Doctor Who and the Silurians

Written by Malcolm Hulke

Directed by Timothy Combe

Richard Dawkins is known for many things. Nowadays, he is probably most famous for being a militant, outspoken, and many would say obnoxious ambassador for atheism. More importantly, he is known for being married to former Doctor Who companion actress, Lalla Ward. But once upon a time he was known for being a biologist. Not just any biologist either, he came up with one of the most important theoretical notions in the field since Darwin and Wallace published their theory of evolution by means of natural selection. In his book, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins argued that life forms such as yourself should best be viewed not in terms of our own life span, but more of a vehicle, a means for our individual genes to achieve immortality. From this viewpoint he was able to form a tremendously insightful, partly hopeful and partly chilling conclusion: that if we perceive a fellow life-form to have enough genes in common with ourself we will do anything, even sacrifice ourselves, in order to help it survive, but if we do not feel that they are related enough to us then we will callously go about destroying them with no remorse. He even came up with a perfectly balanced set of equations showing that either course of action, be it altruistic self sacrifice or selfish genocide, were equally valid from our gene’s point of view. In doing so he explained, from an evolutionary standpoint, how humans were capable of both extraordinary altruism, and heinous atrocities. Whether or not we can accept others in this way is down to empathy.

One of the more interesting things about Dawkins’ equations though is that they do not just relate to humans – they relate to any life form that has come about due to evolution through natural selection. Everything alive, in other words*. Its clear in Doctor Who and the Silurians that it certainly applies to the eponymous Bug Eyed Monsters. Which is in many ways deeply insightful of writer Mac Hulke, since Dawkins’ book was not published until six years after this show was aired.

Silurians was one of the earlier classic Whos that I watched, and even no I remember being struck at its marvelous maturity. This is a sci-fi story in which neither the humans or the monsters are the villains, but there are small minded members of both groups who are spoiling for a fight, while others, again in both species, are striving for a peaceful outcome without bloodshed. This story is not the first in Who to do this, The Sensorites was similar in this regard, but Mac Hulke really pushed the point he was trying to make to the fore.

For a seven parter the pace isn’t too bad either, though compared to shorter stories it is a bit soggy. The disease sub-plot introduced half way through to add some more tension in the latter half works to some degree, but ends up mostly being the Doctor and Liz hanging about in a lab ogling petri dishes while the Brig answers the phone. Exciting.

Rather depressingly, the ultimate villain of the piece ends up being the Doctor’s companion, and rather than ending peacefully, shit gets all blowed up, much the their disgust of the Doctor. In fact, the Brig here is responsible for one of the worst atrocities in Who history – the Doctor will do worse, but he always had good reason, whereas the Brig’s only excuse is that he was following orders**. But this again only serves to further demonstrate the greatness of the show – a show in which even the character responsible for the most repugnant acts can be a respected in their own way.

So far, the crippling changes made to the show at the end of the last season were actually seeming to work, but could the show keep delivering without the Doctor being able to travel in space? Probably not, but don’t worry, the government have an experimental rocket for him to play with next time, in The Ambassadors of Death.

*I’m not a Dawkenzian atheist myself, but if you don’t believe evolution is the source of all life that we know of, then you don’t understand evolution.
**regardless of the outcome of the Nuremberg trials, this is actually quite a good excuse, as many many studies, like the Milgram and Stanford experiments, demonstrate that following orders is a fundamental part of human nature.

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