Doctor Who: Beneath the Surface review, Doctor Who: Beneath the Surface DVD review
Starring
Jon Pertwee, Peter Davison, Caroline John, Katy Manning, Roger Delgado, Nicholas Courtney, Janet Fielding
Director
Various
Doctor Who:
Beneath the Surface

Reviewed by Ross Ruediger

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n 1970, “Doctor Who” went through a period of massive change. There was a new Doctor, a new companion, a new production team, and the show was (for the first time) being broadcast in color. Perhaps most important to its texture, the title character was stranded on Earth in the late 20th century, working as a scientific advisor for the military organization UNIT. All of these changes combined to create a radically different take on an established series that had been running successfully for six seasons. Time and space travel was put on hold for a couple years, and instead of the Doctor meeting alien creatures on distant planets, they were showing up in his backyard.

The second story of the third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) was a mammoth seven-part tale entitled “Doctor Who and the Silurians” (notably the only time in the series’ history that “Doctor Who” was actually included as part of a serial’s title). In a sublime twist, the aliens weren’t really aliens at all, but a race of prehistoric reptilian creatures that had occupied the planet long before humans came along. Fearing imminent destruction due to the moon coming too close to the Earth, they went deep underground to hibernate until the danger had passed. But their alarm clock failed to go off, and so they overslept for millions of years until some humans working at a nuclear power plant accidentally awakened them. Needless to say, the Silurians are rather peeved by the fact that the apes have grown into intelligent creatures, and they quite reasonably see no reason to forego their claim on their planet. The Doctor sees things differently, and hopes to broker peace between the two species. His reasoning is that the planet can be shared; however nobody ever seems to see situations as ideally as the Doctor does.

Of the three stories on the “Beneath the Surface” box set, “The Silurians” is the standout. Despite its nearly three hour running time, it does a good job of keeping the story moving forward without ever getting bogged down in too much repetition or just plain old running around. Episodes five and six go off on a tangent in which the Silurians unleash a plague upon the human race, which gives the story a more ambitious feel than it otherwise might have had were it just man vs. lizard. The story is also one of a handful of Pertwee tales to have had its original color masters destroyed. However, black and white film versions, as well as a set of off-air color videotapes made by an American fan, do exist. Using these two sources as a basis for reconstruction, as well as the usual Vidfire resources used by the Restoration Team, “The Silurians” exists in color once again, and looking closer to its original vision than ever before. Diehard fans who owned the previous VHS release from the early ‘90s should know that this version towers above it on every level. To be sure, the story has its drawbacks, such as a terrible T. Rex type creature that appears in several scenes, and the background score is some of the strangest music ever laid over a “Doctor Who” story, so be prepared to deal with that rather intrusive element as well.  

A few seasons later the production team decided the revisit the concept, but chose to introduce a new race that were “cousins” of the Silurians. “The Sea Devils” is another long story, but only six episodes long this time. The Doctor and his companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning) go to visit the Master (Roger Delgado) who was recently captured and is being held in a maximum-security prison on an island. It doesn’t take long for them to discover he is up to no good, and part of his plan involves using the Sea Devils against humanity by inciting war between the two species. The plot isn’t terribly deep and is in many ways just a rehash of “The Silurians” storyline. In this case there actually is an awful lot of running around, especially in the first couple of episodes, but there’s quite a bit of action as well, so the story moves along at a nice pace. The performances from the regulars are all very good and there’s loads of location shooting (i.e. filmed sequences) that give the proceedings an ambitious feel. Like the previous story, the background score is just plain weird.

In 1984 the series revisited both species in “Warriors of the Deep,” which is the third and final story in this box set. With the far more usual count of four episodes, this came at a time in which the show was frequently revisiting creatures and characters from its long past. The Doctor (Peter Davison), Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson) arrive on a sea base in the 2084. They discover the human race in the midst of a Cold War (though nationalities are never mentioned) and to make things worse, both the Silurians and Sea Devils are on the rise once again. The problem is that “Warriors of the Deep” is just a really terrible “Doctor Who” story. Pretty much everything that could go wrong with it did. The script veers between boring and incomprehensible. The effects work is often unbelievably poor, culminating in the Myrka, a creature that has long held the status of “Worst Doctor Who Monster Ever.” It is literally two men in either end of a big suit, and makes the T. Rex in the first story look fairly reasonable by comparison. The costumes are garish, and the colorful makeup pancaked all over the actors’ faces makes no sense. The over-lit design of the sea base is cringe inducing. Basically everything you’ve ever heard that’s bad about classic “Who” can be found in “Warriors of the Deep,” and the DVD extras make no effort to pretend otherwise.

It’s best to think of “Warriors” as a bonus feature itself. These three stories can be purchased individually or in this box, but by buying the box you’re essentially getting “Warriors” for free anyway, and the other two stories make up for its presence. Certainly, the story cannot be recommended as a standalone purchase. It’s unfortunate that the Davison era has recently been so woefully misrepresented on DVD, as there are at least a half a dozen or so other tales from his tenure that should be out before fare like this and “Time-Flight.” Bring on the “Kinda” and “Snakedance” double pack! Or the Black Guardian trilogy!! “Frontios,” please!

Special Features: It’s almost become tiring talking about the sheer amount of extras on the “Doctor Who” DVDs. Once again there is no shortage of goodies for the hardcore fan to dive into, including commentaries on all 17 episodes from various members of the cast and crew. Numerous documentaries and featurettes on each story are present – the most interesting is “What Lies Beneath,” a 35-minute exploration of how the cultural and political climate of the time led to the creation of “The Silurians.” A short piece called “Color Silurian Overlay” is a fascinating look at the nuts and bolts of restoring the visuals of the tale. “Musical Scales” is a noteworthy look at exactly why the music in the first two stories is so weird. “The Depths” is a great making-of piece on “Warriors” that, as previously mentioned, is more of an explanation of how to the entire affair ended up so dreadful. These are only the docs that fascinated me. You’ll find all sorts of buried treasure amongst the many hours presented here. There are also all the usual trailers and continuities, isolated music scores(!), photo galleries, production subtitles and so forth.

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