Doctor Who: Beneath the Surface is the latest set of classic Doctor Who DVDs to be released by the BBC. The set is well named since a lot of the action in each of the three adventures takes place beneath the ground or beneath the waves. Two incarnations of the Doctor, Jon Pertwee and Peter Davison find themselves facing off against Silurians and Sea Devils.
The Silurians and their underwater cousins, the Sea Devils, are technologically advanced reptiles that ruled Earth in the distant past. When their astronomers learned that a planetoid was heading towards Earth, they went into hibernation chambers in order to escape the impending cataclysm. Fortunately for us and unfortunately for them, the planetoid went into Earth’s orbit and became the moon.
A few million years pass and the Silurians and Sea Devils start waking up. To their great chagrin they realize that not only were their astronomers wrong, but that the descendents of apes are running the planet. Since no self-respecting Silurian can put up with such a sorry state of affairs, they start plotting do destroy mankind as soon as they come out of their hibernation chambers.
Doctor Who and the Silurians contains an important safety tip. When building an underground fission reactor coupled to a particle accelerator, be sure to check the caves in back. Otherwise you may have serious trouble. Silurians will keep tapping in to your power source, ruining your experiments, and feeding your scientists to their pet dinosaur.
It’s a bad situation, but fortunately there is a Doctor in the house.
The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and one of his most able companions, Liz Shaw (Caroline John) are tinkering with his yellow roadster when they are called to duty by the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney). Eventually they discover the presence of the Silurians, after half of the UNIT troops are zapped by heat rays, eaten by the pet dinosaur, or reduced to atavistic mental cases. Apparently we have ancestral memories of the Silurians and seeing one can make a sturdy fellow into a gibbering, apelike wreck reduced to drawing on the walls.
This all quite trying for the Brigadier and your heart goes out to him. It can’t be an easy job, leading UNIT. Always being outgunned by ravenous critters, dealing with pompous higher ups, and having to put up with a smart-ass alien has to be rough on the nerves. But Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart always manages to bear up and keep a stiff upper lip. He even manages to save the day once in a while.
Unfortunately, Doctor Who and the Silurians requires the viewer to keep a stiff upper lip, as well. The story is a good one but it’s rather convoluted and unfolds far too slowly. Another weakness is the Silurian costumes. To quote Stalin “the willing suspension of disbelief is required”. I willingly suspend disbelief as best I could just to get through A Who day, but the stiff, reptilian costumes were just too silly.
The plot mostly revolves upon the Silurians and the Humans trying to figure out how to deal with each other. The Doctor tries to negotiate peace but neither side really wants it. The angst of the late ‘60s seeps into the plot and drags it out longer than In-A-Gadda-Da- Vida (the long version). Finally the Doctor has to trick the Silurians after they overrun the reactor, take the humans hostage and try to destroy the Van Allen Belt. They had tried starting a plague earlier but the Doctor and Liz found a cure and thwarted that evil plot.
After the Doctor destroys the Silurians’ reanimating device (for some strange reason they ask him to fix it) they go back into hibernation. The Doctor promises that they will be safe but after some last minute treachery the Brigadier destroys them. The Doctor is rather upset about this but the Brigadier was quite right in my opinion. After all, both he and the viewer have had a hard time of it.
The Sea Devils
The Sea Devils is as quick paced as Doctor Who and the Silurians is slow. We got a macho slugfest going down between the Sea Devils and the Royal Navy, the Doctor (John Pertwee) and his nemesis, The Master (Roger Delgado). The Master is an evil Time Lord who’s imprisoned on a castle on the Isle of Wight. The Sea Devils are the marine equivalent of the Silurians. They’ve just started waking up and are busily sinking ships and zapping technicians at off shore instillations. Oh yeah baby, it’s on!
The Doctor and Jo Grant (Katy Manning) stumble upon all this when they visit the Master in his prison. Unbeknownst to the Doctor, The Master has tricked his warden, Colonel Trenchard (Clive Morton), into stealing electronic equipment from a nearby naval base. He plans to bring the Sea Devils out of hibernation, wipe out humanity and, oh yes, kill the Doctor.
The Doctor investigates the ship sinkings while trying to convince Captain Hart (Edwin Richfield) that the Royal Navy needs to take action. After a submarine goes missing, the Doctor takes a diving bell to the seafloor and is captured by the Sea Devils and the Master. He’s just convinced the Chief Sea Devil (Peter Forbes-Robertson) that peace is possible when the Royal Navy starts lobbing depth charges.
The Sea Devils are understandably upset and capture the navy base. The Master forces the Doctor to help him make a regeneration device for the Sea Devils who must have ordered hibernation chambers from the Acme corporation — badly in need of repair. Meanwhile, Jo Grant and Captain Hart escape and shortly return with reinforcements. Once the Royal Navy gets over being hypnotized, zapped by heat rays and trapped by tractor beams, they open a can of whup-ass on the Sea Devils who quickly retreat to their undersea lair.
The Doctor tries to make peace again but the Royal Navy is breaking out the nukes and the Sea Devils are going to regenerate a couple of million reinforcements. To prevent all out war the Doctor sabotages the regeneration device, which destroys the Sea Devils. The moral of the story is obvious: Never send a Time Lord to do a Silurian’s job.
The Sea Devils is great fun to watch because the cast and crew obviously had such fun making it. The “Making Of” extra is hilarious and one of the few extra features worth watching. (There’s also a rather cool book that you can read on your computer.) Jon Pertwee and a lot of the crew were Royal Navy veterans so they got enthusiastic cooperation from the Royal Navy and everybody had a great time of it. And if you enjoyed watching Jo Grant wiggle her bottom as she climbs a long ladder, you are in for a bit of a shock.
Warriors of the Deep
In Warriors of the Deep the Silurians are back. Set in the year 2084, the Silurians have teamed up with the Sea Devils, have stopped outsourcing their electronics and are ready to destroy humanity. It may be pretty easy since the humans are once more in a cold war situation with two superpowers on a hair trigger.
The Doctor (Peter Davison) and his companions Teagan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson) discover the tense situation when an orbiting defense satellite shoots down the TARDIS. They materialize in a submarine missile station that is about to be attacked by the Silurians (better costumes this time), the Sea Devils and the Myrka (a new and improved Silurian pet).
Of course the humans are paranoid enough when the Doctor and his friends show up after getting strange sensor readings and undergoing a missile attack drill. Throw in a bit of murder, a dash of treason and a heap of Sea Devils, and the humans are going to have a bad day of it. Despite the rapidly escalating body count, the Doctor tries yet again to make peace but Icthar (Norman Comer) is having none of it. Given that the Doctor’s record on peace making is as bad as Condaleeza Rice’s by this point, one can hardly blame a Silurian for being a bit disgruntled.
But being Silurian, Icthar overreaches by attempting to start a nuclear war. This forces the Doctor to save humanity again even though he’s not very happy about it. “I sometimes wonder why I like the people of this miserable planet so much,” mutters the Doctor as he ponders who will kill him first, the humans or the Silurians. It’s probably because of all of the TARDIS worthy babes he’s picked up over the years.
Both Warriors of the Deep and Doctor Who and the Silurians are of late Saturday night watchability and a notch or two above the standard SciFi Channel fare. The Sea Devils is great fun to watch. This is some premium quality, Jon Pertwee Doctor Who. If you buy the Doctor Who: Beneath the Suface set, I recommend that you treat it like an Oreo cookie: ditch the tasteless wafers and enjoy the creamy middle. It will be worth it.