Doctor Who episode 262: Doctor Who and the Silurians – Episode 5 (28/2/1970)
All the effort Timothy Combe has gone to so far to make the Silurians credible is thrown away in a tsunami of what Gary Gillatt calls “squabbling rubber”, most preposterously from Nigel Johns as the Young Silurian. His arrogant hot-headedness is indicated by the way he vigorously wobbles his head to emphasise he’s the one talking, and dramatically pointing to his third eye when he’s threatening the Silurian Scientist with death. It highlights the limitations of these costumes, and perhaps got Barry Letts, producing Doctor Who for the first time, thinking about how to tackle talkative aliens more effectively. It’s heresy to say it, but the prosthetics and half-masks of the 21st Century Silurians work a lot better.
The squabbling rubber is reflected by the squabbling apes in the research centre. The point of the episode is to highlight the similarities between the two sides by having them both play out the same arguments: pre-emptive extermination is preferable to negotiation and sharing the planet. The Doctor’s role as a self-appointed intermediator is meant to highlight his wisdom, but his approach – to basically offer up chunks of the Earth to the Silurians without any consultation with the humans – was never likely to work. Intentionally or not, he’s been cast in the role of a British civil servant drawing lines on a map between the warring tribes of an imperial colony, rather than trying to bring the two sides together to discuss peace.
The best part of the episode is the Silurians’ backstory: the original inhabitants of the Earth – ‘This is our planet. We were here before Man’ – forced into hibernation thanks to the approach of a rogue planet. The Doctor surmises it was the Moon, but I like to think it was Mondas passing, perhaps with its own Cyberlurian inhabitants, on its journey out of the Solar System. It clearly didn’t actually happen during the Silurian era given the Silurians recognise apes, and, in a neat touch, have prison cells that look like pens for animals.
The episode ends with the introduction of a deadly plague that will eradicate the human vermin, which should be plenty to keep this going for another couple of weeks.
Next episode: Doctor Who and the Silurians – Episode 6
The sheer chronological absurdity of the Silurians is rather marvelous-The Flintstones makes more sense! They’re reptiles who lived on Pangaea, which would seem to place them in the Triassic or early Jurassic, but then they’ve got T-Rexes, which lived in the Late Cretaceous. And as if that weren’t bad enough, they co-existed with apes, which evolved around 20 million years ago, though we might be charitable and assume they mean Old World monkeys, which emerged around 35 million years back. Then there’s the matter of their hibernation, which was triggered by a “rogue planet”, which the Doctor takes to be the Moon, though that’s been in Earth’s orbit for 4 billion years; in fairness, less was known on the subject when the story was written, so this isn’t such a howler. However, nothing can excuse the titular reptiles being placed in the Silurian, an era when the only land animals were arthropods. The Sea Devils’ attempt at correcting this, by placing them in the Eocene, overshoots in the other direction, although at least it makes the apes nearly fit.