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iDoctor Who and the Silurians

Doctor Who story in seven 25-minute episodes

Written by Malcolm Hulke

Directed by Timothy Combe
Produced by Barry Letts

Incidental music by Carey Blyton
Incidental music duration: 30 minutes

Produced in 1969 by BBC-tv
Broadcast on BBC1 from 31st January to 14th March 1970

Available on DVD: BBCDVD 2438(A)

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Doctor Who and the Silurians


Doctor Who has become a massive global success in recent years after the BBC took its long-running low-budget sci-fi series, reinvented it for a modern audience and sold it like mad around the world. But decades ago, long before Doctor Who became all special effects and glitz, it was greatly admired for its interesting, inventive stories, its quirky touches of offbeat humour and its often genuinely scary atmosphere, which it frequently managed to achieve in spite of its often comically low-budget sets, costumes and special effects. This was the classic era of Doctor Who, and it was during this period, with Jon Pertwee and then Tom Baker starring as the Doctor, that Carey Blyton was commissioned to write the music for three serials:

  1. Doctor Who and the Silurians (1969/1970)
  2. Death to the Daleks (1974)
  3. Revenge of the Cybermen (1975)

Doctor Who and the Silurians creditDoctor Who and the Silurians

Carey’s musical notes

As with many previous Doctor Whos, this is a story of the attempt by aliens to take over the world; this time, it is the Silurians, reptile-like creatures that once, long ago, ruled the world, and who have been brought out of hibernation by various scientific goings on in the subterranean caves in which they live.

The music, scored for two clarinet players, horn, cello, prepared and unprepared piano and percussion, runs to 30 minutes over the entire seven-episode serial. By means of doubling, the two clarinet players play a total of thirteen wind instruments, including mediæval wide-bore recorders, the entire family of krumhorns (Renaissance instruments that make a buzzing sound), and most of the clarinet family, including the contrabass clarinet, which can go down to the lowest note found on the normal piano keyboard.

Basically, there are five kinds of music in this score, associated with different story elements, as follows:

  1. Caves—slow and neutral, with deep rumbling effects;
  2. Research establishment—a bit grand and heroic, with the feeling of busy scientific endeavour;
  3. U.N.I.T. troops—a ‘grand’ heroic military march;
  4. Silurians—most usually on one of the four krumhorns, with prepared piano (grandfather clock chime-sound) and glockenspiel (the whole effect of this music is one of alien unpleasantness);
  5. The monster—contrabass clarinet, often with rumbling piano effects.

The 70-odd pieces of music written for this serial, ranging from a few seconds’ length to pieces over a minute (or even a minute and a half!) permutate these five basic musical materials in innumerable ways: fast, slow, hesitant, menacing, horrifying, etc. to suit the dramatic effect.

Carey Blyton, 2002

Recordings: The extracts from the original incidental music presented on this page are taken from the CD, Carey Blyton: Film & Television Music (2/4); The Film Production Music (which is available for purchase from this site).

Concert Suite

In the mid-1990s, around a quarter of a century after writing the music for Doctor Who and the Silurians, Carey Blyton derived a short three-movement work for concert performance from it: his Silurian Suite for Trumpet in B flat and Piano, op. 102 (1993). This resulted from an approach made to Alec Gould of AV Music with the idea of writing three little suites derived from the music from the serials; the response was enthusiastic, so the suites were quickly produced and published. The following text is taken from the notes accompanying the original edition:

  1. In the Caves
  2. A Close Encounter
  3. March: The Brigadier

These three pieces are derived from the incidental music I wrote for Doctor Who and the Silurians (BBC-tv, 1969), the first of the three Doctor Who serials for which I provided background scores. The story, by Malcolm Hulke, concerns alien creatures from the Silurian period who are awakened from a dormant state by the activities of an underground research establishment, and their (inevitable) attempt to take over the world. This plan is foiled by Doctor Who (Jon Pertwee) and his companion, with help from Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the U.N.I.T. troops.

The original scoring was – as requested by the director – ‘alien’: Clarinet 1 (doubling Sopranino and Descant [wide bore, mediæval] Recorders and Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass Krumhorns); Clarinet 2 (doubling Clarinet in E flat, Bass Clarinet in B flat and Contrabass Clarinet in B flat); Horn in F; Violoncello; Piano (both prepared and unprepared); and a large array of percussion (one player).

The first movement makes use of the ‘basic cave material’ (a slow, very simple 12-note row, also heard in retrograde) and the motif associated with the research establishment (at a slow tempo).

The second movement is a ‘something nasty in the woodshed’ piece—the pastoral mood of the farmyard is shattered when the farmer’s pitchfork reveals a wounded Silurian hiding beneath the hay in the barn.

The third movement is the ‘U.N.I.T. March’, heard whenever the Brigadier’s men are busy rushing about the place in earnest endeavours to carry out his orders; the trio section returns to the music associated with the research establishment, now heard at its usual, quicker tempo of ‘busy scientific endeavour’.

Doctor Who and the Silurians DVD: BBCDVD 2438(A)For those who remain young at heart, this Doctor Who serial has been issued as a home video, available from BBC Enterprises (BBCV 4990) or through the usual retail channels. This issue is one of a number celebrating the Doctor Who 30th anniversary.

Carey Blyton
Swanley, 10/5/1993

Video update: Doctor Who and the Silurians is now available on DVD within the three-story DVD box-set entitled Doctor Who: Beneath the Surface (BBCDVD 2438, disc A). Unfortunately, it is not currently available for purchase separately. (The other stories in the box-set are The Sea Devils and Warriors of the Deep.)

Musical comparison

As an interesting comparison, here are two versions of the same music. The first extract, from the original incidental music score, is the music that the Director, Timothy Combe, described as “‘a bit of Elgar’-type thing” (see below). A very English pastoral-sounding theme sets a bucolic mood at a rural farm, until the tranquility is shattered by the discovery of a wounded Silurian hiding in the hay in the barn, at which point the jarring Silurian theme cuts through. This music was adapted, almost verbatim, to become the second movement of the Silurian Suite, so here are the two versions to compare:

  1. Original incidental music: Silurian at the Farm
  2. Silurian Suite, second movement: A Close Encounter

Recording: The extract from the Silurian Suite is performed by Angela Whelan, trumpet and Jennifer Partridge, piano, and is taken from the CD, Carey Blyton: Sherlock Holmes meets Doctor Who (which is available for purchase from this site).

Recollections of the production

The DVD release of Doctor Who and the Silurians contains an extremely interesting documentary about the incidental music of Doctor Who, entitled Musical Scales: An Era of Experimentation and featuring presentations by Doctor Who composer and Radiophonic Workshop archivist Mark Ayres and the series’ original Director, Timothy Combe and Producer, Barry Letts. Discussing specifically Carey Blyton’s musical contributions to this story, they recall:

Timothy Combe:

I wanted something a little bit different, so I went outside the perimeter of the kind of people that were being used before, like Dudley Simpson, who was used a lot, and I went for Carey Blyton.

His enthusiasm was immense. He even phoned me up at half-past ten at night to say, “I think I’ve got the Silurian sound!” And he played down the telephone the krumhorn. I said, “Well, I’m about to go to bed, Carey, but yeah, it sounds fine!”

There’s a sequence where we go to a farm, and I wanted a rural feel to it; ‘a bit of Elgar’-type thing. And he gave me that. Really, I let him get on with it. I think you have to let people like Carey Blyton, or like actors, you have to give them scope to realise their own talent.

Mark Ayres:

As a score, as a conception, it was very intelligent. He was thinking about these creatures that had been lying dormant in the earth and had come back to life after many, many millions of years, and so he decided to structure his score using largely mediæval instruments: ancient instruments. The problem is, to our modern ears, they sound slightly comical!

Timothy Combe:

The music that Carey Blyton composed did surprise me… because I know if I hadn’t been surprised, I don’t think I would have liked it very much!

Barry Letts:

Some of it worked very well – you know, as background music, and some of the scary stuff in the caves and so on – but I really hated the little theme that comes up every time that the Silurians arrive. That reedy instrument: I felt that it was comic rather than scary.

Timothy Combe:

I felt that, in fact, if it was just general background music – which a lot of Doctor Who music, I felt, was – in Carey’s case it certainly wasn’t like that. It was music you noticed and, I felt, enhanced the scenes.

Mark Ayres:

If you think that something like the krumhorn eventually evolved into the oboe… Now, the oboe is a very refined, very controlled sound (if it’s being played by a decent musician!). The krumhorn just isn’t! It’s very basic; it’s the beginning of the evolution of musical instruments in the same way as we’re talking about the beginning of the evolution of the Earth in the story.

Timothy Combe:

Carey’s music was added as we went along in the studio. The music was recorded prior to the studio.

Mark Ayres:

It was a library of cues. He would have been asked: “Here we have a scene. It starts here; it ends there. I’d like you to make that transition, and I think it’s going to last roughly thirty seconds.”

Barry Letts:

There was, of course a great difference in the early days of my time on Doctor Who from the later ones, because it wasn’t possible to, as they say, ‘spot’ the music: that is, to look at an edited version and have music composed absolutely to fit.

Mark Ayres:

By Jon Pertwee’s second season, things were moving on enormously, technically. Programmes could now be edited and then post-produced. You could dub them, which means you could go back and look at them afterwards, as a producer, as a director, and think, “Well, actually, I’d like music there.”

Barry Letts:

I’ve always felt, personally, that more advanced music is usually very good for incidental music for film or television, so I’m surprised in a way that I didn’t push more for… for doing so few experiments like we had with Carey Blyton and Tristram Cary and Malcolm Clarke.


…a rather long-drawn-out affair (seven episodes), was only redeemed by what one writer described as; “one of the most hair-raising science fiction scores heard this side of Alpha Centauri.” Interestingly, this was achieved, I later discovered, by means of such instruments as krumhorns and medieval recorders, plus prepared piano effects (plucked notes and banshee-like sounds from inside a grand piano), and not via the Radiophonic Workshop at all. Clearly, here was a composer who needed investigating.

Hilton Gough, BFFS Film magazine, no 25, April 1975

As a score, as a conception, it was very intelligent. He was thinking about these creatures that had been lying dormant in the earth and had come back to life after many, many millions of years, and so he decided to structure his score using largely mediæval instruments: ancient instruments.

Mark Ayres, Radiophonic Workshop composer, Musical Scales: An Era of Experimentation, BBCDVD 2438(A), 2008