Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Silurian Candidate
Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor and companions Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Mel (Bonnie Langford) finish off their run of Big Finish run of the Doctor Who main range for the year with their biggest story yet. Taking on the Earth's original inhabitants, the Silurians, it's a thrilling adventure set a hundred years in the future with the world on the brink of armageddon.
The Silurian Candidate, written by Matthew J Elliott and directed by Ken Bentley, has been released on digital audio and CD. It's available for Big Finish customers now and goes on general release on the 31st October. Here's the synopsis...
"The year is 2085, and planet Earth remains on the edge of a nuclear precipice. At any moment, either of two vast rival power blocs, to the West and the East, might unleash a torrent of missiles, bringing about the terrible certainty of Mutual Assured Destruction.
But there is another way – or so Professor Ruth Drexler believes. Hence her secret mission deep in Eastern bloc territory, to uncover a hidden city, never before glimpsed by human eyes: the Parliament of the Silurians, the lizard people who ruled the Earth before humankind.
There, she’ll encounter a time-travelling Doctor, who knows the Silurians well. A Doctor on a secret mission of his own."
My son Ben, massive fan and knowledgeable of all things Doctor Who will be joining me again to the review this latest release...
Baz Greenland (aged 36)
Warriors of the Deep, the 1984 Peter Davison story that kicked off series 21, doesn't have a good reputation (memories of the Myrka are enough to make you shudder) but there was a great story in there; Silurians and Sea Devils rising from their sleep to take advantage of a human base caught in the midst of a cold war conflict between the Eastern and Western blocs. What better time to reclaim Earth from humanity then when it is set on the brink of nuclear armageddon? "There should have been another way" the Fifth Doctor lamented after the brutal events of that story (and were not just talking about the effects) and thankfully that dramatic if poorly executed premise is given a much stronger sequel in The Silurian Candidate.
The Seventh Doctor returns to Earth a year after those events, with Mel and Ace in tow, to complete finished business. This is the darker, more manipulative Doctor, something that Ace experienced first hand in the events of series 26. She spends this story angry at his machinations, rallying against his attempts to give the planet back to its original inhabitants . With Mel in tow, there's a nice counterpart to that anger; her Seventh Doctor was more jovial but here she witnesses just how dark he may go to achieve his goals. This story gives her a bit of a rude awakening too, making it possibly the strongest Mel story yet.
There are some great ideas here from Matthew J Elliott; without the limitations of budget he can explore the epic caverns of the Parliament of the Silurians, hidden beneath China and there is a sense of grandeur that would work very well (if the budget allowed) in the show. Huge chambers large enough to fit dinosaur guards, which make for an exciting cliffhanger to the first part when the TARDIS trio encountering Fiona Sheehan's Professor Ruth Drexler and her team, awaken a T-Rex like dinosaur.
I would have loved to have seen the story explore more of the Silurian power base. Mel gets the most meat to this story when she encounters the Silurian leaders and uncovers their plans to ignite nuclear war between the two human factions in order to gain the advantage and re-emerge.
It's an intriguing moral dilemma; humanity has so obviously squandered the planet and now looks to destroy it completely - why do they deserve to keep it when the Silurians were here first? This is something Ace has to deal with; she is used to the Doctor putting humanity first against other non-human invaders, but he does have a point. Their methods might be wrong but the Silurians are the Earth's original inhabitants, their lands invaded by another and they have a voice that needs to be heard.
If there's any failing here, it's in the human characters; while I was able to engage in the motivations of Silurian leader Chordok (played by Nicholas Briggs), the human characters were a little less interesting. Drexler was decent enough as the human link, though I never really understood what her goal was; she certainly helps the Doctor and Ace to try and convince Western Bloc Chairman Bart Falco (Nicholas Asbury) that there was a greater threat but doesn't drive the story after her initial investigation into the Silurian city. Falco himself is largely a caricature (though Asbury plays him well), a sort of Donald Trump-like figure, who has risen to power based on his business experience and not political skill. Louise Mai Newberry does give a certain sense of nobility Eastern bloc Director Shen, who is forced to deal with obnoxious, overbearing personality of Falco in attempted peace talks.
But there are some good ideas none the less; the reveal that the long-hunted Silurian informant was Falco himself was a big surprise, and the Doctor using his defeat to force the Silurians - and not the Western Bloc - to negotiate peace with Shen was a nice idea, showing just how much this Doctor can scheme his way ahead of the game. There are also some great references to past stories, from the Doctor's casual reference to the Key to Time to the connection between this story and 1970's The Silurians as well of course Warriors From The Deep. It feels in many way, like a trilogy for the classic Homo-Reptilia (who rather appropriate dispute their given names as human titles).
There are some wonderful ideas that I would love to see explored again; does the peace treaty work? Where are the Silurians in future Earth events like the Dalek invasion? Even better would be an explorations of Silurians old and new in the show itself. As the end to 2017's Seventh Doctor, Mel and Ace trilogy, it's the strongest of the three by far and perhaps one of the highlights of the main range this year.
Ben Greenland (aged 11)
This sequel to Warriors of the Deep (which may be worth a rewatch now), is definitely the stronger of the two stories. The Silurian Candidate is essentially a shopping list of Homo Reptilia history; Silurian warriors, sea devils, the dino hybrids (from the Third Doctor novels) and the classic Doctor who and the Silurians; This is an essential story for all Silurian fans.
Part one kicks off what might be the most manipulative Seventh Doctor story ever. Ace telling Mel about recent developments, her asking the Doctor and him being secretive, it is all rather mysterious. Drexler is a character who needs to be there, since Ace doesn't really explain anything either. The second part with the city exploration was really interesting. The Kahlers were fun too, while Drexler is also cold hearted in a way.
Part three introduced the threat of nuclear war and the island, which set everything up for the finale. The last part had Ace going against the Doctor and locking him in the room while trying to be him. The Doctor and Mel do only half the work but set up everything for a the climax when they awaken. It was a fun story, and fitting to end this year's trilogy of the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Mel.
After Part 2, listeners are treated to The Silurian Candidate music suite which has an edgy, synthesised feel that captures the new future of the story's setting. There are some lovely, moody atmospheric tones and sense of grandeur that capture the essence of the Silurian capital city and the Earth on the brink of armageddon.
At the end of the story, comes the trailer for the next Big Finish Doctor Who main range release Time In Office (which was released on the same day as The Silurian Candidate and will be reviewed shortly). This story sees the Fifth Doctor return to Gallifrey to take up his role as President of the Timelords. With the interesting mix of Tegan and Leela together too, this could be something rather special.
The three interviews are the usual standard, quality fare, with the cast and crew discussing the cerebral nature of the Silurians and the story. There's further insight into Mel's development in Big Finish that continues from the extras on last month's release The Blood Furnace while it's interesting to see Sophie Aldred talk about the darker aspects of the Doctor and Ace in this story is still impacted by the events of The Curse Of Fenric.