Doctor Who and the Silurians

Doctor Who and the SiluriansWhen I started out doing this series of classic who reviews, the initial group of stories was going to be ones that had some connection (if loosely) to the current series of Doctor Who. Some aren’t obvious to some (Edge of Destruction, Castrovalva), but the most obvious one is this one, a review of the early Pertwee story, The Silurians.

This Malcolm Hulke created “villain” was not so much a villain at all – at least that was the point of the story. They were in 1970, and again in 2010 shown to be a proud, intelligent race won just happened to be residents of planet Earth, along with man. The drama of both these stories was based around the fact that both races felt the planet was theirs, and wasn’t particularly thrilled at sharing. A big deal with the Silurians is their NOT being a random angry enemy – at least not all of them, anyway. That’s what made their appearance in 1984’s Warriors of the Deep not nearly as good for me, as it was mostly rampaging in that story. 2010’s version is a mix as there’s some rampaging (by just a few) and the regal intelligence.

Anyway, back to 1970. This story was indicative of its era (as is its mostly bad incidental music). Stories were generally longer and more stretched out during this time. The original Silurians story ran 7 episodes (the modern equivalent of 3.5 episodes). I always felt this was too long, and my feelings on this haven’t changed a whole lot watching this now 40 year old story for this review. Its not just the fact that the story is 7 episodes, because Inferno from the same season is also 7 episodes, and that is better paced. Thing is Inferno has an alternate universe to play around with for a couple of episodes; The Silurians does not, and I think suffers a lot early on because of that.

I felt huge bits of this could have been cut out. This is borne out in most of the fact that Episode 1 is mostly the Doctor and UNIT standing around in offices and whatnot. It almost reminds me of Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation being in the middle of a battle, and calling for a conference room meeting. It’s not all that really, but it does start out slow, and I think the first three episodes could have been done in one. Here’s an example of that from the first few episodes.

Most of Episodes 2 and 3 feature more posturing between UNIT and the people at the base, with one not wanting to give way to the other more or less. There’s a few trips into the caves (actually a lot over the run of all seven episodes), and down there is some bad CSO effects, although it probably was a big deal in 1970. Speaking of effects, there’s some nice camera work in Episodes 2 and 3 which is meant to be the point of view of a Silurian. One rogue Silurian is going around on the surface attacking people (one of which is companion Liz Shaw in an episode cliffhanger) – some of this footage turned up in the confidential episode for the 2010 Silurian stories.

By the third epiode, everyone is still running around trying to figure out what’s going on. The modern series would have sorted this out 10 minutes into the first episode, yet we’re still looking for the one rogue Silurian on the surface midway through the third. The two series have major differences in pacing, and this story REALLY shows it. We don’t actually see a proper Silurian in full until 22:25 of Episode 3, that episode#s cliffhanger.

Episode 4 is when the meat of the story starts. The Doctor’s immediate reaction is to offer the hand of friendship, while the humans do little but talk - pretty much this is the path for the rest of the story. It’s the contrast between the Doctor wanting to explore things with a calm head and the Brigadier wanting to blunder in the military way. The Doctor eventually makes contact with the Silurians, and we discover there are the kind there that have the mindset of the Brigadier that want to attack the humans, much like the character of Restac in the 2010 Silurian stories. There is a lot of back and forth with the Silurians and UNIT and the humans in the facility about what to do. A lot of posturing and all that kind of bluster we’ve seen in many stories. But this diminishes the story, because while I’m not a fan of the slow paces first three episodes, episodes 4 through 7 are much better paced, a lot of the time is spent trying to diffuse a disease released into the world by the Silurians; or at least some of them. This actually was my favorite bit from the whole story. This isn’t so much an issue with the revived series, but the classic series talked several times about worldwide situations, and how things can be bad around the world. But other than getting reports via phone through the Brigadier, we rarely saw things like that. This story showed some of that, and I liked it. When Masters got to London, we saw him in the ticket booth, saw people being affected, I enjoyed that scale. I felt it far more conveyed the problem than just hearing the Brig or Liz talking to someone on the phone about it. The virus/cure plotline stuck through a few episodes, and I thought it helped push the last four episodes quite well.

If you’re reading this on kasterborous, it’s highly likely you’ve seen this story before, and as such know the ending. Still, I won’t blow it, as it’s one of the better endings of not only a Pertwee story, but a Doctor Who story period. Most of them just end, but this one ends on an emotional kick that’s exceptionally good. The only better moment in Pertwee’s era for me is the last few minutes of The Green Death when the Doctor bids farewell to Jo Grant.

Future stuff: Not counting the Silurians themselves, there’s a couple of actors here who appeared in other episodes.

  1. Paul Darrow – He is most famous for Blake’s 7‘s “Avon”. He appeared again in Doctor Who as “Tekker” in the Colin Baker story, Timelash (please don’t make me review that one any time soon, Christian!).
  2. Geoffrey Palmer – He played Masters, the guy who takes the virus back to England. He’s also been in Doctor Who two other times. First as The Administrator in 1972’s The Mutants, and again in 2008 as Hardaker, the captain of the Titanic in Voyage of the Damned.

Here’s a few shots of them in their various appearances:

The Silurians themselves have gone through an overhaul. The original 1970’s version (for obvious reasons) seriously looks like a man in a rubber suit. I suspect that’s partially why they’re not often shown to be in bright light or fully visible. Here’s a look at the three times the Silurians have appeared in the show:

Aside from the long standing joke used in show dialogue about “The Doctor? Doctor Who?”, this is of of the rare times the phrase “Doctor Who” is used. This time in the title. Officially, this story is titled Doctor Who and the Silurians, and not just The Silurians. The other times this is used is in the credits for many years where the Doctor was called “Doctor Who”, and also in the Hartnell story The War Machines, where the Doctor is erroneously called “Doctor Who” by name in the show.

One other oddity here. The Doctor refers to his own age thusly, “You know, I’m beginning to lose confidence for the first time in my life — and that covers several thousand years.” This of course contradicts several other age markers in the series. He said he was about 400-450 years in the Troughton serial, Tomb of the Cybermen. The fourth Doctor said he was 749 years old in Brain of Morbius. The Sixth Doctor said he was a “900 year old Time Lord”, and finally in the classic series, The Seventh Doctor said on screen that his age was 953. He also said it was the same age as the Rani. Anyway, when the show returned in 2005, the Ninth Doctor said he was 903 years old in The Empty Child, and the Doctor’s age has more or less kept up with real world time since then. It’s one of the harder things to reconcile, as it’s so contradictory.

In summary, I liked the Silurians, but only half of it. I felt the slow pace early on hampered things, and might tune people out who prefer a speedier pace of story. Still, once you get past that, it’s pretty good story from about Episode 4 onwards. I’ll probably hear it from people who like slower pace stories, and I generally do too, but I think it’s too slow early on here.

Overall Story Information:

Story Title: Doctor Who & The Silurians
Production Code: BBB
Writer: Malcolm Hulke
Director: Timothy Combe
Script Editor: Terrance Dicks
Length: 7 episodes (25 minutes)

Jon Pertwee – The Doctor
Caroline John – Liz Shaw
Nicholas Courtney – Briadier Lethbridge-Stewart

Specific Episode Information:

  • Episode 1: Broadcast Jan 31, 1970. Viewership: 8.8 Million
  • Episode 2: Broadcast Feb 7, 1970. Viewership: 7.3 Million
  • Episode 3: Broadcast Feb 14, 1970. Viewership: 7.5 Million
  • Episode 4: Broadcast Feb 21, 1970. Viewership: 8.2 Million
  • Episode 5: Broadcast Feb 28, 1970. Viewership: 7.5 Million
  • Episode 6: Broadcast Mar 7, 1970. Viewership: 7.5 Million
  • Episode 7: Broadcast Mar 14, 1970. Viewership: 7.5 Million

External Links of Note:

Ordering this story:

Doctor Who and the Silurians was released on DVD in 2008, and is available for purchase a couple of ways. You can either buy it individually, or as part of a larger set entitled Beneath the Surface, which also includes The Sea Devils and Warriors of the Deep. The individual release of The Silurians appears to only be a US release, however. Finally there is a BBC dramatization which can be purchased as an audiobook download. Here are some links for all this:


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