Sunday, 7 June 2009

Doctor Who and the Silurians

Part One

"I take it you're yet another member of this UNIT team?"

"Yes, depressing, isn't it?"

Scenes on video, in colour- there's a first. And our first glimpse of Bessie. Oh, and a scientific research establishment. Suddenly the new era seems to have clicked entirely into place. I'm still loving this new Doctor: "My dear Miss Shaw, I never report myself anywhere. Particularly not forthwith!"

This one has quite a cast- Peter Miles and Fulton MacKay, and once more the tone is quite adult. we have yet another link to the past, though: the Sonic Screwdriver gets a welcome mention. This is a strangely different programme, yet somehow still Doctor Who.

Suddenly Jon Pertwee is playing an unmistakably new character, and not just a different-looking version of his predecessor. So far (can you see where I suspect this might be heading?) I'm impressed.

Part Two

"That's typical of the military mind, isn't it? Present them with a new problem and they start shooting at it."

Paul Darrow! The cast just keeps getting better and better! The direction's very good too- I'm particularly impressed by the creature POV shot.

More yokels here, and this time a pitchfork too. The Pertwee era tropes are coming thick and fast. Still- a Mummerset accent? In Derbyshire?

Part Three

"It is rather like the reptile house in a zoo, isn't it?"

This episode is all about the Faustus-like Quinn, and we get to see how the acting talent of Fulton MacKay stretches far beyond Porridge. The scene between the Doctor and Quinn in the cottage is very well written and acted by both Pertwee and MacKay. Quinn having kidnapped one of the creatures is simultaneously both a big revelation and the moment we know he's going to die.

Some extremely odd music at the end there! This is great stuff, but the pace is a bit too slow nonetheless- there seems to be a fair bit of foot-dragging.

Part Four

"The man's a raving lunatic. He's insolent. He's impertinent. He shows no respect for my authority."

This episode is where the ethical conflicts really start to fissure. We start off with the Doctor trying to talk to the Silurian in Quinn's cottage, but before long he's lying to the Brigadier about what happened. This is interesting for a number of reasons- it's the first real disagreement between the two characters; it's happening early on in the new format and will help define their relationship; and it showcases their different philosophies. The Doctor, a scientist, wants to understand the Silurians, and his idealism means he sees room for negotiation. The Brigadier, meanwhile, sees the Silurians as a threat- more narrow-minded, certainly, but given his responsibilities not necessarily unreasonable. The situation is well handled; we, the audience, are able to sympathise with both characters and aren't told what to think.

More bizarre music as the Doctor and Liz explore is followed by a glimpse of the rubber dinosaur and our first ever bit of bad CSO. And the casting finally breaks the sound barrier with Geoffrey Palmer appearing as a civil servant- a relatively unannoying one, thankfully. There's a great line from the Doctor though: "I've got no time to talk to under-secretaries- permanent or otherwise..."

It's all about the ethical dilemma though- once Miss Dawson discovers Quinn's death she turns into our genocidal warmonger-in-chief, while the Doctor's behaviour is looking uncomfortably like betrayal...

Part Five


Lawrence is in denial about everything- he's clearly not going to survive the story!

The situation is quite awful, really- the humans and Silurians both have a valid claim on the planet but the Doctor's hopes of them sharing it seem awfully naive. Both groups have bigots among their number (Miss Dawson, the Young Silurian) who seem to be in the ascendancy. But the awful thing is that each side is fundamentally right to consider the other as hostile, however much other opinions may exist on both sides. The Doctor's never going to win here, especially as it's the Silurians who seem the more intolerant.

A deadly pandemic- it's all kicking off! That's two stories in a row with hospitals...

Part Six

"Did what hurt? oh, yes. It was agony."

It's clear from early on that this is all going to be about the disease and the race to find a cure. Fine by me, as it's certainly entertaining, but I can't help noticing the plot seems to have pretty much stopped.

Masters pays the taxi driver 7s 6d! If decimalisation was brought in at the same time as our world then this can't have taken place any later than 1971. And that's impossible- The Web of Fear was stated to have taken place over forty years since The Abominable Snowmen, which took place in 1979. And The Invasion was four years after that. So that would mean this story was set in 1979 at the very earliest, well after decimalisation. But it's not just that- the fashions, the decor, everything- it all points to the end of the '60s. UNIT dating is already insoluble this early in!

The montage shot with the pictures bleeding into one another is extremely well done. There's some fantastic direction in this story.

Interesting line from the Doctor- "I'm beginning to lose confidence for the first time in my life. And that covers several thousand years." Interesting because it can't be true- if the Doctor was 450 years old in Tomb he can't be much older now as Jamie aged no more than a few years at the most after that and he was there right until the end of the Second Doctor's tenure, there's no significant gap between The War Games and Spearhead (Season 6b Schmeason 6b!), and this story can't be more than months later, about a year at the most. Not sure how to explain this one.

Anyway, enough continuity. Good episode. I like the bit where Lawrence starts ranting and then dies suddenly. And dramatically.

Part Seven

"But that's murder!"

Hmmm, so the Silurians want to destroy the Van Allen belt, essentially killing all warm blooded creatures? Hmmm. Not a very clever way to treat the ecosystem, chaps. Food supply and that. Besides, they don't seem all that cold-blooded to me. There's not an awful lot of sun-basking going on in those caves.

"I'll try fusing the control of the neutron flow" says the Doctor. I'm wondering, for no particular reason, if we'll ever hear him say anything similar again? Incidentally, it's most unnerving to see the Doctor in a t-shirt!

The Doctor's plan of gradually awakening the Silurians one by one is reasonable and workable, but immediately undercut by the fact that the Young Silurian is still alive and still in very much genocidal mood. He, interestingly, is allowed to be noble and self-sacrificing in staying so that his fellow Silurians can hibernate- he may be a racist but he's capable of moral and admirable behaviour with his own kind. That's good writing.

Once again the facts can support both the Doctor's point of view and the Brigadier's, which is important- the viewers must continue to like both characters to support the premise of the show. And the Young Silurian's survival helps achieve that by giving the Brigadier a supporting argument, albeit one visible only to the audience.

None of this diminishes the power of the final scene. Liz shows quiet solidarity with the Doctor, and the silence finally hangs in the air.

A truly excellent script, this, using the extra time to really flesh out the characters and themes in a way that arguably hasn't been seen before. Even minor characters shine in terms of script and acting. And this may be the finest cast we've seen yet. And yet... I can't quite justify giving it 5/5 as in the end the pace is just too slow. I don't usually have a problem with long stories- I loved The Invasion and The War Games- but compared with both of those stories, full of twists and turns and lots of story, there just didn't seem to be enough plot to justify the running time here. Not enough things happened to justify seven episodes, however skilfully the script filled up the time with character and theme. Still, a very high 4/5.

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