One day on Earth, the people wake up to find the world has been taken over by aliens; a frightening species with an eye missing, smooth skin and hair like apes : `humans'...
`Beneath the Surface' collects together the three classic-series `Earth reptile' stories; a thoughtful `cold war' thriller, a definitive Pertwee action adventure, and a third story at a very different place on the evolutionary scale. This box set is an essential buy for Jon Pertwee fans and for that it is most highly recommended and gets 5*
‘The Silurians’: a thought-provoking UNIT thriller in the very special style of season 7: is this really our planet - or theirs? Or can we live together in peace? A unique, unforgettable story with a top cast and epic in its ambition. 5*
`The Sea Devils': `action Pertwee' at its absolute best. A dazzling Doctor versus Master adventure with some of the best location filming ever and co-starring the actual Royal Navy. Superb. 5*
`Warriors of the Deep': a deeply disappointing story with the Fifth Doctor. Rushed production schedules did nothing to help but I don't think that was the only problem. Placing it in this box set with the earlier classics makes it look even worse by comparison. 2*
(The full review is almost as big as a Myrka but hopefully more attractive, so thanks if you make it to the end!)
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Silurians: 5* (7 Episodes as 4+3 on 2 DVDs)
Jon Pertwee's first season as the Third Doctor is unique: a set of four stories, most of them very long and all edging towards a `Quatermass' style for content and seriousness, yet still with the essential `Doctor Who' aliens. But what if some of those aliens think WE are the aliens who have occupied their world...?
Malcolm Hulke's epic `cold war' 7-parter is an excellent and thought-provoking story examining the desire for peace, scientific greed and ambition, fear of the unknown and extreme racism. It's a powerful combination of ideas for a clever script that sustains the story through the full seven episodes, with mostly excellent production and acting from an outstanding guest cast full of familiar faces. Fulton Mackay is especially good as Dr. Quinn; five years later, Barry Letts very nearly cast him as the Fourth Doctor and you can see why right here.
As yet another `lost' Pertwee-era colour story, `The Silurians' has been painstakingly re-restored from mono film and domestic NTSC colour video to produce a result which is far better than the early (impressive) VHS release which was televised around 20 years ago. The story divides neatly in two: the mystery and the conflict.
Under Wenley Moor in Derbyshire, the new national cyclotron is in trouble. What should be a research facility working towards cheap nuclear power is suffering unexplained power loss and nervous breakdowns among the staff; when two of them go potholing and are found, one dead, one mad and drawing prehistoric cave-paintings, there's nothing for it but to send for UNIT and their mysterious scientific advisor ...
In this story, Jon Pertwee is both brilliant and very different from the later Third Doctor I grew up watching. His outlook is more obviously alien and as well as his intense desire for peace, he's driven by scientific curiosity almost to the exclusion of everything else. Caroline John has a very good story as Dr. Liz Shaw; she's properly self-assertive to the Brigadier and even to the Doctor, and with some actual science to do this time it's a suggestion of hers that makes the key breakthrough when the crisis eventually hits.
Nicholas Courtney is superb as a subtly different version of the Brigadier; there's more tension in his friendship with the Doctor than ever before or since, but he's doing his job as he sees it - protecting humanity. The Doctor keeps quiet about some of his discoveries, partly because he doesn't trust the Brig. not to go "blundering in" and partly because he can't wait to get his hands on alien knowledge.
It doesn't take them long to work out the research centre's problems are connected with something in the nearby caves; working out who knows what and revealing that `something' takes the first three episodes. It's brilliantly directed by Timothy Combe to hide the Silurians until the last possible moment - a claw, a glimpse of scales and a shadowy figure all add to the tension, combined with clever film camera use by Fred Hamilton with a special multi-lens, to give a Silurian's triple-eye view of events that is genuinely unsettling and must have terrified young viewers!
The location filming is superb throughout this story and adds an unusually cinematic scale, from a remote farm and a helicopter sweeping over wild moorland to the 1960s concrete heart of London and busy Marylebone station. The studio filming lives up to the location work thanks to Barry Newbery's superb sets; the cave sets were almost a disaster (as the DVD special features explain) but the design, lighting and camera teams produced a triumph that still looks impressive today. The Silurians are (unavoidably) men in rubber suits, but I think they look good except when the costume joins sometimes show. However, I would have liked their voices to be quieter and more reptilian and not giving them names was a mistake in a story about `alternative people' - in the novel, they do have names, not just Old, Young and Scientist.
At the eleventh hour, the Doctor makes contact and for a moment it looks as if there might be peace after all; The Brig. is suspicious but cautious, the `Man from the Ministry' (Geoffrey Palmer) is sceptical but decides to close the research centre while they find out what is going on and the wise old Silurian leader is convinced by the Doctor - they will negotiate for peace with the humans. As the DVD special features explain, this far the story clearly parallels the 60s/70s Cold War political situation between NATO and the Soviet Union - a tense peace with hopes of negotiation, or `détente' as it was known.
But I think the fact that writer Malcolm Hulke had been a Communist (again, from the DVD special features) makes people concentrate on the Soviet `détente' parallel too much and ignores the obvious fact that the second half of his story is about an earlier and far more terrible conflict than the Cold War. Only Peter Miles (playing Dr. Lawrence, the research centre director) really picks this up on the commentary - after murdering their wise old leader because he wanted peace with the humans, the Silurians have a new, racist leader and become an clear parallel of the Nazis - filled with race-hatred towards the `apes' (that's us) and attempting a `final solution'.
No `Doctor Who' script has ever been darker than this; the story that unfolds in episodes 5 and 6 is well told, genuinely horrifying and still all-too-plausible today. The Doctor and Liz manage to defeat this atrocious plan, but with a dramatic twist for the final episode, the Silurians again try to exterminate humanity with a different scheme. By now they are behaving in a way as lethally racist as Daleks and I don't understand the claims of `moral equivalence' often made for this story, not after the second half. It says much for the Doctor's alien detachment here that after defeating not one but two attempts at genocide by the Silurians, he *still* wants to negotiate peace with them - but by now the Brigadier has other plans... what do you think he should do? 5*
*** SPOILER DIGRESSION! ***
The Doctor and Liz see explosions erupting from the moorland - that's not unexpected, but then the Doctor says "he's blown up the Silurian base ... but that's murder!" Malcolm Hulke had written the Doctor a quite different line, regretting the loss of potential knowledge but leaving the morality and ending ambiguous; Barry Letts (one of the truly great `Doctor Who' producers, in his first story) changed this to fit his moral philosophy for the show. But the preceding scenes were not changed, so the Brigadier still says he will "seal the Silurian base", not `blow it up'. Personally, I think the ambiguous ending should have remained, but at least thanks to the DVD production notes I finally understand why the mismatch is there. Actually the Silurians can melt their way through solid rock, so the Brig. wouldn't have got far by just sealing them in!
DVD Special Features, an especially good collection:
The commentary is excellent through all seven episodes and even stimulates some gentle differences of opinion on the `meaning' of the story; that's the calibre of Malcolm Hulke's writing. Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney, Peter Miles and Geoffrey Palmer join director Timothy Combe, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks and have a great discussion full of memories and anecdotes.
On Disk 1:
`What Lies Beneath' (35 min) - a fascinating feature looking at the era of `Doctor Who' and also the political and social background to the story, détente, summits, the Cold war, etc. I really enjoyed this BUT most of the pictures of meeting politicians (carrying a commentary that to me strongly suggested they were depicting an East-West summit) are in fact British PM Harold Wilson and U.S. President Nixon. They were definitely on the same side in the Cold War! Also, U.S. President Reagan would no doubt have been flattered to hear it was his rhetoric about "the evil empire" that signalled the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union, but more realistically, a mention of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 would have been good, surely the event that ended the era of détente and triggered a unified western response.
On Disk 2:
`Going Underground' (19 min) - the `making of' documentary, very well done and full of information and anecdotes.
`Now and Then' (10 min) - comparison of the locations from the 1970s to 2000s. `Musical Scales' (14 min) - the varying musical styles of 1970s `Doctor Who', an enjoyable feature.
`Colour Silurian Overlay' (5 min) - how the colour was restored from a (priceless) NTSC domestic colour recording and the mono film; a huge achievement to bring back this and other Pertwee classics to full colour again.
`Photo Gallery' (6 min) - excellent photo gallery including some great pictures of the stars on location, although I think some of these are from `The Ambassadors of Death'.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Sea Devils: 5* (6 Episodes)
Ahoy there shipmates! Set sail with `Cap'n Jon' for a naval battle from the high tide of the Pertwee era, midway through his middle watch in the role. There's an exciting yarn to be told, and with the cast and crew in peak form, this adventure is memorable for its characters, fabulous action set-pieces and outstanding location filming. Welcome aboard!
After his capture at the end of `The Dæmons', the Master is safely locked up in an island prison off the south coast of England. Or is he? Several ships have sunk nearby in mysterious circumstances - when the Doctor discovers this during a visit to his old enemy and friend, he can't help thinking it's rather a coincidence ...
Malcolm Hulke's sequel to `The Silurians' is a skilful nautical re-run of his earlier story, very well written though perhaps without the same hidden depths, to better fit the action style of the later Pertwee years. Just as Robert Holmes' `Auton' sequel was stolen by the Master, so here the `earth reptiles' become pawns in his long game of revenge against the Doctor.
The plot is clear-cut and you can guess most of it after seeing the earlier story: another colony of `earth reptiles' have awoken, this time underwater. They don't like the `apes' that have occupied `their' planet any more than their Silurian cousins did and the humans aren't keen on big `lizards' sinking their ships. The Master wants freedom, chaos and revenge while the Doctor, as always, wants to help both sides to live in peace - if he can ... no prizes for guessing he can't! The story keeps up the pace through all six episodes, with time for some fine character moments.
The strength of this story lies in the character writing and acting as well as the unforgettable action scenes. Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado are both magnificent as the equal yet opposite Time Lords, in what for me is their best showdown ever, complete with a sword-fight and a jet-ski chase. Jon Pertwee was obviously having a great time in full Errol Flynn mode, doing most of his own stunts and with time for a couple of moments of pure comedy. Roger Delgado superbly plays the perfect Master as his charming, sinister and devious opponent. The whole story is one long chess game between the two, fought vigorously to the inevitable stalemate. Humans and Sea Devils are caught in their struggle, as the Master ferments war and the Doctor works for peace between the species as long as he can - but when the final move is forced upon him, we know he will be playing for the `apes'...
Producer Barry Letts is due much of the credit for this unique classic by his securing the generous cooperation of the Royal Navy. With the star, the producer and the writer all having served in the Navy, it's no surprise this story has a special quality and often achieves feature film quality on a `Doctor Who' budget. Michael Briant's excellent direction was able to use not only exciting and authentic coastal locations, a diving ship, a hovercraft and some serious weaponry but also a cast of dozens of `extras'. Genuine Royal Naval personnel found themselves defending England against boarding parties of Sea Devils, played with typical style and energy by the HAVOC stunt team. The marauding reptiles not only look great rising from the sea, with their turtle-inspired masks and flowing fishnet draperies, but they can really move it on land and wield `heat-guns' firing flash-powder!
The studio sets by Tony Snoaden work extremely well, blending in with the locations and the submarine model work was good enough to invite official questions... The music is extraordinary! Malcolm Clarke's radiophonic score is simply unique and one you'll either love or hate; for me it's a brilliant and essential part of this story and creates a tense, unsettling atmosphere; unfortunately parts of it were cut to avoid perceived confusion with sound effects.
With all the impressive hardware, explosions and stunts on display this feels like a UNIT story, but as the Brig. and his chaps are land-based, his role is taken here by Captain Hart R.N. (Edwin Richfield). There's much the same slightly spiky first meeting with the Doctor, then a growing respect through the story, even after the Time Lord casually tells him he is a personal friend of Horatio Nelson...! Katy Manning has another great story as Jo Grant, saving the Doctor and Captain Hart and standing in for the Doctor's moral viewpoint while he is undersea - all done while displaying the trendy height of 70s fashion!
The Master finds his `assistant' in patriotic but bumbling prison governor Trenchard (Clive Morton), who is tricked into joining the Master's scheme. Eventually he shows he's made of the right stuff, which is more than can be said for the pompous, cowardly civil servant Walker (Martin Boddey) who barges in to start a war just as the Doctor is on the verge of making peace - though to be fair he doesn't know that. The three lead guest performances give excellent support to the regular actors and lend weight to the story, to balance all the exciting action.
Inevitably, peace proves impossible. Partly because the Sea Devils had already sunk several ships, partly because the humans don't like them either and partly because this is `Doctor Who' and a peaceful ending would be, let's face it, dull! So we get what are probably the most impressive battle sequences ever seen in classic `Doctor Who' and this time round it's the Doctor himself who finally enacts the `military solution' - the Brigadier must have been proud... 5*
DVD Special Features:
The commentary is excellent and packed with information and anecdotes from director Michael Briant, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks. One of the best commentaries I've heard.
`Hello Sailor!' (37 min) - especially good and comprehensive `making of' documentary.
`8mm Film' (4 min) - short but fascinating film of the naval base sequences made by one of the sailors, with commentary.
`Photo Gallery' (9 min) - extensive photo gallery but without many behind the scenes pictures. There's a picture of what looks like a deleted scene of the Master enjoying a silver service prison dinner!
*** NOTE: As well as the usual `Radio Times' listings PDF, this disk has a superb extra, a complete reproduction as a PDF of the 1972 edition of the Piccolo book "The Making of Doctor Who" by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke. Very different in style from the 1976 Target edition, this earlier version gives the Doctor's history up to the end of `The Sea Devils', as presented at his trial before the High Court of the Time Lords, with later UNIT memos by the Brigadier. Enjoyable and a nice assortment of photos too, well worth a read.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Warriors of the Deep: 2* (4 Episodes)
This is the shortest story in the set but it seemed the longest; watching it again soon after enjoying the two Pertwee classics was almost painful. The plot is straightforward but sounds like it could have been a classic cold war `base-under-siege' story in the Troughton style. It really isn't.
In 2084 on Earth's ocean floor, Seabase 4 holds proton missiles ready for one half of humanity to fight the final war against the other half, similarly armed. That's a chillingly familiar scenario to everyone who lived through the last years of the Cold War. But here a different cold war is about to heat up, as Silurians and Sea Devils attack the base, to seize the missiles, launch them and trigger Armageddon for the `ape primitives' so they can reclaim *their* planet. Only the Doctor stands in their way, the last, best chance of peace...
That's it basically; there are a few extra details like a couple of (human) enemy agents and the Doctor and friends being suspected as intruders for the thousandth time, but the story takes four episodes to have the reptiles fight their way up to the bridge and attempt to launch the missiles, before, of course, the Doctor stops them. There's nothing too wrong with the story concept but it lacks interesting subplots and overall wasn't made very well. The commentary and special features explain why, at length, with shortage of time the main problem blamed.
Peter Davison is always enjoyable as the Doctor, even in the weaker stories. Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson also play Tegan and Turlough well, as usual, but their characters have almost nothing useful to do here. I don't understand some of the writing; there is no way the Doctor would ever set a nuclear reactor on overload as a diversion just so they can get back to the TARDIS - not with a base full of people. He seems far less concerned with their safety than he would later be with the Silurians'. Then the Doctor appears to have drowned - it is a great stunt sequence, which draws `surprised' comment for its quality on the commentary but it's just like those that HAVOC thrilled us with for one episode after another in the Pertwee years. But Turlough gives the Doctor up for dead instantly and pulls Tegan away - this would have made sense if Turlough was still working for the Black Guardian, but he wasn't.
There are some good performances among the large guest cast, Tom Adams is especially good as Commander Vorshak, but the two human villains are played as all sideways glances and meaningful looks; they could have just worn `we are the villains' T-shirts and had done with it. It's not the actors' fault of course, there's no real mystery written into their roles and someone asked for that performance style but it doesn't work for me. You'll never forget one of their death scenes, for all the wrong reasons - karate-kicking a high-voltage Silurian `battle reptile' is bold but unlikely to work!
The actors are, unfortunately, clad in `TV space future' brightly coloured plastic suits which are as unconvincing as the `glam-rock' makeup and strange names (Vorshak, Bulic, etc.). This story was set only 100 years in the future (only 69 years now!), surely people will still be named as they have been for many centuries and will still be wearing reasonable clothes and less eye-liner, at least on military duty!
Mat Irvine's undersea model work is excellent (look out for the fish and bubbles on one shot), as are the convincing sets by Tony Burrough; bleakly functional, sometimes double height and skilfully reused to create a great impression of the large seabase. Stark white studio lighting is appropriate in this setting but unfortunately shows up some of the `monster' problems far too clearly, though it does contrast well with the dim, green interior of the Silurian ship and Sea Devil base.
Then there are the `earth reptiles' themselves. I did like the new Silurian design, apart from the now-ridiculous red third eye, its original purpose forgotten and flashing in time with their speech like the lights on a Dalek's dome, but the Sea Devils are burdened with `samurai' armour and helmets. Their characterisation is flawed (I could go a long time without ever wanting to hear a Silurian say "excellent" again) and they speak and move with glacial slowness - a huge comedown after the purposeful Silurians and athletic Sea Devils of the originals. The Silurians' secret weapon is the genetically modified, electrically charged `battle reptile', the Myrka... which you pretty much have to see to believe.
Perhaps I would have liked this story better if I had never heard of or seen the `earth reptiles' before, or grown up reading Malcolm Hulke's two superb novelisations of his original classics. As it is, the central idea (noble, peaceful beings pushed too far by humanity) simply doesn't work for me. There is no way this Silurian leader should know the Doctor from the earlier story or be `noble' even if he did. The original Young Silurian killed his own peace-loving leader (the wise Old Silurian) and the Brigadier later shot the young, racist warmonger as he was attacking the Doctor. And none of their names match those in the novel anyway!
Leaving aside the continuity issues, the story undermines its own idea of a totally peaceful ancient civilisation. If Silurians were all so culturally committed to peace, why did they ever build "battle cruisers", why are the Sea Devils in hibernation as ready-to-go "warriors" and why did they develop the Myrka? When they were the unchallenged rulers of the Earth long before humanity, who could they possibly have been preparing to fight - except each other?
Sadly, I also found the commentary (very unusually for this team) disappointing and even rather depressing. There is some of the humour I'd expected (and some great technical comments from Mat Irvine), but I thought there was too much admiration of `new Who' compared with the classic era, when the financial and technical resources cannot be compared and this story is not a good representative even of its own time.
Ultimately, this is an uninspiring story and compares badly with the others in the set and also with much of the Davison era. True, it's all studio based, but so were `Enlightenment' and most of `Earthshock', showing what could still be achieved in a studio setting. I agree with the Doctor's final line in this story: "There should have been another way." There was; if there were sometimes problems in 1980s `Doctor Who' productions, this box set clearly shows examples of excellence were there for all to see in the show's long past. 2*
(Thanks very much for reading if you made it to the end of this `monster' review!)
DVD Special Features: I enjoyed these at least as much as the story!
`The Depths' (32 min) and
`They Came From Beneath the Sea (13 min) - two excellent `making of' features explaining the background to the show and the `monsters', with a great set of contributors and enjoyable anecdotes. For me, the unexpected highlight was John Asquith describing life as the rear end of the Myrka!
`Science in Action' (6 min) - very interesting segment from a science programme in which Mat Irvine demonstrates some of the techniques used for modelling in `Doctor Who' and elsewhere.
`Photo Gallery' (8 min)