Doctor Who - The Monsters: Silurians (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros see what's beneath the surface of this 50th anniversary cash-in...
Whilst not exactly high on the list of classic Doctor Who adversaries, the Silurians, those reptilian throwbacks to a bygone era first popped up to menace the human race and the Third Doctor in the seventies; they also managed to not only reappear in one of the most notorious stories of the eighties, Warriors of the Deep, but they were fondly remembered enough for them to be “reimagined” for the Steven Moffat era of New-Who.
THE SILURIANS: All is not well down in Wenley Moor; the experimental nuclear power research centre is suffering from unexplained power drains and equally inexplicable outbreaks of mental breakdowns amongst the staff. The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Liz Shaw (Caroline John) are ordered to investigate the mysterious phenomena and they discover that not only are the ancient race that pre-dated homo sapiens still alive, but that they want their planet back and are prepared to eradicate the pesky humans who live on the surface...
The colour era of Doctor Who was still in it's infancy; the first venture into the full-colour televisual adventures of everyone's favourite Time Lord had been shot on film due to industrial action, meaning that viewers had not yet experienced Doctor Who in colour the way it would be seen for more than a decade, meaning a mixture of videotape (for studio work) and 16mm film (for location work and the occasional stuntwork in the studio) – OK we know that there were times when the location work was filmed on Outside Broadcast videotape, but that was only occasionally – what would the adventures of the Dandy Doctor have in store for fans hungry to see him in colour?
Terrence Dicks has often said that he and Barry Letts (who was only installed as producer after location filming had been completed) had inherited a couple of bad decisions from the people who previously held their posts, namely that The Doctor would be in exile on Earth and that the stories would be longer; both ideas were designed to save money (not needing to build exotic alien sets and costumes, along with having to create less Earthbound props and costumes per season), but whereas the latter was something that many fans weren't keen on, as many of the longer stories that clocked-in a six episodes or over are regarded as being over-long, the idea of having The Doctor based on Earth to face all sorts of menaced was actually a good move, which came at a time when the show needed to do something fairly radical to shake it up.
Writer Malcolm “Mac” Hulke was always one for penning stories with environmental and ecological themes (buried underneath the questionable production values of Invasion of the Dinosaurs was a cracking message about the state of the Earth and the relative insignificance of the human race); The Silurians is Hulke's first excursion into just who or what walked the Earth before mankind infested the place and it’s a corker, with plenty of dialogue about the propriety of the surface of Earth and also some examples of what would come to typify the Third Doctor’s attitude toward the armed forces “that’s typical of the military mind - when presented with a problem and they start shooting at it!” It could be argued that Hulke shaped the character of the Third Doctor, as there are so many little bits and pieces in this story that would be constant character traits throughout Pertwee’s run, especially The Doctor’s distain for bureaucracy; when The Doctor is introduced to the Permanent Undersecretary (played sublimely by Geoffrey Palmer), this introduction to rebuffed with the curt words “I’ve got no time to chat to Undersecretaries, permanent or otherwise.”
Hulke also manages to turn convention on its head by having a passionate debate (read across-the-table-slanging-match) about what to do with the Silurians; on one side of the table, there is the “kill the lot of them” point of view and across the table, there is the more calm and measured “wait-and-see” approach. What makes this scene so different from what had gone before - and largely what would come after - is that this debate is taking place between two women, - both of them scientists, Lis Shaw and Miss Dawson (Quinn’s assistant and possible significant other) where you would expect it to be between The Doctor and some pompous male authority figure.
There are certain lapses in logic during the story, most notably when the reason for why the Silurians decided to take cover underground and stay in hibernation - this is explained that they saw a small planet heading toward Earth and they essentially shat themselves - the “planet” in question turned out to be the Moon and given all their supposedly advanced scientific knowledge, they would have been able to work out that it would have merely settled into orbit and posed no threat to life on Silurian-era Earth. Also, the idea that some country would willingly give over a large expanse of uninhabited desert to the Silurians would be awfully impractical, as it would mean losing a large amount of land in their country and having a potentially hostile life-form on their doorstep.
This was Jon Pertwee’s first Doctor Who story to be primarily filmed in the studio and Pertwee gives what is generally a good performance, although there are times during the first few episodes where he is still finding his feet, and seems a little on edge or awkward - there is a moment where he is sitting in a chair trying to be nonchalant and/or taciturn and it looks like he is about to strain something, as it looks too posed and unnatural. This was Pertwee’s first time in a television production where he was a lead and had to give a dramatic performance - Spearhead From Space being shot completely on film at least allowed Pertwee breathing space to be able to takes things more easily as he got to grips with his character. There are some people out there who take great delight at Pertwee’s limited use of mannerisms and gestures (chin stroking, rubbing the back of his neck, etc), but considering that he was a comedy performer and that this was his first dramatic lead, he’s pretty good here.
Caroline John is refreshingly sardonic as Liz Shaw; much like Pertwee in Spearhead From Space, John's character was not able to be properly assessed due to the different medium the first story was filmed on (in Spearhead, she, along with the rest of the cast had to give somewhat exaggerated performances to compensate for the limitations of the locations in which they had to shoot). Here, John is more natural and likeable, making a great foil for Pertwee's pomposity.
Though Doctor Who had finally made the transition from 1960s black and white to 1970s colour, the production was still faced by the same limitations that the previous decade were saddled with, in that the studio work was still largely done almost “as-live”, with only serious mistakes stopping the production for re-takes. Caroline John makes a memorable fluff during her first scene as she tries to talk to The Doctor about going out to Wenley Moor research station, and as she mentions about going on a trip, she manages to trip over her line. It would be a couple of stories later that editing techniques would improve to more easily allow for re-takes and lessen the pressure on the lead actors. During this scene, Caroline John is wearing a mini-dress that is so ridiculously short that when he bends down to try and speak to The Doctor, who is underneath Bessie at the time, she is VERY conscious about how she performs this manoeuvre in order to avoid flashing tomorrow's laundry.
Peter Miles makes his Doctor Who début as Dr Lawrence, the director of the nuclear facility; Lawrence is suitably officious and aloof in a manner that would be seen by people in similar positions of power in Doctor Who during the seventies. Miles would return to work alongside Pertwee in Doctor Who in Malcolm Hulke's Invasion of the Dinosaurs, but he would be best known for his role as the Himmler-like Nyder in Genesis of the Daleks. Thankfully, in The Silurians, Miles would not be wearing Nyder's glasses that made him bear a striking resemblance to snooker player Ray Reardon, but he does sport an impressive comb-over that seems to be modelled on another British sporting hero, namely Bobby Charlton. Miles is great in this story, initially being officious and highly sceptical of UNIT when they enter his facility, leading to outright outrage when he is ravaged by illness and is watching his little empire crumbling around his ears; he gives a wonderfully shouty performance that gives elicits a high degree of satisfaction when seeing Lawrence get his comeuppance for being a conceited, pen-pushing little prick.
There are some who would accuse us of sacrilege or heresy, but you get the feeling whilst watching this story that Fulton Mackay is almost too good for the material; Mackay's Dr Quinn starts of with a smile which seems almost uncomfortably welcoming, but this façade starts to slip and his true intent starts to be revealed. Mackay’s performance is a world away from the role with which he became most closely identified, that of iron-fisted prison officer Mr Mackay in Porridge, and his exact part in the strange goings on at the research centre come just before his untimely departure less than half way during the story. Though the scope of the story starts to broaden during the final act, Mackay’s presence is very much missed. Before leaving the story, there is a wonderful scene where Quinn and The Doctor are engaged in a mental and verbal game of chess, as The Doctor knows that Quinn is far more aware of what is going on at the facility than he is letting on and Quinn knows that The Doctor is trying to probe him - though Pertwee struggles to reach the same level of performance as Mackay, it’s still a great scene and reminiscent of a James Bond film, where Bond sizes up the villain and throws down a risky gambit at the end - this is very much in keeping with the perception that the Pertwee’s Doctor was essentially Bond in a frilly shirt and velvet jacket.
Geoffrey Palmer is great as permanent undersecretary Masters; Palmer seems to specialise in playing mildly outraged or slimy civil servants, but there is a more subtle approach to his character here, as his performance is lower-key but no less slimy. Jon Pertwee must have breathed a sign of relief when Fulton Mackay bowed out early, only to be on edge again when such a highly respected actor like Palmer turned up to replace him. However, there is still a sufficiently high degree of pomposity in Palmer’s performance to make Pertwee rise to the occasion and verbally spar with him, no matter how brief their time together on-screen is.
Future Blake’s 7 star Paul Darrow appears in this story as UNIT soldier, Captain Hawkins and gives a fine, understated performance; we didn’t recognise him at first, partially due to this story being several years before Terry Nation’s sci-fi epic, but also because he didn’t have splinters in his mouth from chewing scenery.
Director Timothy Combe keeps the seven-part story bubbling along nicely, using fast cuts between the action above and below ground to prevent the sort of fatigue that is usually associated with stories of this length from setting in. Combe also makes great use of the slightly higher than average amount of location work on this story, with a nice big-scale sequence in episode three that has the combined forces of UNIT and the local police hunting one of the Silurians across open countryside. There are armed officers, sniffer dogs and a UNIT helicopter flying overhead (the Pertwee era was stuffed with helicopters, which certainly elevate the production values of location filming), and the director manages to Combe-ine (ahem) these elements into a sense and exciting sequence. Speaking of location filming, this was the first Doctor Who story to feature Bessie, The Doctor’s beloved antique car - there is one scene that was obviously filmed in the pouring rain, as you can quite see it absolutely slashing down in the background, the foreground and any other ground in-between - this can’t have been good for the distinctly open-topped Bessie parked in the background. Director Combe’s ability to wring every last drop out of location filming was an admirable one, but it ultimtely became his downfall during the shooting of The Mind Of Evil, when production problems were blamed on him and he was never used again for Doctor Who.
Combe worked at keeping the titular creatures in the shadows and in the distance until the end of episode three, when they are finally seen properly by impressive use of a crash-zoom, that serves as the cliffhanger (the fact that this one is resolved by Pertwee extending his hand and offering an earnest “hello” is very reminiscent of how his successor greeted many alien species during his tenure); the design of the Silurian might have looked fine on the page, but many of the full-length suits are baggy on the people playing them. Baggy suits aside, the designs for the heads are quite nice, with a degree of articulation in the mouth, but some of the players - because none of them provide their own voices - tend to overcompensate by gesticulating wildly with their hands and wobbling their heads around quite a lot. Peter Halliday provides all of the Silurian voices, impressively being able to give each character a different tone and style of delivery to sufficiently differentiate between them, even if one of them sounds more than a little like Jimmy Durante (kids, ask your dads - or ask your granddads. On second thoughts, just think Auggie Doggie and Doggie Daddy. On third thoughts, forget it…)
As well as Silurians, dinosaurs were also incorporated into the script, essentially functioning as guard dogs for the titular characters, but sadly, much like the ones seen near the end of Pertwee’s time on Doctor Who, they’re not the most convincing things that have ever been seen on the show and can best be described as “crudely effective”. Some shots of these dinosaurs were achieved by the use of Colour Separation Overlay (CSO), which was so beloved of producer Barry Letts, so he was certainly starting as he meant to go on, then. Letts’ passion for CSO was both a creatively liberating and frustrating, as it allowed things to be shown on-screen with a sense of scope that would have been near-impossible to do conventionally, but the (over)use of the process would come to be regarded as one of the detrimental hallmarks of Letts’ tenure on Doctor Who.
Carey Blyton’s music score is a bizarre mixture of traditional horn and percussion that came to typify Doctor Who in the seventies, but also throws in some experimental electronic music, along with some incidental stuff that sounds like someone rhythmically breaking wind whilst having a kazoo inserted in their rectum. There is a curious moment in one of the earlier episodes in this story where the dinosaur is seen on-screen and the Blyton’s score seems to slyly reference the classic song Run, Rabbit, Run.
As the story moves into it’s final act, there is some location filming in and around London, with Marylebone train station featuring prominently as Masters makes his way into the Big Smoke. The sense of verisimilitude that director Timothy Combe manages to conjure up is most impressive, with a large number of extras falling over from the deadly Silurian-created disease that Masters is carrying. Many of you reading this will get a bittersweet nostalgic kick from seeing slam-door trains with the British Rail logo on the side, along with the traditional uniforms that were worn by British Rail staff at that time.
THE HUNGRY EARTH: After waking up from the land of dreams, the TARDIS crew materialise in the year 2020 in the Welsh mining town of Cwmtaff, where a subterranean drilling team is making an attempt to drill deeper than anyone else in Earth's history (excluding, of course, Professor Stahlman), but in doing so, the team - led by Dr Nasreen Chaudhry - has awakened an old adversary of The Doctor, a race that has been lying dormant, and one that is not impressed with apes encroaching upon their territory and some factions within that race will stop at nothing to see the human race extinct and the Silurians ruling the Earth once again.
During all of this, people are being sucked into the ground, and eventually it is not just the people associated with the drilling and the surrounding area that are affected by these disappearances -The Doctor sees Amy dragged beneath the surface and suddenly, he is even more determined to get to the bottom of things.
It is interesting to note that this story was written by Chris Chibnnall, who has principally worked as a writer on Torchwood; the more adult-orientated approach to Torchwood appears to have rubbed off on this script, as it seems darker and more interesting in than many other stories in this series. Certainly, the big drive behind this story was to take greater inspiration from the novelisation of Doctor Who and the Silurians (which was rather generically known as Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters), which featured - as was always the case with Mac's novelisations - a more fleshed-out storyline. The novel struck a chord with several people on the production team and when the time came to bring back the Silurians, it was fitting that Mac's work be used as a basis for certain elements.
Previously in New-Who, attempts at creating drama and tugging at heartstrings have come across as either heavy-handed or crassly manipulative, but the sequence that sees Amy dragged underground in a manner that almost seems as though she is drowning is astonishingly well-executed; the look of desperation in Amy's eyes and the horror in The Doctor's is quite possibly one of the best moments in New-Who's entire run. The sequence is superbly acted, not to mention well-shot and edited and should serve as a textbook example of how to create drama without seeming like a soap opera.
COLD BLOOD: Following straight on, The Doctor and Nasreen find themselves in the heart of the Silurian civilisation, where they soon captured and discover that all of the missing people – including Amy – are being experimented upon by Silurian doctor Malokeh. It emerges that things are not exactly harmonious within the Silurian community, with factions each having their own idea over what to do with the humans, both captured and all the others living on the surface of the planet.
One of the best aspects of this story was that two characters opt to remain below the surface – one of them for health reasons and the other because of love. It might sound mawkish, but it works because it seems to reach into Star Trek territory of wanting to understand and create a sense of harmony between the human race and another species.
The whole subplot about the killing of Alaya, the female Silurian warrior, was pretty much the only serious misstep in this two-part story; this aspect just seemed like a contrived way of generating a bit of conflict in order to not make the truce between the humans and the Silurians go as smoothly as it would otherwise have done. Having Alaya killed in the heat of the moment by a mother who is worried about her child (taken by the Silurians) is fairly trite, but one has to ask oneself if such a situation happened in real-life, would the mother want to kill possibly the only connection to getting her son back? We didn't think so, either.
We also don't really like the new Silurians - OK, so something needed to be done to update them for the 21st century, but almost completely chucking out the original designs and starting from scratch is almost an insult to the original series. The mentality that seemed to dominate the design was "let's make it so the warrior can be a hot chick!", or some such crap. The Silurians aren't supposed to be quite so human-looking, because the human race evolved from apes (or if you're religious, they were made by magic) and the Silurians were reptilian in origin. The masks they briefly wear are a transparent attempt to placate original Who fans by making them look a little more like they're supposed to - it didn't work with us.
This Silurian two-parter has deeply divided fans (but then again, with such a rabid fan-base as Doctor Who, opinion on pretty much every story is polarised) - there are some who happen to love this story, with it's grand scope and wonderful production design, but there are also others who loathe the redesigned Silurians and hate the fact that a major character dies at the end of the story. We happen to fall into the former, but with one or two reservations...
On the plus side, it was nice to see Stephen Moore return to science-fiction as one of the elder Silurians. Moore's distinctive tones helped make former Doctor Who script editor Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy the smash it became and having Moore in this story is a cool nod to both Douglas Adams and British sci-fi in general.
THE SILURIANS: The original PAL colour videotapes of The Silurians were wiped by the BBC in the mid-to-late seventies. This is the same DVD transfer that was used when this story was released as part of the Beneath the Surface box-set in 2008. The Doctor Who Restoration Team worked hard on The Silurians, but even they were limited by the condition of the existing materials. The original 1992 VHS release had more than it’s fair share of problems that were overcome, using “technology worthy of The Doctor himself” and the added resolution of DVD meant that what was acceptable back then would not be acceptable in the 21st century.
There are some who would look at the resulting image quality and be dismissive of it, but considering how lousy The Silurians would have looked without the hard work of the RT, it’s little short of miraculous. The film sequences look notably worse than the studio material, but this is true of Doctor Who in general and has to be accepted, but the VidFIREd videotape sequences are pretty impressive, save for the certain degree of vertical colour variations that are unavoidable - considering that the colour signal for this story came from domestic off-air Betamax video recordings, it’s quite remarkable to have this story looking this good.
THE HUNGRY EARTH & COLD BLOOD: As with all releases from the Matt Smith HD-shot era, the standard definition image quality is pretty impressive, with some surprising levels of detail and professional polish to the look. Colours are pretty vivid at times and the black levels are reasonably good. All-in-all, there is little to complain about with the image on this SD copy.
THE SILURIANS: No issues here - the dialogue is perfectly audible. Restoration Team member Mark Ayres’ original work he performed on the CD issue of the soundtrack was used here and it’s a VERY safe bet that it will never sound better than it does here. Carey Blyton’s experimental flatulent soundtrack will sound as clean here as it ever will, too.
THE HUNGRY EARTH & COLD BLOOD: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio sounds great, with spot effects and music filling the soundstage to create a pretty immersive experience. There are also a few interesting thumps from the low frequencies to add a bit of spice.
Not a bloody thing - unless you count the original coming soon trailer that can be found after the end credits of episode seven of The Silurians, which is pretty cool. Including the full-length Doctor Who confidential that went out just after the original transmission of The Hungry Earth would have gone a fair way in terms on contextualising the Silurans in Doctor Who history.
Malcolm Hulke’s The Silurians is a much-maligned story; there are those who would criticise it for being overlong, and you can’t argue that IS a wee bit dragged-out, but there have been other Doctor Who stories of equal (or even shorter) length that are more arduous to sit through.
The New-Who Hungry Earth and Cold Blood are pretty good, even if there are some who loathe them with a passion. Though the Silurian design had been massively buggered about with to the point where they were unrecognisable and might have been called something else, it was still nice to see another classic villain return to Doctor Who.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 30th September 2013
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Vintage Coming Soon Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Timothy Combe, Ashley Way
Cast: Jon Pertwee, Caroline John, Matt Smith, Karen Gillan
Length: 260 minutes
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