Sunday, February 6, 2011

"The Hungry Earth"

Appropriately enough we're firmly grounded back on (and below) Earth for this rather obvious Third Doctor-era homage. With a plot which is kind of a hybrid of "The Silurians" and "Inferno" with a lot of the complexities surgically removed, I have to say that "The Hungry Earth" isn't exactly a high point of the series. The acting is all pretty top-notch as usual, and it's good to see the Doctor and Rory having to work as a team when Amy is captured, but it's all a bit slow and ponderous and unfortunately the storyline does feel rather derivative. Essentially, people are disappearing into the Earth and the cause is revealed to be a prehistoric civilisation of anthropomorphic reptiles whose relatives we encountered in "The Silurians", "The Sea Devils" and, infamously, "Warriors of the Deep". On one hand it's good to have a plot like this which is so evocative of the Classic Series, yet at the same time it seems like they simply can't get into the same kind of detail when they have to do all this setup. We also have the classic 'lots of annoying Welsh people' situation. Now I don't wish to seem prejudicial but there's just something about a Welsh accent which is incredibly difficult to take seriously or imbue with dramatic realism. This includes a small annoying Welsh kid called Elliot with dyslexia who is basically pointless. It's nice to see the rappor the Eleventh Doctor has with kids, because he's a bit like a big kid himself in some ways, but you've got to wonder why they included this child besides to make the mother fret. I suppose if your father was poisoned and your only child was kidnapped by lizardmen you'd be upset too. Her husband is another pointless character.
One thing I don't get is why the Silurians are still in hibernation. We get the explanation for why they went underground in the first place in the following episode but if they have sufficiently advanced technology to ride thermal currents and project forcefields which block out the sun and stuff how come they couldn't tell that the moon wasn't going to crash into the planet and how come their sensors never woke them up until now? Speaking of which, the blue grass and small number of rare trace minerals in the soil seem like a rather mediocre reason for putting up an enormous drill and burrowing into the Earth deeper than anyone has ever gone. Isn't that overkill? I don't mind Nasreen because it's rather nice to see someone so directly inspired by the Doctor but her romance with Tony is a little hard to believe and he's rather underdeveloped as well.
The Silurians are a little disappointingly distant from the classic designs. They're basically people with scales and Alaya the one they capture is ham and cheese with all her dialogue about war and killing. How can the others understand her anyway? Do they have access to the TARDIS/Time Lord universal translator thing? Regardless, I think either their masks could have been their faces or they should have received a design substantially closer to the classic Silurian appearance because as they are I think they look a little ridiculous.
Rory's pretty good and his consternation about losing Amy is well played but even he feels somewhat superfluous and while the Doctor's obviously very busy seeking out a diplomatic solution you have to wonder if he's being a little optimistic. Besides, if the drill head set off the alarms for the Silurian city, why would the warrior caste be activated? Wasn't it the impact warning system built as a precaution against the moon? Wouldn't you want the builders and scientists and stuff activated, not the soldiers? I think it would have been interesting in an exploratory expedition had emerged from the earth rather than a bunch of typical Who baddies. It is clever how the Doctor and Rory trap Alaya in the meals-on-wheels van but the thing about them stealing dead bodies is unexplained, as is why they've been taking people. Are they using the graves as access points or something? Why are they stealing the bodies if they're prepared to dissect people alive anyway, as happened to Mo? How does that even work? And why does the Silurian doctor wear old-timey medical garb like he's a mad scientist from a Hammer film?
It's not that this episode is bad per se, and some particularly good work from The Smith, particularly in regards to his consternation at Amy's capture, is extremely important in carrying this episode, but a lot of the plot feels very safe and unambitious and I think they could have done a whole lot more. It's not very clear why the holes are appearing in the ground or what the 'bio-programming' is which is sucking people into the Earth. It feels evocative of the classic series in some ways but that same old 'base under siege' motif is become incredibly tired by this stage and I think it's time to give it a rest.

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