Monday, May 28, 2012

Doctor Who And The Silurians
                Even as early as this second serial starring Jon Pertwee there was a concentrated effort to give Doctor Who a somewhat more topical edge. The program always reveled almost in it's efforts to make it's low budget rubber monsters and blue screen effects seem as genuine as possible. No one ever intended it to come off as exploitative. And this is a good example of an episode that managed to accomplish melding that low budget flavor with that flare for social and scientific commentary pretty successfully. It also began the tradition of the third doctor era of serials often being six or seven parts in nature. I've heard this was due to writers strikes at the BBC and such that limited the amount of stories they had for a season. And the programs seventh season,Pertwee's first on the show was in fact incredibly short with only four mostly very long serials. Even though one of them is not yet available,these are all excellent stories and all key contributions to the world of Doctor Who.

              What happens here is that underground workers for an experimental nuclear power facility are beginning to exhibit paranoid behavior,one even bought to making cave drawings on the walls of his hospital room. UNIT are bought in to investigate including the Brigadier, Sgt. Benton,Liz Shaw and the Doctor. The projects Director Lawrence tries to block the investigation at every turn. And pretty soon even his closest allies such as Dr.Quinn begin to experience trouble and Quinn is eventually killed. Why? As the doctor discovers during his investigation it's by an advanced underground race called the Silurians,who lived during that era of Earth's history. They miscalculated a planetary disaster and awoke from hibernation still believe the Earth to be there's. While the doctor is convinced the Silurians can be reasoned with the Brigadier and Lawrence are caught between destroying the creatures for safety reasons and Lawrence using them to gain access to their superior technology.

             The Silurians become aware of this,capture members of both UNIT and the project,and eventually conclude that humans have become an infestation on their world to be wiped out. So they develop a fast acting viral infection that,once released via a released prisoner,begins to cause an epidemic on the surface. As members of UNIT,the project and even the general public begin to die from this biological warfare agent the tensions even between Director Lawrence,UNIT and the public comes to a fevered pitch. The doctor and Liz Shaw race for a cure but by the time they finally find it, the Silurians have murdered their own leader due to his acceptance of the Doctors suggestion they learn to live with humans who they few as invading primates. In the end the Brigadier ends up being forced to answer to higher powers as the Doctor and Liz are forced to watch the Silurian race be destroyed by UNIT without any chance of a negotiated peace.

              Personally I find a consistent theme,particularly in the Jon Pertwee era,of Doctor Who is that of militaristic short sightedness versus scientific reality. It's the age old argument between aggression and reason. Even though the third doctor and the Brigadier are depicted as being very much at odds in terms of opinion in these early years,you can sense Lethbridge-Stewart is often the man caught in the middle. He inherently trusts the doctors judgement but being a career military man ends up always having to act out his strong sense of duty.  In the end it's the balanced personality of Liz Shaw who often provides the voice of reason. Considering the doctor is perceived as a lunatic by many self centered humans and the Brigadier as a naive meddler.  Themes of sociopolitical inefficiency,biological warfare as well as racial prejudice and fear abound in this story. The Silurians are depicted as an advanced but confused race,some willing to exist peaceably with Earth's new inhabitants with others willing to kill for their dominance. These elements taken together are part of what make this such a compelling story.
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