54 – Doctor Who and the Silurians

Jon Pertwee’s second adventure is most easily remembered for the production gaffe that saw the title appear as “Doctor Who and the Silurians” – after the team neglected to remember the naming convention that it should be curtailed to “The Silurians.” While this alone makes the story unique in the history of classic Doctor Who, there is plenty else to note in this exceptional adventure.

Season 7 was a year of massive transition for the show. Patrick Troughton had left after three seasons as the Doctor, and most unusually the entire TARDIS crew had changed at the same time – a trick not to be repeated until The Eleventh Hour (or, technically, Rose). A number of concurrent production decisions were taken, all with the aim of reducing costs to the programme. A plot device was used to strand the Doctor on earth (reducing the need for expensive sets to set the show on alien landscapes), placing himself alongside new series regulars Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Leighbridge-Stewart and Caroline John as new assistant Liz Shaw. Very significantly, the show was produced in colour for the first time. Also significant was the decision to halve the season run from 44 episodes making up 7 stories, to 25 episodes making up 4 stories.

The Silurians was the first show to reflect this decision – while preceding story Spearhead from Space was a traditional four-part adventure, this story was a mammoth seven parts, as were the two following adventures Ambassadors of Death and Inferno. For Season 8 the producers would conclude that six episodes was the optimal length for these longer stories, but in Season 7 we have these slightly unusual longer adventures. And I have to confess – I am something of a fan.

One of the highly enjoyable aspects of Season 7 was that it forced the writers to think outside the box, not having the usual capacity to simply whisk the Doctor away in the TARDIS. While Script Editor Terrance Dicks panicked that they were effectively reduced to alien invasion or mad scientist plots, The Silurians is a great example of the lateral thinking brought about through intentional limitation – they dared to ask the question “What if the aliens have been on earth all along?”

The net result is a compelling adventure, that sees the Doctor and U.N.I.T. encounter the titular Silurians, a reptilian hominid race who lived on the earth before mankind and went into suspended hibernation to avoid a global apocalypse. When the Silurians are awoken by activity from a nearby nuclear reactor, the Doctor is forced to try and bring a peaceful resolution between the Silurians and mankind, both believing that the Earth is rightfully theirs.

There are so many excellent story elements at play that it seems wrong to highlight a few. There are the whole range of human reactions – from Dr Quinn trying to make a name for himself by keeping discovery of Silurian technology to himself; Dr Lawrence trying to preserve his own scientific research; and the Brigadier’s concern for global security. We even see the sympathetic appraisal of the Silurians – not merely bug-eyed baddies, but a sophisticated and intelligent race, initially led by an elder Silurian who is willing to broker peace with mankind. When the Brigadier blows up the Silurian base at the end of the adventure, the Doctor is genuinely disgusted – a fantastic example of the show being unafraid to explore ethical dilemmas.

The Silurians is a fantastic story with a fantastic cast – but I do confess it falls behind both its sequel, The Sea Devils (while being a lot better than Warriors of the Deep!); and also the other three stories in Season 7. That is no reason to discredit this story however. It undoubtedly could have been better paced as a four or six part adventure, but it is still an outstanding example of the Pertwee era.

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55 – The Hand of Fear

As with all fans, for me this story will forever be the one in which Sarah Jane Smith left the TARDIS. I don’t think it is the least exaggeration to say that Sarah was to classic Doctor Who what Rose is to Nu Who – the bright and bold companion that everyone fell a little bit in love with, and such a perfect foil to the Doctor that one never wanted her to leave (that said, I still think she was at her best when they had Lieutenant Sullivan in the crew as well)

So watching this story for the first time on VHS provoked similar emotions to when I watched Logopolis and hoped that perhaps Tom Baker wouldn’t actually regenerate if I hoped hard enough. It couldn’t be that Sarah would leave, could it? Sadly, no matter how much one wishes, Tom Baker’s fourth doctor receives fateful summons to Gallifrey, and leaves Sarah back on earth (though not, as it turns out, in her home of Croydon!)

Before we get to the drama of Lis Sladen’s departure however, there is a story to be told that on occasion is quite literally gripping. After materialising in a quarry (provoking a mild breaking of the fourth-wall as the Doctor notes the ‘irony’, given the series’ fondness for using quarries as the scenes for alien planets) Sarah is trapped beneath a rockfall, and found clutching a calcified hand. The hand turns out to be the last and living remains of an alien named Eldrad, who possesses Sarah, and uses her to take his hand to a nearby nuclear reactor, where the energy of the reactor can be used to recreate his body.

A well-told and elegantly paced adventure, the tension builds as one tries to determine if Eldrad is merely unfortunately placed and victimised, or is in fact an arch-villain, climaxing in the thrilling denouement on his home planet Kastria. You would never guess that Sladen was acting in her final story as a regular cast member, so accomplished is her performance, while Baker is of course at the very height of his powers in the role. The Hand of Fear is a hugely entertaining adventure that has aged very well. Even the sad departure of Sarah Jane cannot ruin it – rather it makes it memorable for all of the right reasons, and is a pointer to modern showrunners in how to handle a farewell for companions.

56 – Remembrance of the Daleks

Okay – I think it is vitally important I start with one clear statement: I really like this story.

It’s important to begin there, because every Seventh Doctor fan and apologist will be apoplectic with disbelief that this story does not feature in my top 50 stories. Indeed, they will notice some of the stories not yet reviewed (thinking for example of Terror of the Vervoids or The Three Doctors) and wonder how I could think these stories better than Remembrance of the Daleks. So, let me repeat again, I don’t think this is a bad story – it is an excellent story, and a fine example of what the McCoy era should have been like. I have no hesitation in saying that if McCoy had been given a full 26 episode season with stories like this (and the budget of the 1996 TV Movie) I would have thoroughly enjoyed it. This story is fantastic Doctor Who.

Why then is it not in my top 50? For no other reason than personal taste – I hugely enjoy the stories in my top 100, and even have a soft spot for patently rubbish stories like Four to Doomsday (absolutely NOTHING however, will make me ever like Paradise Towers). Remembrance of the Daleks suffers from no great flaw other than being slightly less enjoyed than the stories above it. But that is no shame at all – rather a testament to 26 superb seasons of drama.

This story could have come directly from the classic era of Pertwee and the UNIT family, even featuring characters pretty much in the style of the Brigadier (Group Captain Gilmore), Mike Yates (Sgt. Mike Smith) and Liz Shaw (Dr Rachel Jensen). It features not one but two Dalek factions, each fighting to gain control of a Timelord artefact known as the Hand of Omega – a device that engineers stars to enable time travel. In a plot device later revisited to less good effect in Silver Nemesis the Doctor intends that the Imperial Daleks (under the control of the ‘Dalek Emperor’) should gain control of the device rather than the rebel Daleks.

A superb combination of well paced action and intrigue, the story features several memorable moments – not least that cliffhanger showing a Dalek hovering up a flight of stairs, debunking the myth of Destiny of the Daleks that Daleks are foiled by elevation changes. Also memorable is the revelation that the rebel Daleks are not controlled by Davros (as the TV angle suggests) but by a child conditioned to be a battle computer for the Daleks, and the the Dalek Emperor is in fact Davros. Ace famously takes on a Dalek with a souped-up baseball bat, and Sylvester McCoy gives his most memorable speech, in which the phrase ‘unlimited rice pudding’ features to describe Davros’ insane and insatiable desire for universal domination.

I cannot enthuse enough – this is a great story, and a great way to introduce anybody to classic Doctor Who. It’s only a pity that there are 55 stories I like better …

57 – Resurrection of the Daleks

Originally scheduled to be the concluding story of Season 20, a strike by BBC staff resulted in that season ending with the rather less inspiring The King’s Demons, and the intended adventure, originally entitled The Return being pushed back to Season 21. It in the very least ensured that Peter Davison got to face off against the Doctor’s oldest and deadliest enemies …

Owing to a clash with the 1984 Winter Olympics, this story is significant for being recorded as four 25 minute episodes (as per the rest of the season) but released as two 45 minute episodes to work around the Olympic schedule taking the series’ regular timeslot. As with Season 22, it demonstrated that longer episodes did allow for greater character development – it only being a pity that the format was not preserved beyond Season 22.

The story is also significant in providing the first appearance of Terry Molloy as Davros (Michael Wisher originally lined up to return, but unable to make the rescheduled shoot), and the final appearance of Janet Fielding as Tegan. An unrelentingly grim story, it features two concurrent stories between contemporary London, where UNIT are investigating what they think are bombs but are actually chemical weapons, and a space station in the future, where the Daleks have rescued their imprisoned creator Davros. Losing their eternal war against the Movellans (introduced in Destiny of the Daleks) the Daleks seek out their creator to return their cutting edge in battle, and provide an antidote to the chemical weapons (stored on earth) that the Movellans have used against them. Davros however has other plans – intending to create a new race of Daleks loyal to him. As if such a degree of complexity was not enough, it transpires that the Daleks have been duplicating humanity, including the Doctor’s companions Tegan and Turlough, and intend to use a duplicate of the Doctor to travel to Gallifrey to assassinate the High Council of the Timelords.

It all makes for a very good and engaging story, but one that requires several watches to get your head around. There is also no escaping how grim the adventure is, with an incredibly high mortality rate. Perhaps more than anything else, it is Tegan’s departure that marks out this story and provides its significance. I remember strongly resonating with Tegan’s impassioned outburst the first time I watched this story: “It’s stopped being fun Doctor!” A lot of good people end up dead in the story, and it doesn’t feel like many people win as a result – leaving the viewer to identify with the tearful Tegan regretfully concluding that it is time to go. I enjoyed rediscovering the DVD, but can remember why I did not enjoy the VHS – it doesn’t make for cheerful viewing, and is a rather poignant pointer to the quickly approaching end of the Davison era two stories hence …