I’VE always thought that one of the reasons humanity is the Doctor’s favourite race is our determination to push the boundaries, our eagerness to take on the unknown.
He just loves that indominatable spirit, but I wonder if the main reason he does is because whenever we do that, it puts us on a direct collision course with something nasty and bitey and mean.
The Doctor’s third law of pushing the envelope was brought into play again in The Hungry Earth, the first half of Chris Chibnall‘s two-parter which saw the welcome return of the Silurians, some strong action and the usual smattering of great lines.
Despite some weaknesses, I enjoyed this alot more than I thought I would.
If that sounds like damning with faint praise, I should admit I went into The Hungry Earth with guarded optimism as I am not a big fan of Chibnall’s work.
My hesitancy dates from the days when he made some episodes of Torchwood seem like a sweary version of Scooby Doo, with Shaggy and Fred getting it on in the back of the Mystery Machine.
The Hungry Earth started well though, as the Doctor, Amy and Rory arrived in 2020 Wales where a drilling project has reached further than ever before into the Earth. (Is 2020 another eye/vision reference, or just coincidence?)
However, the earth, or something in it, has started to fight back with the only warning being the blue, blue grass of home. I couldn’t help myself!
The idea of Amy and Rory’s future selves turning up to say hello was a nice one, as well as a subtle reminder of one of this season’s ongoing themes of different timelines intersecting.
While they were rather under-employed from then on, Matt Smith made up for that with his latest fantastic performance which is almost becoming a Who cliche as it is said so often. Yes he’s brilliant, but flawed and vulnerable too, with Smith fully conveying those nuances.
There were some other great moments too, like the Doctor’s night-time sunglasses and the Doctor shouting ‘don’t diss the sonic!’, although calling the village Cwm Taff – literally Taff Valley – was a bit cheap.
As much as they made me smile, the scenes where the security guard and then Amy were sucked underground were chilling. Is it pushing the fairytale theme too far to compare it to a twisted version of Alice going down the rabbit hole?
Chibnall’s treatment of the Silurians was first class too, especially the magnificently written and acted scene when the Doctor interrogated Aaliyah in the church.
Although when you consider this was how the Silurians were last seen, having unleashed their deadly monster, the Myrka, he couldn’t have done much worse.
Awesome kung fu for the win!
By contrast, Neve McIntosh as Aaliyah was wild, intelligent, cunning and overtly sexual as a Silurian soldier.
As the mysterious ‘other’, she represented something that sits outside of the characters’ worldview and experiences and so become unsettling and a direct challenge to the civilised world around them.
Matt Smith’s quiet reason made an effective counterpoint to her fierce desire for conflict and the Doctor’s appeal to his allies’ better nature, to their humanity, was an attempt to steel them against what he recognised was a powerful threat.
As inspiring as his speech was, I fear it come too late for Tony, played by Robert Pugh.
His plan to disect the silurian and ‘find its weaknesses’ can be read as a desperate attempt to quantify what he is facing and so overcome his fear of the unknown.
After all, she has already infiltrated their place of sanctuary – the church, a structure built on foundations of patriarchal authority. Never mind the digging, her very presence there – clearly unafraid – undermines that straight away.
As the scene when Tony looks in the mirror to see the effects of the silurian sting clearly showed however, the limits of his humanity – physically and mentally – are being exposed and overwhelmed by the dark and seductive power he is facing.
I would bet it was him that Aaliyah was talking about when she said someone would kill her.
I wonder if her feminity is important in the grand scheme of things? Frank Collins in his awesome review of The Time Of Angels noted the Angels represented a powerful brand of female sexuality, while we have had Amy coming on to the Doctor since then, as well as the vampires and now a Silurian woman. Food for thought.
Anyway, back to The Hungry Earth review and Chibnall’s work had made it into a good Who episode, but ultimately it was let down by some weaknesses in its own internal logic and some slipshod writing.
For instance, the reason why they were drilling so deep was never really explained.
On top of that, if this was a world leading industrial project, wouldn’t there have been more people around than one night watchman and his family, two project leaders and a handful of miner types? Like the massive support and supply chain to keep a project like that up and running? And wouldn’t those staff that were there live in the village? How come it was so empty?
Now I come to think about it, how many semi-abandoned Welsh villages have a massive supply of camcorders and cameras lying around, ready to be positioned everywhere at just a few minutes’ notice?
(* Since I wrote this I have started to come around to an alternate view based on a few blogs I have read, that those inconsistencies are there for a reason, so I may be doing Chibnall a disservice here)
I can’t have been the only person to suspect that the young lad’s dyslexia will play a crucial role in part two either, as what was the point of mentioning it? Or that Meera Syal‘s character – who seemed to think she was in a different show at times – has been marked for death by the ‘come back safe’ ‘of course’ exchange between her and Tony.
By Hollywood rules, she’s dead meat – Doctor or no Doctor!
Overall though, to me the plusses in The Hungry Earth outweighed the minuses and with the underground Silurian city looking absolutely beautiful in the last few seconds of part one, I’m hoping for a more rounded, consistent and exciting episode next time around.
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