Administrator and Captain Hardaker in Voyage of the Damned.
- Richard Steele had previously appeared in The War Games as Commandant Gorton and would go on to play a Guard in The Mark of the Rani.
- Ian Talbot would go on to play Klout in the Fourth Doctor serial The Leisure Hive.
- Dave Carter would go on to play a number of roles, mostly as monsters or background people, in stories such as Inferno, The Mind of Evil and Terror of the Autons. A full list of his credited and uncredited roles in the show can be found here.
- Pat Gorman played 73 roles in Doctor Who, both credited and uncredited. A full list of his roles can be found here.
- Derek Pollitt had previously appeared in The Web of Fear and would go on to appear in Shada.
The end scene, with a broken down Bessie and the Doctor seeing that the Brigadier has blown up the Silurian base.
I’m beginning to lose confidence for the first time in my life – and that covers several thousand years.The Third Doctor
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