Written by Malcolm Hulke
Directed by Timothy Combe
Considering that the previous serial (“Spearhead From Space”) was essentially an introductory piece, this is really the first solid Third Doctor tale. Weighing in at seven episodes, it’s quite a long story, but given that the status quo of the series had undergone a radical change, this length gives the characters time and space to breathe and work through their roles in the team. The Third Doctor, Liz Shaw, and the Brigadier all get better defined, both within the context of UNIT and within the “contemporary” world of 1970.
In terms of the plot, it’s nothing special for the savvy modern-day science fiction fan, but at the time, it was a neat and unexpected twist on the familiar alien invasion story. The Silurians are, as presented, the original dominant humanoid species on Earth, and they want to take it back from the mammals that have taken over. This leads to a series of confrontations that quickly escalate, despite the Doctor’s efforts to broker peace. After a few deadly biological attacks and such, the problem is “solved” when the Brigadier destroys the Silurian enclave, much to the Doctor’s chagrin.
This all sets up a relationship between the Doctor and the Brigadier that is quite interesting. The Doctor is a dogged pacifist, while the Brigadier is more of a pragmatic military mind. Liz, in essence, is caught between the two extremes, though this presents the Doctor/Brigadier in a more contentious manner than exists. But it retains the notion of the Doctor as moral authority while avoiding the trope of having his Companions yield to his wisdom. (Though I honestly still don’t find much distinctive about Liz.) Still, at the end of the day, the Doctor’s moral certainty leaves him vulnerable to astonishing arrogance. And this time, one cannot say he wins the day, so much as comes to terms with the realities of his exile.
The story is also interesting because it is very much a product of its time. What we take for granted in terms of the treatment of political figures, military tensions, and so forth were “cutting edge” at the time. British society in particular was just emerging from its tradition of not criticizing political figures openly. Not only that, but this was in the midst of the Vietnam Conflict, a proxy battleground of the Cold War, and the Silurians as metaphor for the “red menace” is hard to mistake.
If I have one major complaint for this serial, it’s the musical score. Actually, calling it a musical score is far too charitable. Instead, imagine the most annoying array of noisy instruments, from xylophones to kazoos, and toss them together: that’s the score in a nutshell. I realize that I’ve been spoiled by the delightful bombast of Murray Gold, but even by average measure, this is atrocious.
But in the end, this is one of the most storied Classic Who serials for a reason: it presents a compelling ethical dilemma with strongly written perspective characters on all sides of the debate. It’s a rare example of a longer serial that doesn’t drag in terms of the story. Replace the musical score with something more suitable, and it would be a great character piece with few drawbacks. It gave me a great sense of the Third Doctor, and I look forward to the next available adventure (“Inferno”)!
Final Rating: 8/10