Doctor Who and the Silurians and Doctor Who and the Cave-Monsters, by Malcolm Hulke, and The Silurians, by Robert Smith?

When I first watched Doctor Who and the Silurians in 2007, I wrote:

Doctor Who and the Silurians was the second story of Jon Pertwee’s first season in 1970 (and for some reason the only TV story with “Doctor Who and” in the title). Those who have seen Quatermass are keen to point out the links; for me, it was one of the most X-Files-like of Doctor Who stories, with our team of investigators checking out mysterious happenings which turn out to have an entirely Earthly explanation (rather rare among Who stories). The first three episodes seemed reminiscent of yer standard rural horror story, but the second half, alternating between science labs and the Silurian caves, steps back into familiar territory. Very familiar in fact – there’s Peter Miles, to return playing essentially the same character in Invasion of the Dinosaurs and even nastier in Genesis of the Daleks; there’s Geoffrey Palmer, who lasts two episodes this time before dying horribly (he was only in one episode of The Mutants before dying horribly; and now of course he is due to return as the captain of the Titanic – spot a pattern here?); and, most surprising, there’s Paul Darrow, nine years before Avon became one of Blake’s Seven, being the Brigadier’s second-in-command. The Young Silurian is overacting a bit though. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Spearhead from Space and Inferno, but I can see why some regard this as Pertwee’s best season.

In 2010, when I came back to it for my Great Rewatch, I was less forgiving:

There are some good bits in Doctor Who and the Silurians, but they are an awful long way apart; this would have been an undisputed classic if it were a four-parter. The length of the story may not have been the choice of director Timothy Combe (who also did Evil of the Daleks and The Mind of Evil, after which he was apparently barred from future Who work), but it has other problems that clearly are his fault: too many static scenes of the Brigadier sitting talking to someone in an office, several of which are interrupted by the Doctor arriving just as his whereabouts are beng discussed. This all made me wonder about the distance between the research centre and the caves; I didn’t get a good sense of that (and Malcolm Hulke’s map in the novelisation is actually a bit confusing).

The story falls quite naturally into two halves – the “something nasty in the woodshed” bit before we actually meet the Silurians properly, and the “clash of civilisations” bit when we do. The two halves are not linked well (what’s the story with the dinosaur, for instance? or the Silurians’ relationship with Quinn?) but the second half is better, and for once we get monsters with decent characterisation, balanced by the Brigadier’s monstrous behaviour at the end – the first time we have seen a regular character defy the Doctor so wilfully, and as a result we viewers are asked to sympathise with the alien agenda rather than the forces of the British state.

It’s also a great story for spotting guest stars: Avon is the Brigadier’s second-in-command, Khrisong / Hieronymous is also there, Nyder is running the research centre, and Geoffrey Palmer, who dies horribly every time he is on Doctor Who, is the Permanent Under-Secretary. (If you haven’t heard the super two-hander audio between Paul Darrow and Peter Miles set in Kaldor City, I do recommend it.) Finally, of course, by pure chance I was watching it immediately after the New Who two-part Silurian story was broadcast, but my thoughts on that will have to wait.

This time around I found myself in between my two previous takes. The pacing is slow, and not everything in the early episodes makes sense compared with what we learn in the later episodes. But the tensions between and among the human and Silurian characters are well depicted, and this time around I was particularly grabbed by Fulton MacKay, in his only Doctor Who appearance of a distinguished career, as the misguided and doomed Dr Quinn. And after recent years, I must say that I sat up and paid attention a lot more during the plague sequences.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Malcolm Hulke’s novelisation, Doctor Who and the Cave-Monsters, is:

Miss Dawson’s mother had died, of incredibly old age, a year ago. At last free, Miss Dawson immecliately applied for, and got, this job at the research centre at Wenley Moor. Derbyshire wasn’t exactly Australia or America, but at least it was some distance from London, and it was the start of her new life.

This was a favourite when I was a kid. When I reread it in 2008, I wrote:

This was the second original novel in Target’s series of novelisations after Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion, the first of Hulke’s six books for the range. It is a good one; Hulke tells the story in part from the point of view of the eponymous cave monsters (the word “Silurian” is not used here), showing us humans as alien vermin. He also makes the story a more overt parable about authority and power, and adds little bits of character especially for the Brigadier and Liz. (And see note below on a minor character.) I suspect this will be near the top of my list of Third Doctor novels.

[It has an explicit reference] to Northern Ireland, which are otherwise very rare in the Doctor Who mythos (though see also Daragh Carville’s play, Regenerations). In Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters, we get the following back story for Major Barker (renamed from Baker in the TV story, where he was played by Norman Jones without a beard):

“…he saw himself one rainy day in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, leading a group of soldiers who were trying to pin down an IRA sniper. The sniper had already shot two of his men dead, and wounded a third. The Major carefully worked his men into a position so that the sniper was completely surrounded. Then he called upon the sniper to surrender. A rifle was thrown down from a window, and a man appeared with his arms raised. As Major Barker called on his men to break cover and arrest the sniper, shots rang out from a sniper in another building, instantly killing the young soldier next to Major Barker. Without a second’s thought, Barker aimed his revolver at the sniper standing with his hands up in surrender, and shot him dead. For that moment of anger, Major Barker had been asked to resign from the British Army and to find another job.”

Things had changed rather drastically in Northern Ireland between the time of broadcast of this story (January-March 1970) and Hulke’s novelisation, published four years later. According to the grim and masterly Sutton index, before the summer of 1970 the only people killed by the British Army in Northern Ireland were two Protestants shot during riots on the Shankill Road. IRA sniper attacks on the army began only in February 1971. (I don’t know if this is at all helpful for the UNIT dating controversy.) The idea that Barker would have been removed from the army in the circumstances described is rather grimly laughable; even the odious Lee Clegg was eventually allowed to walk free and return to the ranks.

I still think that the book is one of the best novelisations, with a lot of the plot points rounded off, the Silurians (not given that name here) getting much more characterisation and agency, and Major Barker voicing the ideas that Hulke himself hated.

‘It’s as plain as a pikestaff there’s sabotage going on,’ said Barker, taking the Doctor’s bait without realising it. ‘Anyone can see that.’
‘I may agree with you,’ the Doctor said. ‘But sabotage by whom?’
‘Communists, of course.’ Major Barker gave his answer as though it should have been obvious to everyone.
‘Why should communists cause these power losses?’ said the Doctor.
‘They hate England, that’s why.’ Barker started to warm to his subject. ‘They train people to come here to destroy us.’
‘I see,’ said the Doctor. ‘Are these Chinese communists or Russian communists?’
‘There’s no difference between them,’ said Barker. ‘And if it isn’t them, it’s the fascists. Or the Americans.’
‘The Americans?’ said Liz, almost but not quite laughing.
Major Barker turned to Liz. ‘Miss Shaw, England was once the heart of an empire, the greatest empire the world has ever known. But the bankers and the trade-unionists have destroyed that great heritage. Now we are alone, backs to the wall, just as we were in 1940, only there is no Winston Churchill to lead us. The whole world is snapping at us like a pack of hungry wolves. But the day will come, Miss Shaw, when England will rise again…’

I also want to salute Chris Achilleos’ lovely internal art, a tradition that I wish had been continued for novelisations of later years (of course I understand the commercial constraints too). They gave us a tremendous sense of the visuals of the story, at a time when we had no reason to think we would ever be able to see it for real.

You can get it here (for a price).

After all of that, I found Robert Smith?’s Black Archive monograph on the story, titled just The Silurians, a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, he explores the themes of the story in some depth. But on the other, I found his presentation of some of the political issues a bit out of date; and in particular, I don’t think you can really write properly about any Malcolm Hulke story without reference to Doctor Who and the Communist, by Michael Herbert, which looks at the relationship between Hulke’s politics and his writing. Only one previous Black Archive volume is mentioned; I think the book could have benefitted from more dialogue with its own predecessors.

The first chapter, “Can Technology Solve All Our Problems?”, looks at the Cyclotron as a supplier of free (or at least cheap) energy, and the shadow of the atom bomb, as twin aspects of technology.

The second chapter, “What’s the Ideal Length for a Doctor Who Story?”, defends the length of Doctor Who and the Silurians, arguing that, for instance, the whole Hartnell era could be considered as one long story, if you like. It would have been interesting to know if there are other episodic Sixties and Seventies series from which comparisons could be drawn.

The third chapter, “What’s the Point of UNIT?”, actually concentrates on the Doctor’s role and character especially in an Earth setting. The second paragraph is:

‘In science fiction, there are only two stories. They come to us or we go to them.’3 So claimed Malcolm Hulke, when despairing of the then-new Earthbound format that he felt Doctor Who had been saddled with for the start of the 1970s. Consequently, he went and wrote a story that was neither: they come to us, except that they’ve always been here.
3 Quoted by Gordon Roxburgh in Matrix, Issue 6.

The fourth chapter, “Who Has the Moral High Ground Here?”, looks at the story’s takes on colonialism and violence.

The fifth chapter, “Is Doctor Who a Science Show?” points out the rarity of science as such actually being portrayed in the show (as it is here), also veering into conspiracy theories and animal rights.

The sixth chapter, “Could the Silurian Plague Have Killed Us All?” is the one which turned out to be the most timely for a book published in January 2020. Unfortunately this also means it has dated badly; most of the gosh-wow facts about epidemics are now either common knowledge or overtaken by events. This is hardly Smith?’s fault, of course.

The seventh chapter, “Who’s Responsible for All This?”, attempts to round off the narrative by looking at the Doctor, especially the Third Doctor, as a character and explaining that the end of the story ought to be a “hyperobject”, a concept that is not really well explained.

Anyway, I’ll keep going with these; you can get this one here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56)