Doctor Who #260: Doctor Who and the Silurians Part 1

"My dear Miss Shaw, I never report myself anywhere. Particularly not forthwith."TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Jan.31 1970.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor, Liz and the Brigadier investigate an atomic power research center where the personnel is going mad.

REVIEW: The new character dynamic is coming along very well, and through the mixture of Dicks, Hulke and Pertwee, the Doctor becomes a source of witty dialog, something I associate with Doctor Who, but has been a little lacking of late. If Pertwee's Doctor has a central paradox (and all good characters do), it's that he looks and sounds like a member of the establishment ("old chap" and all that), but has absolutely no respect for authority figures. Unlike the second Doctor who was a blatant anarchist, the third may simply believe himself superior to humans. The Brigadier obviously thinks highly of him, but it's a one-way street. The Doctor has, in fact, very little patience for his UNIT duties, the Brigadier's orders, and the opinions of grandstanding bureaucrats (which Wenley Moor is apparently full of). That it all comes off as funny rather than tetchy (à la first Doctor) is a testament to Pertwee's charm and comic ability. And it helps that he has some kindness and respect reserved for the hyper-competent Liz Shaw. Nice to see that she's already learned to play on his curiosity, as well. The Brig deserves the Doctor's impatience anyway, as he's already become the skeptic of the team, irritatingly rejecting the Doctor's theories out of turn. Is this the same character who faced the strange and the odd in three previous adventures? I think the Brig's open-mindedness is limited to what he has personally experienced. He needs to see for himself, or else it's all fantastical conjecture. The man is hard-wired to think "that turned out to be real, but surely, that's all there is". The episode alludes to a Holmes/Watson relationship between the two men, but one that's upside-down, with Watson the brain, and Holmes finding it all too incredible.

The program's new format is finding its footing in other ways as well. The scene shifters' strike is over, so we have sets and video again. It's not as pretty a format, but the cyclotron set is at least well realized, deep and full of glass panes that allow for more detailed compositions. The title is an oddity, "Doctor Who and...", which ties into how the Doctor has actually been credited as Dr. Who or Doctor Who for a while now. At this point, it would be credible to think that's actually his name. And the Doctor got his new roadster already, a yellow vintage car he calls Bessie, with WHO 1 on its vanity plates, another indication that the word "Who" is important.

The Wenley Moor mystery will of course lead to "Silurians", according to the title, and they do make a kind of first appearance here, as "cave drawings" in the sickbay. They're obviously the source of a strange anxiety that's making the personnel go mad, but even those who aren't strictly affected are rather on edge. Dr. Lawrence is a tightly-wound, pencil-pushing despot. Dr. Quinn is a cheerful chap, likely with some kind of lordship, hiding something of course. Major Baker is the dour security chief. And fretful Miss Dawson almost gives the whole game away. These nuts were going to crack sooner or later, with or without Silurian help. The tension evident between the characters (guests and regulars alike) is what makes Part 1 a potable thriller despite the cliffhanger's plastic carnosaur.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A witty script, with well drawn characters and a tense atmosphere. We're well on our way to one of Who's better seasons.


snell said...

It should also be noted--and no doubt you were going to pick up on this later--that this was the first of a new type of Who story: "who's the real monster?"

Whereas in the past there was never a question that humans must violently oppose the Yeti or Macra or Cyberman, this story drags us into the 1970s by daring to ask: which side is actually right? is humanity too speciesest and reflexively violent to be considered the good guy? Can't we all just get along?

That ethos stayed with the series for the next 40+ years, and it started here.

Siskoid said...

As the story moves in that direction, I will of course address the point.

It compares well to Troughton's "They must be fought" speech.


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