Wednesday, September 28, 2005

'Doctor Who and the Silurians' episodes II - VII


He's not called Doctor Who, and they're not Silurians - the production gaffe that enabled this story to go out under the kind of hack title normally reserved for Target novelisations is on a par only with the shoddy paleontological chronology that infects the plot like the Silurian's germ warfare infects commuters. But, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised: the story kept up the pace and interest very nicely considering the large number of episodes involved, not least thanks to the vivid characterisation - Dr. Quinn (despite his surprisingly early exit), Dr. Lawrence, Major Baker, Masters, the Young and Old Silurians... All have distinct personalities established, and the length of the story means that they all have time to play out their own mini stories without this seeming forced or rushed. There is an interesting morality play at work here: more than almost any other occasion I can think of, the villains are presented in shades of grey rather than being outright evil or insane, the two stock shorthands for 'bad person' in Doctor Who. The Old Silurian's touching connection with the Doctor seems to offer hope of peaceful coexistence before he is violently usurped, while even the Young Silurian, whose bratty attitude, adolescent voice and exaggerated movements bring to mind nothing so much as Harry Enfield's Kevin the Teenager, grows up a little at the very end as he decides to sacrifice his own hibernation to save his species.

The notion of the 'alien' race not only being from Earth but in some ways having a greater claim to it than the human race is explored nicely, with the conflicting views of those who wish to coexist with them and those who wish to blow them off the planet staying within their established characters, e.g. Miss Dawson's fire-and-brimstone hard line after her beloved (?) Dr. Quinn has been killed. Geoffrey Palmer's likeably flexible civil servant/politician Masters proves pivotal to the plot, as he first juggles the conflicting requests of those around him and then forgets to quarantine himself and returns to London, unwittingly spreading the virus/bacteria and dying himself. These scenes are fantastic, with the Brigadier frantically manning every phone he can reach intercut with a white-coated Doctor testing antidote adter antidote and with a sickening Masters weaving his way around London, with his fellows from Marylebone and elsewhere collapsing in the streets. The makeup for those 'infected' is great and helps bring a grotesque touch to the sudden proliferation and to individual deaths such as Lawrence's particularly tortured one. We alse see the Doctor and the Brigadier have their relationship pushed to the limit, with a great deal of mutual distrust culminating in the famous ending where the Brigadier detonates the Silurian's caves hideout to the Doctor's abject horror and disgust. That this takes place againsgt the backdrop of a 'comedy' scene with the Doctor giving the debuting Bessie a novel jumpstart only strengthens the impact and reinforces the theory that not all 'evils' are there just to be destroyed utterly by the Doctor and chums at the end of the last episode - the ending on display here is surely one of the bleakest of all Whos.

The directorial skill thus shown is also evident elsewhere - the unfortunate dinosaur model is used only fleetingly in bluescreen-style back-projection inserts (a first) after its initial appearance, while the merely average Silurian costumes are kept in subterranean gloom for the most part. The first view of the wounded Silurian surfacing against the sun is just ravishingly gorgeous, and the use of tripartite 'monster's-eye-view' camera shots in episodes 2 and 3 is a great touch. The Doctor, usually so elegant and dapper, is clad in a white T-shirt in the final episode, which besides being unsettling, combined with his expressed sentiments helps make him seem sufficiently 'different' for the Brigadier to doubt his motives. As I mentioned, the chronology is way off, though - Quinn's map showing the continents 200 million years ago depicts a world only half as old as the Silurian Period itself (that dating would have made them Triassics, give or take, I believe), while the reptiles' talk of apes would, if applied to proto-hominids, make them far far more recent than this again. Oh well - the rest of their science is up the spout too, since they (and Liz) believe that the Van Allen belts (Earth's magnetic field, if I'm correct, not part of the atmosphere) keep out UV rays rather than the ozone layer. Still, you can't have everything.

His name's still The Doctor, though...


Episodes watched: 156
Episodes still to watch: 566

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