Doctor Who #850: The Hungry Earth

"Come to relive past glories, I'd imagine. Humans, you're so nostalgic."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 22 2010.

IN THIS ONE... The new Silurians make their first appearance.

REVIEW: Given his uneven track record on Torchwood, I'm surprised Moffat gave Chris Chibnall a shot on his Doctor Who (and by uneven, I mean his episodes swung between intense but fun drivel, and god-awful). He's not doing the Torchwood thing though. Instead, he's trying to channel Terrence Dicks in the 3rd Doctor era. I suppose that makes sense given they're bringing back a 3rd Doctor monster - the Silurians by any other name - but that just makes it a retread. If you're going to redesign the monsters physically, why not also tell a NEW story about them. Rather, we get a riff on every Silurian/Sea Devil story ever made. A story that takes place in the near future (somewhere, UNIT personnel is dating), drilling that awakens an ancient race of lizard people, and the Doctor desperate to broker a peace between Earth's two sentient species. I think the drill is key, because yeah, WE KNOW THE DRILL.

The chance to see a thriving(ish) Silurian society is too good to ignore, but we only get a glimpse here. The new look for Homo Reptilia is a bit Star Trek for me, however. I like them with the masks on (a cost-cutting measure, obviously), but in expressive make-up, they just look like Jem'Hadar. Obviously, I understand why the production would go that way, it's just that it's way off-model when you consider the way denizens of the Eocene used to be pictured. Also disappointed by the CG tongue, which should have been at least as good as Androvax's in the Sarah Jane Adventures (likely the same effect, but badly corrected for night lighting). Grabbing people with sinkholes in a new brand of lunacy, though probably no worse than the rubber dinosaurs and sea creatures they used in the 70s and 80s. It makes for an effective mystery early on, at least.

Instead of UNIT, Chibnall introduces a very small cast of characters - this is a village that conveniently only houses one family - some of which are endearing, some of which aren't. Elliot the dyslexic kid detective is charming enough, and it's nice of the Doctor to throw out the stigma attached to learning disabilities like that. His mother Ambrose is a typical mama bear; his dad just keeps Amy company down in the dirt. Envenomed Tony's romantic moment with Nasreen is sweet, but that's hardly "character". And Nasreen herself is just a bit too enthusiastic, a fannish would-be companion that seems to come out of Tennant's Year of Specials. Bleh. On the other side, Alaya is your basic warrior type, fanatical and animalistic, but nothing we haven't seen before. I guess what I'm trying to say is that while the episode is solid enough, it lacks a certain originality. So watch the regulars because they save the day. Matt Smith in particular puts an interesting spin on everything he does, whether that's counting to 12 on his fingers or calling Tony a "good lad", though mostly in his darker, more threatening readings. Watch the scene where he catches Ambrose stocking weapons, for example, or more obviously, his interrogation of Alaya. Gotta love his "be the best of humanity" pep talk as well. Amy doesn't get to do much except set up the next episode, not only be getting captured, but by introducing the engagement ring that will become a plot point later. That, and the weird scene where she and Rory wave to themselves across a 10-year gap. It's odd because it's an arc plug-in, and everything about it will be unwritten soon. As for Rory, he makes a good solo companion here, talking to the locals, investigating things and taking part in the action, an able partner for the Doctor, not a competitor. On a thematic level, I enjoy how his erasure from existence in the next episode is presaged here. Bodies are disappearing from the cemetery, and he'll soon vanish as well, in a slightly different kind of hole. He was probably tempting fate by standing in an open grave, eh?

The Hungry Earth has a lot going for it, but for this old Whovian, it's a big case of déjà vu.


Toby'c said...

I'm pretty forgiving of these episodes, partly because I saw them long before any of their classic stories. Even so, the words "Homo reptilia" always make me die a little inside.

LiamKav said...

In light of where their story ends, doesn't the waving scene with the Ponds make less sense in hindsight?

Siskoid said...

The bookend in Cold Blood very clearly shows that time can be unwritten, just as the Doctor surmised, so future events would ensure there never actually were waving Ponds there at all. We only remember them because we're time travelers (of a sort).

snell said...

I think the "the weird scene where she and Rory wave to themselves across a 10-year gap" can also be viewed as another Pertwee era tribute: to the similar scene at the beginning of Day Of The Daleks in which D3 and Jo "meet themselves" yet we never got to see the other side of...


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