Doctor Who #265: Doctor Who and the Silurians Part 6

"You know, I'm beginning to lose confidence for the first time in my life. And that covers several thousand years."TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.7 1970.

IN THIS ONE... As the plague spreads, the Doctor works to find a cure. And works and works and works.

REVIEW: Something of a detour, this episode deals almost exclusively with the ape-plague released by the Silurians and the Doctor finding its cure. It's a good "extre problem" for the heroes to take care of to keep the serial going 7 chapters, but it's a mixed bag in execution. First, the good. The spreading of the epidemic by Masters is without a doubt the best part of the episode. Filmed in crowded, public spaces, the sequences fill you with dread at the possibility of just such an outbreak. As people start to keel over, we're given a montage of the heroes working superimposed over the London plague sequences, culminating in the announcement that the disease has reached Paris. Present-day Who threats going global is not a phenomenon exclusive to the New Series. Closer to home, in the studio, Dr. Lawrence going completely mad, not believing in the plague even though he's infected, trying to choke the Brigadier and dying suddenly and violently. Needed tension because...

Now, the not-so-good. The Doctor's obligatory lab work could be interesting if it wasn't so LANGUID. It very much falls on the procedural side of things, but the slow and deliberate real-time assembling of microscope slides does not inspire tension so much as impatience. Even Liz is seen to get bored (though it's probably her meds wearing off), which I respect as a realistic reaction to the situation, but it doesn't make compelling television. And all the science bits would be more appreciated if they made any sense, but none of it rings true. The UNIT stuff isn't any better, featuring the Brig looming over the Doctor's shoulder or on two phones at once, and his men's underwhelming tactics in the caves.

Something that seems to be director Timothy Combe's touch is to give even the smallest parts a small detail to play. There's a UNIT soldier chewing bubble gum, for example, and the Brig has to hang up on a journalist who somehow got a hold of the center's number. Liz and the Doctor have some nice interplay as well, as she plays the stern physician forcing a booster shot on him. The so-called young Silurian shows signs of megalomania, talking to itself about having become the leader and denying the possibility that the "apes" can find a cure to the virus (a mirror of Dr. Lawrence?). How DID the young one become leader? It rather depends on the Silurians' chain of command. Was it a straight-up political coup? Or a more sinister patricide/matricide (I can't decide if the Silurians are primarily male or female, or a mix)? In any case, we just don't see enough of the monsters, so I don't blame them at all for crashing right into the lab set where all the "action" is.

THEORIES: Still tracking the Doctor's age? Here he says his life has covered several thousand years. It doesn't jibe with the other things we know, so I guess the keyword is "covers". He hasn't lived straight through thousands of years, but if you look at every time he's been, he has indeed lived during a period that covers millennia.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Slow as molasses lab stuff marginally saved by the more intense sequences in London and Dr. Lawrence's loopiness.


Toby'c said...

"He hasn't lived straight through thousands of years, but if you look at every time he's been, he has indeed lived during a period that covers millennia."

If that was his reasoning, wouldn't he more likely say several million, thanks to The Ark?

In any case, all of a sudden I'm imagining Doctor Who as a Satoshi Kon movie. "Millennium Doctor".

Anonymous said...

I have a special fondness for this episode because of all the lab stuff. And this is why I love old-time Doctor Who. In the 80s you had the action hero Doctor in his superhero costume, but Pertwee here I can kind of relate to. He's saving the world by doing the same kind of stuff I do in my job every day! (Except he's debugging a biological system instead of software.) And it IS tedious sometimes, there's trial and error, there's grunt work, there's blind alleys and false trails and educated guesses you have to make to limit the viable solution space, etc. The Doctor as scientist/engineer - hero is why I've always loved this show, so this is one of my favorite episodes of the serial, personally.

As always, thanks for the great reviews. You're the first site I check each day after my email!


Siskoid said...

Interesting take on it, Jason!

I do enjoy the realism, of course.


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