“That’s typical of the military mind, isn’t? Present them with a new problem, and they start shooting at it!” – The Doctor
Continuing the new format of the show, The Silurians is a large-scale and modern feature, filmed in locations across a wide area with a focus on UNIT and its duties. At this point in the program, UNIT is shown as a very efficient military operation with clear command and differentiation of tasks; the show obviously set aside a big budget for helicopters, realistic gun battles and explosions. The story itself is very straightforward, a common trait of Malcolm Hulke scripts I believe, and moves along reasonably well. There is a lot of nice build-up and foreshadowing—from Liz’s sudden headache near the cyclotron machine to the crazed Spencer drawing cave paintings on the wall to Quinn and Dawson’s conspiratorial whispers. Going from the mystery of what lurks in the caves to contact with the Silurians in the first five episodes, the narrative is then given an unexpected lift with the sudden globalization of the threat by the introduction of bacterial warfare and the conflict between species that is the thematic hallmark of the story.
The Doctor is pretty much the same here as he’ll be throughout the era; breezing into a complicated situation as the resident scientific genius, he comes off to all those around like a brash know-it-all but always uses methodical research to figure out what’s going on. He holds high moral standards and has little time for those that do not. Nor does he much honor position or political clout. (When presented the Permanent Under-Secretary: “Yes, well, I’ve got no time to chat to under-secretaries, permanent or otherwise!”) He and the Brigadier have a lot of back and forth though most of it is the banter of equals. There is a certain edge to the Doctor—portrayed nicely in the scene where the Brigadier stumbles in and undercuts a key moment of connection for him with Miss Dawson and its evident he has to restrain himself from launching into an undeserved tirade of anger–but he also has obvious care for those in need whether human or otherwise. There’s a nice moment where he says to Quinn ostensibly about fixing the thermostat: “You’d save yourself a lot of trouble if you’d let me help you,” but it’s obvious that he’s really referring to the secret connections that the Doctor suspects Quinn is hiding.
I love Liz in this. She’s more dressed down and casual than in her debut but she’s still a consummate professional. She dives into her assigned tasks whether scientific or administrative with obvious skill and understanding. Just don’t patronize her! (“I am a scientist, not an office boy!”) She’s in perfect step with the Doctor on the ethics of their alien encounter at every turn. Most notably to her credit, when she awakes after being attacked by a Silurian, her first reaction isn’t that of a typical companion, sobbing or stupidly ask what happened; she instead gets straight to practical business, urgently informing the Doctor “I saw it” and describing the creature.
There’s a lot of realistic writing and acting in terms of the attitudes and reactions of other characters. Quinn’s lies and cover up stories come across just as awkward and half-believable as ones would in real life. Under-secretary Masters reacts cautiously but reasonably as facts are presented (rather than being the stereotypical blustering hothead that ignores the obvious). Only Dr. Lawrence seems a bit over the top by the end.
But of course the heart of the story is the unintended and unnecessary conflict between man and Silurian. It’s ironic that a story that highlights UNIT’s new prominence in the program is also a very clear start to a running theme of pacifism throughout this era of the show. Taking the already common Doctor Who notion of not pre-judging an alien group based on appearances, the story adds on an anti-military and anti-politicoan element with the Brigadier and government serving as examples of those who rush into battle rather than seek peace. The script does a great job in paralleling this tension amongst the humans (that is the Doctor and Liz trying to convince the politicians to share the world and not try to destroy the Silurians) with a similar internal conflict among the Silurians about how they perceive “the apes”. This serves to underscore their similarity to man both in scientific advancement and moral failures and brings a real pathos to their ultimate end, an end that obviously strains the relationship of the Doctor and the Brigadier.
Best unsettling moments:
The spread of the bacterial epidemic in the tube station, culminating in Master’s corpse sprawled against the railing, is quite unnerving and evokes the horror and race against time of many a plague movie. From the moment the Silurians purposefully infect Baker to spread the disease, there is a sense of tension that UNIT won’t be able to keep it in check. It seems there just about to get ahead of it until we suddenly have the first of several gruesome close-ups in the station as disfigured passengers collapse and we know that the problem is a big one.
Looking back, it’s not clear how Quinn is killed by the Silurian. By the end of the episode we would assume it’s by the beam from its third eye as we see the others do but perhaps we could also imagine it was a flick of a poisoned tongue? [See The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood]
- Reptile race from underground
- Good old Bessie!
- Not so great dinosaur
- Mention of the “neutron flow”
- Use of CSO
As I’ve already noted, the jarring jumps from scene to scene in this episode are a rather common problem in this era. A more specific let-down for this story is the first of many poorly realized prehistoric dinosaurs on the show; all the more frustrating since it’s so inconsequential to the story that it could have been left out. (And it’s just “The Silurians” thank you very much—we’ll just ignore all those other letters ahead of that….)