Newest Review: ... being the answer to all our problems to being the cause of many of them. On a more stylistic level the story also have a lot to commend... more
WHAT LIES BENEATH
Doctor Who - Beneath the Surface (DVD)
Member Name: Mauri
Doctor Who - Beneath the Surface (DVD)
Advantages: Two excellent stories featuring great monsters from the original show. Excellent DVD bonus features.
Disadvantages: A very weak third story.
Growing up in the 70's and being a big fan of the original Doctor Who series I have fond memories of being scared and excited watching Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker in particular deal with an array of terrifying and sometimes less convincing monsters. Some make a greater impression and stay with you for longer than others. The Dalek stories are the obvious example but I also remember eyeing shop window dummies very suspiciously after having watched the original Auton story and for some reason the Silurians and Sea Devils have always been among the most memorable of monster for me.
The BBC has started packaging together some Dr Who stories with themes running through them into handy box sets. One suspect's that part of the reason for doing this is putting in some weaker stories with the good ones and then selling the whole thing for an inflated price. Whether true or not it is true to say that in this collection two of the stories are much stronger than the last.
STORY 1: THE SILURIANS
Jon Pertwee - Third Doctor
Caroline John - Liz Shaw
Nicholas Courtney --Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Fulton Mackay -- Dr Quinn
Peter Miles -- Dr Lawrence
Ian Cunningham -- Dr Meredith
Norman Jones -- Major Baker
Thomasine Heiner -- Miss Dawson
Geoffrey Palmer -- Masters
Paul Darrow -- Captain Hawkins
Writer: Malcolm Hulke
Director: Timothy Combe
Script editor: Terrance Dicks
Producer: Barry Letts
The original story was broadcast in seven 25 minute episodes between January and March 1970. This phase of the doctor's adventures saw him earth bound has the Time Lords had removed his ability to use the TARDIS to travel through time and space. The third doctor now played by Jon Pertwee is acting as a scientific advisor for UNIT (UNified Intelligence Taskforce, formerly United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) under the command of one of the show's most popular characters Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart played by the late Nicholas Courtney. To assist the doctor we have Liz Shaw herself a leading UNIT scientist.
UNIT are called in to investigate mysterious power drains and a high incidence of mental breakdowns at an experimental nuclear power research centre built into a network of caves in Wenley Moor. One of the power plant workers has been killed by what seems to be a large animal. Another worker seems to have been so traumatised by the events that he's suffered a complete mental breakdown. The managers of the plant resent UNIT's interference and it becomes obvious that the answer to the plant's energy problems and the worker's death lies deep in the caves. When the Doctor goes into the caves he is attacked by a creature that belongs to Earth distant past and he soon has to use all his skills to avoid a devastating war which could result in the annihilation of the human race.
This is a very good story for many reasons. It introduced fans to the Silurians one of the most enduring of the Doctor's foes who later developed in to the Sea Devils. The story showed a lot of sophistication and dealt with many quite serious themes, which might have been lost on a younger audience but which would have made the show interesting to adult viewers who often watched it with their kids. The Silurians are not intrinsically bad, the story explains how they were the original dominant life form on the earth and had built a technologically advanced civilisation millennia before humans where around. To them it is humans that are the alien invaders. As always science fiction more often than not allows us to see the preoccupation and fears of the time in which it was made. In this regard this story is set in the background of the late 60's where race riots were still in the recent past and a general animosity towards ethnic minorities was the norm rather than the exception. The conflict between the Silurian and the humans who both have valid claims to the earth and their inability despite the Doctor's best attempts to live together in peace and add to each other's cultures simply mirrored the view of many politicians and commentators of the time.
The story also dealt with the growing distrust of technology and science and a rise in environmentalism. The feeling is that the scientists are meddling with nature and are unleashing forces that they don't understand or have the ability to control. The anti nuclear power movements was strong at this time and in culture science was beginning to change from being the answer to all our problems to being the cause of many of them.
On a more stylistic level the story also have a lot to commend it. The reproduction of the caves in the BBC studios is quite effective by 1970's standards and the limited budget. There is also some good location filming in and around Surrey especially around Farnham Heath Nature Reserve that would later be used for filming the opening scenes of Gladiator. The Silurians have also become one of the iconic monsters of the show thanks to the look of the costumes. They were designed as hominid reptiles the end result of millions of years of reptile evolution if the dinosaurs had not been wiped out and mammals taken over.
The backing cast was very strong with some great performances by British actor destined to go on to greater things. Fulton Mackay (later to play Mr Mackay in 'Porridge'), Geoffrey Palmer ('Butterflies' and 'Reggie Perrin') and Paul Darrow (Avon in 'Blake's Seven') all appear in supporting roles. As usual Jon Pertwee bring a great deal of depth and intelligence to his version of the doctor and it is nice to see Liz Shaw as his assistant who although not the doctor's intellectual equal didn't let herself be patronised in the same way as later assistants. Although her character didn't last all that long I always thought she was one of the better of the early female companions.
The writer of the story was Malcolm Hulke who had worked on Dr Who on other occasions and was responsible for some classic such as 'The Faceless Ones' (1967), The War Games (with Terrance Dicks, 1969), The Sea Devils (1972) and Frontier in Space (1973). His political sensibilities were of the Left and his unfavourable attitude to authority and the military in particular is reflected in this story and many others. Without giving anything away the dramatic ending of the story illustrates this point. The production team also included legendary Dr Who collaborators Terrance Dicks and producer Barry Letts.
STORY 2: THE SEA DEVILS
Jon Pertwee - Third Doctor
Katy Manning - Jo Grant
Roger Delgado -- The Master
Clive Morton -- Trenchard
Declan Mulholland -- Clark
Hugh Futcher -- Hickman
Brian Justice -- Wilson
Terry Walsh -- Barclay
Stanley McGeagh -- Drew
Royston Tickner -- Robbins
Peter Forbes-Robertson -- Chief Sea Devil
Writer: Malcolm Hulke
Director: Michael E. Briant
Script editor: Terrance Dicks
Producer: Barry Letts
This was one of my all time favourite stories from 1972 when I first started watching Dr Who, I can still remember that feeling of wide eyed terror as the sea devils emerged from the sea and walked out of the waves on to the beach. The doctor was once again Jon Pertwee this time assisted by Jo a junior member of UNIT played by one of my earliest crushes Katy Manning. The story follows on from The Daemons plot where the Master defeated by the Doctor is held prisoner on an offshore high-security prison. You there's going to be trouble when close to the prison ships are being sunk by a mystery assailant. The Doctor and Jo cannot resist investigating they soon find themselves in trouble with reptilian creatures referred to a Sea Devils, which we later find out are a race related to the Silurians. It's not long before the Master gets in on the act when he attempt to build a device to control the Sea Devils and make them do his bidding.
There are so many things to commend this story, chief among them is the Master played by the wonderful Roger Delgado. For me he is the definitive Master a perfect foil for the Third Doctor's Edwardian Dandy persona. The Master was suave, an intellectual match for the Doctor and his most dangerous opponent because of this. You always felt there was a little hidden grudging admiration between these two.
While I remember really liking Jo when I saw this originally, in retrospect her character is a little too cutesy and has a tendency to scream a little too easily. The doctor is often patronising to her treating her little better than a child, something he would find difficult to do with his next companion Sarah Jane or indeed with his previous one Liz Shaw.
The story once again written by Malcolm Hulke is thoughtful and complex aimed at a slightly older audience than some later episodes in future Doctor incarnations. Once again there are some serious undercurrents in the plot. The story dealt with the growing distrust of technology and science and a rise in environmentalism. The Doctor also shows a strong belief in pacifism and is willing to talk to aggressors rather than simply blowing them up. All attitudes which were very much of the time.
One other aspect of the show that is worth mentioning is the incidental music which mainly consisted of experimental use of the newly developed synthesizers to try and give the show an eerie futuristic background sound. Paradoxically it now sounds very dated but still quirky. Couple this with the iconic look of the Sea devils (in their string vests!), the one man Hovercraft the Doctor uses and The Master on a Jet Ski ...you've got a classic Doctor who!
STORY 3: WARRIORS OF THE DEEP
This is where things start to go wrong!
First broadcast in 1984 this was the prime time season opener for the new fifth Doctor series.
Peter Davison- Fifth Doctor
Janet Fielding- Tegan Jovanka
Mark Strickson- Vislor Turlough
Tom Adams -- Vorshak
Ian McCulloch -- Nilson
Ingrid Pitt -- Solow
Nigel Humphreys -- Bulic
Tara Ward -- Preston
Martin Neil -- Maddox
Nitza Saul -- Karina
Writer: Johnny Byrne
Director: Pennant Roberts
Script editor: Eric Saward
Producer: John Nathan-Turner
Sometime in the future the earth is divided into two opposing power blocs one of which has created a secret underwater base armed with nuclear weapons aimed at their rivals. The nuclear weapons cannot be used unless a specially trained human operator can connect or 'Sync' their mind with the computer and authorize the weapon's deployment. Meanwhile the Doctor has decided to show his companions Turlough and Tegan a bit of the earth in their future and by mistake has landed the Tardis on the secret base. It's not long before they are detected as intruders and imprisoned as spies coinciding with some real saboteurs on board the base trying to get control of the nuclear weapons.
What about the Silurians?
Well they too are about and wish to take over the base and force a nuclear attack on the opposing power bloc which would then lead to a massive nuclear war between the human factions hopefully wiping each other out and leaving the earth for the reptilian races.
It is easy to see that this story is not penned by the original Silurian story writer Malcolm Hulke who had passed away a few years earlier. It doesn't have any of the subtlety or complexity of the previous two and to be honest simply doesn't make all that much sense. The making of the show was hampered by time and money constraints and this shows in the appalling costumes, props and special effects. The cast which includes some notable actors can't really be totally blamed although you feel that the shoddiness of the technical aspects of the show rubbed off on their performances.
The worst thing about the story is the Myrka, a large marine monster that the Silurians send to attack the sea base. This is supposed to be one of the deadliest creatures in the sea and almost indestructible and yet the best costume they could come up with is a pantomime horse borrowed from a BBC children's serial of the time 'Rentaghost' made to look like a pantomime Dragon, believe me Doctor Who special effect don't get worse than this, ever!
The story is also hampered by the choice of subject matter which today seems very outdated. The Doctor at one point is asked by Tegan what has changed in the future and the doctor replies 'nothing much, still two big power bloc vying for control of the earth' alluding to the Cold war and the rivalry between the US and the Soviet union which would have been topical in 1984, but since 1989 and the fall of the Berlin wall all this seems rather outdated and certainly a lot has changed.
In Peter Davison's tenure the scripts were getting a little ropy but there were still some good stories, but not this one. Another reason for fifth Doctor in general not reaching the heights of previous show was standard of his companions. This story features two of the most annoying, apart from Bonnie Langford who came later.
One other oddity to feature in this already odd story was the presence of Hammer Horror legend Ingrid Pitt as the base's duplicitous medical officer. She and 'Survivors' star Ian McCulloch really ham it up and I hope they knew what a turkey they were involved with.
Not much more to be said, it was a disaster from start to finish, almost bad enough to be good...but not quite!
DVD & BONUS MATERIAL
As always lots of extra goodies on these box sets. The extras are a mixture of those found on the original individual releases of these stories on DVD.
*SPECIAL COMMENTARY featuring production team members Terrance Dicks (Script Editor), Timothy Combe (Director), Barry Letts (Producer) as well as cast members Caroline John (Liz Shaw), Peter Miles (Dr Lawrence), Geoffrey Palmer (Masters), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier). This is the usual mixture of anecdotes and insights into the making of the episodes.
*PRODUCTION SUBTITLES a series of text commentary by Martin Wiggins detailing cast, script development and other information relating to the story.
*WHAT LIES BENEATH- A half hour documentary examining how the environment of the time both social and political shaped the nature of the story. It features talking head type commentary by various people in the show including Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks, Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney, Timothy Combe, Peter Miles, Paul Cornell (one of the writers on the new Dr Who series) and former MP Roy Hattersley. The voice over is provided by Geoffrey Palmer.
*GOING UNDERGROUND- a 20 minute feature where members of the cast and crew discuss how the underground scenes filmed in the BBC studios where set up.
*HELLO SAILOR- A half hour feature on the making of The Sea Devil story. This includes lots of interviews and anecdotes on how the show came to be made and specifically the ideas behind the creation of the Sea Devils.
8MM FOOTAGE WITH COMMENTARY- A short film taken with a cine-camera taken by a naval rating on the base where most of the show was filmed. The film has some great footage of Jon Pertwee and the Sea Devil actor in costume talking to the crew.
*THEY CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA- A short documentary about the making of 'Warriors of the Deep' with plenty of interviews with members of the cast and crew detailing the problems they had designing the costumes and how the show failed to live up to the original ideas of the script.
*THE DEPTHS- A feature on how 'Warrior of the Deep' was made. Looking at how the show was to have been the big lead in to the new season following on from the show's 20th anniversary celebrations. It catalogues how the first initial problems with continuity with previous Silurian episodes led to many problems with the script and examining some of the themes in the story.
*EXTRACT FROM SCIENCE IN ACTION- 'Science in Action' was a kid's science show from the 80's and in this feature they talked to special effects expert on the show on how some of the models and costumes were made.
*ISOLATED MUSICAL SCORE- This option allows you to watch the story with only Carey Blyton's complete musical score as an isolated soundtrack.
*NOW AND THEN- A short 10 minute feature on the locations used in the making of the Silurian show and how they have changed now. Narrated by Geoffrey Palmer.
*MUSICAL SCALES - A fascinating if too short 13 min feature on the experimental use of synthesizers and electronic sound effects from Radiophonic Workshop in the making of the Doctor who shows concentrating on the episodes featuring the Silurians and Sea Devils. It features interview segments with composer Malcolm Clarke and other members of the cast and production team.
*COLOUR SILURIAN OVERLAY - a short but interesting feature explaining how the episodes were restored and the techniques used. Narrated by Ian T. Williams.
*RADIO TIMES BILLINGS - Episode listings, illustrations and articles about this story taken from the Radio Times magazine (in PDF format).
*PHOTO GALLERY- photos and stills from the show.
*COMING SOON- preview feature of 'The Time Meddler'
Overall and despite the awful third story this is a fantastic DVD package worth having for any fans of the original series.
'Dr Who - Beneath The Surface' can be bought as a 4 DVD box set from amazon.co.uk for £9.99 (free delivery in the UK) at the time of writing this review.
UK rating PG.
© Mauri 2011
Summary: An excellent box set despite one very weak story.
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