The Hungry Earth

Review by Mark Bousquet

“THE HUNGRY EARTH” and “COLD BLOOD” – Series 5, Episodes 8 & 9, Story 209 – Written by Chris Chibnall; Directed by Ashley Way – The Eleventh Doctor takes Rory and Amy to Rio, which turns out to be South Wales. There’s a big mining facility at the bottom of a hill, so the Doctor thinks he’s Jon Pertwee. Once he realizes he’s not, they go have a look-see and Amy is swallowed alive by the Earth. Because The Earth Hates Gingers. Turns out way, way, way, way down inside the Earth, the Silurians are awakening, so the Doctor has a spell where he thinks he’s Peter Davison, but after he realizes asking for celery is a bad idea, he recovers long enough to try and broker some peace. He appoints Amy as Earth Ambassador and it looks like it just might all work out. Because Unlike The Earth, The Silurians Like Gingers.

Win one for the prosthetic team.

The Silurian redesign that’s unveiled in THE HUNGRY EARTH is simply gorgeous. We are a long, long way from the era of Rubber Suit Monsters, of course, and the prosthetic folks have largely done a magnificent job during the relaunch, but they reach wonderful new heights with the Silurian re-design. Awash in gorgeous greens and reptilian scales, the Silurians look simply gorgeous. So many of the classic WHO villains that have come back have such an iconic look that the designers have mostly only been able to tweak the iconic designs – Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Autons … they’re new looks are all basically they’re old looks. Whatever differences there are, you can line up the relaunch version next to the classic version and people are going to understand what they’re looking at.

Such is not the case with the Silurians, who have gone from being three-eyed, rubber-suited, and immobile to two-eyed, agile and fierce. The soldiers still have immobile faces because they wear a “war mask,” which is both an awesome kind of nod to the classic versions of Silurian-kind and a cost-saving measure.

Even the masks look awesome, though.

HUNGRY/COLD is a really nice two-parter that suffers a bit from the same problem that plagues most of the Davies-era two-parters – the first episode is all awesome, mysterious set-up and the second episode resolves the mystery fairly early on and then spends the bulk of the episode running and shouting and fighting against the physical threat.

Almost all of the joy and awesomeness comes at the start. The Doctor, Amy, and Rory step out of the TARDIS expecting to see Rio and instead find themselves in South Wales. They’re in a small town called Cwmtaff, which Americans don’t know how to pronounce. I have no idea what the American equivalent of Cwmtaff would be. Amy is all “I’m dressed for Rio,” which is the show’s way of telling you, “Yes, we know we’ve landed the TARDIS someplace cold but don’t worry, Amy is still wearing a ridiculously short skirt.” In the old days people would say Amy’s outfit was “something for the dads.”

Which reminds me – if you haven’t seen the bonus scene at the end of of FLESH AND STONE, you really need to watch it. It’s an example of the kind of rom-com sitcom repartee that Moffat writes so well, but it’s also one of those scenes that rewards you for re-watching it. There’s a great bit in there when Amy is asking the Doctor about how many of his former Companions were women (“slightly more than half,” he smirks) and then when she sees a picture of Leela she asks, “is that a leather bikini?” Smith’s face is all boyish and sheepish and smiling broadly despite what comes out of his mouth. It’s part of what makes Smith’s performance so appealing to me – his ability to add things to a scene that aren’t readily apparent in the dialogue.

In HUNGRY EARTH, Smith’s performance is more straightforward but he brings that same sense of boyish delight. Upon seeing a mining factor at the bottom of the hill they’re on, he exclaims, “Oh, look, a big mining thing. I really love a big mining thing!”

It’s a total nod to the Pertwee years and later, after he’s gone through Silurian decontamination, he asks for some celery, channeling a bit of Davison.

Once inside we get some of his ego.

After doing the standard, Doctorian “I’m just going to insert myself into what’s going on” routine, one of the mining operation’s leaders tells him he’s not making any sense because while his dialogue makes sense to us, it doesn’t make sense to the characters in the scene. I love moments like this where people in the scene don’t just follow in step with the Doctor. (Davies made good use of this technique in MIDNIGHT (which was a pretty blah episode, overall), where the bus full of people was quick to turn the Doctor’s behavior against him. Here, Nasreen challenges him on the point that he’s not making sense and the Doctor’s response is tinged with that trace of alien ego that the Doctor flashes every so often. “Scuse me,” The Doctor retorts, “I’m making perfect sense. You’re just not keeping up.”

The plot is fairly simple. The mining operation is drilling deep into the Earth and their drill awakens a civilization of Silurians who interpret the drill as an attack. They pull a bunch of humans (including Amy) beneath ground and then when the Doctor gets there we get stuck in one of those “military vs. science” quandaries that only happen this overtly in science-fiction stories. Honestly, we never crack open a history book and find out that Jefferson Davis was pushing succession and had an army ready to attack Washington but before he could commit treason he had to overcome strident opposition by a group of Southern scientists who were working on curing polio.

It’s telling that when the story is a bunch of people standing around a soft spot in the factory floor it’s really, really good and when it’s got Silurians running around shooting and stuff it’s sorta predictable and flat.

Amy is completely useless in HUNGRY/COLD. She makes a few cracks about “I dressed for Rio” over and over, but mostly she just gets sucked into the Earth and is held captive and … yeah, that’s it, really. She’s named as one of the “Earth Ambassadors” to negotiate with the Silurian leader but, yeah, no one is ever going to buy it so it’s a waste of screen time to go through it if all of the characters are actually believing that they’re making policy. Seriously, if a bunch of lizard men coming walking out of the ground tomorrow and are like, “Yeah, we’re gonna move into the Nevada desert because Amy from Leadworth said we could,” then some lizard men are getting shot.

I like how the Doctor says, “Oi!’ at one point, incorporating Amy’s lingo into his own set of stock phrases. This is the kind of thing that happens when people start spending a lot of time together.

Rory is much stronger in the two-parter. There’s a great bit where he pops out of the TARDIS to find a woman and her son looking at him, mistaking him for a police officer and dragging him to an open coffin to complain about grave robbing. He’s not much good at this. Rory is then put in charge of the Silurian prisoner and he’s not much good at that, either, because the prisoner ends up getting killed by the kid’s mom.

Oh, and then he gets killed at the end of the episode. It’s a shame that the only thing he’s good at all episode long is saving the Doctor and dying, although, yeah, given the way the season unfolds from here out, he’s not so hot at the dying, either.

I remember when this story originally aired I was miffed at his death, but I blame that on my own stupidity. The death comes so out of nowhere here that I just thought it dumb. By the end of the episode Amy doesn’t even remember Rory because he was sucked into the white light that comes pouring through the cracks in the universe. I was all, “God that was stupid and pointless,” but, you know, these aren’t stupid and pointless people making the show and this is such a stupid and pointless death that it must eventually have a point. With all of the “time can be unwritten” talk, I should have seen that this was a set-up to something more

Chris Chibnall’s script is really good on mystery and character bits and really blah during the Silurian science v. military showdown. When the Ambrose kills the Silurian captive and thus threatens the potential for peace, the Doctor verbally shreds her to pieces. Even when it’s all over he’s still twisting the verbal knife, telling her she needs to teach her son to be better than she was.

Good start, weak resolution, glorious prosthetics.

Originally Published April 20, 2011