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Doctor Who: Beneath The Surface boxset

01/03/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Doctor Who: Beneath The Surface boxset in the USA - or Buy Doctor Who: Beneath The Surface boxset in the UK

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region 2 DVD: pub: BBC 2438. Price: about 12.00 (UK) if you know where to look) I have to confess that I tend to be a little cautious when it comes to buying boxsets that aren't consecutive stories. On the other hand, it's difficult to get the three stories below separately now and at about 4 each, makes this a decent bargain. You could always argue that only as a boxset would you seriously consider buying 'Warriors Of The Deep'?! That aside, lets look at each of the stories.

Doctor Who And The Silurians

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC 2438(A). 2 DVDs 175 minutes 7 * 25 minute episodes and extras)

stars: Jon Pertwee, Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney, Peter Miles, Fulton McKay and Geoffrey Palmer

Settling down after his regeneration, the Doctor (actor Jon Pertwee) is modifying his new old car, Bessie, when he and Liz Shaw (actress Caroline John) are called to Wenley Moor's underground nuclear station by the Brigadier (actor Nicholas Courtney), where there is a disturbing power drain and people disappearing when they explore the underground cave system. The Doctor realises that there is more going on and does his own investigation despite the station's own security guard doing his own investigation and wounds a biped intelligent reptile. The latter flees above ground and the reptiles use an ambitious scientist, Dr. Quinn (actor Fulton McKay), from the station to try to locate him.

Despite UNIT's own investigations, the Doctor does get to meet the reptiles. The name 'Silurians' coming from Quinn's notes although it is acknowledged later that they don't come from that time period in a later story so I shaltn't refer to them as such other than as a title reference. He convinces their leader that they and the humans can live in peace if they talk as neither species need the same land conditions. Unfortunately, other reptiles disagree and infect the security officer with a virus they used against primates in their own time. The leader discovering this gives the Doctor a sample of the virus as a gesture towards peace. As he and Liz try to find an effective cure, the virus spreads, not least to London where visiting government under-secretary Masters (actor Geoffrey Palmer) had hastily returned with fatal results. Things get worse when the reptiles kidnap the Doctor as he's just discovered the cure for the virus.

'Doctor Who And The Silurians' as written by Malcolm Hulke does much for the Pertwee era as it introduced a new dangerous species to the mythos although it was rarely used again which seems a pity. I doubt if the reptiles only had one stronghold after all. There was a lot going on and with the secondary plot of the virus, this story is not obviously padded out to complete its episode quota.

The extras, especially the audio commentary, brings a flavour of what it was like back in 1970. I'm not entirely convinced by the 'Going Underground' as to how much people questioned any metaphors behind any of the Who stories. I mean, it wasn't until the late 80s that people finally understood the Nazi metaphor with the Daleks. Back in the 60s and at a tender age, you watched with intent not with an analytical turn and that included the parents. There was little to compare it to, much less fanzines discussing the subject. With Pertwee's era and a better understanding of the viewing figures, it was a little easier to target more audience appeal and still maintain the series as a family show.

The aforementioned audio commentary again plays musical chairs with a selection of cast (Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney, Peter Miles and Geoffrey Palmer) and production (Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks and director Timothy Combe). A good percentage of it looked at acting technique, production problems and even the ethics of the plot which is all good insight. More importantly, they were also a little better prepared in that they could put names to faces this time around. I should point out that this was recorded about three years ago as Geoffrey Palmer plugs his appearance in the current 'Doctor Who Christmas Special'.

An important start to the Pertwee era that holds up remarkably well with a complete restoration of colour which would have been unthinkable a couple decades ago.

Doctor Who And The Sea Devils

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC 2438(B). 1 DVD 150 minutes 6 * 25 minute episodes and extras)

stars: Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning and Roger Delgado

Without the Silurians, I doubt if there would have been any thought to do a sea-going version. In many respects, with their long necks and turtle-heads, the Sea Devils (a species not actually named in the series by themselves but only a remark from one of their early surviving victims) looked less human. It would be interesting to see how they would be interpreted today.

However, as this is 1972 and the Doctor (actor Jon Pertwee) and his companion, Jo Grant (actress Katy Manning) are visiting the imprisoned Master (actor Roger Delgado), they hear of missing boats in the North Sea and investigate. A sentient species of amphibious reptiles have awoken and decided to put the primates back in their place. They also discover an ally in the shape of the Master who has bewitched his prison governor with a story of infiltrating agents. All of this makes things difficult for the Doctor to try to get some peace between the two warring species and ultimately does something that he was annoyed that UNIT did against the reptiles some times called the Silurians.

The short length of the synopsis is largely to avoid giving away too many surprises if you haven't seen the story before. It is a plot that draws you together many ingredients with a lot of nice touches like the Master appreciating the Clangers as well as finding a prison no real prison, just a base for his own operations. The Doctor is a combination of action man and scientific genius and Jon Pertwee brings him to life with vivid credibility.

This is a very involving story with much of it recorded on location with the co-operation of the British Navy, which the audio commentary gives a lot of information about what happened at the time. Even so, none of them can explain how a submarine can go in reverse, although it is possible. Even more so, with alien menaces why UNIT wasn't called in but I suspect that budget would have had something to do with that as well as add some variety. The extras give a lot more information, including some cine film recorded by one of the sailors of Jon Pertwee on the base and some of the Sea Devils attack. It is certainly one of the Pertwee era's finest stories.

Doctor Who: Warriors Of The Deep

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC 2438(C). 1 DVD 100 minutes 64* 25 minute episodes and extras)

stars: Peter Davison. Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson and Tom Adams

The one thing I find odd about this boxset is why include the fifth Doctor story just because it features the Silurians and Sea Devils? All right, I can see the villain connection but jumping two regenerations and watching one after the other shows a general lapse in quality between the Pertwee and Davison eras and we're not talking the poor quality Merka beast here. Granted, the availability of the previous Pertwee stories were probably not available to watch when scriptwriter Johnny Byrne wrote it but even a novice would recognise that the Silurian leader who wanted peace died back then. In terms of planning and such, the 'Warriors Of The Deep' looks purely as an excuse to bring back two earlier reptilian species back rather than do much constructively with them. This is confirmed in the extras but nothing prevents this as a story that should have had a serious re-think and sent it back to the drawing board and get right.

The TARDIS arrives back in Earth-space in 2084 where it is attacked by Earth forces seeing it as a potential threat. The Doctor (actor Peter Davison) with his companions, Tegan (actress Janet Fielding) and Turlough (actor Mark Strickson) takes evasive action and materialises the TARDIS in an undersea base. There, skulduggery is already afoot as enemy agents are preparing to take over the base's missiles and use them for their own purpose using a cybernetic equipped technician to re-program their guidance systems.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and his companions get into trouble with the base's security systems and people as the reptiles, aka Silurians and Sea Devils, make their own attack with the formidable electrically charged Merka with a simple enough plan to use the missiles as a pre-emptive strike so both sides of the human race wipe themselves out. In an odd twist of fate, this is the plan that the reptile species take over to use for their own aims. Logistically, it would have made sense to let them go ahead and watch from a distance. The Doctor disposes of the Merka but is unsuccessful in negotiating a peace and well, the rest doesn't need a spoiler.

Interestingly, the upgrade in costume effects by making the Sea Devils look like ancient Samurai doesn't look too bad. At least they can stand against bullets now. The Silurian reptitles come out a lot worse. With immobile mouths, it is left to the flashing third eye to tell who is speaking rather than leave it as it was originally intended, a deadly weapon. It would have been so easy for them to have been given a mouth like the Ice Warriors to give them a little more facial expression. Considering that both reptile species er...rubbery walk suggests mobility was a problem for the actors inside. The story itself is practically a pantomime, not helped when the human make-up looks so made-up. The future is going to be great for cosmetics.

The audio commentary by actors Peter Davison and Janet Fielding with script editor Eric Saward and visual effects designer Mat Irwine acknowledges all the shortcomings of this story. If you ever thought audio commentaries were always nice then this one should prove contrary. Not that it's done in nasty way but it does reveal the BBC's limitations at the time simply because not enough money or time was invested in it. If anything, it shows a level of complacency had developed for 'Doctor Who' in the 80s. Oh, the sign they took for being that for toilets looks more like a changing room for the radiation suits many of them wore.

The other extras dissect the problems that beset this show from many of the people involved. My overall conclusion was none of it came out as planned and an special effects designer Mat Irvine comments, they were given little time and no money and still expected to deliver. It's amazing that it works as well as a pantomime.

'Warriors Of The Deep' is recognised as one of the poorer 'Who' stories but as with any show, when you've reached the deepest point, even underwater, the only way is up after that. Well, maybe...

GF Willmetts

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