Eh? Doctor Who? (The Silurians)

(22 comments)

Fun fact: The third eye can both burn a hole through a wall
and repair it again after. Steven Moffat should really
have used that in A Good Man Goes to War.
It's January 31st, 1970. Edison Lighthouse have been so kind as to depose Rolf Harris, reaching number one with "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)." It holds number one for five weeks before being unseated by Lee Marvin's "Wand'rin Star,"  Peter, Paul, and Mary, Jethro Tull, the Jackson 5, Simon and Garfunkel, and Chicago are also in the charts, but perhaps the most interesting thing is the Beatles "Let it Be" debuting at its chart peak position of #2 in the last week of this story. Also in music news, Black Sabbath releases their first album, effectively establishing heavy metal music.

Elsewhere, avalanches and train crashes give everything a nice disastrous feel. But here's perhaps the more interesting thing. Something we have to remember about 1970 was that what we now call "the sixties" was not entirely and firmly tied to the calendar decade. What I mean by this was that hippies and the like did not simply roll over and die at the strike of midnight on January 1st. Case in point, Jeffrey R. MacDonald, a US Army officer, murdered his entire family and then claimed "drugged out hippies" had done it. This, however, is really just a reference to the Manson murders, another story that unwound over the six months between seasons. The significant thing about the Manson murders is not the murders themselves, which are just a sightly more homicidal version of Jim Jones, David Koresh, or the Heaven's Gate cult. No, what's significant about the Manson killings is the fact that they fed a story that hippies were dangerous. Note that the prosecution in the Manson murders stuck closely to arguing the connection between the Beatles and hippie culture. The central idea of the Manson murders and the reason they grabbed the popular imagination was because they featured the real fear of evil hippies. This, again, shows us how quickly things were collapsing and changing.

Other news involves the Weathermen, America's most hilariously toothless domestic terrorist organization, inadvertently blowing three of their own members up (two more than the death toll of non-members across their bombing campaigns). The Poseidon bubble, a bizarre speculative bubble involving Australian nickel mining, bursts. Rhodesia fully separates from the UK, and still nobody supports their existence. And the Chicago Seven are acquitted.

Interesting times in other words. On television it's interesting as well, with The Silurians, mistakenly broadcast under the title Doctor Who and the Silurians, airing. The Silurians is interesting for a couple of reasons. It's the first solo script of Malcolm Hulke, who has previously co-authored for both Season 4 and Season 6. But this is perhaps less interesting than the fact that it's the first Pertwee script by an avowed skeptic of the Pertwee era. This is ironic given that of the eight scripts Hulke was involved in for Doctor Who, six are in the Pertwee era. And yet he was the most vocal critic of the earthbound idea.

Even more ironic is that, given all of that, Hulke gets only three non-Earthbound stories in his entire tenure, and one of those is The War Games. He's very, very good at the thriller subgenre and puts out many of the best earthbound Doctor Who stories. All the same, he viewed the move to Earth as extremely limiting for the series. Legend goes - though legend, in this case, is told by Terrance Dicks, and thus, as is common in series lore as told by Terrance Dicks, features him as the hero - that after Hulke criticized the idea of an earthbound Doctor Who as being good only for alien invasions and mad scientists, Dicks shot back with the premise of this story.

Let's back up, actually, and establish the premise of this story. One of four televised Doctor Who stories to date featuring some version of these antagonists, The Silurians features one of the more interesting setups for an alien invasion in Doctor Who. The aliens are actually the former dominant species on the planet, forced into hibernation for vaguely defined reasons. The plot generally involves them waking up and wanting their planet back. Obviously what's interesting about this is that they're not entirely unsympathetic. The setup is an obvious analogue for the politics of indigenous peoples (a slight parallel, then, to the Rhodesia situation), with the Silurians being the put upon indigenous people who just want a place to live and are being mistreated by their invaders, the humans.

It's an interesting concept in that once it's uncovered the Doctor usually ends up having to play against two sides. This twist is clever, especially because it helpfully obscures the fact that the actual concept here - a scientific institution whose nuclear reactor is awakening the Silurians - is a warmed over base under siege. But instead of the Doctor helping strictly maintain the barrier between inside and outside - an essentially xenophobic line - Hulke continues the series' new commitment to a more social-justice sort of storytelling.

There are a few problems here. First of all, for all the purity of his moral commitment (and I think Hulke is easily the most steadfastly moral writer of the Pertwee era), he's not as good at dealing with human beings as, well, Robert Holmes. Remember Monday that the thing we praised Holmes for just about the most ardently was that he does an incredibly good job of bringing in characters who had an involvement in proceedings beyond an immediate investment in the alien invasion. That's mostly lacking in this story, where every character of any note is either working on the base somewhere or a Silurian. (There's a brief farmer who gets killed by a Silurian, but he's largely decoration).

In other words, this is very much a Troughton-style base under siege with a slight tinkering to the moral logic. Certainly the idea that this story is set on Earth is largely inessential - a colonized planet would do just as well for this story. This shouldn't be the case. It should be the case that it matters that these events take place on Earth - that it be recognizable human beings that are tasked with understanding and accepting the legitimacy of the Silurians' claim to the planet. But Hulke never quite gets there. His idea is more interesting than his execution, and that hampers this story.

That's not to say, though, that the execution is bad so much as it is not good enough for the idea. As I said, Hulke is very good at this type of story. The popular critique is that The Silurians is overlong. Tat Wood (I should note that the third volume of About Time is, in its second edition version, which is the one I own, credited purely to Tat Wood. In fact it's a revised version of the Wood/Miles-penned first edition and still has large chunks of Lawrence Miles in it, but the book credits just Wood and I'll reflect that throughout the Pertwee era) makes the sensible argument that if you watch The Silurians not as a seven-part single story but as a seven-episode experiment in crashing Doctor Who into an imaginary TV program about the Silurians. It's mostly a fair argument. I'm not entirely convinced that season seven, a season of Doctor Who with only four stories in it, something otherwise unheard of prior to 1986, is the right place to advance an argument that is so dependent on the idea of the show as a continual serial. On the other hand, the propensity of season seven to engage in long seven-part epics does give this season a sort of long-form feel that is itself kind of lost until 2005. Certainly Wood is correct that the story, week to week, moves to new places and works well serialized - which is, as I often point out, exactly how these stories were meant to be watched. It all comes to a bit of an abrupt conclusion, sure, but it's tough to treat that as the biggest problem its ending has, as we'll get to.

The larger problem is that the story ends up wasting most of its cast. Hulke may have found a way to make Doctor Who work as an earth-based thriller, but he's clearly got massive problems with the cast he's given here. By structuring this around a base under siege, he's forced to find ways of sidelining the Brigadier from performing his designated plot function of calling in a lot of soldiers for as long as possible. Unfortunately, this is a base under siege, and the structure requires an intransigent commander who stonewalls the good guys at every turn. Which means the Brigadier is left angrily pouting about how he's going to say very mean things to some civil servants. Likewise, Hulke seems not quite sure what to do with Liz, leaving her never quite on anybody's side and, with irritating frequency, standing around with nothing to do.

Of course, this does have the side effect of actually debuting Jon Pertwee's Doctor. Pertwee, of course, debuted last story, and was solid enough, but was basically given entirely lines and scenes written for Troughton. Whereas in this story, at the start of episode four, after a cliffhanger designed entirely around the monster unveiling, Pertwee gets his first truly distinctive scene as the Doctor when, confronted with the monster, he extends his hand and happily says "Hello, are you a Silurian?" This is great - probably the best moment of the story. By and large, the distinctive thing about Pertwee's Doctor is his unflappable confidence. Where Troughton's Doctor was always scheming, reacting, and planning, Pertwee's Doctor maintains an implacable calm over all proceedings, and this is the first time that is used consciously, with the Doctor confidently subverting expectations of a cliffhanger resolution.

All told, a story that actually gave Pertwee some chances to shine was probably what the series needed for these seven weeks, having barely introduced him in the first story. Especially because the freed up time lets Hulke accomplish the other thing this story really needs to work - extended amounts of time with the Silurians. Who we should probably talk about in more detail at this point..

One of the most interesting things about the Silurians is how ahead of their time they are. Given that the BBC costuming department was nowhere near able to produce decent Silurian costumes that would allow for expressive acting, the entire production has a bit of a problem with these guys. They're supposed to be aliens that have actual personalities and individual motivations. But with a set of identical costumes, no facial expressions, and Peter Haliday doing all the voices, the show is largely hamstrung on this front. Which means that much of what people respond to here is more the idea of the Silurians.

What's odd, then, is how much of the idea they miss. The Silurians introduces a significant theme in the Pertwee era - one that gets revisited in significant ways at least twice more. On the surface, the plot of this is a clone of Quatermass and the Pit, except the aliens are also natives of Earth. But look under the hood and there's more to it. The clue comes in the reason the Silurians went underground in this story. (As I said, the explanation drifts around a bit.)

This time, the claim is the implausible idea that a giant asteroid strike was predicted, but that the asteroid instead got pulled into orbit and became the moon. Any attempt to retcon this and say that actually they correctly foresaw the asteroid that formed the Chicxulub crater runs into the larger problem that they're firmly established as having co-existed with apes. The long and short of this is that there is no remotely plausible way to reconcile the Silurians as a race with established human science - in no small part because of their name, the Silurians, which makes no sense from a paleographic perspective.

But even if the science is preposterous, we can see what's going on from the shape of the claim. The idea that the Silurians form, in part, a secret origin of the moon. Similarly, look at how the race memory/fear idea is actually handled. Initially it's one of the mysteries - why is everyone afraid of something in the caves? The explanation - that there's a primal memory of fear of the Silurians who once hunted man - puts this story firmly in the tradition of "the secret explanation for X is Y," where Y is a fairly paranormal event usually involving aliens. This sort of thing was huge in the 1970s - we'll see it in Doctor Who in one form or another throughout the next decade. But it does form a significant difference between this story and Quatermass and the Pit. Where Quatermass and the Pit was about the novel radicalness of the idea, this story is very much about taking the by-then familiar idea and using it to tell a story about indigenous people.

Which is an immensely appealing idea, but relatively ill-served in this particular script. For one thing, the Silurians have exactly one sympathetic character who they kill off when he starts to get in the way of them being over the top villains. Yes, excepting Hulke's own work, this is more dissent than we've seen among aliens since The Ark, but it's still pretty feeble. The idea of the Silurians is done a lot better elsewhere - including, for all of its faults, in the Matt Smith Silurian two-parter, in which you can practically see Chibnall  ticking off the boxes of problems with this story and fixing them as he writes it. The result is a deeply clumsy 2010 story, and I think The Silurians is a much better 1970 story than Chibnall's version is a 2010 story. But as a Silurian story, Chibnall's is by miles the superior take. Put another way, try explaining to someone who has just watched this why it's inferior to a remake in which the Silurians have faces, the characters have motivations other than how they respond to alien invasions and the tragic ending actually extends from a character trait.

Ah, yes. The tragic ending. I suppose we have wrapped around to that now. Which first means going back to production details. Let's start at the very beginning, which is to say, actually, The Celestial Toymaker, the first story produced by Innes Lloyd following the brief and apparently (in the BBC's eyes) unhappy tenure of John Wiles. Given the brevity of Wiles's tenure, we can basically treat Innes Lloyd as inaugurating the second coherent era of Doctor Who following Verity Lambert's initial run. Lloyd was followed by Peter Bryant, who was script editor under Lloyd and who Lloyd actively tried out as producer on Tomb of the Cybermen. Bryant was, at least in terms of the credits, followed by Derek Sherwin, who produced The War Games and Spearhead From Space. But in practice, Sherwin and Bryant were effectively co-producers for the end of Troughton's run and the start of Pertwee's. What I'm trying to say is that there's a fairly unbroken run of thought about the program from Innes Lloyd to Derek Sherwin that forms, in a real sense, the second "era" of the show.

With this story, however, Sherwin and Bryant left for another project and the BBC put Barry Letts, who had previously directed The Enemy of the World, in as producer, thus inaugurating the third creative era of the show. Letts, however, had to finish a commitment to another show, and so only came in towards the end of production on this. His first act as producer was thus to rejig the final episode to focus more on the moral outrage of the destruction of the Silurians, including the addition of the final scene.

Letts is an interesting figure. Much like Hulke, he's one of the primary forces for overtly progressive politics in the show. He's also, uniquely among producers, both a writer and director, and he wore those hats at times during his tenure as well. This means that he has a measure of deep influence on the show that we've never really seen before. Much of it is good. Some of it is bad. And then there's this, his first and most strangely ambiguous act.

Basically, the issue is this. After the Doctor tricks the Silurians back into hibernation, he wants to pry them out one by one to negotiate peace. The Brigadier, apparently acting on orders from above, blows up their base without telling the Doctor. Staring in horror at the exploding base, the Doctor declares, "That's murder. They were intelligent alien beings, a whole race of them, and he's just wiped them out." I give the quote because there are people who try to underplay the apparent intent of this moment, particularly based on later stories that establish that there are scads of Silurians about. But the quote is unambiguous. The Brigadier has wiped out an entire race of alien beings, and the Doctor views it as murder. This is unambiguously an accusation that the Brigadier has committed genocide.

Watching it in sequence, it's difficult to imagine how any viewer seeing this wouldn't assume that the Doctor and UNIT were not going to be working together anymore. That is, after all, surely the only thing that can possibly follow this. The alternative is for the Doctor to accept genocide - to say that sometimes intelligent species that have brilliant scientists and civilization - get exterminated, and that's OK. If the Doctor shows up next episode, he effectively undermines the entire point of this story.

And of course, he does, and it does. And if it were just Hulke that was responsible for this, you know, I'd assume that it was a deliberate attack on the new premise of the show. That, given his distaste for this new direction, he was simply demonstrating conclusively, in one shot, why it couldn't possibly work. That this was an overt effort to force a change of direction in the show. But it appears that it wasn't just Hulke. That it was actually Barry Letts who set up this ridiculous undermining of the show's premise, knowing full well that he wasn't going to carry through on its consequences.

It's bewildering. It's a massive blunder for Letts to do it, creatively speaking. And yet it's widely cited as the best part of the story. Ironically, this isn't even entirely wrong. It's admirable that the show is willing to follow the premise of a story so thoroughly and to that kind of a consequence. And if you take this story in isolation - if you don't treat it as something that has to segue into another story next week, it even works.

Which is, admittedly, how a lot of fans approach it. But just as it doesn't make sense to complain about the pacing because it doesn't work when you watch it all in one chunk, it doesn't make sense to praise the ending because you don't have to tune in next week. As an end to a story, it's great. As something that sets up the next one, it's damn near series-destroying.

Comments

landru 6 years, 4 months ago

You do make a point. I would say that the only defense I can offer is the Doctor continually out of his depth and the scheming of both humans and Silurians renders this ending a logical conclusion to the question "could Man and Silurian share the planet?" Neither side is really willing to do that and, with a plague attack on the world imminent, there isn’t much feeling of loss the viewer can extend toward the Silurians. The Doctor might wish to save them, but the viewer probably thinks he’s too liberal.

I'd say that the ending, instead of series destroying, demonstrates the new direction of the program very admirably. The Doctor is trying to pull mankind up to his own level and simply can't. There is a cynical quality to Pertwee as the Doctor because he stays and clearly needs the protection UNIT and the Brig provide. He also, as you pointed out, becomes more alien and doesn't even try to hide it. That is the difference between Pertwee's era and Quatermass ... the alien is the emphasis in the world we know.

Culturally -- and I know you'll get to this in future entrees -- it can be no coincidence that Bowie, Bolan, Roxy Music, etc., all looked towards futurism and assimilation of styles to find a way out of the sixties. This doesn't begin until the end of 1970, but the general atmosphere that it grew out of was this "mystic on earth" concept that you talked about before. If Doctor Who is anything, as you said, it is eerily apt to guess things that will happen in the future.

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Philip Sandifer 6 years, 4 months ago

You have, of course, correctly guessed much of my expected direction over the next few entries - the way in which Doctor Who ends up providing its own version of the Von Daniken approach, with the Doctor as a sort of spiritual leader. With, of course, a few odd twists.

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Gavin 6 years, 4 months ago

I think one has to go further than "If it were only Hulke that were responsible..." I'm not sure that Hulke shares any of the responsibility. Without that ending, this is a story that represents what the Brigadier does as at least arguably the right thing to do.

Unlike The Sea Devils, this isn't a case of a blundering human civil who destroys a viable peace with fearful but basically decent adversaries. It's pretty clear that nothing will reconcile the Young Silurian to the humans, no matter how the humans behave. The scientist Silurian seems basically to agree with him. We are given reason to think that the Old Silurian and the Doctor may be admirable but ultimately naive idealists.

And the script goes out of its way to make the Brigadier's actions a symmetrical response: the Silurians have just attempted to kill off all the humans. Insert obvious discussion of the Cold War and "first strikes" here. This was all very thinkable.

This may make it seem like Hulke supported killing off indigenous peoples. But I tend to think that's not the best frame in which to think about the Silurians.

The thing is, to think of the Silurians as equivalent to an indigenous population in a colonial-imperialist set-up is to assume that the Silurians' own narrative is the correct one: they were there first, and anyone else is an interloper There's some plausibility to this if one focuses only on the Silurians.

But can one equate the humans with a colonial imperialist power? They're not in any sense invaders. And the bit about the "apes" shows that the Silurians are perfectly well aware of this. The way in which the Silurians talk about humans -"apes" who "raid crops" = threaten settled civilization - has a clearer colonial ring than anything a human says.

So if not an indigenous people, then what? This may go to something that's come up on this blog before - the need to differentiate between different flavors of the left. Hulke was a member of the CPGB. That mainly tells one that he probably devoted most of his energy to hating a rival faction of the CPGB.

But still. The Silurians are an ancient, powerful, minority group that used to dominate everything. Their self-image emphasizes their exclusive ownership of the land. They also like to hunt. Some of them may be individually decent, but they're atypical. When challenged by newer forces, they will stop at nothing to destroy their opponents. Those opponents are the vast majority, but the Silurians despise them as upstarts and are nostalgic for an era when they had total power and kill the ancestors of humans at will.

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Philip Sandifer 6 years, 4 months ago

Here I have to disagree. I think the basic act of making the Silurians a distinct race goes so far in humanizing the Silurians that it's hard for me to view them as anything other than by default sympathetic. Yes, they turn on each other stupidly, but so do the humans. It's a very cynical way to make them equivalent, but that is very much what Hulke seems to be doing.

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Gavin 6 years, 4 months ago

And upon reflection, I think that the "hunting" bit is actually from the new series. So that's Chibnall brilliantly anticipating me, of course, which shows that I *must* be right...

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Wm Keith 6 years, 4 months ago

The plague released by the Silurians always seems, to me, to hark back to the stories about European settlers deliberately passing smallpox-carrying blankets to American Indians. Which makes us the redskins and the Silurians the palefaces.

The lesson is not, I think, that priority of settlement is good or bad, but rather that superiority in science - in Civilisation - wins. The Silurians will beat the Apes because they are better at biochemistry.

In all the panic, we forget that men are better at making bombs. At making The Bomb. (This is February 1970. The first SALT negotiations began in November 1969.)

So the lesson is turned on its head at the end as human civilisation triumphs, not because we are any more ruthless than the Silurians, but because our own science (explosives) is more deadly.

Malcolm Hulke's final lesson is that Civilisation is of itself deadly. This leads nicely to the Doomsday Weapons featured in his later stories.

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7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194 6 years, 4 months ago

Nothing about Fulton Mackay? He was terrific as Dr. Quinn (and was briefly considered for the role of the 4th Doctor).

Re the Weather Underground as "America's most hilariously toothless domestic terrorist organization":

That broke an innocent man out of jail. And blew up one of the most offensive statues in the country -- twice. Is that a bad record?

“two more than the death toll of non-members across their bombing campaigns"

Well, yeah, because they made a deliberate attempt to avoid casualties.

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Flying Tiger Comics 6 years, 2 months ago

To equate the Silurians with indigenes and therefore somehow powerless and sympathetic victims is to so far miss the plot and intention of this script as to bring into question all subsequent commentary.

They are a reactionary elitist enclave, refusing to acknowledge spiritual equality of the "apes".

This is far closer to the Planet of the Apes conflict between mutant and ape than any tinpot shoehorned aborigines vs colonialist interpretation. Silurians was about the collision of manifest destinies.

I think you're projecting your own liberalism into this script.

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Philip Sandifer 6 years, 2 months ago

Wait, I'm sorry, are you accusing me of projecting my own liberalism into a script by the one Doctor Who writer who can definitively and unquestionably be said to be more left wing than I am?

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cupofassam 5 years, 11 months ago

The first episode of Doctor who I remember watching was Spearhead from Space (at the tender age of four) and I stuck with it until shirts and coats got a little too incredulously colourful, and I went to University. Of course, I've returned to it with a passion since 2005. But I grew up with memories from this first series, including these Silurians' faces (whether that is memory, or the fact they were one of many monsters that could be cut out of the back of Weetabix boxes is another matter, but I'm going with memory). Autons crashing windows and Sea Devils walking from the cold sea - these were the stuff of my first nightmares.

Now, I agree that the moral compass here is well to cock, but I think a decent answer to why the Doctor shrugs off genocide is contained in the clarifications that you offer elsewhere about how narratives work, and how we need to consider these stories within the frame of their serialisation. We also need to bear in mind they were written for children's viewing (though, of course, they are not just, or even, children's TV stories). Just asking the question whether Earth should be shared with the Silurians, and discussing it as a credible option, makes the ethical point with equal density (from within a serial based narrative that has next to do other things in an Earth that is not shared by Silurians) than if it were a self-contained story that ended with the Earth shared (or a serial in which the consequences of that sharing can be played out; cf. True Blood). Landru points to this in his first comment.

So, just by putting a shared earth on the table, the ethical point is made, and embedded, and embedded effectively for an audience member's moral compass to jutter away from North long enough. Especially a child's evolving morality. The fact that this outcome does not occur leaves that ethical doubt in a state of tension in a viewer's mind - in other words the moral question remains active, and therefore has more impact than the 'correct' outcome.

By way of comparison, I can trace some of my moral values back to watching a floppy haired doctor hold two wires in separate hands and ask 'have I the right?', while I eagerly urged him to do so from my sofa. He caused a halt in my expectations that opened a possibility of alternative behaviour. And that is narrative activating moral concern effectively and efficiently within the constrains of a serial that cannot realistically continue without killing the 'monsters'. And in doing so, we face the monsters in ourselves. Yes, it's uncomfortable, but discomfort regulates a moral compass sometimes better than the satisfaction of a pure morally-dictated narrative outcome.

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Iain Coleman 5 years, 7 months ago

Hulke was a Communist, which is pretty much the opposite of a Liberal (as any self-respecting Communist would doubtless be happy to confirm).

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Philip Sandifer 5 years, 7 months ago

I was, in that comment, using "liberal" in its US sense as a general synonym for "left-wing" and not in its specific UK sense.

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Henry R. Kujawa 5 years, 3 months ago

WmKeith:
"The lesson is not, I think, that priority of settlement is good or bad, but rather that superiority in science - in Civilisation - wins. The Silurians will beat the Apes because they are better at biochemistry. In all the panic, we forget that men are better at making bombs. At making The Bomb. (This is February 1970. The first SALT negotiations began in November 1969.)"

This seems a good place to point out that "BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES" came out in May 1970.

"THE SILURIANS" was (after the 2 Cushing films) my introduction to the TV series. Philly's Channel 17 stupidly decided to skip "SPEARHEAD" and stopped with "DAY OF THE DALEKS", and as the show was editor for commercial time (YIKES!) my 1st view of Pertwee's Doctor was when he walked into the research shoulder with a HUGE chip on his shoulder. What possible connection could there be between this arrogant, egotistical person and the pleasant, likable scientist-adventurer with the time machine, I wondered?

As a kid (I was 11) I had a lot of trouble, for whatever reason, watching every episode of anything back then, and frankly, after the cliffhanger where The Doctor is confronted by The Silurian face-to-face... I missed the rest of the story, not managing to turn it on again until "THE AMBASSADORS OF DEATH, Part 1". So I never got to see the 2nd half of this thing, until it finally resurfaced in the mid-80's (by which point, it was no longer in color).

I was delighted to see the opening sequence (completely missing on the commercial station) where The Doctor shows off "Bessie" to Liz. It was, if memory serves, the only time in the entire story that he genuinely comes across as likable! The moment he arrives at the research station, the "new" Doctor finally makes his debut in character.

Bit of a shock to go back to this in the 80's and see that "Nyder" (Peter Miles) was every bit a pain-in-the-ass in this story, even when he wasn't an evil character. Or that "Avon" (Paulk Darrow) was Captain Hawkins in this. Or that "Heironymous" (Norman Jones) was Major Baker in this! Even more so, 2 decades later, to realize "Lionel Hardcastle" (Geoffrey Palmer) was "Masters", the man from the Ministry.

In one of those weird quirks of syndication (among other things), I got to see "THE SEA DEVILS" in its entirely a year (or was it two?) before I finally managed to see the end of this one. (And "WARRIORS OF THE DEEP" even before that.)

It's amazing how, to me, these 7-parters drag on so, while "THE WAR GAMES" doesn't.

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cardboardrobot 5 years, 2 months ago

Slightly amusing story: In 1990, Maryland Public TV started rerunning every fully-extant Doctor Who serial in movie format from the beginning. I was 15 and new to the show, and impatient to see the color episodes. So when they finally finished the Hartnell stories (which I hated) and the six existing Troughton serials, and reached "Spearhead from Space," I was very happy. Then the following Saturday, "Doctor Who and the Silurians" came on... all 2 hours and 40 minutes of it in BLACK AND WHITE. My reaction was, "ARRRGH! Stupid BBC couldn't afford to film the entire season in color?!?!"

Ha!

There was no World Wide Web yet, so I didn't know that "Silurians" was originally filmed and transmitted in color and that the color prints were then lost/erased. I didn't find that out until a couple of years later.

I never bought many commercial DW VHS tapes, since I could record most of the episodes off MPT. But I DID seek out the two-VHS-tape re-colorized version of "Silurians" circa 1994.

Oddly enough, any serials from season 7 and 8 that had some color episodes missing and some extant were shown on MPT *fully* in black-and-white in movie format. I can't figure out why they wouldn't give us "Ambassadors" in color for the first 22 minutes and then the rest in black-and-white. "Terror of the Autons," "The Mind of Evil," and "The Daemons" were also B&W. After that in 1990, I kept worrying it would go back to B&W again.

Even weirder, they just skipped right over the B&W parts of "Dinosaurs" and "Planet of the Daleks." I've still never seen those missing bits.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

Just saw this comment when looking back through for something else, and I have to disagree. I know at least one member of the Communist Party who votes for the Lib Dems whenever no Communist candidate is standing, because she says we're the "next best thing". And don't forget that Unlock Democracy, about as Liberal an organisation as you can get, is the successor in interest to the CPGB ;)

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David Ainsworth 4 years, 8 months ago

"Staring in horror at the exploding base, the Doctor declares, 'That's murder. They were intelligent alien beings, a whole race of them, and he's just wiped them out.'"

I think you may not be giving Letts quite enough credit here. Either he didn't bother to inform himself about the rest of the story and simply dropped the word "alien" into this speech, or he's quite aware of the point Hulke is making about how the base-under-siege works and wants to underline it.

Neither Silurians nor humans are "alien" except in the sense of being "other" to each other. Underlining the human/alien distinction has the effect of underlining the Doctor's past tendency to side with humans and work to destroy aliens threatening them. One can reasonably conceive of Troughton's Doctor setting off the charges himself to stop the plague from being released, not to save all of humanity but just a small group of humans in a space colony somewhere.

This Doctor achieves a different (more enlightened?) perspective in part by being clearly set off as alien, not human. But he's not yet ready to accuse himself of the crime he lays at the Brig's feet here.

I don't think it's amazing that he sticks around with UNIT. Until Gridlock, we had every reason to believe he'd killed the entire Macra species himself. What's amazing is the extent to which the continuing series is willing to present him in a role where he perceives humanity as a potential threat to itself as alien to him as a Silurian or Dalek.

Alternate reading: As an alien trapped on Earth with genocidal allies, this Doctor is secretly terrified of his "friends," expressing those emotions through patrician reserve and a sort of sneering intellectual superiority over the military mind. Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith represent exceptions, humans this Doctor can be genuinely fond of and comfortable with. By the time the Doctor can travel in the TARDIS again, he's identified too much with his captors and can't truly escape until he faces his own fear. That would at least explain why the Doctor seems in many respects to prefer the company of the Master to many of the humans he encounters or works with.

I don't think that reading can really be sustained through the Third Doctor era, but it's fascinating to consider.

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arse bandit 4 years, 4 months ago

One reason that the "proper" third Doctor debuts here is that he's had several months for the reality of his reduced circumstances to settle in. It would be tempting to regard the humorous Troughton-esque Pertwee of SPEARHEAD as the potential third Doctor if he'd started off in this incarnation travelling in the TARDIS. The Brigadier is tolerable in small doses to him and he has a bad-tempered acceptance of his new role.
Also, this is where UNIT transforms from what Kim Newman calls "the unproblematic good-guy force of the Troughton era" into a semi-sinister Big Brother organisation. One can imagine the other armed forces referring to UNIT as "the funny men" as civil servants often called Special Branch. When Dr Quinn and Miss Dawson conspire out of earshot of a nearby UNIT soldier early on in the serial, one is reminded of secret dissidents in a police state.

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orfeo 4 years, 1 month ago

What's so implausible to you about the moon being a captured body? It's a well-recognised theory as to the moon's origin, and at the time this story was aired it was quite possibly the most popular theory.

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orfeo 4 years, 1 month ago

PS Having now watched the first episode of the next story, I'm not sure I'm in agreement with your thoughts on the ending of this one. Because it didn't seem to me as if the Doctor had just forgotten all about what happened to the Silurians and was happily working with UNIT again. In fact in that first episode he's not really working *with* them much. He just happens to be working in the same place as them.

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Michael Hawkes 4 years ago

I would agree with Gavin's analysis in this case. It's the first time I would disagree with you Philip in your quite excellent blog series. But the question about whether the Doctor is morally failing in accepting unwarranted genocide or rather accepting a hard truth in a justifiable defence depends on who the audience is intended to identify with. The Silurians, like all 'pre-historical owner of earth' alien stories (and they are nothing new - see Prometheus for the latest example) should be viewed less as persecuted indigineous species but as absentee landlord aristocracy. The absentee owners of earth demand a right of ownership and explotation based on an ancient forgotten claim, over and above the rights of the people who actually live there. The audience I think are intended to see echoes of arrogant and callous foreign landlords in the Silurians more than anything else, who have ignored their responsibilities for aeons, but now demand their rights, no matter who suffer.

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Samuel Whiskers 3 years, 8 months ago

I wonder if the "We were here first" sentiment expressed in this story might be related to the British/Irish post-colonial conflict that raged through the 1970s with the underground Silurians and their virus attack on London mirroring the fear of a bombing attack on London by the underground IRA - a theme that would reoccur in 'Day of the Daleks'.

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Grim 2 years, 5 months ago

Wm Keith said (a long, long time ago):

"So the lesson is turned on its head at the end as human civilisation triumphs, not because we are any more ruthless than the Silurians, but because our own science (explosives) is more deadly. "

And this made me think... as Mr. Sandifer has pointed out previously in this blog, the Second Doctor was linked to chemistry where the Third Doctor was linked to machines / gadgets AKA: tech)

The Silurians attempt to destroy the Humans with plague (arguably chemistry) whereas the Humans attack with bombs (tech). I'm not saying that this was in any way a conscious decision but it is an interesting parallel that may, in fact, say something about the changes to society where the advances brought through chemistry started to take a back seat in public imagination to the advances of tech (many brought about as a result of Cold War / Space program... but that is a whole different discussion).

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