For the past couple of weeks, the Silurians have been appearing in their first new televised story since 1984, but I’ve been rather dissatisfied, and I’ve worked out what it is that bothers me most.
It’s not the story, which I thought was OK if not stellar. It’s not the acting, which was fine. No, it’s that they’ve changed from bipedal reptile-men into Star Trek actors with knobbly foreheads.
Let me just say again, it’s not the acting that bothers me. Nor is it the quality of the prosthetic makeup, which is clearly pretty good. I don’t mind them looking different from the ones we’ve seen before; the difference between old school Silurians and Sea Devils doesn’t phase me, and I can accept the 1980s costumes even if I think the 1970s ones were actually better.
One of the things I’ve always valued about Doctor Who, though, is its courage in showing us protagonists who are different, even when the budget or technology may not have been there to entirely carry it off. True, that has given us the cliché of the man in the rubber suit, and other supposedly laughable creations such as the ball of frozen Swarfega that is the Rutan in Horror of Fang Rock. But I’m fond of them, and not just patronisingly because they’re amusing or camp. I like them because they’re imaginative, and I excuse their limitations because I value their imaginativeness more highly.
I understand why the decision was made to show more of the actors’ faces; because it’s easier for the actor to convey emotion, because this type of prosthetic is well understood and generally pretty successful, and because the audience will therefore more easily accept the character as real. It’s also more attractive to actors whose face will be visible, both because it’s nice to be seen and because of the scope for facially expressed emotion. If you want to attract a good actor, why make it hard for yourself?
I still think it was a mistake, and I think it was a mistake particularly in the case of the Silurians. The Silurians are unique in that they’re not aliens from another planet. They’re another intelligent race sleeping under our feet, and they were here first. Because of that, part of their very strength is not how like us they are – but how different. The more they look like scaly humans, the less effective they are in shocking us out of our preconceptions about life on earth.
I understand the fear the producers must have of choosing a rubber-suit monster and having it go wrong; but I remember the first time I saw a werewolf in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “Good grief, why are we so apologetic about Doctor Who?”, I thought. It did Buffy no harm. It’s great when effects or costumes really work, but more than half the battle is giving the audience something they want to believe. Let’s have a bit of imagination.