Aired 31 January – 14 March 1970
Continuing the trend started in ‘Spearhead from Space,’ ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’ again stages a more mature vision of science fiction than was often on display in the black and white era. The Earthbound setting again allows the programme to play on the social subtexts of the time, suggesting that nobody can be trusted and that perhaps the general good is not necessarily at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
To this end, ‘Doctor Who and Silurians’ does not feature a monster as the initial evil per se, but rather an atomic research facility aiming to create cheap and safe energy and run by a group of very corrupt officials protecting their own interests above all else. Even as the story focuses its shift to the native and sentient reptilian Silurian race living beneath the planet whose claim to the world far predates humanity’s, it continues to suggest that horrors from within the world can be just as dangerous as those from externally while also clever inserting humans into the invader role on Earth.
This serial also highlights the tragedy of the human race when viewed from the trapped Time Lord’s eyes, another benefit of his exile with no escape. The death count unnecessarily continues to mount as the Doctor’s pleas to help fall on deaf ears, and the Silurian plague is allowed to continue spreading by humans’ astounding capacity to deny and refuse that anything is wrong in order to retain some semblance of independence and seeming self-control. However, it’s just as tragic to see the Doctor so powerless to help as he watches those around him die, completely reliant on UNIT and forced to coexist with those who may not live up to his lofty standards instead of just disappearing at will as he has up to this point. Pertwee proves masterful at portraying the quiet frustration and angst of the aggrieved Time Lord.
Although Nicholas Courtney certainly made his presence known in the preceding serial, he truly shows what makes his Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart such a unique recurring character and companion of sorts here. The Brigadier is completely in charge of the situation, holding all of the power over the Doctor, and he in unafraid to challenge the Doctor’s actions and motivations when they do not align with his own ideologies. There is an underlying fundamental respect between the two, but they clearly from different worlds with different priorities and the brimming frustration the two share is fascinating. The Doctor is quite used to having his companions follow his lead with little hassle, and side effects of his forced necessity to alter his viewpoints are already manifesting here.
This philosophical divide becomes all too apparent at the end of the tale as the Doctor wishes to again revive the Silurians despite their obvious danger and willingness to commit genocide. Although it’s not the Brigadier himself who gives the order for the SIlurians to be destroyed, he is complicit and manipulates the Doctor while avoiding argument to get him as far away from the explosion as possible. The Doctor’s scientific priorities and the Brigadier’s military and safety priorities cause a divide, never character right but neither willing to admit that he is wrong.
The tragic interactions between the humans and Silurians form the backbone of this tale, though, and so it’s odd that this and the biological weapon are only really apparent in the second half of the story since it results in a strangely rushed pace through the final three episodes. Still, keeping the Silurians shrouded in secrecy initially does significantly heighten the tension and undoubtedly help to hide what is ultimately some rather poor costume design. However, ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’ does a masterful job in showing the similarities between these disparate species and ultimately showing why it is likely impossible that they could ever coexist in the process. As Doctor Who treads into more mature and philosophical realms of science fiction, this is certainly a story that exemplifies the strengths of the new production impetus.