Reviewed: Big Finish’s The Silurian Candidate

The Silurian Candidate is a good story. I need to make that clear from the outset because I also have quibbles (what do you mean, I always have quibbles?!).

Matthew J. Elliott has written a proper adventure here, worthy of its title pun. The narrative is well-paced and carefully thought out. Elliott has a very visual imagination and it often plays like a screenplay rather than an audio drama – the Silurians’ method of surface surveillance is particularly imaginative. This never proves to be a problem for the story given tight direction by Ken Bentley – though, occasionally, it feels like it’s the lesser cousin to a fantastic televised story we never had.

In particular, I enjoyed the overall solution Elliott comes up with to the moral problem posed by the Silurian race. Back in 1970, Malcolm Hulke posed a fascinating question in The Silurians. If there is an entire civilisation over-sleeping beneath the surface of the planet with a territorial claim equal to ours, how do you resolve that? The meta-problem for the Doctor has always been, how does he justify leaving them alone? If Silurians have lives worth living and there is a possibility of peace between them and humans: surely there is an impetus to repeatedly attempt awakening them? Countless lives are being left unlived through no fault of their own. In The Silurian Candidate, Elliott makes it clear that the Doctor hasn’t simply forgotten about Homo Reptilia and, true to form for the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), there are large scale shenanigans afoot…

Again, I need to be clear that I enjoyed this production. It handles a relatively slim cast very well, is not over-complicated, and maintains our attention. However, there were some moments that were somewhat over-stated. We are treated to a degree of character development for Mel Bush (Bonnie Langford) and Ace (Sophie Aldred) alongside each other. But sometimes, it feels as though we’re hearing what the author wants us to take away from the story, rather than the story itself. When musing that the Doctor keeps her around to remind him how to feel, Mel wonders, “if that’s what I’m here for, what does that say about what he’s done to Ace?” This comes across as more of an annotation than a personal moment. But this is perhaps an issue of style and personal preference. As previously noted, it doesn’t get in the way of the adventure.

For the most part, this is a fairly standard political espionage tale, though the denouement does offer something a little meatier. The futuristic geopolitical arrangements are clearly and simply set-out. One particularly brash and image-focused political leader has more than a whiff of parody about him and is provides a degree of comic relief.

And there are some wonderful moments in Candidate. The K9-like Kala security droids are used to ample comic effect. A favourite moment involved their detailing the risk of violating their warranty while being torn apart by re-awakened cave men. The dialogue is generally robust and easy to follow but at times somewhat clunky. There is wit and whimsy in the script, although some asides seem to be put in to convince us that Elliott is a true fan: when comparing an android to a toaster, Ace chips in with the fact that the Doctor hates burnt toast, referencing a rather serious exchange from 1989’s Ghost Light. This is entirely unnecessary as Elliott has written a fantastic piece of Who without all the mini-references dotted throughout. Most of them work, but occasionally I felt a little taken out of the story.

The regulars are on good form, though I have somewhat lost track of which particular era of the Seventh Doctor’s character we’re in at the moment. He’s certainly darker than when Mel first met him which provides some of the best character moments, though we’re not at New Adventure novel levels of dark here. The sound design is, as ever, impeccable and Nick Briggs delivers perfect 1970 Silurian vocals.

There is a particularly wonderful piece of dialogue between Mel and a member of a Silurian triad about misnomers echoing and upending the Doctor’s comment on nomenclature from The Sea Devils (1972). They are called Eocenes of course, but what should you properly call them? And I will briefly quote what I think may be my favourite line from Ace throughout Big Finish – when confronted by a surprised captor asking, “what the Hell is going on here? I thought you were supposed to be locked in the library!” She slickly replies, “we read everything.”

So an insightful, well-paced adventure with a robust plot; there are a few clunky bits but it’s studded with so many gems along the way you’d hardly notice. Recommended for any fans of the Seventh Doctor – you’ll like this if you enjoyed any of the Classic series outings for Homo Reptilia, The Manchurian Candidate, or The Enemy of the World!

The Silurian Candidate is out now, from Big Finish.