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.
Behind the Scenes
This story is the only one televised to feature the prefix of “Doctor Who and…”, which had been included on production notes since the programme’s inception in 1963. The commonly agreed upon reasoning for this was that, due to the director, Timothy Combe, having never directed a story before, he instructed the art department to include it. There was no producer to correct the error before broadcast, as the incoming producer, Barry Letts, was still committed to another programme, and his predecessors, Derrick Sherwin and Peter Bryant, left the show at the end of the preceding story, Spearhead From Space. Script editor Terrance Dicks was therefore in charge of production, and this error slipped through the net, and in future, the production paperwork omitted the prefix to prevent the error occurring again.
Additionally, 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.
This serial is notable for several debuts, both off and on camera. On camera, this is the first appearance of the Doctor’s canary-yellow Edwardian roadster, part of the Doctor’s agreement with the Brigadier to work for U.N.I.T during his exile on Earth, and the Silurians, who went on to reappear in Warriors From the Deep, and returned to the revived show in the Chris Chibnall penned The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. Although we are not given a date for The Silurians, it was broadcast in 1970, and they go into hibernation for fifty years, whilst Chibnall’s two-parter is set in 2020. Behind the camera, this marks a debut for colour separation overlay, a precursor to blue screen, and videotape recording.
Peter Miles, Paul Darrow and Geoffrey Palmer make their first appearances in Doctor Who in this serial, going on to reappear numerous times in different roles, whilst Norman Jones had previously appeared in The Abominable Snowmen opposite Patrick Troughton and would go on to appear in The Masque of Mandragora opposite Tom Baker. Fulton Mackay, best known for his role in Ronnie Barker penned sitcom, Porridge, also appears in this story. Despite never reappearing in the programme, Mackay was considered to replace Jon Pertwee in 1974. There are cameos for Terrance Dicks, Barry Letts and, most notably, Trevor Ray in the scenes at Marylebone Station.
The Silurians is also one of only nine stories to date not to feature the TARDIS in any way, and at the time of broadcast, just the second not to have the famous blue police box appear.
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 (3rd story written)
Director: Timothy Combe (1st story directed)
Best Moment: 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