"Hello. Are you a Silurian?"

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Given that we have the attention span of gerbils here at Androzani, six-part stories often have us tapping our fingers impatiently. And a seven-parter? Well, that'd have to be something pretty special. Fortunately, that's just what The Silurians is.

Malcolm Hulke was capable of some rubbish in his time, but this is without doubt a standout script. Longer stories are famous for having enough padding to comfortably swaddle an opening batsman, but here there's more than enough story. It's amazing just how many concepts Hulke manages to stuff into the adventure, from dinosaurs to plague to the collective unconscious. And he weaves the plot threads deftly, bringing in a strand then dropping it when it's run its course, rather than trying to stretch everything over seven parts.

Even better, Hulke allows a rich and varied array of characters plenty of elbow room, which really makes them breathe. UNIT, for a start, are thankfully about as uncosy as they get, a force to be reckoned with and with a sobering death rate. A young Paul Darrow makes a particular impression as Captain Hawkins, and the Brigadier is seriously scary as the efficient trained killer he's paid to be. (When we think about how they downgraded him later, reaching Colonel Blimp level in the Sylv years, it makes us want to kick someone.)

Other characters are excellent too, with great performances supporting good writing. Fulton McKay as the misguided scientist Quinn stands out, as does the reliably excellent Geoffrey Palmer as the very human Permanent Under-Secretary. The character we like a little less is Dr Lawrence, who has his head buried too firmly in the sand to be really credible. Overall, though, it's amazing what a depth Hulke manages to get into his characters. We particularly like the hinted at but never overt unrequited passion Miss Dawson has for Dr Quinn: it doesn't make much difference to the story, but it really brings the characters alive.

Liz is good, managing to make a serious scientific contribution at times, although there too many of those annoying "not this time" moments and those tedious exchanges about emancipation. While she screams when the Silurian biffs her about the head, we like the way she's so cool about it once she comes round instead of quivering with terror. As for the Doctor, he's great. Jon Pertwee's already mastered the role totally, and he exhibits the mix of logic, arrogance and compassion that characterises the Third Doctor at the top of his game.

But above all, the thing that really makes the story stand out is its level of moral complexity. Virtually none of the characters are black and white and, miracle of miracles, this includes the monsters. The debate going on amongst the humans about what to do with the Silurians is exactly echoed in the other camp, and on either side there are no easy answers. And the ending is probably the most shocking in all of Who. There are no concessions made here to the age of the (supposedly) target audience, which is probably why it's so good.

The story makes the most of an expanded budget, and the location shots look very good indeed. Look, men with dogs! Lots of them! And yer actual helicopter! The scenes that deliver the most bang for the buck, though, are the brilliant plague scenes at the station. Very dark and very powerful.

On the other hand, of course, we witness the birth of the dreaded CSO era. And then there're the monsters, which look exactly as you'd expect. It was a cunning wheeze keeping them off the screen for so long, although on the other hand that also gave them a regrettably big buildup. We also wonder why they kept trying to do dinosaurs when every single one turned out totally woeful, but there you go.

They had another go with the same story in Sea Devils, but that just sank like a stone. This, though, is primo stuff. Dark moments, great characters, moral depth and a story that for once justifies every one of its parts. It's one of the Third Doctor's best.

MORAL: Get them before they get you.



You would have thought that with a slightly larger budget they could have reshot the scene where Caroline John's skirt gets yanked up by her belt. Still, her skirt's so short anyway it doesn't make a lot of difference.


"It would make a night- nice trip for us." Freudian slip there, Liz?


On the brink of finding the mysterious creature, the Doctor instead goes back to the lab with some blood samples? We don't think so.


Why are the Doctor and Baker wearing those natty little scarves with their overalls? And Liz - bunches? Quelle fashion mistake.


Early on in the piece the Brigadier answers the phone, which continues to ring after he picks it up.


The Silurians cross-question Baker about human civilisation, which indicates, as you'd expect, that they don't know anything about it. But in that case, how come they know English? And how did they manage to work out that the Van Allen belt formed after their hibernation?


Why does Liz, partway through a day, change into her original dress? Did she spill coffee on the other one?


While the Doctor's saying that Earth now belongs to humans, you can see white tape, meant to anchor the head of the costume down, on the left collarbone area of the Silurian leader. And just after he says "leave the cage!", the same white tape is visible on the young Silurian's costume.


Although he later refers to "bacterium", the Doctor says "If this bacteria isn't contained...".


Liz Shaw's doctorate's in physics, not medicine. So why is she giving injections?


Why doesn't the Doctor hear the Silurians first blasting a hole in the wall, then clumping across the lab?

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