Sunday, 7 August 2011

258 Doctor Who and the Silurians: Episode One

EPISODE: Doctor Who and the Silurians: Episode One
TRANSMITTED: 31 January 1970
WRITER: Malcolm Hulke
DIRECTOR: Timothy Combe
SCRIPT EDITOR: Terrance Dicks
PRODUCER: Barry Letts
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who - Beneath the Surface (The Silurians / The Sea Devils / Warriors of the Deep)
Episode Format: 16mm b&w film recording recoloured using 525 off air video

Two men, Davis & Spencer, are caving when they're attacked by a dinosaur. Davis is killed and Spencer is badly injured. The Doctor is working on Bessie, his recently acquired vintage Roadster, when he & Liz are summoned to the Wenley Moor nuclear research centre, built into the Derbyshire cave complex. They have been suffering personnel trouble and power loss over the last 3 months. Their security chief Major Baker thinks someone is sabotaging the establishment. Deputy head scientist, Doctor John Quinn, tells how one of their technicians was killed and another injured pot holing. The Doctor finds discrepancies in their log, with pages of paper been removed. Liz checks the centre's medical records for any unusual occurrences. The Doctor persuades local medic Doctor Meredith to let him see Spencer, the man injured in the cave in. Spencer has reverted to a child like state drawing on the walls walls and tries to attack the Doctor. The Doctor thinks Spencer is afraid of something he's seen. Quinn and his assistant, Miss Dawson are worried, Miss Dawson wants "them" to stop but Quinn thinks that the knowledge he will gain is worth any risk. There's another power loss, but as the Cyclotron shutdown is initiated technician Roberts goes berserk and attacks Miss Dawson. he is detained and the Doctor attends to Roberts' tasks. Liz finds evidence of lots of neurosis amongst staff who have worked in Cyclotron room. She obtains Davis autopsy report which reveals he had claw marks on his body. Curious, the Doctor descends into the cave complex and is attacked by dinosaur...

For me, Doctor Who and the Silurians, the only Doctor Who story to have the show's name in the story title, has never been a go to story. At seven parts it's a bit too long to watch in an evening, so I haven't seen it too often: I think I'm approaching this with less than half a dozen viewings. I'm afraid the first episode has left me rather cold. For an era that's known for it's location work the brief scenes filmed in Godalming High Street and on the Hog's Back are the only outside we see. Beyond that it's a lot of people talking in rooms. And two brief glimpses of a dinosaur. Despite having some great acting talent involved this episode just doesn't sparkle.

Speaking of which.... Doctor Quinn (not the Medicine Woman!) is played by Fulton Mackay at this point four years before his career defining role as Mr Mackay, the Prison Officer in the superb Porridge. Major Baker is a return to the show for Norman Jones previously Khrisong in the Abominable Snowmen who would return as Hieronymous in The Masque of Mandragora. On Doctor Who debut, playing research centre head Dr. Lawrence, is Peter Miles who'll return as Professor Whitaker in Invasion of the Dinosaurs and as General Nyder in Genesis of the Daleks. There's elements of Nyder in his performance here. Interestingly enough his Genesis co-star pops up in the next story! Finally and very briefly appearing as Davis is Bill Matthews who'll return as a Prison Officer in The Mind of Evil.

This is Barry Letts' first credited story as Doctor Who producer and as he recounts in his book, Who And Me: The Memoir of Barry Letts, it was something of a baptism of fire! This episode had major problems on the first studio recording day: The scenery, provided by an outside contractor, wasn't ready and what little they had supplied wasn't usable. Staff were summoned from all over the BBC to make the studio ready for recording. At that time Doctor Who filmed one episode every week, albeit now with an added week in between stories for location filming, as it had done since the series started. Following a post mortem into events Letts proposed that the show moved to a two episodes a fortnight schedule with the episodes being shot on consecutive days. This would mean sets only had to be erected and struck once a fortnight, reducing workload & potential damage and allowing more complex sets to be built. To his surprise virtually everyone involved immediately loved the idea and it was adopted for the final story of the season, Inferno.

Finally this episode sees the debut of Bessie, the Doctor's yellow vintage Edwardian Roadster. It will be with us pretty constantly for the next few years and make sporadic appearances after that right up to the last season of the original Doctor Who.

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