Geekbat Tunes

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Doctor Who and the Silurians

Serial Title: Doctor Who and the Silurians
Series: 7
Episodes: 7
Doctor: Jon Pertwee
Companions: Liz Shaw (Caroline John), Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney)

A strange power drain has been plaguing the new subterranean nuclear power research center (errrr… centre) in Wenley Moor, drawing the Brigadier, the Doctor (in Bessie, his new custom yellow jalopy, and his pride and joy), and Liz to the network of caves that connect to it. One of the workers has recently been killed there, and his partner reports something large and saurian… could one of the dinosaurs have survived all these years?

Director Lawrence doesn’t care one fig- he wants the problem resolved and his power station running smoothly! He even resents UNIT’s presence, though Heaven knows he isn’t fixing the problem on his own, so who knows what he’s really looking for! Regardless, it is safe to say that the Wheel WILL run smoothly, and the gas-flow will NOT be shut off! Meanwhile, Dr. Quinn (Medicine Wo- okay, okay, sorry, couldn’t resist…) and his assistant, Miss Dawson, know EXACTLY what’s going on, but they have no intention of sharing that knowledge- Quinn has great ambitions that he can only achieve with help from his mysterious benefactors… Major Baker, paranoid security chief, believes that there is a saboteur loose, and he will shoot anyone or anything that might be it until the malfunctions stop.

Our thoroughly likable dramatis personae established, the Doctor heads down to explore the caves, and is attacked by the dinosaur- but it is suddenly called off by a shadowy figure. Baker, following him, takes a shot at it, wounding the shadowy figure. Examining blood left at the scene, the Doctor discovers reptilian characteristics…

The wounded creature, meanwhile, has stumbled out of the caves, and takes shelter in a barn, where the owners, a farmer and their wife, discover it- the farmer dies of a heart attack, and the wife goes into shock… but is able to describe the reptilian attacker. Liz, investigating, also has a close encounter with the creature, but is only knocked unconscious by it. Quinn, however, has a leg up on everyone- he has been given a device to summon the creature by its compatriots down in the caves, whom he’s been in cahoots with the whole time. He wishes to know their advanced scientific secrets, and has been trading knowledge of the above-ground world to get it. He is dissatisfied with the progress, however- and while the beings promise that they will reveal all if he can recover the wounded creature, he instead decides to abduct it to his house and hold it there until it gives him the secrets he desires. In retaliation, it kills him. The Doctor stumbles onto it- a Silurian, so named for the geological period from which it is thought to originate. He greets the Silurian and offers to help it, but it flees before he can open a dialogue.

Meanwhile, Baker, determined to go down into the caves and track down his saboteur, sets off for blood- but is soon captured by the Silurians. The Doctor and Liz follow, and find him caged in a high-tech underground installation. They also observe Silurians being awakened from hibernation chambers, using power siphoned off of the nuclear reactor- each power drain has been a Silurian waking from suspended animation which has spanned eons. Slipping back out, the Doctor and Liz meet Masters, Lawrence’s superior, to whom he is complaining about UNIT interference (you know, the UNIT interference that’s actually getting things done). The Doctor reveals the existence of the Silurians, hoping to begin a peaceful negotiation (as the Brigadier is already planning to lead an armed expedition down into the caves), but his concealing of Quinn’s death backfires when Miss Dawson stumbles in with the news of his death- this confirmed Silurian-killing puts the entire base up in arms, and preparations continue to enter the caves in force. The Doctor decides to surreptitiously slip away before the expedition can leave and contact the Silurians beforehand.

In the caves, the Doctor warns of the coming human invasion in hopes of getting the Silurians to negotiate. The angry second-in-command tries to kill him, but the leader intervenes at the last moment. (If Lawrence is a retread of Robson and Bennet, then the Silurians are a retread of the Dominators- “Second wants to kill him, but first overrides him” repeated ad nauseum). The Silurians trap the UNIT party with a controlled cave-in, sealing them off from entering the caves further or retreating.

The Doctor negotiates the leader into releasing them, and learns the Silurian history- the Silurians were once the dominant species on the planet, but when the moon was drawn to Earth, the Silurians believed it would impact the surface and went into stasis to survive the calamity. However, there was a malfunction and they never revived. Now, they find their Earth overrun by a species alien to them, one that had not yet evolved at the time of their slumber. (Those who know me well know that I consider the preceding paragraph to be the biggest ‘fiction’ of this entire science fiction episode- but in the Doctor Who universe, unlike our own, evolution is a reality).

While the Doctor convinces the Silurian leader that negotiation and peaceful coexistence is possible, the headstrong second has already infected Baker with a deadly virus and released him. He ends up taken to a local hospital, and dies by the time that the Doctor can reach him- Masters returns to London whilst also (unknowingly) infected, and the plague starts to spread. Lawrence dies of it, so at least there is that. But mostly, the plague is a bad thing.

Knowledge that the Silurians are wiping out the human race with bacterial warfare does not foster better relations with them. That’s okay, though- the angry and absurdly rebellious second slays his leader and takes command of the Silurians, and is determined to wipe out all of humanity and reclaim the planet.

As the Doctor works on- and locates- a cure, the Silurians abduct him to prevent his saving humanity. So Liz does it with the Doctor's notes. The Silurains retaliate by planning to destroy the Van Allen Belt and irradiate the Earth. They think this won’t kill them, for some reason. Maybe they’re radiation-hardened? They already have glowing red third eyes that operate controls telekinetically and melt through solid rock, so maybe it’s not beyond their plethora of Dues Ex Mechanisms. Regardless, they need power from the humans to do it once again, dependant on the now-inactive reactor (was this some sort of weird social metaphor for welfare and state-dependency?), and take the Doctor back into the control center to active the reactor.

Along with Liz, the Doctor conspires to put the reactor into meltdown. The Silurians flee to re-hibernate in order to survive the radiation (so they’re NOT radiation proof? Make up your mind, story…) and the Doctor and Liz manage to shut down the runaway reactor. The Doctor goes down to investigate the Silurian chamber, and the second/leader, realizing he’s been duped (having stayed out of hibernation to activate the controls) attacks him. The Brigadier had followed, however, and shoots the Silurian dead. (That’s hardly the proper gratitude. He DID get rid of Baker and Lawrence, after all. That deserves some thanks.)

Afterwards, all is well- the plague is cured, and the Silurians are back in stasis. The Doctor plans to revive them one at a time, reasoning with them and negotiating a peaceful settlement in a controlled environment. He is practically giddy as he returns to his UNIT lab in Bessie to get some needed equipment- imagine all we’ll be able to learn from their science and technology!

But the Brigadier dynamites the caves, killing them all in their sleep. (Or sealing them in forever, as he states- it’s not clear, though the Doctor at least thinks they’re dead). The paranoia of humanity has won out, and the Doctor drives off in disgust.

Doctor Who and the Silurians is badly written. Sorry, but it is.

The story comes in two parts- the cave-intrigue/wounded Silurian story, and the plague/destroying the Silurians bit. Both are garbage. Some more than others. But mostly all of them. The plot is by-the-numbers, filled with out-of-character characters doing annoying things. Who are these packs of imbeciles? Well…

Liz, while getting attacked and having little to do otherwise, carries herself in such a manner as to avoid being lumped in with the typical companion damsel-in-distress mode; for that, at least, I must give her kudos. Otherwise… too much of a non-entity this serial for me to really review.

Professor Quinn is really quite a fool, or perhaps too paranoid for his own good- mayhaps the stress got to him, but his suspicious behavior and eventual decision to blackmail the allies who were cooperating with him got him killed. Not a very smart man, and not a very clever villain. Likewise for his assistant, Miss Dawson (given the motivation in the novelization of being a desperate spinster with prospects of making Quinn her husband, willing to go along with his insane scheme to get in his good graces… charming.)

Likewise, so is Lawrence, an obnoxious obsessed madman in the vein of Robson from Fury in the Deep, a man obsessed with his facility’s operation beyond all reason or safety considerations, who just got more shrill and irritating throughout the course of the serial until you were practically BEGGING for the Brigadier to have to shoot him in self-defense. Like the villains upcoming in the next few serials, and Robson before him in Fury from the Deep, he is a completely obsessed villain-in-authority who has a single-minded-to-the-point-of-insanity obsession with a specific goal no matter what extenuating circumstances surround it, expecting the world to revolve around his pet project and remove obstacles from his path- and considering anyone who expects him to factor in or deal with these obstacles to be a fool attempting to obstruct him. One can only assume that they each had childhoods in video game RPGs as peasants, who only had one or two pre-programmed stock responses to any and ALL stimuli, a behavior pattern they kept in adulthood. *SIGH*  In fact, from here on out, I will refer to them as RPGPs (Role Playing Game Peasants) for their single-minded, one-note, stock responses to any and all situations in total defiance of logic.

As is Charles, the man who gets captured by the Silurians and WON’T SHUT UP. Seriously, you spend 80% of this serial wishing that the character on-screen at that moment would DIE. I cannot over-emphasize this; it is hard to describe accurately how irritatingly noxious and grating these characters are!

The Brigadier is unfortunately rendered a bit of a two-dimensional cardboard cutout in this one, almost an antagonist- a gun-happy fool who only thinks of the violent solution (Though, ironically, the only good moment in which I truly appreciated him during this serial… was when he shot the sniveling idiot of a Silurian second-in-command-turned-leader-by-assassination), setting up one of the first of Who’s recurring “Guns are bad, soldiers are bad, foolish humans fear and destroy whatever they don’t know” …morality lessons? Parables? Tropes? Whatever they are, I dislike them- and I practically detest the use of the Brig in this role for the duration of this serial. Even when he’s not being stubborn and pigheaded, he seems to be designed to get on the audience’s bad side (poor writing, or intentional ‘propaganda’ to make him- and the side he represents in this serial- seem less favorable, I don’t know), barging in on the Doctor and interrupting his heart-to-heart just as a suspicious woman was about to reveal the whole plot, disbelieving the Doctor’s assertions, not listening to his reasoning, and rushing off to war. This is not the open-minded, possibility-aware Brig that we saw in Spearhead, nor the level-headed and friendly man from The Invasion.
Nor is the Doctor much better. He keeps vital secrets, plays his cards very close to the vest, hides important details, conceals deaths- all of which act to escalate the tension that leads the Brig to take strong actions so that the Doctor can detest them. Then, he goes and betrays the Brig and the humans by warning the ungrateful Silurians. A very Doctorish thing to do as per the New Series, but relatively unprecedented here, and potentially fatal to the Brig and his men. It is a shame that both the Doctor and the Brig must be written so badly in order for the story’s central premise to work- it’s sloppy and shoddy.  In addition, the Doctor keeps up a perfect track record of being WAY too honest when it comes to dealing with the Silurians, and working to increase the tensions he’s going to defuse. He comes back to bring a Silurian offer of peace, and makes sure to give full disclosure that the Silurians were behind the plague intentionally. Just like the New Series episode in which the Doctor flat out states “I met Silurians before; two different colonies. The humans killed them all.” In both cases, he is practically pointing a finger and using the most inflammatory phrasing possible. Is it so hard to say “He became infected; the Silurians have a sample of the virus with which we can develop a cure.” Or “They’re both dead now, I’m sorry/They were killed in a conflict that they began.” I mean, seriously! In both serials, a peaceful Silurian leader is betrayed by a war-mongering second-in-command, and the humans are obsessed one-note ranting idiot RPGPs, and in both serials the Doctor claims to be trying to negotiate a peace, but saying all of the things that either side could most easily and angrily misconstrue- as if he’s trying to sabotage his own efforts.

However, the Doctor does have several good moments- trying to make peace (based on a conceptually brilliant desert-colonization plan) between the humans and Silurians (heralding the era of a less destroy-the-monsters Doctor and a more negotiation-based, compromise-finding Doctor- a paradigm shift that, like the giving enemies a last chance before their destruction from the last serial, is likely to stick); and a crowning moment of Doctor-ness, a great character establishment, and one of my favorite bits so far- his immediate greeting of the monstrous-looking Silurian with a warm smile and proffered handshake. In amongst the shaky decisions and poor writing, these moments serve the Doctor well. And of course, here we are properly introduced to Bessie, the Doctor’s beloved yellow jalopy (with license plate Who 1), which I continue to believe is a TARDIS surrogate, an emotional replacement and receptacle of attention and affection which can no longer be poured into the police box; for as long as he is denied Time and Space travel, Bessie is his TARDIS, and is treated as such.

We learn less about the Silurians, and for the purposes of this serial’s story, they are far less sympathetic than they ought to be. We get some standard EP&S (Enemy Politics & Strife, for those of you that don’t remember), but that’s about it. This is a severe miscalculation. The position of the Silurians make sense.

If we went into stasis, as a race, in 2012 AD, and then woke up in 502,012 AD to find a race of Cockroach people claiming the Earth as their own, we’d probably feel entitled to take back our planet, too. After all, five minutes ago (to us), the Earth was ours- and now these Cockroaches are building a dunghill dwelling in the remnants of New York City! (Well, okay, they can keep New York City, but you know what I mean). And from their perspective, they’ve never heard of us; we’ve been absent for the entire dawn of their civilization. They tamed the planet, built cities, established cultures, created wonders, fought wars, created art, made memories, created lineages, farmed the land- for hundreds of thousands of years, and suddenly some race of underground beings, ugly and inhuman (or incockroach, in this case) show up plotting to take over the world because they claim that 500,000 years ago, it was theirs? Well heck with that- TO WAR! 

It’s a good dramatic conflict- but it would work so much better with sympathy for both sides. The inhuman appearance of the Silurians works to heighten the different-than-us-we-must-fight-them conflict, but it’s also an obstacle to be overcome in audience opinion, which can only be done with sympathetic characters we get to know. We don’t, and it weakens the story, the conflict, and the dilemma- rendering the reasonable Silurians into evil monsters-of-the-week instead of reasonably, realistically-motivated antagonists with a valid point. (A problem carried through in the New Series revival that makes 3 of the 4 Silurians: A grating irritant spiteful hateful racist pain-in-the-neck, a psychopathic genocidal out-of-control loose-cannon warrior, and a supposedly sympathetic scientist… that vivissects living humans un-anesthetized.) Will middle appearances get this Silurian factor right? We'll see as they come around...

Speaking of appearances, the inhuman ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’ look is nicely executed- strange and inhuman for story purposes, and nicely different from anything we’ve seen. (This is another area where the New Series bungled them, making them humanoids with snake-skin, with a head shaped like tree-lady Jabe’s and a human, more expressive face. This could have worked to engender much need sympathy through expressiveness for the story purposes explained above… if they hadn’t been such a bunch of obnoxious jerks. As it is, the design simply serves to render moot the unique non-human-ness of the Silurians, ignore a great design, make them too much like spike-less Vinvoci or snakeskin Tree people, and rob them of their unique third-eye powers- which can drive men insane, operate equipment, and BURN THROUGH SOLID ROCK. Why would you deprive a major Doctor Who monster race of this unique and powerful ability? It’s the equivalent of re-designing Daleks for the New Series as sleek cones without guns; a pointless ruining of a good design. Or, to put it another way… like re-designing the Daleks the way they did in Victory of the Daleks.) Likewise, the dinosaur-beast, while a bit fake-looking, is ambitious and huge, and I was fairly impressed with the execution; a cool effect and story point, with the attacks repeatedly averted by its Silurian masters forming a good mystery.

Last but not least, we have the Silurian second in command, an upstart moron in the mold of Zentos/Tor/Dominator Toba- it seems to me that second-in-commands in Doctor Who only exist to question orders, rebel, and kill their commanders; they have no other function. Just another random war-monger. It is to Doctor Who’s woe that these two archetypes cannot be banished, for they’re as annoying as heck: the second-in-command who disagrees with the leader’s peaceful notions, then usurps and kills them during negotiations and takes his people to war (still present in the New Series, from the cult of Skarro to the New Silurians), and the obsessed project leader who has complete authority and will not listen to any form of reason to halt or even slow his project down despite all signs pointing to imminent disaster (a relative newcomer that hopefully will die out soon). Sadly, these two seem to be becoming Who Stock Character #1 and Who Stock Character #2 for this Third Doctor era… much to its detriment! And after all of this hatred… the super-contrived reason everyone isn’t slaughtered at the end… is because this zealot-bigot spares them because he wants them to die in a nuclear meltdown instead? Really? Still, this is hardly the only Silurian absurdity… we also learn that apes used to raid their crops. So, they developed a viral pathogen that killed millions. …Over-react much?!? It seems the Silurians skipped “Scarecrow” on the technology tree and went straight to “Massive globe-spanning biological attack?!?” No wonder they were a trifle unreasonable in this serial- overreacting seems to be part of their nature!!! 

And speaking of said plague, on the human side- they give everyone full-spectrum antibiotics (I’m sure they were considered a newly-discovered miracle cure back in the day… like radiation in the 50s, or stem-cells in the 2000s) which, as you know, simply kill all bacteria, the good and the bad equally. After distributing this to all of the personnel, they refer to everyone on-base having received an inoculation. Ummm… while by a dictionary definition this might theoretically be true (I’m not medically-versed enough to know), I don’t think a broad-spectrum antibiotic counts as an inoculation against the plague. It’s more of a preventative measure. Just a minor quibble.

Meanwhile, the music for this entire serial is… hmmm… let’s see. I think I’m in danger of over-using ‘rubbish’ ‘tripe’ and ‘garbage’ in the finale… let me check my thesaurus… the music is pure codswallop! Atonal, blaring, meandering without a tune… and what was WITH that theme for Charles that sounded like the military funeral ‘TAPS,’ except the trumpet player got bored and wandered off for the second half of the tune… played on kazoo???? WHAT IS THIS FOLDEROL??? Worthless trash, the whole score.

And the sound design…! Every sound is loud, screeching, piercing, grating… as my wife pointed out, the phone sounds were clearly dubbed in later, and not heard on set, because no one was wincing- and the irritating tonal pulsing of the Silurian third eye was compounded by the fact that they did EVERYTHING with it to the point that it didn't seem like they needed hands, as they never USED them for anything! The sound design was pure trumpery, utterly designed to scrape one’s nerves raw- I am pretty sure that this serial was the actual Silurian attack on humanity, an audible assault on the ear drums through and through. In the last serial, the pulsing reactor actualy drowns out all dialogue- we can barely even HEAR the first mention of the Doctor’s famous ‘Neutron flow’ (though reversing its polarity has yet to be invented), or anything else, for that matter!

The effects are decent- the dinosaur and Silurian designs are good (albeit the execution is a bit clunky). The burn-through effect the first time, on the cave wall, is an amazingly well-executed effect of molten rock, rivaling, say, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace or the far-ahead-of-its-time Forbidden Planet in accomplishing the effect. Future usages are a lot more hokey, a very simplistic and fake looking animated effect. (And how can they re-seal the material behind them? That’s a whole different power to superheating- that’s, like, telekenesis plus molecular re-distribution! At least the wall still looks scorched afterwards and they can’t just reverse the burning as if it never happened- that was a good touch). And seriously, the leader operates the control panel with his third-eye power… and this is portrayed by a camera shot of the control panel repeatedly going out of focus and back into focus?!?!? That’s your control panel effect??? A series of RACK FOCUSES?? (Focus’? Focci?) I will say this for them- the plague makeup looked very, very good. Quite effective. Likewise, the cave sets were quite good, as was the Slurian stasis chamber. The plague makeup is very good looking (well, you know, good at being horrid-looking… horrid… it’s… effective, let’s put it that way). And the pyrotechnics at the end are excellent.

Overall, this serial has a good concept- but it serves as an exercise in frustration because of the out-of-character and unlikeable ways that known and familiar characters must be twisted to accomplish it. Like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, everyone seems to be working against everyone else, keeping secrets, double-crossing… and it’s hard to find someone to root for. The Doctor and the Brigadier spend the entire serial lying to and betraying each other, completely out of character, until…

Worst of all is the ending- an unreasonable, predictable little cliché about ‘fear of the unknown.’ It’s hard to tell whether the Brigadier really just sealed off the caves as he claimed (paranoid, ignorant, and foolish, but not evil) and the Doctor was mistaken, or whether he actually did destroy dozens of hibernating Silurians as the Doctor claims (making him a mass-murderer of innocent, helpless sentient beings and probably a war criminal)- either way, it seemed incredibly contrived and unrealistic- was this government-approved, despite the fact that these were helpless captives? See, THIS would be the time for a Harriet-Jones-style government toppling and “Here comes Britain, the true monsters” speech- this is potentially (and the Doctor believes it to be) an act of GENOCIDE. And in the next serial…? IT’S IGNORED AS IF IT NEVER HAPPENED. No love lost between the Doctor and the Brig, no resignation from UNIT, no resentment… he just acts as if it never happened. It isn’t even brought up, the Doctor just cheerfully accepts the man who LIED to him and COMMITTED GENOCIDE with a cheery ‘good morning!’ THAT IS BAD WRITING!!! No, that is SO BAD that whatever it is, it doesn’t deserve to be called 'writing!' And they totally forget the dinosaur in the last few episodes! Bah, this thing is rubbish.

Sorry, some may feel this is a little premature, but I’m calling it- this is the Third Doctor’s ‘Galaxy 4.’ This pile of garbage is poorly characterized, badly written, stupid, and an assault on these ears, filled with noxious, grating characters and noxious, grating sounds. I am relatively convinced that it is impossible to make a GOOD, non-irritating, non-cliched, non-predictable story with the Silurians. Perhaps the Sea Devils and Warriors of the Deep will prove me wrong…  though from what I’ve heard about the latter, at least… that seems unlikely.

Great moments:
The Doctor’s enthusiastic greeting of the horrific-looking Silurian, and the big reveal of the ability to burn through rock. Oh, and when Lawrence and Baker die at last.

No “Shoes!” out of 5 for this abomination! I was going to give it 1 for production designs, costuming, and effects- but the last chapter’s stupidity and utter discontinuity tripe, adding a MAJORLY IMPACTFUL GENOCIDE needlessly into Doctor Who canon and then completely ignoring the consequences as if they never happened, sealed this ‘rubbish tip’s fate! THIS! IS! GARBAGE!!!!

Money is referenced in pre-decimal currency (I dunno what that means, either- ask a Brit!), suggesting that this is pre-1976- supporting a congruent-with-air date 1970s setting. That’s 2 now that suggest the modern day… when will this controversy enter? Stay tuned, faithful reader…

No comments:

Post a Comment