Doctor Who – Beneath the Surface

It’s become something of a tradition for the first Doctor Who DVD release each year to be a themed box set. We’ve had the set with the first stories, the set with the transition from Tom Baker to Peter Davision, and now a slightly different set. Rather than consecutive stories, this one contains all three stories featuring the Silurians and the Sea Devils, and it’s something of a mixed bag, as we shall see. As usual with sets, I’ll deal with each in turn…

Doctor Who and the Silurians

Notable for being the only story to have “Doctor Who and…” in the title, due to a mistake made by the people doing the title cards, this was the second story in Jon Pertwee’s first series, shown between January and March 1970. As with most of that year’s stories, it’s a rather long seven episode affair. The fun starts with inexplicable power losses at an underground research centre, which UNIT and its new scientific adviser[1] are called in to investigate. It gets even more entertaining when what appears to be a dinosaur is seen in the underground tunnels. Then we learn that the work at the research centre has awakened an ancient race of intelligent reptiles who ruled the Earth millions of years ago. They went into hibernation when it appeared that an asteroid was going to collide with the Earth. As it happened, the asteroid took up a new job as the Moon rather than destroying the planet, and in the absence of the reptiles, humans evolved and took over. Now the reptiles are awake, and they want to take their planet back from those nasty apes[2]. Of course, none of this makes any sense historically, and the label “Silurians” is completely bonkers, as it refers to a completely different geological era, but we’ll pass over that…

It all gets a big complicated. Factions develop in the reptile ranks – they have a Cunning Plan to destroy humanity with a virus, the Doctor wants to negotiate, the Brigadier isn’t so keen, and much fun is had by all. In the end, not at all surprisingly, the reptiles are sealed in forever when the Brigadier uses explosives. The Doctor isn’t too happy about that…

The seven episodes are spread over two discs, with some quite tasty special features:

  • What Lies Beneath: A moderately serious documentary about (and I quote) “the socio-political climate of the late 1960s helped shape this Doctor Who story”.
  • Going Underground: A look at the problems of shooting caves and monsters in the studio
  • Now and then: They really should do more of these – a look at how the locations used have changed over the years
  • Colour Silurian Overlay: Nice geeky stuff – how the story was restored from a combination of black and white film prints and American Betamax recordings, together with some damn clever video processing toys.
  • And of course, those production subtitles

The Sea Devils

This one was first shown between February and April 1972, and again stars Jon Pertwee, now accompanied by Katy Manning as Jo Grant. Following the events of The Daemons[3], the Master (Roger Delgado) has been imprisoned on a remote island. The Doctor and Jo pay a visit, and find that he’s apparently a reformed character, and if you believe that, you’ll believe anything. Odd things are happening. Ships are being lost, and there are reports of sea monsters in the area.

Yes, the Master is once again up to no good. He’s collaborating with some more of those ancient reptiles – aquatic ones this time, and just like the last lot, they want the planet back from those nasty mammals. Lots of fun follows, made more realistic than normal for the period, thanks to the full cooperation of the Royal Navy, who provided men and machines for the fight scenes. Good stuff, and again the Doctor tries to find a peaceful solution.

Extras this time include:

  • Hello Sailor! – Cast and crew talk about making the story
  • Amateur cine film made by one of the sailors who appeared as an extra
  • Production subtitles
  • Some nice stuff in PDF format, including a 1972 book

Warriors of the Deep

This one was first shown in 1984, and stars Peter Davison as the Doctor, Janet Fielding as Tegan and Mark Strickson as Turlough. It’s the weakest story in the set, but despite its flaws, it’s worth watching at least once. The Tardis arrives at an undersea base in the 21st century, when the world is divided into two (undefined) factions, with the threat of war always close.

The real trouble starts when the base is approached by a fancy submarine, which the Doctor recognises as a “Siluruan battle cruiser”, or some such. This presumably means he’s had another meeting with Earth’s ancient reptiles which we haven’t seen. Either that or the writers decided to ignore silly little matters like continuity. The “Silurians” have some friends with them – Sea Devil warriors, which leads to the fun question of why they would refer to themselves by a name that wasn’t even mentioned previously, but never mind…

Perhaps the best bit is the brilliantly realised monster that the reptiles send in to the base. The Myrka is a fearsome beast with a very nasty electrical charge. Unfortunately, it’s not an animated model, or a clever bit of CGI. No. It’s two guys in an unconvincing suit. Two guys whose normal job was playing a pantomime horse. Oh dear.

All of this would be quite bad enough, but there’s trouble on the base – there are agents of the opposing faction present, and they’re trying to sabotage things. In the end, after the Doctor’s attempts at negotiation with the Silurian leader (who he recognsies) fail, the only way to save the world is to kill the reptiles with a suitable gas that just happens to be available in large quantities. And at the end, the only survivors are the Doctor and his companions. A bit sad really, in several ways…

Special features include:

  • The Depths: All the usual suspects recall making the story. I’m sure some of them have been trying to forget…
  • They Came From Beneath The Sea: A small feature about making the monsters. Oh dear.
  • Science in Action: This is nice – a clip from a BBC Schools programme in which visual effects designer Matt Irvine talks about the techniques and materials used.
  • And those production subtitles

[1] That’s the Doctor, do keep up :tongue:
[2] That would be us
[3] Overdue for the DVD treatment…

3 thoughts on “Doctor Who – Beneath the Surface

  1. Alex

    Ahhh making good use of your time off I see Mr B…

    Watched Doctor Who and the Silurians recently. I gotta get one of those costumes…so realistic!

    I found some punctuation on the floor so added it to my post.

  2. Les Post author

    Yes, I thought it was time for a bit of catching up. Yes, you should definitely get a Silurian costume and wear it to work. Good job on the punctuation, too.

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