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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. landru
    July 13, 2011 @ 9:00 am

    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.


  2. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 13, 2011 @ 9:42 am

    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.


  3. Gavin
    July 13, 2011 @ 10:44 am

    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.


  4. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 13, 2011 @ 10:49 am

    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.


  5. Gavin
    July 13, 2011 @ 11:13 am

    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…


  6. Wm Keith
    July 14, 2011 @ 12:02 am

    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.


  7. 7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194
    July 17, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

    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.


  8. Flying Tiger Comics
    August 29, 2011 @ 4:13 am

    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.


  9. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 29, 2011 @ 5:54 am

    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?


  10. cupofassam
    December 7, 2011 @ 2:23 am

    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.


  11. Iain Coleman
    April 8, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

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


  12. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 8, 2012 @ 4:41 pm

    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.


  13. Henry R. Kujawa
    August 10, 2012 @ 12:49 pm

    "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.


  14. cardboardrobot
    August 24, 2012 @ 1:23 pm

    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?!?!"


    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.


  15. Andrew Hickey
    January 17, 2013 @ 5:12 pm

    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 😉


  16. David Ainsworth
    March 3, 2013 @ 5:30 am

    "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.


  17. arse bandit
    June 30, 2013 @ 9:11 am

    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.


  18. orfeo
    October 18, 2013 @ 7:51 pm

    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.


  19. orfeo
    October 18, 2013 @ 9:54 pm

    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.


  20. Michael Hawkes
    October 31, 2013 @ 4:51 am

    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.


  21. Samuel Whiskers
    March 23, 2014 @ 8:48 am

    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'.


  22. Grim
    June 7, 2015 @ 3:52 pm

    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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