This weekend, while waiting for Vic to return home, I caught up on some recently-purchased Doctor Who DVDs from a boxed-set of linked stories given the umbrella title “Beneath the Surface.”
First up was “Doctor Who and the Silurians,” the only story in the 45-year history of the series to utilize the “Doctor Who and the…” naming convention for its title. It’s one in the continuing adventures of a bloke whose name is absolutely NOT “Doctor Who,” so just get that right out of your head. Never mind those twenty years’ worth of end credits to the contrary. Or the episode titled “The Death of Doctor Who.” Or the one in which the evil computer WOTAN demanded Doctor Who’s presence. Or that the Doctor gave his antique car the license plate WHO 1. Just forget all that. It’s just “The Doctor,” so there.
Similarly, the Silurians are not really Silurians at all, even though that’s what the Doctor dubs them on the basis of some exceedingly flimsy evidence: a globe of the Earth in which the continents appear as they allegedly did in the Silurian period of prehistory. In a later episode, he suggests that whomever named them Silurians should have more properly called them Eocenes instead, never mind that he himself was that person. And never mind that the first time he meets one face to face, he says “Hello, are you a Silurian?” and the creature nods. But perhaps, like the Doctor, they’re used to people calling them the wrong thing.
These Silurians are not at all related to the New York society of the same name even though one is a group of veteran print journalists and the other is a race of ancient, underground reptiles who intend to retake the Earth they once dominated. Though I can see where one might make that mistake.
Anyhow, “The Doctor and the Eocenes” is an excellent four-part story in seven parts. And yes, it takes four full episodes to get to the same point in the plot that a later four-parter would have reached at its first cliffhanger. (Reduce that to 12 minutes for modern day Who.)
This is one of the episodes in which the Doctor’s companion is Dr. Liz Shaw. She’s smart, sexy, and a more legitimate example of a “liberated woman” than those later companions who went out of their way to identify themselves as such. And that’s despite a wardrobe of ridiculously short skirts that surely would have undermined her credibility at the lab even as they increased her ability to attract research grants. Liz appears to have a doctorate in “Science,” as she’s equally adept at medical biology and running a nuclear reactor.
Word to the wise: do NOT watch the special features of this DVD, as they interview a former actress named Caroline John who claims to be the woman who played the very leggy Liz Shaw, even though this Caroline John is clearly just a crone people hired to scare kids away from bowls of candy. I made the mistake, and afterward I COULD NOT HELP superimposing one over the other. It totally ruined the miniskirt thing.
The story, by the way, should more properly be called “Doctor Who and the Belligerent Sons-of-Bitches,” as most of the characters (at least, those whose hemlines are below the knee) are arrogant jerks who will not listen to anything anyone says even in the face of multiple eyewitnesses, mountains of evidence and people dropping dead like giant maggots that got into Professor Jones’ fungus powder. The only one who does listen is the nameless Silurian leader, who is pretty much the Doctor with scales, and he’s promptly shot dead by the overzealous, spastic “Young Silurian.”
On the other hand, it’s okay because most of the assholes die, except for the Doctor’s associate Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who, soon after blowing the Silurian species into bite-sized chunks, becomes one of the most beloved characters of the franchise. (And, no joke, has recently been seen shooting a scene for season two of spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures. Yes, the show specifically for kids.) Granted that the Brig really does put off mass murder until after the Silurians invade the nuclear reactor complex twice, and attempt to kill the entire human race (again, twice) first by pandemic and later by destroying the Earth’s protective belt of (er…) radiation. So, honestly, when the Doctor starts talking about waking up the hibernating Silurians AGAIN to talk reason into them–only one a time, mind you, so there’s nothing that could go wrong–the Brig is pretty well justified is nuking the works.
Next up was “The Sea Devils,” which isn’t so much a sequel of “…And The Silurians” as it is a remake. This time, the prehistoric reptiles emerge from the bottom of the ocean instead of a cave complex, but otherwise it’s pretty much once again the Doctor unsuccessfully attempting to broker peace between humans and monsters, neither of which are having any of it.
This time the rush to war is led by an especially odious bureaucrat named Walker, who blandly munches on a plate of food even while he’s provoking all-out conflict. He really might be one of the worst villains in the entire series, not because of the intent or scope of his crimes, but because he just doesn’t give a shit.
Clocking in at a mere six parts, “The Sea Devils” moves more quickly than its predecessor, and the production works in jetskis, a hovercraft, location filming at an abandoned sea fort and even a reasonably convincing battle between British naval troops and attacking reptiles. It also has the benefit of Roger Delgado as the Doctor’s nemesis, the Master, whose basic plot function here is to stir up the black ants and the red ants and watch the carnage.
I’m too lazy to go back and research whether these two stories were the first instances of Doctor Who overtly moralizing the pettiness and waste of war, but certainly they’re among the most notable. By the time the Silurians and Sea Devils made a reappearance in “Warriors of the Deep” 12 years later, it’s pretty much a given that it’s all going to be a tragic tale of misunderstandings leading to massive death on both sides. “There should’ve been another way,” the Fifth Doctor famously states. But as long as mankind clings to its hatred of people in dodgy lizard suits, there never will be.