Timestamp #52: Doctor Who and the Silurians

Doctor Who and the Silurians
(7 episodes, s07e05-e011, 1970)

Timestamp 052 Doctor Who and the Silurians

 

Nothing good ever comes from spelunking in genre shows.

This serial focuses on a cyclotron proton accelerator being used to research atomic power for the country. It is having security, personnel, and scientific problems, and who else do you call in for such things than a paramilitary organization, a Ph.D., and a time traveling alien? The facility has been having major power drains, which have been covered up in an attempt to help a race known as the Silurians. These reptilians aren’t really aliens per se, since they were really the planet’s original inhabitants before the rise of humanity. People who have encountered the Silurians are either killed by fear or sent into a catatonic state. Additionally, their very presence seems to have affected the cyclotron’s staff, all of whom suffer from fear-based neuroses. The Silurians retreated into hibernation chambers when they saw a strange planet crashing toward the Earth – that “planet” turned out to be the Moon falling into its orbit – but couldn’t be revived again without a sufficient power source like the cyclotron.

The Doctor eventually encounters the leaders of Silurians and nearly brokers a peace that would allow them to be assimilated into the modern Earth population, but a younger impatient upstart kills the leader and unleashes a bacterial infection on the planet to kill humanity and leave the planet for the Silurians alone. They also plan on eliminating the Van Allen Belt and irradiating the planet. Go big or go home, eh?

The Doctor tricks the Silurians by overloading the reactor and threatening to irradiate the area for at least 25 years. He stops the overload after the Silurians leave, and the younger Silurian is killed in defending the Doctor. The rest are placed in hibernation, and the Doctor wants to study them and negotiate a peaceful resolution. The Brigadier instead destroys all of them, which (rightfully so) disgusts the Doctor.

This Doctor is much harder to judge emotionally based on his reactions. He seems shocked to see the Silurian, but instantly turns congenial. Is he good at playing shocked, or good at rapidly overcoming it? I also liked his new wheels: The canary yellow Edwardian roadster named Bessie, complete with registration of “WHO 1”. He also can’t find his sonic screwdriver, and I couldn’t quite figure out if he was using it to fix Bessie or if it was lost in the fallout from The War Games.

I wondered about the dinosaur that the Silurians kept in the cave network. Was it also kept in hibernation? I assume so, since it wouldn’t have survived so long without a food source, but then why did they pick that particular dinosaur? I’m imagining a family of Silurians running for the hibernation chambers, and one of the kids won’t leave without the family pet Dino.

The Doctor mentions that he’s “beginning to lose confidence for the first time in my life, and that covers several thousand years.” The Doctor’s age is a wildly contentious item in the mythology. Is that travel time given the other estimates of his biological age throughout the franchise, or is he calculating on a different solar period?

The Doctor developing the antidote really emphasizes his scientific knowledge, something lightly touched on in the first two iterations. He really has nothing else to do since he’s grounded and waiting for the plot to come to him.

In minor notes, the music is odd in this one. It’s too whimsical for the dramatic tale, and doesn’t seem to fit with the story at all. The Silurian makeup is pretty cool, but it’s also impressive how far they’ve come to Madame Vastra in the modern years. It’s also the first use of “neutron flow” catch phrase.

The ongoing question will be how the Doctor can trust the Brigadier from this point forward. The Brigadier committed genocide – admittedly, in defense of the planet – which obviously disgusted the Doctor. The Doctor is pretty much locked into indentured servitude until he can unlock the TARDIS, so he can’t not work with UNIT, but can he really trust UNIT and the Brigadier?

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Timestamp #52: Doctor Who and the Silurians

  1. I really love this one and the nuance that it gives to the “aliens”. The Hartnell era was kind of spotty on it, but the Troughton era and most of the eras after Pertwee always treat the aliens as “monsters”. In the Pertwee era, we tend to get a more nuanced view. The Silurians have those that want to wipe out the humans as an invasive species of pests and there are those who feel that peace would be better and the same comes from the human contingent. It’s a story about not being able to get along due to mistrust. An interesting tidbit is that the script initially had the Doctor just saying something along the lines of “that’s such a shame, they could have taught us so much” when the Brig bombs the Silurian installation. It was new producer Barry Letts who had them change it to “but that’s sheer murder”, which is a lot more powerful of a statement.

    In the Brig’s defense, no genocide was committed. Did they say in that episode that other installations with Silurians existed around the world? I know that the series later reveals that, but I thought they mentioned it here. It’s still murder, I know, but not genocide.

    I’m guessing that the dinosaur was kept to be a guardian in case any kind of dangerous animal ended up living in the caves. It was probably woken up first to clear away anything that could harm the Silurians before they awoke. That’s the only way that I can figure it anyway.

    The Doctor’s phrasing about his age is weird. His life “covers” many thousands of years. I’ve never heard anyone say something like “my life covers several decades”. Especially since this age doesn’t jar with any of the other ages given and the rest are at least consistent within the classic series, I’ve always taken this to mean the range of times that he’s visited in the TARDIS, trying to make himself seem older than he is and giving his statement more import. His life “covers” many thousands of years because he’s visited times and worlds many thousands of years apart in time.

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