Dr Who and The Silurians (1970 UK)

siluriansE6As with many Doctor Who monsters (and as Terrance Dicks points out on the commentary track), the Silurians are much more frightening when they are shadowy figures lurking behind the scenes causally killing people and causing general mayhem. They not as effective when they’re standing under bright studio lights where every costuming join is visible. The Doctor has been exiled to Earth with a broken Tardis, but since a disproportionate amount of alien disasters happen in 1970 England, he still has plenty to keep him busy.

The rather redundantly titled “Dr Who and the Silurians” sees Jon Pertwee settling nicely into his role, as well as a morally conflicted story about an ancient species from our own planet. Mysterious deaths and mental strain are causing problems at a nuclear power plant, and the Doctor is called in by the Brigadier to check things out. While the plant’s director violently denies that there is anything wrong, the Doctor knows that something strange is afoot — especially when he stumbles across a living dinosaur, commanded by a reptilian humanoid called a Silurian.

It’s revealed that the Silurians are actually the pre-human inhabitants of this planet, and they went into hibernation to avoid a global disaster. Now the nuclear plant has reawakened them, and they want to destroy the “apes” and reclaim the Earth. The Doctor almost reaches peace with them, but when their leader is murdered by another Silurian, the human race is faced with a terrifying enemy. And even worse, the Silurians have an ace against the “apes” — a deadly virus that quickly escapes into the outside world. “Doctor Who and the Silurians” tackles a science fiction idea that really isn’t explored often enough: what if other creatures — before or after us — had evolved into intelligent life on our own planet?

doc wI like this sort of story, and this particular serial does an excellent job addressing its moral ambiguities. And the writers do an excellent job exploring the question of whether we could coexist with such creatures, especially since both humans and Silurians are violent, paranoid and willing to wipe each other out. It’s painful to see the Doctor working so hard to make peace, but around every turn there’s a violent death, plague or idiot making it harder for him. Jon Pertwee is also settling nicely into his role as the Doctor — he’s pleasant but sharp, a little quirky and completely unconcerned with what people think of it.

And it’s fun to see him in his lighter moments, like when he tinkers around with his yellow car and goes tooling around the streets with it. Of course, credit is due where the serial succeeds. The sequences where the Silurian-released plague is sweeping through central London are very effective and well-staged.  The serial has quite a strong cast and the guest stars are particularly strong. Geoffrey Palmer and Peter Miles always receive well-deserved praise for their bureaucrat/civil servant roles. But I particularly enjoyed the performance of Fulton Mackay as Dr. Quinn. His style is very natural.

Dr. Quinn’s personality and mannerisms (if not his motivations and actions) reminded me of a few scientists and professors that I’ve met. The search for the cure is slow-moving but the pacing is tight.The biggest problem is honestly the Silurians. I know there were budget and prosthetic constraints on the show, but the Silurians are simply not scary. These poor actors obviously could barely move or see where they were going. “Doctor Who and the Silurians” is a thoroughly solid sci-fi story, which is only somewhat hampered by the Silurian rubber suits. Otherwise, it’s a display of “Who” in fine form.



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