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Published on May 24th, 2010 | by Simon Mills

The Hungry Earth Reviewed

Doctor Who - The Hungry Earth

Gosh, that was jolly good. I’d been looking forward to this story for ages, ever since I caught my first glimpse in the series preview trailer of what I thought at the time would be a Sea Devil – a scene which will be in next week’s closing part of this two-part story with the female Silurian holding a gun with a design very similar to those lamp-like weapons used by their sea-faring cousins.

I wasn’t disappointed with the execution of The Hungry Earth, either. Chris Chibnall’s story was quintessential Doctor Who at its best that could have featured the third or fourth Doctor quite easily. A remote village where strange things start happening and The Doctor and companions wander in, being split up early on putting the glamorous girl into immediate peril with an indistinct monstrous threat looming over her while she is held captive. Meanwhile, The Doctor and second-fiddle male companion run around shouting a lot. Classic stuff!

The sense of menace builds early in the story with a mysterious sink hole that appears out of nowhere and proceeds to swallow the night watchman. The Doctor and crew gleefully exit the TARDIS to what The Doctor declares is Rio…but turns out to be a village near to a “mining thing” as The Doctor calls it. “I do like a mining thing,” he says and proceeds to head off in the direction of the drilling facility. Amy smiles and Rory frowns as The Doctor bounds off down the hill like an excited schoolboy. Rory gets conveniently left behind and is soon mistaken for a policeman with his “portable crime lab” by the son of the doomed watchman from the pre-credits sequence. Rory is obviously an intelligent and insightful chap so he could have played along with the policeman role a bit more convincingly than he did. I place the fault for this in the scriptwriter’s hands, not Arthur Darvill who does a splendid job playing the fish-out-of-water Rory.

Meera Syal as Nasreen Chaudary in Doctor Who - The Hungry EarthI am wondering at this point in the season if Rory should now be considered a fully-fledged companion. He has, after all, fulfilled all of my selection criteria – travelled willingly with the Doctor on multiple adventures via TARDIS. What more do you have to do to be considered a companion? Apart from wear short skirts and pose in glossy magazines, that is? On the other hand, he may not be entirely willing as he just seems to be following Amy around to keep an eye on her and to regularly put the Doctor in his place. He does this quite well in this episode and several before it, constantly reminding The Doctor of the dangers he ends up putting his “friends” in.

Meanwhile, at the “mining thing” the Doctor and Amy break in and soon find themselves under attack from the ground beneath their feet! The drilling has awoken something and it’s fighting back. There are obvious comparisons here to classic series stories like Frontios (with the ground “eating” people) and Inferno (with its drilling project) but I believe that this story has the legs to stand on its own and beat off those comparisons. The pacing seems just right with the slow build punctuated by moments of frantic activity as the assembled crew find themselves trapped in the village surround by a force shield. A nice touch to have the light blocked out to induce a night-terror feel to the proceedings as the threat reaches them on the surface. When Tony gets stung by the Silurian tongue and later reveals a maze of green lines on his shoulder, I can’t help but think of another classic Pertwee story – The Green Death – also set in Wales featuring a mine. More touchpoints to Doctor Who’s DNA. We’re really being spoiled this year!

Meera Syal puts in a delightful performance as Nasreen Chaudhry, the boss of the drilling project. You can quite clearly see how much fun she was having making this show, and the fanboy inside me started wondering what she would be like as an official companion… Much in the Donna style with the playful banter between friends rather than the love-sick puppy of recent nu-Who companions. Loved the moment when she twanged The Doctor’s braces whilst picking themselves up off the floor of the TARDIS.

This new-look Silurian design is beautifully crafted and a big improvement on the static faces of yesteryear. Although, some prosthetic teeth would have been nice to hide Neve McIntosh’s pearly-whites. I’ve read comments on the forum here about this Silurian’s xenophobia being out of place… It does jar a bit if you think of the Silurians as an advanced race, but then I figured that she was part of the warrior caste that was awoken to deal with the threat to their existence from the drilling. Her purpose as a warrior was to deal with this threat… besides, I think this is a ploy in order to goad the bereaved Ambrose into killing her to provoke a war.

Doctor Who - The Hungry Earth

Matt Smith’s Doctor continues to enthrall me with his every gesture and word. I am not blinded to his flaws (not his fault he’s so young… damn his youth and good looks!) but he has taken on the biggest role in British TV drama and made it his own in a very short time. It’s his physicality that makes him so alien – “the drunken giraffe,” as Steven Moffat calls him.

Amy didn’t really have much to do in this episode apart from get herself swallowed by the ground and provide Rory with another chance to berate The Doctor. I’m still not convinced by her relationship with Rory, though. Is it just me, or does it seem like Amy has “settled” for Rory? A case of “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” I hope this is a deliberate plot device and not a result of a lack of onscreen chemistry between Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan.

The reveal of the Silurian city at the end was quit e a muted ending compared with the glorious cliffhanger from the previous two-parter, but it was a wonder to behold an entire civilization underground. Actually, I think “understated” is a better description rather than “muted”, to emphasise the full extent of what lies ahead and let it sink in.

The set design of the Silurian city as seen in the Next Time trailer looks glorious. Who says that the budget was cut this year? If this is what they can do with less money then that just shows what a talented bunch we have behind the camera!

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