5.8 & 5.9 – “The Hungry Earth”/”Cold Blood”

DW Series 5 - The Hungry Earth

The Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves in Wales in 2020, where an experimental drill that is digging over 20km into the earth has woken a Silurian city. Seeing the drill as hostile, the Silurians fight back, taking and experimenting on captives. The Doctor prepares defences and captures one of the warrior caste, before heading down to negotiate with the Silurians. If their captive remains unharmed then maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance that a peace can be brokered.

I suppose it’s not really fair to draw comparisons with one of Pertwee’s finest stories – indeed, one of the most applauded stories of Classic Who – but when this revival of an old monster ends up as more of a remake, comparing it to Third Doctor adventure “The Silurians” is kind of unavoidable. Still, let’s attempt to consider “The Hungry Earth”/”Cold Blood” on its own merits (for starters, its score wasn’t written for the kazoo, as its illustrious predecessor’s score clearly was).

This two parter is certainly a game of two halves. “The Hungry Earth” is essentially set-up, leading us in with a bit of scary mystery (the graves are being robbed from below), Amy being sucked down (with an apparently realistic bit of fear and claustrophobia from Karen Gillan as she disappears into the dirt), lightning fast assassins running between gravestones and shocking, live vivisection – there’s almost a Hinchcliffe air of horror at work. Once The Doctor has captured one of the Silurian warriors, we are swiftly apprised of the situation – the Silurians being revived by the drill, which threatens their dormant city. They see it as an act of hostility and start to fight back and it’s up to The Doctor to persuade our little bunch of humans that they have to reach out, not react with more violence. I’d wanted more weight back in the “The Time Of Angels” and we’ve certainly got a bit more oomph going on here. Smith’s barely restrained energy is brought out as The Doctor knows he is walking a tightrope, having to trust the people on the surface to be the best of humanity in spite of the violence and kidnapping that has been demonstrated by the Silurians.

Neve McIntosh’s Alaya is a highlight – a vicious, venom tongued (literally as well as figuratively) terrorist, taunting her captors into killing her to spark a war; anything to see the apes wiped out. The other characters are, unfortunately, little more than plot points. The romance between Meera Syal’s Nasreen, and Robert Pugh’s Tony only seems to be there so that Tony’s injury becomes all the more poignant. Nia Roberts as Ambrose is The Mother – desperate to bring her family back together, we know she’s the one who will go too far. And for those who are not so quick on the uptake, Alaya confirms our suspicions too. Elliot is the kid who can see much more than the adults but he ends up being a captive so that Ambrose can get even angrier.

The cliffhanger is distinctly underwhelming – jeepers, it’s a city full of Silurians and not just a few! The shots of the underground city are impressive though and prove that the Silurians have technology that humanity should be wary of. All in all, “The Hungry Earth” is a decent enough episode with enough thrills and spills to keep us happy.

“Cold Blood”, on the other hand, is just plain clumsy. It all gets very obvious very quickly. Restac, the Silurian military caste’s leader, wants to wipe out the apes and, naturally, just as The Doctor manages to persuade her superior Eldane to sit down and talk to Nasreen and Amy, representing the humans. And then Rory turns up with the dead Alaya and it all kicks off. New Who has generally done a good job at not running around corridors in the classic sense, but we get a dose of nostalgia here as we flee from the execution chamber to the lab and in between. The warriors are woken up and they all step out of their pods…and then they get put back to sleep so go back again.

The Silurian males are represented by Eldane and Malohkeh, the leader and scientist respectively. Compared to the vicious Alaya and plain genocidal Restac, they are lovely old chaps. Again, they’re not really characters, just there to be the rational ones. In fact, Malohkeh gets to be two plot points; he is the heartless vivisectionist in “The Hungry Earth” but gets to be a kindly plot point in “Cold Blood”.

So the Silurians are put back to sleep and the good guys run round some corridors and get to the TARDIS. The Silurian story sort of whimpers to a close but fortunately there is a larger bit of series arc plot needed, so Restac hangs on long enough to shoot Rory. Poor Rory, not only does he die but the Big Crack sucks him up and erases him from history – except the engagement ring is still in the TARDIS (you did see that right?) so we have a get-out of jail free card to be played later on.

And that’s kind of it. The new Silurian design is pretty cool; who’d have thought you could make lizard girls seem a bit saucy (even if they are determined to kill you)? Do I miss the third eye? Not really; the Sea Devils did without it just fine. Ultimately though, the story doesn’t really go anywhere and in the end is almost just an excuse to set up Rory’s death. The tension set up in the first part is overwhelmingly fizzled away in the second.

The Silurians were one of the best thought out “Monsters” to appear in the classic series, being far more than just men in rubber suits. But we’ve already seen The Doctor attempt (and fail) to broker peace between human and reptile – was there really nothing new to be done with this classic piece of Who? A disappointing 5/10.

Written and edited by Richard Barnes


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