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‘Doctor Who’ – The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood

Another blast from the past: Silurians!


This review may contain spoilers.

You can easily mistake “The Hungry Earth” and “Cold Blood” for standalone episodes; each outing is so thematically, atmospherically, and conceptually different to the other that it is easy to overlook the fact that they are a two-part adventure.

Despite an initial disappointing lack of anything visibly Silurian, “The Hungry Earth” remains a dark, atmospheric and edgy affair with the Doctor working with a solitary family to identify the ominous threat getting in the way of their drilling to the Earth’s core. The Silurians, or Homo-reptilia as they are more frequently called, are limited to lurking shadows and are portrayed as more atavistic creatures rather than an alien intelligence.

The decision to keep the creatures concealed works in the episodes favour by creating an aura of mystery and raises the tension to behind-the-settee levels. There are some terrifically well utilized visuals, including a very fairy-tale like scene as Elliot (Samuel Davies) skips down through the countryside in the opening teaser, and then later a terrifying sequence with Elliot being stalked by an alien predator in a misty graveyard.

This spine-chilling tone and fervent style is completely disregarded in “Cold Blood,” passing on the key elements that made The Hungry Earth a joy to watch. Instead, the episode opts for more Roddenberry-esque explorations of the human condition with Amy as an ambassador for Humanity amidst a complex negotiation for the Earth … a hefty jump from a sleepy village kiss-o-gram.

In much the same way, what made the Silurians scary in “The Hungry Earth” was missing from Cold Blood.” Instead of the dark, sinister and almost Jurassic Park like creatures, the Silurians at the center of the Earth have a deep compassion and reverence for life … they are simply the victims of a diplomatic nightmare. The leadership of the Silurians are very two-dimensional and forgettable characters and you can’t help but stifle the feeling that this has all be done before.

Even their very desire for the Earth seems delusional — surely any race with such technological abilities would no better than to demand the extermination of those damned dirty apes wandering around the planets surface and stake a claim for the planet the abandoned eons before?

And then, in the final moments, the crack in the wall rears its head again. Just as it did with the Weeping Angels, the crack diminishes any impact that the Silurian warriors may have established as a credible threat and becomes a very convenient MacGuffin for the next step in the development of Amy Pond … even if the nature of the development is unneeded and unwanted.

What Worked

“The Hungry Earth” is undoubtedly the better of the two halves, relying more on tension and the unknown to develop an atmosphere and feeling of genuine peril. Once the Silurians are revealed to be scaly people will long tongues, the warrior-like race come off as more like an old, dying breed that would pose very little in the way of a threat to a race capable of defending itself against numerous alien invasions.

Again, Rory (Arthur Darvill) serves as an excellent companion to the Doctor, providing a protective brotherly presence for Amy and also adds some mild comic relief to what would otherwise have been a very banal episode. Darvill has been a constant source of joy on the series since his introduction … so much so that the end of “Cold Blood” may leave you in tears.

The dialogue was spot on, especially from Darvill. The greatest one liner being his response to news that the sonic screwdriver doesn’t do wood: “That is rubbish.”

There were also a few moments for Matt Smith to shine, particularly as he realizes that he was responsible for a child and utterly fails in his task to protect him. Throughout the seasons, it has become clear that the Doctor sees humanity as a race in its infancy, essentially a race of children, and it was a nice change of pace to see him become what amounts to the guardian of a child in the middle of a crisis. The expression on Smith’s face when Ambrose (Nia Roberts) demands to know who was with him last was perfect and says more than words ever could.

Similarly, his response to coming face-to-face with the Silurian, Aleya (Neve McIntosh), was another one of those “find beauty in all life” moments that the show has become so fond of … and Smith does is wonderfully.

Also worthy of mention is that this is perhaps the first real example of the human race failing to live up to the Doctor’s expectations. The concept was briefly toyed with in “Torchwood: Children Of Earth” (not surprising given that both episodes were written by “Torchwood” producer, Chris Chibnall) through a very emotional monologue by Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) but this adventure outlines exactly how primitive people can be when they let fear take hold. Ambrose’s reactions may have been for the best intentions (after all, she only wanted her family back) but her decision was in direct violation of the Doctor’s orders and realistically could offer no real benefit to resolving the conflict successfully.

Given Moffat’s habit of revisiting previously explored locations for a catch-up (ala the Weeping Angels and River Song), the ending of “Cold Blood” acts like a perfect springboard for a new adventure set 1000 years in the future. Are there more Silurian stories ahead?

What Didn’t Work

More than anything, “The Hungry Earth” and “Cold Blood” duology was a bag of missed opportunities.

Given the trailers and hints about what to expect in the episode, it comes as a disappointment that the Silurians only make their appearance two-thirds of the way through the first episode. Equally disappointing is that they are rarely referred to as Silurians, and instead adopt the anthropological term of “homo-reptilia.”

Once they were finally revealed and unmasked, the creatures turned out to be a bitter disappointment. The Silurian species diagnostic seemed more human than alien thanks to his willingness to side with the humans and also his very Earthly costume – it was definitely not something from the primordial origins of the Earth.

Another opportunity that was glossed over is the scene in which Eliot asked if the Doctor misses his home; Smith’s response isn’t exactly the emotionally charged scene that we’d normally expect to see from the Doctor. Certainly the Russell T. Davies era put more stock in the Doctor and his eternal loneliness and David Tennant played that role to perfection. Maybe that was his stamp in the role and maybe downplaying those scenes is another Steve Moffat tweak.

Additionally, the end of “The Hungry Earth” revealed a magnificent city full of Silurians … one that turns out to be dormant and goes unexplored in “Cold Blood.” Overall, the significance of the Silurian awakening is never actually tackled – the political machinations of NAME were poorly realized and underdeveloped, and the episode concludes with something of a “let’s wait and see” mentality.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

“Doctor Who” stars Matt Smith and Karen Gillan. “The Hungry Earth” and “Cold Blood” were written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Ashley Way.

“Doctor Who” airs Saturdays at 6.20 p.m. on BBC One in the United Kingdom and at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.

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