Jon Pertwee’s second story takes him to some caves where he meets a reptilian life-form which has been hibernating for millions of years and now become awoken. It’s interesting that in this, the second adhering to the Pertwee-UNIT format, that the show already feels like it is in a rhythm. ‘Spearhead from Space’ set everything up, but ‘The Silurians’, the next story, treats the audience as if this is has been the format of the show for ages now! Perhaps it’s because the order of the stories wasn’t something the production team was sure of, I don’t know. I would have thought that more background could have been built into this story about the Doctor’s working relationship and settling in to this new life for him. After all it is seven episodes long!
We have a change of producer here, as Barry Letts takes the reins with Terence Dicks as script editor, and Malcolm Hulke, a good friend of Dicks, was gotten in to write the story.
At its heart, ‘The Silurians’ (please forgive me for not referring to it as the official title, ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’, is an excellent story with some great ideas, performances and direction. It is, I believe, regarded as something of a classic. But also I think it has many faults that stretch beyond the design, the costuming and the stupid voices of the Silurians.
My biggest bone to pick with this story is this – it’s all so stereotypical. Yes it was made in 1969, we had less stereo-types then, but nevertheless the three-dimensional Silurian characters plod along such a predictable course. Some of their dialogue is genuinely terrible. The director of the project built into the caves, played brilliantly by Peter Miles, is just pushy and mad. The Brigadier for some reason has no intention of listening to a thing the Doctor says or advises, despite relying on him completely in ‘Spearhead from Space’ and ‘The Invasion’, and Norman Jones’ character, Major Baker, also goes a bit stir crazy.
I guess the storyline is purely functional, as are the characters. And it’s by no means a bad story, but I find all the ‘I am leader now, we must kill all the humans’ rubbish very lazy writing. The original Silurian leader suddenly decides to listen to the Doctor and trust the humans, as the Doctor makes promises he can’t possibly keep, and the Doctor does some strange things too, like decide not to tell anyone bar Liz Shaw that Doctor Quin is dead.
Doctor Quin is an interesting character, helping the Silurians in return for them promising him scientific knowledge. Why he’s so desperate for the knowledge is not fully explained, and his death around the middle of the story only rids the story of an interesting character that I would have liked to see continue.
Malcolm Hulke certainly struggled with the length. It could have easily been six parts if not four. The Doctor spends a lot of time looking for the cure to a disease in scenes which are really padded out. That’s why I think the story would have benefitted with being six episodes, and a new episode one set at UNIT.
However, this sounds like a damning review and I didn’t hate the story by any stretch of the imagination. The sound-scape is very interesting, with a series of original sounds and noises used to flavour the story. Not the sort of thing to sit down and relax too, and very different from the orchestral scores of TV today, I appreciated what was done. The cast throw themselves into the story with gusto, no-one could be accused of under-acting! The sets are mostly good, the cells are cleverly designed.
I like the design of the Silurian costumes on the whole, but they realisation is poor. The third eye is a great idea, but the creatures look all plastic and rubber, which the suits were made out of. They were a little too human like, and thus look like men in suits. They needed a bit of slime or ooze, the costumes needed to look a bit wet I think. They used the dinosaur mercifully sparingly, however they still could have used it less. It certainly was not the most convincing aspect to the story.
The ending, when the Brigadier destroys the Silurian base, is poignant. Pertwee fits very comfortably in the role, but already he has shown himself to be rather self-righteous. Otherwise he is quite dynamic and has built a great rapport with Caroline John as Liz Shaw.
The ideas behind the story are great, let down by some poor extrapolation in my opinion, but I still enjoyed the story a lot more than it seems I did from this review!