Riling Occupants of Inner-planetary Crust

hungrylogo(spoilers follow below the fold)

We Who fans are an odd bunch. Given truly beautiful prosthetic designs we pine instead for the return of wibbly-wobbly rubber heads. The reasoning that the Earth Reptiles should be given the same treatment as the stunningly-realised New Earth cat people – enabling the actors to emote with their own eyes, seems sound, but is the final result really a Silurian? Part of me wishes that the path of the Judoon rather than the Cat Nun had been followed in bringing Homo reptilia back, but as the story progressed I began to see the advantages in the range of emotion allowed. This particular reviewer doesn’t see the various comparisons to Babylon 5 bandied about on the Net as a bad thing. But then again, if those creepy snake-like battle masks could have somehow been animatronically enhanced – I’d have been very happy with that, too.

I’m less conflicted about the rest of the story. Since its return, Doctor Who has made us laugh, cry and squee, but rarely has it managed to crank the tension up as much as the first part of The Hungry Earth did. Particularly as darkness blotchily filled the entrapping dome, accompanied by a ‘Hammer films meets James Horner’ score, a real capacity for this story to frighten began to emerge. Sadly, this could only be sustained for so long, and is rapidly dissipated under the sobering blast of a fire extinguisher.
The ensuing ‘revelation’ that the Silurians are really very like ourselves is possibly disappointing for newer viewers, but absolutely necessary for the purposes of the plot. And the plot itself has been doing very well thank you, since it was first unveiled in 1970, and brought back now for it’s fourth time. The Doctor, Homo sapiens and reptilia seem doomed to perform the same roles every time they meet, unsuccessful arbitrator over the same territorial dispute, again and again. Looked at in a positive light, this can only be a testament to the power of Malcolm Hulke’s original concept, a bona fide modern myth that is only slightly adapted in it’s retelling but never changed, and probably never will be.

In this 2010 rendition, the tasering to death of a restrained prisoner is an echo of the brutality which Chris Chibnal displays in some of his Torchwood work, but a dirty job which needed doing to serve the story. Meanwhile, in their Pellucidar-like city, we find that the Silurian triad has been reshuffled a little. The impetuous, angry youth is now a female warrior who kills the peace-seeking scientist, while the wise and venerable leader survives to negotiate again in one thousand years time. But will mankind have changed that much by then?
Once again, rather than be constantly elated by the achievements of humanity, the Eleventh Doctor is more often disappointed. Look at the conflicting emotions clouding his face as he says goodbye to Ambrose. The Doctor knows she’s only human, but could have, should have been so much more. I’m lagging behind as usual, but it’s in this story that Smith really clicks for me, particularly in another exchange with Nia Roberts. When quietly letting her know his attitude toward the make-shift weapons she’s stockpiling, he’s both gentle and quite unnerving at the same time. Whereas Tennant might have quite acceptably blustered his way through this scene, here is a Time Lord who barely needs to raise his voice above a murmur. Smith’s ‘older man’ body language and mannerisms are compelling to watch, surprising us when he then suddenly bounds out of shot like the 28 year old he is.

This two-parter story leaves you with the uncomfortable thought that it might have all been the Doctor’s fault. Would Ambrose have killed Alaya if the Time Lord had been more concerned about letting Elliot out of his sight? Perhaps another aspect of his not quite connecting with humans is the Doctor allowing someone showing the most capacity for intelligence and understanding to place himself in danger, despite the fact that this person is only a child. Elliot’s assurance that he ‘gets’ what Silurian Patriarch Eldane is aspiring towards seems to hold promise for the potential of human generations to come. But we’re certainly not there yet.
Perhaps also on the Doctor’s conscience is the outcome of his putting curiosity before the safety of his friends. These final few minutes suddenly take a neatly-concluded story in a direction which reminds us just how suddenly and badly things can go horribly wrong. It was sad enough that Donna can never remember the Doctor, but that poor “fantastic Rory, funny Rory, gorgeous Rory” will be totally forgotten by the woman who finally grew to love him is heart-breaking.

AH

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