Sunday, 25 March 2012

52: Doctor Who And The Silurians - Letts Make It More Than Just A Children's Programme

Written by: Malcolm Hulke.
Companions: The Doctor, Liz Shaw, The Brigadier.
Monsters/Villains: Silurians. Humans.
Brief Synopsis: Cave-dwelling Silurians are causing power losses in an underground atomic research centre.
Rating: 10/10.

This story marks the beginning of a totally new direction for Doctor Who as a programme. Barry Letts starts as producer proper and takes the show to new, intelligent highs and with the script penned by Malcolm Hulke the quality is greatly enhanced. As a child I could watch and be totally immersed in a plot of humanoid dinosaurs that have lain dormant for millions of years, buried under the earth whilst our species evolved from ape to man and then emerge to retake their planet, but as I watch now as an adult I see so much more…

Geoffrey Palmer as Masters and Peter Miles as Dr. Lawrence.
The cast assembled here are top notch, with Peter Miles as the Director Dr. Lawrence, Fulton McKay as Dr. Quinn, Norman Jones as Major Baker, Geoffrey Palmer as Masters and even a very young Paul Darrow as Captain Hawkins to name but a few. 

To start off we are introduced to the Doctor’s new earthbound transport, the vintage motorcar, Bessie with its license plate WHO1. Bessie would act as a sort of replacement for the TARDIS whilst it was ‘out of action.’ This story is also renowned as the very first Doctor Who story to pioneer CSO (Colour Separation Overlay) an early development of blue/green screen technology. However these firsts seem small when compared with the giant leaps this story takes the programme into a more adult and political arena, whilst still maintaining enough of an adventure feel and plenty of monsters to keep the younger viewers watching. When I think about it, Hulke really succeeded in subtly indoctrinating a younger me with his liberal views. He presents them strongly and although I never realised at the time Doctor Who And The Silurians was artfully teaching me some valuable lessons for life.

Malcolm Hulke.
We are plunged straight into the story. Arriving at a top-secret atomic research centre created in order to transform nuclear power straight into cheap electric energy, built in to a network of caves in Wenley Moor for added security, the Doctor and UNIT investigate odd mental breakdowns, personnel problems and the much more dangerous power losses. Malcolm Hulke was initially reluctant to write for Doctor Who, especially with Pertwee’s earthbound limitation, feeling restricted to either alien invasion or mad scientist stories; Doctor Who And The Silurians is neither one.

Spencer's got mad Palaeolithic cave painting skills.
The power losses are being caused by a race of cave dwelling aliens that pre-date man by millions of years. The Silurians are draining power from the centre to revive themselves but the breakdowns and personnel problems are a little less easy to explain. This is the one part of the plot that seems unnecessary and a tad on the weak side. Spenser who survives his encounter with the Silurian’s pet T-Rex is driven insane, for some reason making him an expert Palaeolithic cave artist. The Doctor says, “Fear has thrown his mind back millions of years.” When a farmer is found dead the Doctor says “the Claw marks didn't kill him, it was heart failure. He died of fear.” And finally when the Brig and his men are trapped in a section of cave by the Silurians, Private Robins goes mad and starts drawing cave paintings as well; sure they are running out of oxygen but he hasn’t even seen one of the creatures, why is this happening to him? If the Doctor were a real person I’m pretty sure I would take most things he said as red but I just don’t buy that someone can die of fear or that being trapped in a cave makes you really good a drawing like it was 2.6 million years ago. These few moments aside no time is wasted and the first five episodes really fly by.

The Tyrannosaurus Rex.
The thing that strikes me the most about Doctor Who And The Silurians is the brilliant and well-detailed writing. The excellent Malcolm Hulke adds so much colour and depth to each of his characters. These feel like real people, with real problems. Also there are no villains in this story. Dr. Quinn who allies himself with the Silurians and helps them to revive their species does so simply to learn from their advanced knowledge. The Silurians themselves aren’t really trying to invade earth at all as it was technically their planet first and for a long time really do no wrong. The large Tyrannosaurus Rex killed Davis, the man in the cave, by mistake. The creature was called off when it tried to attack the Doctor and Major Baker, even after Baker had injured one of the Silurians forcing it above ground. This Silurian does kill a farmer but only in self-defence. The same Silurian attacks Liz but it only maims her in order to escape and leaves her largely unharmed. Quinn is only killed when he tries to keep the same Silurian hostage.

The Cold War.
The other aspect of Doctor Who And The Silurians that cannot be ignored is the stories comparison to the political climate of its time. The world was in the grips of the Cold War when this episode was first aired and there is no way one can avoid the comparison of the Human/Silurian crisis with that of the Democratic West and the Communist Soviet Union. Hulke had openly Communist views but provides both sides of the conflict with equal representation. The Brigadier, UNIT and the Permanent Under Secretary Masters clearly represent the Capitalist ideals Hulke was so against but he doesn’t portray them as evil, just that they have a different ideology. Equally the alien Silurians aren’t represented as monsters but as merely equal but different. The Doctor acts as a mediator as he is neither Silurian nor human. He is the moral compass of the story and tries on several occasions to make peace between the planet’s two races.

There is an excellent scene in which the Doctor is on the verge of talking the Brig and Masters in to letting him try to make peace with the Silurians, but Miss. Dawson comes in at just the wrong point and tells them that Quinn is dead saying, "We must destroy them before they destroy us." After his attempts with the Brigadier and Masters fail, the Doctor goes to try to reason with the Silurians. The blame, if there is any, is laid upon individuals instead of entire groups. The Old Silurian who is the race’s leader agrees to help the Doctor try to make a peace. But the Young Silurian has other ideas.

Bad timing.
The cave creatures are named Silurians on the presumption that they come from the Silurian Period. It was known that reptiles had not evolved by the Silurian Period, so technically the name is a misnomer. Nevertheless the name was kept because it sounded good for the story. In the novelisation of this story with the perhaps slightly better title Doctor Who and The Cave Monsters, the three lead Silurian Characters have names and individual personalities. We learn that the Silurians hid underground and suspended their lives when a small planet heading for the planet was predicated to draw away the earth's atmosphere. It turned out to be the moon. The Silurian’s hibernation systems were faulty and failed to revive them. They were awakened when the research centre was built nearby and power was drained to bring them back, hence the power losses.

The Young and Old Silurians.
The Young Silurian joins forces with the Silurian Scientist to overthrow the Old Silurian and infects the captured Major Baker with a virus that will wipe out mankind. The Old Silurian frees the Doctor to try to make peace but the Young Silurian also looses the infected Baker. The Old Silurian’s last act before he is overthrown and killed by the Young Silurian is to give the Doctor a sample of the bacteria to attempt to cure the virus and stop it from spreading. Baker escapes releasing the virus upon the world.

Things really slow down a bit in episode six. It takes the Doctor quite a while to find the cure to the virus. I can’t help but think you wouldn't get that in the new series. He’d come to the result in a matter of seconds. The Doctor gives us another clue of his age, but it’s a little confusing, especially when you consider Matt Smith’s Doctor is meant to be in his 900’s, “I'm beginning to lose confidence for the first time in my life and that spans several thousand years.” Hmmm.

How do the old and new Silurians compare?
The Young Silurian plans to make the planet uninhabitable for Humans, using a disperser powered from the research centre's nuclear generator to destroy the Van Allen belt, which filters out some of the Sun's radiation, thus killing all humans in the brightness of the sun. The Doctor damages the disperser and causes the reactor to overload driving the Silurians in to retreating to their base to re-hibernate and avoid the disaster. They are set to revive in 50 years time which if this story is set in 1970 (when it was written) would mean 2020 which is when the new series The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood is set. This story was considered so strong and effective it has been repeated almost verbatim in The Sea Devils and The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood.

The Doctor "fusing the control of the neutron flow."
The meltdown is averted with a typical deus ex machina when the Doctor "fuses the control of the neutron flow," whatever that means. The Doctor meets the Young Silurian once more, it tries to kill him but the Brig saves his friend by shooting the creature. 

Even after what the Silurians tried to do the Doctor plans to return to the Silurian base to revive them one at a time, to reason with them and try for peace. But as he leaves to get some testing equipment and more scientists the Brigadier orders explosive charges to be activated sealing the Silurian base indefinitely. Liz tries to label the Brigadier as a scapegoat with the notion that he must have had orders from the ministry but the Doctor cannot accept it. The story doesn’t have pure villains and yet it ends with the mass extermination of an entire intelligent alien race. I may have said I didn’t believe that fear could kill someone but it is the human’s fear of the Silurians that wipes out their whole race, maybe that was the point Hulke was trying to make.

Thank you Barry Letts.
Barry Letts is the man to thank for the arrival of this excellent story and new direction for the programme. This story appeals to the emotions and the mind. You enjoy the science fiction adventure but it also makes you think. Hulke has succeeded in his aim. Neither side is portrayed as entirely bad or entirely good, and the audience is left which a question and a decision to make: with which side would you agree?

Join me next time for The Ambassadors Of Death.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

51: Spearhead From Space - Great Story, Shame About The Rubbish Octopus

Written by: Robert Holmes
Companions: The Doctor (Jon Pertwee), Liz Shaw, The Brigadier.
Monsters/Villains: The Nestene Consciousness, Autons.
Brief Synopsis: A newly exiled Doctor helps UNIT to thwart an invasion of plastic alien facsimiles.
Rating: 8/10

It's my 100th post and here we find ourselves in technicolor for the very first time. Colour had been used in TV as early as the 1950's and became more widely used in the 60's but Doctor Who didn't catch up with the times until 1969 when colour was used to herald the arrival of a new season, era and Doctor in actor Jon Pertwee. (Ironically most people didn't have colour television sets as they were too expensive). Towards the end of the 1960's Doctor Who was dying; it's ratings saw a marked decline and behind the scenes disagreements on scripts were starting to effect the show. The cross over into a colour, casting of a new Doctor and decision to head for a new earth bound setting were all attempts to save the show from an untimely demise. Fortunately, it would appear, they worked.

For the viewing of this story of greatly momentous occasion I managed to coerce my wonderful girlfriend, Katie in to joining me. I wonder if she'll regret it? 

When Katie and I first met, and after I had tricked her in to agreeing to become my girlfriend, she uttered ten words every male Doctor Who fan dreams of hearing from a girl, "I want you to teach me about old Doctor Who." I leant her some stories to watch on her own and Spearhead From Space was one of them. When I recently asked her to join me for this particular story she remembered it with, "Oh, I tried to watch that one but it was really boring" and then graciously agreed to watch anyway. She's not a complete stranger to Who at all and loved the new series before I met her (I swear I had no influence on that). I must admit, I love the experience of watching a classic Doctor Who story with someone who's never seen it before; it's my way of re-experiencing a story vicariously through another person.

We launch into the new opening credits after a hearty breakfast and some delicious pancakes and only a few minutes in Katie says she thinks the whole thing looks and indeed sounds a lot like James Bond, with it's covert, spy style music; like Doctor Who does Bond. She throws doubt on to whether radar technology actually works, ponders why there isn't a crater when the meteorite/sphere crash lands to earth and laughs at the model shot of the TARDIS arriving. She also points out to me that when this originally aired no one would have known what the Doctor was going to look like when he fell from the TARDIS doors. I'm sure it would have been out there in the press but younger viewers in particular would have been unaware. How exciting that must have been!

We're introduced to Liz Shaw and Katie begins her tirade on her dislike for this new companion with: "She's not very pretty. She's got fake eye lashes on the top and the bottom. She's got sideburns," and "I don't like her Jacket." (more on this later). I try to defend her late-sixties/early-seventies styles but Katie thinks it's no excuse.

For the first time we learn that the Doctor has an entirely different cardio vascular system, with humanly un-characterisable blood, the ability to enter into a self induced coma and, two hearts.

I love the way Pertwee's Doctor overcomes his complete physical change so quickly. As he looks in to a mirror seeing his new appearance for the first time he says, "Oh no, that's not me at all." Quickly followed by "Oh, I don't know. I think it's rather distinctive actually." Katie also points out to me something that I have never noticed: you don't get a proper look at Pertwee's face for ages; not until he wakes up and recognises the Brigadier; who, much to mine and Katie's shared delight, would go on to become a regular recurring character from this point onwards. 

One of the very special and indeed unique aspects of Spearhead From Space is that due to technical strikes it was recorded entirely using film instead of the usual video tape. It's the only story to hold this accolade and it gives the whole thing a real boost. We both agree that we like the use of steady cam work when the reporters arrive at the hospital and we actually get to see what is being recorded by the news camera man.

Colloquial Captain Munro.
I have a good laugh at the colloquial and now seemingly outdated turn of phrase Captain Munro has, with expressions like: "He's out to the wide," and, "They descended like swallows in the spring." When the Doctor and Liz first meet, Katie points out that Liz's sideburns match the Doctor's. We briefly discuss Pertwee's penchant for stunts and how even in his very first episode he gets a chase scene in a wheelchair. At the end of the first episode Katie is shocked that they shot the Doctor and compares it to when David Tennant's Doctor gets his arm cut off in his first adventure, The Christmas Invasion, noting, "If David Tennant can grow a new arm, Jon Pertwee can get shot and survive." Unfortunately the bullet only grazed him so we'll never know if he would have survived something more serious.

In episode two Katie asks: "Why should they [the aliens] want to kidnap the Doctor?" Which is a really good question. They don't even know who he is yet and they're trying to abduct him? Strange. Katie's anti-Liz Shaw polemic continues with: "She is really unattractive. She looks like a drag queen. And she's got bad roots." I am starting to feel really sorry for Liz and try my utmost to defend her.

Scobie meets his facsimile.
We then meet Major General Scobie, who acts as UNIT's liaison with the regular army, when he refers to  Liz Shaw as a pretty face, Katie disagrees. We then get a bit of a comic turn from Pertwee where we see him enter a door in the hospital marked "Doctors only," he has a shower and grabs an actual Doctor's foppish garb for himself.

We get into a mini discussion on Jon Pertwee's tattoo. Katie says she thinks it looks like a question mark. Whereas I think it looks like a snake. I try to elaborately explain it away, interpreting that the Time Lords must have branded him with it to mark him as a criminal, whereas Katie thinks they blatantly just didn't cover up Pertwee's tattoo. We agree to disagree. The Doctor steals the big old, red car, that acts as a precursor to Bessie and then makes his way to UNIT HQ using his TARDIS homing watch; which we'll never see ever again. Here is where Pertwee really comes alive, there's so much to like in his incredibly rich performance and with his change out of the way the story can really begin. 

We learn that the TARDIS is dimensionally transcendental and that the lock has a metabolism detector, opening only for the Doctor; this is something that will be chosen to be ignored many times later on. We also get the reiteration that the Time Lords have changed the dematerialization code of the TARDIS rendering it useless. This of course changes the style of the series to come dramatically, with the Doctor no longer being able to travel through space and time and indeed run away after his interferences. The Doctor is certainly a very different man now, not just physically but internally. He can't run away so he is forced to change. He's more human because he's bound to earth. Many people find it hard to except Pertwee as the Doctor, stating that he too strongly sides with the establishment. I disagree. He certainly is an authority figure, but he acts as the exception of the establishment. He works internally trying to make changes from the inside.

An Auton.
We get a look at this weeks monster, an Auton and Katie agrees that they are quite creepy. However, twice in the story Katie understandably loses it when both Major General Scobie and the plastic factory worker, Ransom, stand still in shock-faced terror as an Auton approaches them causing her to shout "Don't just stand their gurning at it. Run away!" and "If I opened the door and saw a life size version of me, I wouldn't just stand there I would run away." Katie also points out that the Auton's movement is inconsistent, sometimes moving like a plastic automaton and other times more like a normal person in a costume.

Not a spec of dirt on either of them.
We both have a good laugh at the incorporation of a character such as, poacher Sam Seeley. Katie rightly questions how oddly clean his clothes are. He's a poacher and he's wearing brand new clothes. We both have a good laugh spotting the Facsimile extras moving when they're not supposed to in the Madame Tussaud's section. Naughty extras!

There's also a really interesting moment you just wouldn't get on a modern program today, when the Doctor calls UNIT in search of the Brigadier only to be told he's not there. They didn't have mobile phones so the Doctor just has to say "Tell I'll call him back later."

No mobiles in those days.
So, aside from our alien-of-the-week's plan to use facsimiles of important members of the military and government to take over, they also intend to use window shop dummies. This has got to be the most iconic image in this story and although the scale of the invasion isn't realised to it's full potential, these scenes certainly do scare.

We learn that the alien behind the planned invasion are called the Nestene Consciousness, and that they have been colonising other planets for 1000 million years. Sadly the brilliant atmosphere is ruined in the dying moments of the last episode by an awfully realised final-boss-like creature. I'd really been enjoying this one right up until the end and I don't think I could have put it better that Katie did, "Shame about the rubbish octopus."

Pertwee defeating the Nestene Octopus one bite at a time.
This wonderful story really is spoilt by the end. It's a great idea and dramatic, and then you find out that the world is gonna be taken over by an octopus. Katie offers, "It's an octopus! I could eat it." And Pertwee almost seems to at times. Katie is left filled with questions, "How is it going to move around without it's tank?" and "I thought they said it had created a perfect body suited to life on Earth?" She's absolutely right and really pulls at the plot holes right at the end of this otherwise intelligent and well structured story.

The New team.
I ask Katie what she thinks of Jon Pertwee. She says she likes him alot and thinks that Spearhead From Space was a good introduction; not too demanding and funny (and not too boring I guess. Ha ha!). She says that Pertwee is solid from the beginning and stays that way. You never worry with him, he's safe, sure and secure. She also says that where other Doctor's take a little while to warm up and tend to develop as their time on the show goes on, Pertwee hits the ground running and stays completely consistent.

Brig, don't tell Liz but we both like you more than her!
With bated breath I ask Katie what she thins of Liz Shaw. I explain that she probably grew out Zoe as a smart companion, and that as a Scientist from Cambridge she was really ahead of her time for a woman on TV in the early 70's, Katie agrees but still thinks that Liz is portrayed in a boring way. She says that she doesn't at all believe Liz's turnaround from sceptic to believing in the Doctor, with which I agree. All in all she's a beige character and undeveloped. I disagree to some extent but have to admit to be perfectly honest I was never that fond of her either. We do however both agree that we love the Brig, Katie says, "he's just so British."

Katie gives Spearhead From Space a solid 7/10 just one mark less than me. She was a wonderful companion for this one and her keen scrutiny helped me see things I'd never noticed before. I'd like to thank her for joining me and hope she'll come back and do it again in the future. I think for the most part we can agree that Robert Holmes has done a great job and proven himself enough to make us forget the likes of The Krotons and The Space Pirates. Spearhead From Space is a great story, but as Katie said so well, "it's just a shame about the rubbish octopus!"

Join me next time for a personal favourite, Doctor Who And The Silurians.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Patrick Troughton Round Up

Hello wonderful people of the web. I hope you all like the new design of the blog and here for your reading pleasure is a round up of Patrick Troughton's Doctor. This is the perfect jumping on point, an ideal juncture to get all caught up on everything you might have missed in time for our next Doctor, Jon Pertwee. If you missed Hartnell's First Doctor, you can check out his round up here first.

The Second Doctor woke up on the floor of the TARDIS, alongside companions Polly and Ben Jackson, in a new body. He quickly proved himself as he routed the Dalek's attempt to reactivate themselves and take over an Earth colony on the futuristic planet Vulcan.

The next stop for the TARDIS trio was to Scotland 1746, just after the Battle of Culloden where the Doctor befriended a group of Highland Jacobites. The Doctor, Polly and Ben were joined in the TARDIS by a young piper named Jamie McCrimmon.The time traveling quartet then arrived in the not so lost city of Atlantis post-1968, where the mad Professor Zaroff planned to drain the world's oceans into the Earth's core; for some fishy reason. 

In the year 2070 the Doctor and his friends landed on a base on the moon and defended it against an attack from the Cybermen and their plan to disrupt the Earth's weather. In another futuristic Earth colony run like a holiday camp the crab-like Macra took over and secretly enslaved the people. 

Back on Earth again, in 1966 the Doctor bested a group of faceless aliens called Chameleons who had been stealing bodies and their personalities behind the front of an air-line. We said goodbye to Polly and Ben, leaving just two in the TARDIS.

The Doctor and Jamie were taken to Victorian England where the Daleks drafted in the Doctor to distill the human factor in a bid to turn themselves into super-beings. We returned to Skaro and met the Emperor Dalek. The Daleks were defeated for good(?) and the Doctor gained a new companion, Victorian, Victoria Waterfield.

Next stop was the planet Telos, in the 25th century, where the TARDIS team came across an archaeological team who penetrated the long-lost tomb of the Cybermen. Then it was back to Earth, this time to Tibet in 1935, where the Doctor and co battled the great intelligence and it's army of robotic Yeti.

Back to the future at the Brittanicus base in a second ice age, the Doctor defended the Earth once more, this time from the defrosted Martians dubbed "Ice Warriors." Then it was off for some more doppleganger danger in Australia and Europe as the Doctor stopped his Mexican, physically identical twin Salamander from taking over the world.

Forty years after Tibet, the Great Intelligence and it's Yeti were up to their old tricks again, this time in the London Underground. We also met Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart for the first time. In 1968 on a North Sea gas refinery the Doctor faced a parasitic seaweed creature, the Doctor used his Sonic Screwdriver for the first time and we bade farewell to Victoria Waterfield.

Once again the Doctor and his friends faced the Cybermen and their little friends the cybermats as they tried to infiltrate the Wheel in Space. The Doctor and Jamie were joined in the TARDIS by brainiac scientist, Zoe Heriot. 

On the planet Dulkis the Doctor defended the planet's pacifist population from the dreadful Dominators and their robot Quarks. In a departure from reality, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe met a cadre of unlikely characters in the Land of Fiction. 

Returning to Earth and aided by, now Brigadier, Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT (the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) the Doctor and co defeated the combined might of industrial leader Tobias Vaughn and the Cybermen.

On the planet of the Gonds, the Doctor broke the people's enslavement by the crystalline beings known as Krotons. Back to guess where: Earth, in the twenty first century, the Ice Warriors were back. This time with the intention of colonising the Earth for themselves by landing deadly seeds to make the planet inhospitable to humans.

Close to the planet Ta, the Doctor and his friends joined the International Space Corps on the tail of intergalactic Space Pirates. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe arrived on a planet where the evil War Lords were helped by a member of the Doctor's race to kidnap various human soldiers from different time periods for war games. 

We met the Doctor's race and learned that they are called Time Lords. Jamie and Zoe had their memories erased and were returned to their own times. 

The Doctor was exiled to Earth in the twentieth century, his knowledge of time travel removed and he was forced to change his form once more.



Our of a possible 210 I scored Patrick Troughton's Doctor 133/210. Giving the Second Doctor, Mr. Patrick Troughton an average score of 63/100. My top three Troughton Stories are:

There! Now you're all caught up and ready to join me next time for Jon Pertwee as the Doctor in Spearhead From Space.