"As If that image were somehow projected into men's minds. That face ... Is it
somewhere in the subconsicous? A race memory?"
"- You know, I think these are old friends we haven't seen for a time ... Perhaps
a world ~ dead now but a few million years ago, could have been teeming with life?"
- QUATERMASS AND THE PIT
Although Spearhead from Space undoubtedly deserves its reputation as one of the best
Doctor Who stories ever made, it did constitute a potentially disastrous precedent for the
production team(s) of Peter Bryant, Derrick Sherwin, Terrance Dicks and new boy Barry
Letts, in that it revolved around an extraterrestial invasion of the planet Earth, albeit
a rather unconvential invasion With the Doctor now exiled to Earth In the twentieth
century, there was a very real danger that the length of the waiting-list of those alien
menaces who had put in their applications for conquest would strain the credulity of the
audience a bit too far, pace vague talk about our space probes having "drawn
attention" to our little world.
It is to the credit of the production team, then, that this embarrassment was, by and
large, avoided throughout the Pertwee years as a whole - only about five or so out of the
twenty four Pertwee stories deal with a contemporary alien attack on Earth with the
purpose of conquest. In few stories was the problem so cleverly or neatly overcome as in
Doctor Who and The Silurians, for here the Incredible Hulke brilliantly turned the whole
idea on its head by making Mankind the "alien invader", inheriting the planet
from its Indigenous population (though not through deliberate intent).
The development of this promising concept was also remarkably ingenious: since the
dinosaurs of prehistory ruled the Earth for a period of time far longer than that taken
for man to evolve to his present state, why couldn't an intelligent race of prehistoric
reptile people have developed? A marvellous idea, and one easily made relevant to modern
England through the beautifully simple plot devices of impending catastrophe/overlong
hibernation/accidental revival caused by nuclear power station.
The dramatic imagery inspired by this prehistoric survival-revival plot is tremendous.
The opening scene of the story - the "hook" - encapsulates it: the attack of the
tolerably convincing dinosaur ("The jaws that bite, the claws that catch") on
the two pot-holers is a terrifyingly dissonance, and this ancient, primal irruption into
the modern, technological world of the twentieth century is mirrored in a physical form by
the close proximity of the Wenley Atomic Research Centre to the cave system. (A
luxtaposition which works well on screen largely thanks to the excellence of the sets: the
huge Cyclotron Room, with its banks of monitor screens and gleaming proton accelerator
"porthole", is outstanding, while the cave sets are streets ahead of
Slowly, disturbingly, the past begins to filter into the present ... A member of the
Centre's staff dies in the caves and is found with "unusual abrasions on the body,
strangely resembling scratches or claw-marks"; his companion is reduced to a
gibbering IdIot, bizarrely drawing buffaloes on the walls of the sick-bay, the result of a
fear which has "thrown his mind back millions of years".
Two distinct atmospheres are engendered in these early episodes, contrasting yet
complementary. Within the underground Research Centre the mood is intense and
claustrophobic - there are inexplicable power-losses, outbreaks of neurosis, and a staff
who seem to have a mutual and powerful dislkike for each other, especially Director
Charles Lawrence (Peter Miles) and Dr John Quinn (the late Fulton "Mr Mackay"
Mackay). Conversely, on the surface we have the agrophobla of the wild, windswept moors, a
cold, depressing and aery landscape, where half-glimpsed, scaly "creatures"
prowl and lurk In deserted barns.
With the entry of UNIT into this tense situation, things start to come together and the
pace quickens, with the Doctor's shrewd Investigations ("Everything leads back to
those caves, Liz"), Dr Quinn's desperate evasions, and the dramatic hunt for the
fugitIve Silurian on the moors with dogs and helicopters after its attack on Liz.
The presence of the UNIT team only exacerbates the friction between the various
characters, however. The whimsicality exhibIted by the Doctor in Spearhead has been
replaced by a more bombastic and rude persona which does not exactly endear him to the
LAWRENCE - "The man's a raving lunatic: He's insolent, he's impertinent He shows
no respect for my authority ..."
DOCTOR - "Ah, Dr Lawrence, just the man I wanted to see. Now tell me, have you
just had a power failure?"
LAWRENCE - "Yes ... How did you know?"
DOCTOR - (ignoring the question) "I see, thank you ..."
LAWRENCE - "Just a minute. This is the Permanent Under Secretary."
DOCTOR - "Yes, well, I've got no time to chat to Under Secretaries, permanent or
otherwise. I must find the Brigadier."
MASTERS - "May I ask who you are?"
DOCTOR - "You may ask ..."
For his part, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart reveals an unusually brusque and unpleasant
side to his character, both to the Doctor:
DOCTOR - "(We need) a planned, cautious, scientific investigation of those caves -
not an invasion by a lot of big booted soldiersl"
BRIGADIER - "There are times, Doctor, when you sorely try my patience!"
and even to Liz, once under the strain caused by the spreading Silurian epidemic:
BRIGADIER - "Will you come with me, Miss Shaw?"
LIZ - "Oh, I'm helping the Doctor."
BRIGADIER - "I'll need help manning the phones."
LIZ - "I am a scientist, not an office boy!"
BRIGADIER - "You're a member of UNIT, Miss Shaw, and you'll do as you're
LIZ - "I will not be spoken to in that way!"
Such acrimonious exchanges add to the hardness of the situation, effectively killing
off any traces of cosiness which might have diluted the highly-strung atmosphere which has
been built up. The essential element of human drama is not just limited to the humans,
either. When the prehistoric people with the potent pineals come Into the foreground, it
is wonderfully refreshing to find that they are real people. Unlike such dull creations as
the Daleks or Cybermen, the Silurians are genuine Individuals - they do not all think
alike, and deep rifts occur among their ranks:
YOUNG SILURIAN - "The apes have become dangerous. They must be destroyed!"
SCIENTIST - "Our Leader seems to have different views."
YOUNG SILURIAN - "I know. He has taken one of these creatures into our control
room. He is talking to it!"
SCIENTIST - "Perhaps It may give him useful informatIon ..."
YOUNG SILURIAN - "What information can we gain from apes? His concern for them may
It is this element of individuality, together with the fact that they are as much In
the "right" as the humans, which elevates the Silurians above the general
homogeneous mass of Doctor Who "monsters"
But back to the production. To keep viewers guessing as to the actual appearance of the
Silurian reptiles for a full three episodes might seem to be going a bit far, but director
Timothy Combe handles this long buiId-up consumately, with lots of tantalising devices,
such as that marvellous shot of something manlike but not human staggering across the
bleak, open mooriand, a black shape sihouetted against the sun, accompanied by menacing
heavy breathing. Combe also uses lots of subjective camerawork, the image "seen"
by the Silurian being a triple-faceted one - a hint of the creature'5 appearance. (A hint
reinforced, in one rather nice touch, by a cut from such a subjective shot to a close-up
of the three lenses of a microscope.) Add to this numerous glimpses of three-taloned,
scaly claws and ridged, spiked backs, and the effect is suitably intriguing. It has been
said that one should never build up to a monster's final appearance in Doctor Who, as
anti~limax is the invariable result. This story is the exception which disproves the rule,
as the actual Silurian costumes are excellent to say the least. The three-eyed, crested
head masks, with convincingly moving lips, are superb, while the bodies, if somewhat loose
and baggy, never sink anywhere near the shambolic level of Warriors of the Deep - no
gaping gaps and glimpses of actors' vests here!
One needn't apologise for Hulke's "Silurian" misnomer, either; bit of a
cock-up on the scientific accuracy front, but it does have a certain ring to it, lacking
in "Jurassanians" or "Cretaclans", and so is dramatically quite
legitimate. (The Sea Devils, of course, had to go and make an even bigger hash of things
by referring to them as "Eocences".)
With the Silurians now firmly on the scene, the Inevitable conflicts occur, what with
bettles in the caves and attacks on the Research Centre itself. In a season which
otherwise places such a strong emphasis on spectacular, violent action, it is pleasing
that this aspect is relaxed for one story. Here, most of the battles occur off-screen - a
far cry from the rather contrived set-piece battle of Sea Devils part six, in which the RN
takes the opportunity to show decisively who really rules the waves
The introduction of the Silurian epidemic into the storyline is really the final turn
of the screw as far as grimness of atmosphere is concerned. The horror that the plague
scenes pack is quite incredible, and the sheer realism of their presentation is in a class
of its own. We open with a shot of a young woman's face, leaning against a railway
timetable at the London station; the camera tracks with her as she falls stiffly to the
ground, dead. Before long whole crowds of people are collapsing, as wailing ambulances
race to the disaster area
Even better than the crowd scenes are the individual deaths of the civil servant
Masters (Geoffrey Palmer) and Dr Lawrence. Edward Masters staggers groggily out of the
station, weaving blindly, before he comes to rest grotesquely slumped against some
railings, his eyes staring, his face mottled by the plague infection. Masters' death is
especially traumatic as he has been depicted in the story as quite an intelligent and
likeable man - there is no comparison between him and, say, Chlnn or the abominable
Parliamentary Private Secretary Walker. Lawrence meets his demise in choking agony, after
having attacked Lethbridge-Stewart in a fit of shrieking madness, despairingly blaming the
ruination of his life and career on the Brigadier and his "military rubbish".
The effect is all the more alarming because of the contrast between Lawrence's raging fit
and his previous icy, almost emotionless sarcasm. Also, the make-up team really go to town
with the festering, rotting infection that covers the dying Director's face. Not once
over-dramatised with blaring incidental music, the plague scenes are compelling viewing,
and unusually strong stuff for Doctor Who. Indeed, if anything, it is almost too powerful
- in comparison, the Doctor's prevention of a nuclear explosion in the last episode (by
"fusing the control of the neutron flow", no less) seems rather tame.
As well as finding an antidote to the Silurians' bacterium, the Doctor must also
struggle against another creeping poison, that of racial intolerance between the two
species. For a Doctor oft criticised (by Verity Lambert among others) for being too much
of a tool of the establishment, it is good to see most of the establishment very firmly
ranged against him in this story on the question of coexistence. Miss Dawson, shocked at
the death of Dr Quinn, sees the Silurians as brutal murderers, without pausing to consider
how Quinn's actions (kidnapping and blackmail) must have seemed to the Silurians. The
Brigadier sees the reptiles as a military problem to be efficiently eliminated and nothing
more. And Major Baker, the Centre's security officer, despises the Doctor's attempts at
preventing needless bloodshed: "Where are you, Doctor? Telling them everything they
want to know? You're nothing but a traitor. D'you hear me, Doctor? A traitor!" Not
that the Silurians are that much better in their attitudes: witness the Young Silurian's
strident diatribes against the "apes" he so loathes; in his case, blind racism
is coupled with good old-fashioned megalomania : "I am the Leader now," he
gloatingly whispers to himself after having murdered the Old Silurian.
Anyway, intolerance wins the day and the scene is set for the Doctor's famous
DOCTOR - "The Brigadier - he's blown up the Silurlan base." LIZ - "He
must have had orders from the Ministry."
DOCTOR - "What, you knew?"
LIZ - "No: (BITTERLY) The Government were frightened. They just couldn't take the
DOCTOR - "But that's murder. They were intelligent alien beings a whole race of
them - and he's just wiped them out."
LIZ - "I know."
Jon Pertwee and Caroline John's acting make this last scene genuinely sad rather than
sickly, and it is a moving moment, but the point would have been made quite clearly
without dialogue, and I can't help feeling that a long moment of expressive silence would
have been more subtle and more effective in conveying the Doctor's feelings. Still, at
least the moral is there adding that certain extra dimension to the story, and at least
Malcolm Hulke didn t fall into the trap of making his Silurians wholly good, which would
have resulted in a scenario as simplistic and cliched as if they had been soulless
Thus, then, is The Silurians: a rich array of well-acted characters, a plot of unusual
originality, faultless production values, a darkly gripping atmosphere, and a moral
message well put. How rare for all these to come together in one Doctor Who story! Nor Is
the serial's epic length a liability: Silurlans is extremely well-paced, with the slow and
fast moments being smoothly distributed and integrated throughout all seven episodes,
something Ambassadors of Death didn't always succeed in achieving. Carey Blyton's
incidental music, while not as good as the scores composed for Death to the Daleks or
Revenge of the Cybermen, is nonetheless worthy of note Its weird fluting tones
complimenting the atmosphere at several key moments, such as 'the introductlon to the
viewers of Squire's farm at daybreak, or the Silurian's activities in the gloomy caves.
As a story, The Silurians is really a case of "follow that". In terms of
Huike's concepts, The Sea Devils just marked time - actual development was largely
lacking, with the accent being on straightforward, solid adventure Instead (nothing wrong
with that). It is Interesting to speculate whether a second, concluding, sequel should
ever have been attempted. Certainly "homo reptilia" was an inspired concept with
a lot of mileage still left in it after The Sea Devils, which, while it was a creditable
continuation, was an unsatisfactory conclusion to the saga. That the (still) current
production team could have allowed Warriors of the Deep to be such a tawdry fiasco
bespeaks a curious lack of sensitivity towards the memory of Malcolm Hulke, and if one
wishes to fully enjoy The Silurians (or The Sea Devils) it is perhaps best to conveniently
forget the very existence of Warriors, that wretched progeny which really ought to have
been exposed at birth.
To conclude: The Silurlans can be seen as providing the proper template for the rest of
the seventh season, after the "odd man out" of Spearhead. It featured a
home-grown menace. Its length allowed for unusual complexity of plot and depth of
characterisation. It presented us with the first of those glittering "scientific
establishments" which only Season 7 could convincingly realise. And it was the first
story of the season to have a moral theme as an intrinsic part of its storyline (unless
Bob Holmes was trying to make a point In depicting politicians and civil servants as
hollow, plastic dummies!).
But The Silurians was not just a template - it was a classic story In Its own right
which stands up well when taken out of its context. To use a no
longer-quite-so-fashionable adjective, it was stunning.
Issue one index
Five Hundred Eyes index