Thursday, 10 August 2017

The Power of Three

Chapter The 63rd, the last one done by that nice Chris Chibnall - whatever happened to him?

Amy and Rory are considering ending their travels with the Doctor, as their real life of work and friends is not getting a look in, they're getting older (though, to be fair, they don't look it), and regularly run out of milk and washing tablets. One day, all across the globe, millions of little black cubes appear everywhere, as if they've fallen from the sky. UNIT think it's an invasion of some kind, but the cubes don't do anything. The Doctor stays with his two friends to observe the cubes, but they still don't do anything; after four days, the domestic life drives the Doctor mad, and he goes back on his travels. Rory's Dad, Brian Williams, continues to monitor the cubes as the Doctor instructed, but everyone else forgets about them; people take them into their homes, use them as paperweights, construct tasks in The Apprentice around selling them (which is a bit stupid given they don't do anything and are in plentiful supply, but it wouldn't be the stupidest task they've ever had on The Apprentice).

Nearly a year on from when the cubes first appeared, the Doctor is making an effort to stay with the Ponds again after being guilt-tripped by Brian, and finally the cubes start doing stuff. After some experimentation, they give people heart attacks, as playing the Birdy Song at them failed to kill. The Doctor gets aboard the bad guys' spaceship via the hospital Rory works at, which is involved (somehow), and meets a hologram thespian who explains the plot to him: the bad guys are intergalactic pest exterminators who see human beings as an infestation, and the cubes are like slug pellets (except for all the myriad ways they're not like slug pellets). With his sonic screwdriver, the Doctor turns off the plot. Brian persuades Amy and Rory to continue to save the world, as that's what makes them happy.

Watched from the Series 7 Blu-ray box-set while snuggled up on the sofa with the Better Half one wet and windy evening in this so-called English Summer. It's close enough to a 'date movie' Doctor Who story what with the focus on a relationship, and the complete lack of any real jeopardy.

First-time round: 
On the evening of BBC1 broadcast, slightly timeshifted, in September 2012. No special memories of this one, but I do remember I was happy with the general direction of the series, and I enjoyed all the episodes in the short run that is series 7 part 1. Mind you, I'd felt the same, since it was broadcast, of the first half of Peter Capaldi's debut series, but when rewatching Into the Dalek for the blog recently, it wasn't quite as good as I thought. I hope this is a one-off, but tastes do change  (sometimes for the better). Luckily, the quality of The Power of Three was exactly as I remembered.

Let's start by addressing the elephant in the room: Russell T Davies. Chris Chibnall has produced one of those Doctor Who scripts that act as a love letter to another author's work, putting all that author's favourite tropes into a Doctor Who context. Somewhat surprisingly, in this instance he's channelling not Dickens or Agatha Christie but RTD's Doctor Who work, and this only a couple of years after the regime change. Consider the evidence: globe-spanning scenario represented by cut-in excerpts from fake or real news channel programmes, comic cameos from popular figures commenting on events, the invasion not being the main plot but just a backdrop to tell an emotional story about the regular characters, and swathes of online fandom having a problem with the ending. It's textbook Davies, and - given I'm keen on that kind of thing - it was rather marvellous to see it all again. I wonder what Moffat felt about it, though; he'd similarly paid homage to this story template in The Eleventh Hour, his first episode as showrunner, but things had moved on since then. And it does seem from everything I've read that this story was mostly Chibnall bringing ideas to Moffat, rather than Moffat supplying them. Will Chibnall's period in charge see a move back to this kind of story, or was it just a fun one-off experiment?

The ending is obviously flawed; the Doctor literally waves his sonic screwdriver and the machinations of the villains instantly cease. This was a major criticism of many stories produced by Russell T Davies as showrunner, but that was always overblown, and endings rarely happened so easily in any of his stories, certainly not as easily as it happens in The Power of Three. Was this a homage taken too far? Probably not; I remember from Andrew Pixley articles read at the time that there were issues with the narrative and a lot of material was moved around, shaped or lost in the edit. There was for example lots more material about what exactly the two mask-faced guys are up to at Rory's hospital, a thread left loose in the final product. Perhaps defeating the enemy as written was not so easy. Another reason why the ending doesn't work may be where The Power of Three becomes a victim of its own success. The cube plotline, which isn't really the point of proceedings, is really strong; much more so than anything in the RTD era. Davies didn't do much in the way of intrigue: game shows have gone sadistic in the future, there are ghosts walking the Earth, the planet's moved across space; what's the reason? Probably Daleks, isn't it? Or, if not, Cybermen. And that's okay. But the cube set-up is so intriguing and different, probably any explanation and solution offered was going to seem like a let down.

Certainly, the mystery of the cubes is more interesting than the penultimate outing for Amy and Rory, but it runs close. Up until Chibnall got a grip on the characters in 2012, I'd never believed too much in them as a couple. Darvill is excellent and has chemistry with (the excellent here, as he always is) Matt Smith; but, though it is seen as sacrilegious in some quarters to say it, Karen Gillan is limited as an actor, and never works with Smith as well as do Darvill, James Corden, Jenna Coleman or Caitlin Blackwood. But then Chibnall, ably supported by Moffat as commissioning showrunner, makes me care about them, by introducing a character that should arguably have been there from their day one: the person who misses them when they disappear off. Brian turns Rory from being a 2000-year old plastic Roman Centurion into being a son, and turns Amy from being The Girl Who Waited, to being a normal human being. Mark Williams helps things by being excellent, but it's all there on the page. It's not 100% successful, the couple are still slightly less charismatic than a bunch of matt-black cubes, but that only makes one frustrated that this wasn't all set up properly from the beginning.

Other points of note: Kate Stewart is a fantastic addition to the rich tapestry of Doctor Who and UNIT, the music is wonderful, and there are a few cracking gags in there as well as a magic quiet  scene between Gillan and Smith towards the end, possibly their best work together.

Both stories have no real monster, just a villain played by an eminent actor; both feature a three person TARDIS crew with one male and one female companion, and both see the Doctor playing a game.

Deeper Thoughts:
Enormous End. Faithful readers of the blog (hello mum!) will have noted me often joking in a blog post that Big Finish will or have covered this or that outrageously nerdy story idea. For those that don't know, Big Finish are a company that make audiobook dramas on CD and download; Doctor Who is their flagship range, but they do lots of others, both spin-offs connected to the wider world of Who (they've had ranges for Torchwood, Sarah Jane, Bernice Summerfield, UNIT, Gallifrey), and other cult telefantasy stuff (Blake's Seven, Terrahawks, Dark Shadows...). The phrase 'less is more' was tailor-made for Big Finish to ignore: they must have been more prodigious and comprehensive than any other Doctor Who merchandise, and that's a big thing in such a crowded market. If there was ever talk in Doctor Who's history that any group of guest characters could have had their own series - even if it was just an idle two-minute conversation in the BBC bar after recording - Big Finish have made it a reality; every corner of Who has been covered, new companions created to extend a Doctor's reign, each era's stars coaxed out of retirement, or recast if mortality prevents such coaxing, abandoned scripts or story ideas finally made, thousands of shiny discs.produced containing hundreds of stories.

I've listened to four of them. This is not because of indifference, but simply available time. I was tempted to spend some of that precious time on their output in the heady days of the early Noughties  when Big Finish persuaded Paul McGann to reprise his role of the Doctor, and it really seemed like this would be the only chance fans would have of a progressing new series of adventures. But, they were only okay, and I stopped after the first four story 'season'. It's odd to think that it was only a couple of years after that a new series of Doctor Who for real on the TV was announced, and any enthusiasm I had for audio-only new stories waned.

As the new series has been going on so long now, Big Finish have obtained the rights to cover elements from the latest twelve years, as well as the twenty-six and a bit before that.  They've started to release some mash-ups of old and new elements, and one I recently read about is almost tempting: new UNIT with old; Kate Stewart and Osgood teamed up with a New Tricks style posse of oldies: Yates, Benton and Jo. Almost tempting, but I'd need to find another 24 hours a day first. Maybe I'll wait until I retire, and then listen to the lot, but how many will have built up by then? I may have to admit it, even as a full-time obsessive, there are so so many more bits of Doctor Who that I could experience, had I but world enough and time, but probably I never will.
In Summary:
A victory lap for Amy and Rory, just when I finally didn't want them to leave.

Monday, 7 August 2017

The Celestial Toymaker

Chapter The 62nd, which is slightly racist.

The TARDIS crew find themselves trapped in the realm of a mysterious and powerful being called the Toymaker. To win their freedom and avoid being turned into his toys, they must all go along with the Toymaker's games: the Doctor must play Space Towers of Hanoi for ages after having been turned invisible, while his companions Steven and Dodo have to endure a succession of sinister and twisted (but not that sinister and twisted) versions of childhood favourites like blind man's buff, hopscotch, and - erm - a food fight. This climaxes in a relatively simple stalemate, which nonetheless takes ages to explain: if the Doctor makes his final move and defeats the Toymaker, the realm they are in will vanish taking the TARDIS team with it, but they can't leave until he makes the move. Is this how their travels come to an end? Will they have to stay there forever in torment or - no, no, they've outwitted the Toymaker and scarpered. As you were.

The Celestial Toymaker is one of the Sixties Doctor Who stories that are sadly incomplete in the BBC archives. Three out of its four episodes are missing, but - thanks to the forethought of young fans back then with tape recorders - the soundtracks to all four exist. Another preservation method in those pre-VCR days, but more for trade than home use, was to get offscreen stills - or 'telesnaps' - taken by an outside contractor (a very specific one, as it seems only one fellow, John Cura, ever offered the service). If engaged, Cura would take a portfolio of shots, on average once every thirty seconds or so, of a TV programme. He was employed on Doctor Who early on, but the second producer of the show, John Wiles, decided Cura's  wares weren't worth the coin, so no offscreen photos exist for his era. The Celestial Toymaker was on the cusp; incoming producer Innes Lloyd is credited as producer, but it was commissioned by Wiles, and Lloyd reinstated telesnaps coverage from the very next story after it. With insufficient visual data, any slide-show reconstruction would have to be so inventive it would be distracting to watch. As such, I stuck with the 2001 CD release with narration by companion actor Peter Purves. After listening to it all the way through, I popped the remaining final episode in the DVD player (it's on the 'Lost in Time' odds and sods compilation box-set). No one from the family was interested in joining me for any part of this.

First-time round: 
In 1991, long before they ran out of complete stories to release on VHS, the Beeb (probably at the behest of 1980s Doctor Who supremo John Nathan-Turner who had a consultant role on the range at that time) put out some special releases to include the orphaned episodes and clips that otherwise would not find a home. These were the Years tapes, and appropriately one of the first releases in June 1991 was The Hartnell Years, covering the first Doctor. Inappropriately, it was presented by Slyvester McCoy and had a 'Latin' version of the Doctor Who theme by Keff McCulloch accompanying its titles. Urggh. It is truly one of most horrible things I've ever had in my ears (and I once had olive oil poured in to dislodge some compacted ear wax). Anyway, one of the three episodes on this tape was The Final Test, episode four of The Celestial Toymaker. It's a bit odd viewed out of context (Slyv was given literally seconds to summarise the plot of episodes 1 to 3 as a lead-in), but it does at least round off a story. It was ten years later in 2001 when the audio CD was released before I found out exactly how it fit together with the rest of the piece.  One mystery was explained: why the electrocuted body of the Cyril character that appears near the end was so inadequate. I thought in 1991 that it was rubbish as it looked just like a doll. Of course, now I realise that it is supposed to look just like a doll.

It was hard to find story connections between this one and the last story covered for the blog (Doctor Who and the Silurians - see below), but maybe they both have one similarity in their production: the money spent has struggled to find its way onto screen. Toymaker was undoubtedly budgeted cheaper than Silurians, but it still was aiming to create a highly visual fantasy world, with colourful childhood imagery of toys and games being the main driving force. The extant episode, though, looks empty and drab, like a contemporary children's game-show rather than a wonderland where godlike beings toy with mortals and all that carry on. It could just be episode 4 that's like that - unless they find the rest it's hard to know - maybe the money had run out by the end. The photos of the costumes and scenes from the earlier episodes do look great, but they are colour stills. In black and white, shot by bulky video cameras moving around Riverside Studio 1, it might not have been so impressive.

The story's a bit 'one note' throughout. Steven and Dodo get a riddle to solve, face some grotesque nursery characters as opponents in a game, these characters end up defeating themselves by dint of one stupidity or another, Steven and Dodo move on; riddle, repeat. No sense of building to a climax, nor much urgency despite the ticking clock of the move counter being referenced regularly. Having the same small repertory company of actors playing this succession of opponents only adds to the effect. There's also a lot of tell not show: lots of speeches about how powerful the Toymaker is, but no real evidence. The obvious sign of this power is demonstrated when toys turn into beings and back again, which mostly happens in those pesky missing episodes; maybe that sells it. The only similar effect in the available episode, mind, was mistaken by me for a decade as just being a rubbish dummy (see above), which doesn't inspire one with confidence that those moments in episodes 1-3 were spectacular and chilling. The ending too, is very talky. The predicament and its resolution are both neat bits of business, but it just takes too much time, and too much rabbit, to deliver.

Michael Gough is as good as you'd expect, playing arguably the first sci-fi supervillain in Doctor Who history; you could say Mavic Chen did it first a few stories earlier, but he's just a corrupt politician and doesn't have any powers per se; anyway, whoever we give the honour, the seeds were planted and the OTT protagonist took root henceforth. Another interesting innovation is that this story acts as a sequel to an unseen backstory adventure, where the Doctor has encountered and escaped the Toymaker before; this also would prove to a useful device in the series' future, being used often in the years to come. The story's themes chime with contemporary obsessions: its exploration of the dark corners of childhood, primary-coloured psychedelic grab bag of imagery, and Lewis Carroll-esque whimsical surrealism would all infuse 1960s pop media from Sergeant Pepper through to the White Album, so Doctor Who was ahead of the curve here in 1966.

Another less happy element that's 'of its time' is the unfortunate and unnecessary racism; the use of the 'Jeremy Clarkson' version of Eeny Meeny Miny Moe is perhaps not so bad (it's not very foregrounded, to the extent that the audio version uses a bit of narration to mask it, leaving the listener hard pressed to notice anything's gone); but, once you find out that 'celestial' can also mean oriental, the depiction of the Toymaker as a Chinese mandarin, with - it's hard to tell from the surviving visual material - maybe a touch of yellowing up and eyebrow work on the actor too, all makes it less forgivable. The jury's still out on whether any of this was deliberate, and it's somewhat overshadowed by Doctor Who's much more blatant transgressions in a later story where another white actor wears a similar get-up, is similarly described using the celestial double-meaning, but this time is unmistakably and outrageously made-up. And this was ten years later, when such things were even less socially accepted. But we'll get to that when we get to it.

They both have a featured character that holds the rank of sergeant... I think that's about it. They don't even have the TARDIS in common, as it didn't feature in Doctor Who and the Silurians, although The Celestial Toymaker contains about twenty TARDISes to make up for it.

Deeper Thoughts:
Odd? Balls. This is one of those early episodes about which an official reputation hardened sometime in the late seventies / early eighties. It was unassailable in those days as an experimental but excellent episode. It's probably objectively only average; certainly that's the more recent consensus - it came 197th out of 241 in the last major Doctor Who Magazine poll - but, it was clearly felt to be shockingly different in feel to all the episodes around it when it was first shown, which made it stand out to the young fans watching that would later become the taste-makers of early Doctor Who fandom. The regular fanzine of the Doctor Who appreciation Society was named Celestial Toyroom rather than, say, Small Prophet, Quick Return or The Sea Beggar. In the later production period of the aforementioned John Nathan-Turner, these stories that did something a bit weird or stylised came to have a categorisation of their own; they were known as 'oddball' stories. 

Putting aside the very un-Who and somewhat playground bully tactics of categorising those different from the perceived norm, betraying a lack of imagination regarding approaches the show should and shouldn't take, this is also rather forgetful about Doctor Who's origins. When first established, the parameters of the show were that the TARDIS could take our heroes forwards, backwards and sideways. The last of these three story types always proved more challenging than the other two. I've written recently about a long gestation of the very first 'sideways' idea they had, an adventure into the dimension of dimensions, when the TARDIS crew are miniaturised. This was mentioned in the series bible and planned for the first ever story, but eventually struggled onto screens at the start of the second season. Before that, they'd managed one bottle episode early on with psychodramas happening within the TARDIS; the next truly 'sideways' efforts were The Celestial Toymaker, and then The Mind Robber, several years later. So, they were rare, but they did happen, and were encoded into the show's DNA from the off. Additionally, a house style had never established itself in those days, and even if a particular story had a fairly straightforward plot, there was still scope to use a wild variety of different styles and tones in its realisation.

By the time of Turner's tenure, the backwards stories had fallen out of favour as well, of course, and the tone was something they were more restrictive about; but, Who is never about abiding by a formula, and - to give him his due - JNT did allow a few more 'oddballs' to slip in later on: The Happiness Patrol, Greatest Show in the Galaxy, and arguably all of Slyvester McCoy's first season. The spirit has continued in the new series, and there's still room for the odd experimental show like Extremis or Listen or Heaven Sent, and out and out oddballs like Amy's Choice, which - aside from a preposterous explanation tacked on the end - takes place completely in a domain of dreams, and  - aside from a slightly more satisfying explanation tacked on the end - has an adversary every bit as enigmatic as the Toymaker.

In Summary:
Talking of riddles: I can't remember for the life of me the other Doctor Who guest role Micheal Gough played. And it's doing my Hedin.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Doctor Who and the Silurians

Chapter The 61st, is strong, long and the title's very wrong.

The Third Doctor and Liz are summoned (forthwith) to join the Brigadier at a research centre based in Pat Troughton's Season 5 (futuristic but plausible science base overseen by rigid boss headed for a nervous breakdown, which has been infiltrated by monsters - Bingo!). These monsters are not invaders, though, they're from prehistoric Earth - an intelligent reptile species from a completely different period than the Silurian era. They went into cryo-sleep hundreds of millennia ago in nearby caves, to avoid an impending global catastrophe that never materialised. Some members of the hibernating group were woken up by the humans' activity, and they've been tapping the centre's power since in order to revive the rest. This has caused the mysterious power losses that the Brig and his men are investigating. The Doctor persuades the creature's leader to discuss a peaceful solution to share the Earth with the humans; but, before that can happen, the leader is deposed and killed by a young pretender, who then releases a plague to wipe out the human race. The Doctor and Liz find a cure, and the Brig (against the Doctor's wishes) blows up the caves and entombs the Silurians, or whatever they're called.

Watched across the course of approximately a week from the DVD, with the whole family. The Better Half dropped in and out, depending on mood, but all the children (boys of 11 and 7, girl of 5) stuck with it, and there was lots of (frankly, unexpected) chanting of their standard "Next ep, next ep" refrain when the end credits of each episode rolled. Indeed, the last three episodes - which cover the plague subplot and pretty much act as a discrete mini-adventure in their own right - were watched in one Sunday afternoon binge. The level of engagement from the kids was high. The youngest was amused through the early episodes, where the Silurian costume is teased with the odd glimpse here and there, exclaiming "When are we going to see the Monster Man!" at regular intervals, and later admonishing the onscreen Silurians with "You're never gonna get away with this!". Best of all, she joyously commentated on the scenes of the Doctor and Liz in the lab working on the antidote: with a nod she said "They're doing science", followed up with "I love watching them do science". Producer of this show Barry Letts, as I've said before and will say again, should have had more faith in his audience: he famously ditched Liz after one series as he thought it would be alienating to have the leads be two intelligent scientists. But we love watching them do science.

First-time round:
I'm trying to remember if I ever saw this story in black and white. Unlike the made-in-monochrome 60s, the 1970s era has all its episodes present in the BBC archives, many located and returned from abroad after the original master copies were wiped (as was the practice at the time). Not all the returned episodes were in colour, though; a lot of international broadcasters could not handle colour video or film, and they instead bought black and white film copies from the BBC; in many instances, including Doctor Who and the Silurians, that was the only broadcast-quality version that was ever found. In November 1992, some very clever Doctor Who fans - who moonlighted as TV technicians - invented a clever way to restore the colour to those episodes, by merging it in from inferior quality versions that had been taped from colour repeats on US TV. The first story to get this treatment was The Daemons, and it was followed up by Doctor Who and the Silurians the following year, restored using the same process.

Before then, only back and white copies were in circulation for certain stories. I'd seen a pirate tape of The Daemons by then, so knew what I'd been missing chroma-wise, but I think I'd only seen clips of Silurians at the most, so the first time I saw it in full was in colour in July 1993; I was back in Worthing during the long Summer vac from Uni, and I rushed back from town clutching the VHS double-pack purchased from Volume One, my favoured supplier in those days. The Daemons 'Redux' was deemed so miraculous it was granted a terrestrial repeat on BBC2; Doctor Who and the Silurians had to wait until December 1999 - when it had been further restored - for a similar honour. I remember catching one episode of that run in a hotel room of an evening, when I was being put up to do a course for my day job of the time.

This 1999 showing was the second story in an ill-fated run of repeats, intending to run through everything from Jon Pertwee's debut onwards; but it was a hiding to nothing - the following story, The Ambassadors of Death, had only been restored in patches, due to lack of available colour bits. There was no way the Beeb was going to show a partly or wholly black and white story in the 1990s, even on BBC2; so, the repeats fizzled out. Those clever fans didn't stop there, though. It was just the start of a 20+ year mission, for them and other clever people who joined them along the way, to bring back colour to all stories that had lost it, and now - by many different means - they have achieved this, closed up those grey gaps in the colourful Jon Pertwee era, and released them all on DVD. More evidence that Doctor Who has the most creative fans ever.

Let's get the title out of the way first: he's not called Doctor Who (I don't care what Steven Moffat may have recently said in an interview) and they're not called Silurians. The 'and' and the 'the' are the only bits that are approaching correct. Title aside, though, I rather like this one. I knew it was worthy, but this time I was surprised by how watchable it also is. Since the show had settled in to being the Doctor versus the Monsters, Good versus Evil, which developed as the theme during Hartnell's time and became set as the template with Patrick Troughton, Doctor Who hadn't done much in the way of moral ambiguity, and hadn't bothered to differentiate too much between the attitudes of individual members of the alien species it included. All that is brought back with a vengeance here.

It's also played straight, like all of season 7. The Brig is not written as an idiot, as he would later be, but as a professional that conflicts with the Doctor, but still retains an underlying warmth that neither man will perhaps admit is friendship, but is nonetheless. As an example, there's a tiny but wonderful moment where the Brigadier calls our hero "Doctor Watson", which is - it probably barely needs saying - expertly played by both actors, as every moment is here. The Doctor is affable though sometimes brusque, and doesn't edge into the off-putting peeved acting that he sometimes did in future series. Then, there's Caroline John as Liz Shaw, slightly softened from her debut appearance, but still nobody's fool. The Doctor gets to act paternally about her occasionally, but it doesn't cloy, as she gives as good as she gets, and both are written as adults if not quite equals. Every moment with the Three-Liz-Brig team is magic, and a year is not long enough in their company; it's very similar, in fact, to the triumvirate of regulars whose run has just ended too soon in 2017; we're left wanting more.

The plot is slick and intriguing. Writer Malcolm Hulke manages to sustain the mystery for over three episodes without the pace dragging at all; part of the reason for this is that the action is driven forward by character subplots. Fulton Mackay, who's in particularly fine form as the smarmy Dr. Quinn, lying through his smiling teeth all the time while hiding a deadly secret, is the engine of that beginning section. What is Quinn hiding? As the story enters another phase, the baton is passed to another flawed three-dimensional character, then another, and they're all excellently drawn and filled out: Baker, Masters, Lawrence; and then there's Captain Hawkins, played by a young Paul Darrow, the regular who alas never was. All men, though. Aside from Liz, the only significant female role is Thomasine Heiner as Miss Dawson, who does some subtle work expressing her unrequited love for Quinn, which after his death turns her into perhaps the most dangerous exponent of war with the Silurians. But she is wholly defined in relation to a male character, and once Quinn is gone, she's abruptly pushed off stage too. It's a shame, and not just for the obvious reason of equal representation. As every other guest cast member has been offed once their dramatic crisis point was reached, and the research centre is sparsely populated by the end, it might have been better to have Miss Dawson still operating the controls. Otherwise, it's just extras and people we know aren't going to die being put through the ultimate threat. It damages our emotional engagement at the climax.

If anything lets the side down in this story, it's the visuals. Some of this is probably as a result of the restoration work creating some unwanted artifacts but, even without that, the cave sets and the Silurian base are a bit tatty looking and lacking in detailing. The Cyclotron room, which is big and presumably had a bit of money spent on it, doesn't really look all that. The musical score too is disproportionately unimpressive to some compared to the investment. It's intellectually very satisfying that composer Carey Blyton arranged the music to underscore the Silurians' appearances using archaic instruments to indicate their prehistoric nature; but, if that means it sounds like the key motifs are being played on a kazoo, I can see how it would be unsettling to some people (me, I love it, but I'm a sucker for Carey Blyton's Doctor Who work). One last thought: did I miss it, or do they never fully explain the headaches and high levels of absenteeism that are uncovered as part of UNIT's investigation, which are highlighted as significant early on, but then forgotten about? Is it something the Silurians are doing, or something to do with the Cyclotron, or just a coincidence? We may never know.

Like Into The Dalek, this story features disagreements with soldiers, and negotiations with a friendlier individual member of a race while the rest of its kind are hostile.

Deeper Thoughts:
It's what you do with it that counts. At seven episodes duration, Doctor Who and the Silurians is the longest story yet tackled for the blog. One of the advantages that random jumping through the back catalogue has over watching in order is that the stories seem to be longer in the early years of Who, and it can feel like a slog. On closer examination, though, I find that may be something of a false impression: in the first twenty odd years of the series, the vast majority of stories are 4 or 6 parters, with a rare 2 or 3 parter here and there. A mere nine oversized outliers, three apiece for the first three Doctors, exist; Pertwee's three are all in his first year, so from 1971 onwards there is nothing longer than 6 episodes again (Trial of a Timelord, nominally a 14 episode epic, is being treated as four separate stories for the purposes of this blog, chiefly because it is not a 14 episode epic and is four separate stories, so there!). Specific circumstances dictated some of the nine's extra length: a couple of scripts fell through in Troughton's final year, so many stories, including his swansong The War Games, were stretched to fill the gaps, and a 12 episode Dalek story was deliberately commissioned for William Hartnell's era, as it must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

The remainder of the nine are all seven episodes long, like the Silurians story. Though it doesn't seem like much - only an episode more than the standard 6-parters - the addition of that one extra part does something significant to the structure, forcing the author to find more incident to sustain the running time. In this story, it necessitates the need for the plague subplot; my eldest picked up on this, and said he thought it might have been better to have two separate stories (lizard men, plague) rather than lump them together. That's the issue in a nutshell; seven eps is long, but not quite long enough to be special, and if it forces you to bring in strong subplots, why not just do two stories and give yourself the extra marketing potential of more 'opening nights'. Barry Letts took over the producer role for Doctor Who during Jon Pertwee's first season, and he inherited a season structure where there were three - three! - seven-episode stories in a row. This was dictated not by story but by cost (making the most out of the sets created for each new tale), but it was a straitjacket, and it was understandably changed as quickly as possible. More by luck than judgement they all turned out to be very strong stories, but I'd still recommend not often watching them back to back.

Even though they were never perhaps so long early on as one would think, the average length of a story has reduced as Doctor Who has endured. Nowadays, multi-episode stories and cliffhangers are mostly for special occasions, and the norm is a single 45 minute-long story, the rough equivalent of the old 2-parter. This can mean that new Who loses out on depth, but it makes up for that with sparing use of the longer tale (a story like Human Nature, for example, could not have been told effectively in one episode) and weaving in elements to tell a longer story arc over the course of a series. The quality of results have differed over the years, as one would expect them to; experimentation doesn't and shouldn't stop. In 2015, an attempt to do more longer stories ended up being a bit plodding, but this latest year was better for doing more one-offs.

In fact, the only slightly bum note for me of a generally successful 2017 run came in the final one of the sequence of three linked 'Monks' stories. I loved Extremis and The Pyramid at the End of the World, and I wanted to love The Lie of the Land. In the end, though, it suffered too much from inflated expectations in being the end of a trilogy. It would have been stronger if the aliens in control were completely new to the audience at the beginning of the episode, and it also wouldn't have felt so easy at the end when they were banished if we'd only seen them around for 45 minutes instead of three whole weeks. The earlier two shows would have had to have been rewritten, obviously, but they'd have withstood that. We'd also have had eleven precious stories to treasure from the Twelve-Bill-Nardole era, instead of what feels like only nine.

In Summary:
The Doctor and the Reptile Earthmen.