I feel like today is another one of those days where my answer could easily depend on my mood, so I had to set myself some criteria. The best way I could think to do it was to narrow the entire list down to just the stories I would watch for, say, comfort viewing.
I’m not sure what this says about me exactly (other than perhaps outing me as an English major), but I realized that the story I seem to gravitate to the most for comfort viewing is The Silurians.* I love this story because it has everything: UNIT, Liz Shaw, The Brig, great sets, fantastic monsters, mad scientists, Geoffrey Palmer, Paul Darrow, Peter Miles, a fantastic theme…I could go on. And seriously, an alien plague outbreak in the middle of London threatening to wipe out all mankind! Sure, who doesn’t love all that?
The writing speaks for itself in this story, as with most any Malcolm Hulke script. It totes its theme on a bright neon banner in giant letters with a fucking brass band (okay, more like a crumhorn) behind it. He’s not being coy about it. He wants you to know what the message is here and he’s going to beat you over the head with it until you understand. But he also manages to do it in a way that still lends itself to good storytelling.
We learn more about this incarnation of the Doctor, finding the ways he is both similar and dissimilar to his predecessor. We get to know the Brigadier a bit better, seeing the struggle between the soldier who must obey orders and the man who just wants to do the right thing. Even if he doesn’t make the right choice this time, it’s an important moment in the development of his character–AND in his relationship with the Doctor.
We also learn more about Liz in that we can see she’s made of stronger stuff than we might have expected. Yes, she does the obligatory Who Girl scream, but she recovers quickly and finds a way around every road block that the men set for her in their quest to keep her from being useful. And also that her bullshit threshold is just as low as it was in the previous story–particularly where the Brigadier is involved.
We get intriguing newer characters as well. Quinn is everything you want in a baddie. He’s the quiet, unsuspecting mad scientist. He’s all charming and slightly oblivious on the surface, but he’s clearly up to something. His desperate, naive belief that the Silurians will give him their knowledge in return for his helping them–his belief that HE is the one with the power here is what makes him an interesting villain. Well, I say villain, he’s really more of a pawn in the end. The real villain of the piece is mankind in general as they spoil any hope of peace between themselves and the Silurians–a recurring theme in oh so many Doctor Who stories.**
Dr. Lawrence, played by Peter Miles, is the Director of the research centre who does basically nothing throughout the entire story but throw gradually crescendoing temper tantrums. This story desperately needs him because he represents the evil in mankind that puts personal reputation before the well-being of his fellow man or anyone else–sadly, a theme that is still incredibly relevant 46 years later. He’s selfish and paranoid and fantastically unlikable, which is usually more what I expect from the bureaucrat. In this instance, I’m glad Hulke didn’t go that route. The bureaucrat we do get in Masters (Geoffrey Palmer) is actually a fairly reasonable man for the most part. He’s more willing to listen to what the Doctor and UNIT have to say about the state of things, at first anyway. The Brigadier doesn’t get the additional men he requests and the Doctor’s pleas to him don’t really amount to anything though. But at least he wasn’t as totally unreasonable as Lawrence. And it is unfortunate that Masters did end up carrying the Silurian plague to London. Oops.
Major Baker and Miss Dawson are mildly interesting as well, given the way they seem to waver on which side they’ll end up on. Obviously it goes wrong with both of them, but you can’t have everything. Their desire to wipe out the Silurians personifies what Hulke is trying to tell warn us about. That, more than anything, is what makes them interesting.
The main thing is, if someone came to me who had never seen the show (Classic or New) and asked me what it was about, this is definitely a story I would show them. And yes, it’s easy to get hung up on the rubber monster suits, this rather conceited incarnation of the Doctor, Carey Blyton’s hilarious crumhorn music (which I actually love–fight me), and this guy…
But I don’t think any of that matters, because this story is a perfect example of what Doctor Who is. The Doctor doing his best to stop the universe from destroying itself with its violence and wars and all the rest of it. Maybe it doesn’t always go his way, but we at least know that no matter what little foibles each of his personalities may have, he’s still the good man trying to do the right thing. And getting that within the context of an already great story is even better.
What about you? What is your favorite Classic story? Are you a fan of the Silurians or does it fall flat on its reptilian face? Let us know in the comments!
* No, I refuse to call it Doctor Who and the Silurians. We all know what it was SUPPOSED to be called. Production errors be damned!
** The Silurians, The Sea Devils, and Warriors of the Deep are just the tip of the iceberg here. Consider New Who stories like The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood and Cold War. Notice any similarities there?