TARDIS File 05-08: The Hungry Earth

TARDIS File 05-08: The Hungry Earth

The Big Idea… The Doctor, Amy and Rory land in the year 2020 and visit a drilling project in the Welsh countryside. However, while the humans are drilling down, something else is drilling up.

What’s So Great…

  • I know we’re repeating ourselves, but we’ll say it anyway: Matt Smith is once again pitch-perfect. He’s able to say a thousand words just by the look on his face – as evidenced by the scene when the Doctor realizes that he was the one who last saw Elliott.
  • Female Silurians! Female “monsters” haven’t been done that often in Doctor Who, especially villainous ones. We had not seen any female members of any of the “Homoreptilia” species prior to this episode and this is a welcome addition.
  • The direction – in particular some beautifully directed scenes in the Welsh countryside, ensuring that with every episode of this season is visually interesting.

Some quick bits of trivia…. this is Chris Chibnall’s second Doctor Who story, following the Series Three episode 42. The Siluarians are the sixth race of monsters from the “classic” series to be brought back since the show came back in 2005 (the others being the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Autons, the Sontarans and the Macra).

Things to Geek Out About…

  • The Silurians are back! First introduced in the 1970 Jon Pertwee story Doctor Who and the Silurians, The Hungry Earth marks their fourth appearance in the television series, following 1972’s The Sea Devils (which featured their underwater relatives, the Sea Devils) and 1984’s Warriors of the Deep.
  • The actual name for the “Silurians” has always been a bit of a minefield in terms of geological and biological accuracy. They were first called “Silurians” in Doctor Who and the Silurians, but the creatures couldn’t possibly from that era. The Doctor corrected that on screen in The Sea Devils suggesting that they’re actually more properly called Eocenes (the DWM comic strip used this one). Only that’s not accurate either. The novels took to calling them Earth Reptiles and Homo Reptilia, only Homo Reptilia is just as inaccurate as it’s not a proper taxonomical name. We’ll take to calling them Silurians for the sake of these entries.
  • This is the third different subset of the Homo Reptilia, er,  Eocenes, er, Silurians that we’ve seen in the four different stories. Unlike the original Silurians and like the Sea Devils, this new subset do not possess a third eye, but unlike the other two they are able to sting with their tongues
  • If you want a modern-day Doctor Who episode to do a homage to the Jon Pertwee era, this would be it. Apart from the re-use of the Silurians themselves, the episode also harkens back to another story from the 1970 season, Inferno, which also featured a group of human scientists drilling into the Earth further than had ever been done before. The mushroom-like force-field around a small British locale was also seen in the 1971 Jon Pertwee story The Daemons while the episode’s Welsh rural and undergrond setting is pleasantly reminiscent of 1973’s The Green Death. And with a bit of homage to Peter Davison’s final year (which also featured the aforementioned Silurian and Sea Devil story Warriors of the Deep), the idea of people being sucked into the Earth – but not killed in the process was also previously seen in the 1984 story Frontios (albeit with a different monster altogether)
  • For long time fans wondering how to square the events of this story – where the characters state that 21km is the farthest anyone has dug into the Earth – with that of Inferno (which saw the protagonists drilling to the Earth’s core), there are two things to remember. One is this story is set 50 years after Inferno and that the drilling project Project: Inferno turned out to be a mega-expensive failure that most likely would have been covered up by the government of the day. As such, it’s unlikely that the characters in would have been aware of the “Inferno” drill project from half-a-century earlier.

Did You Notice… As mentioned above, the story is set 10 years into Amy and Rory’s future, seemingly without any particular reason from what we can tell from this first episode. Hmmm…

Not To Complain But….. while fans can take the view that the re-use of ideas from previous Doctor Who stories is wonderful as a homage to a past era, it might also be an indictment that the author – who was a major Doctor Who fan in his youth – is unable to think up enough original ideas of his own (42 his other script for the show, is similarly afflicted with “re-use of ideas from old Who stories” syndrome).

All Things Considered….  With Amy captured early on and absent for much of the episode, we get our first chance to see Rory and the Doctor work together, in what is a strong storyline for the Doctor’s newest companion.  Rory gets a chance to investigate the mysterious goings on with the locals, and then takes a leadership role amongst the three humans left to look after Alaya. He is far more comfortable now as a time traveler after his first trip in the TARDIS when he was (amusingly) out of his depth.

The Doctor has some wonderful scenes with Elliott, reassuring him like a school teacher might for a student with a learning disability (Elliott has dyslexia) – perhaps appropriate since the Doctor is also dressed like a teacher. The line “No, they’re scared of me” in reference to the monsters is notably played in a different way – quieter, reflective, arguably less demonstratively – than his predecessor. This is not a criticism, just an observation of one of the many differences in Matt Smith’s portrayal.

The episode ends with two different types of Doctor Who cliffhangers rolled into one. The first is the traditional “jeopardy” cliffhanger where Amy is about to be “dissected” by a Silurian scientist, and the other is the less-frequently used “revelation” cliffhanger – a cliffhanger where something startling is discovered that will change the complexion of the story. In this case, it’s the revelation that it’s not just a small group of Silurians they are dealing with, but an entire civilization.

This episode reminds us of the strengths of the traditional 90-minute Doctor Who story. In a 45 minute story you simply don’t have the time or room available to build up the appearance of the monster or threat the way that it is done here. The suspenseful build-up makes the eventual appearance of the Silurians a powerful and dramatic one – and its really this build-up which is what this opening installment of the story is all about.

Line of the Week:  “I trust the Doctor with my life”

TARDIS File prepared by Gian-Luca Di Rocco

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