Doctor Who: 5.8 – The Hungry Earth / 5.9 – Cold Blood

Last week I posted a quick update saying that I would wait until this week to write about both of these episodes, but that “The Hungry Earth” was a “very good setup.” Having had a week to reflect on that, I’m not so sure that’s the case, and yet I still think “The Hungry Earth” is a very or at least reasonably good episode, but perhaps not an effective setup for “Cold Blood,” unless you enjoy bait and switch. The tone and feel of “The Hungry Earth” is vastly different than “Cold Blood” (how about from here on out I refer to the episodes as THE and CB respectively?), and a fairly inconsequential amount of the information the episode delivers has much of anything to do with the second half. Probably the single most important bit that carries over from one episode to the next is the Doctor, Amy, and Rory seeing future versions of Amy and Rory off in the distance at the very start, but we’ll get to that in due course.

THE plays like one part spooky horror story and one part scientific fiasco. It’s a clear homage not so much to the classic series Silurians tales, but other stories from the Jon Pertwee era like “Inferno” and “The Daemons.” Heck, even the earth swallowing people up takes me back to Peter Davison’s “Frontios.” One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about this season is the conscious decision to go for more rural settings, as opposed to the urban backdrops which so dominated the Davies era. It’s given the season a much different texture, and one that’s a welcome change, and you can’t get much more rural than the countryside, an old church and graveyard, and a tiny cast. In so many ways both THE and CB are perhaps the closest to classic “Doctor Who” the new series has yet produced, which I’m not entirely sure is a good thing, because trying to hammer an old formula into a new box is an often dicey proposition, and I quite honestly am not sure if it works all that well here. The best episodes of the new series have been the ones that did something with “Doctor Who” that we’ve never seen before, and if the new series has proven anything, it’s that it’s best to keep moving forward.

And yet there were numerous great moments in THE. One of them was the scene where Amy woke up encased in a Silurian briefcase. That gave me the cold shivers, which is something that “Doctor Who” often aims to do, but (at least for me) rarely succeeds at. The second was the scene where the Doctor “lost” Elliot (Samuel Davies), and the fallout from him doing so. The Doctor looked so beaten in that moment, as if he’d really failed. Speaking of Elliot, here’s another kid, which you may recall me bitching about earlier this season. Thing is, I really, really liked Elliot in THE, but by the time we got to CB, he could’ve been any character of any age, and his only function seemed to be that the young are the most open-minded people on the planet, which is a nice, and perhaps truthful sentiment, but not one I needed or cared to see hammered home. The final reveal of the underground Silurian city is another great moment, but it’s also one whose promise isn’t really met in CB. It looks as though we’re going to be getting something monumental in CB that we ultimately never really get. I’d never go so far as to call these two episodes “bad” or to say I didn’t like them, but when compared to the previous “second two-parters of the season” (think, “The Empty Child,” “The Impossible Planet,” and “Human Nature”), this seems to be lacking in ambition and scope. I had really high expectations for this 90-minute block – expectations that ultimately weren’t met.

The Silurians (or whatever we are or aren’t calling them at this point) were one of the great concepts in classic “Doctor Who.” Instead of the two old sci-fi standards of “they come to us” or “we go to them,” the idea was that “they” were here long before “us.” Humans became the invaders on their own soil. Writer Malcolm Hulke did a solid job filling out and exploring these ideas in Jon Pertwee’s second serial, “Doctor Who and the Silurians,” and then he came back a few years later with “The Sea Devils,” in which the Doctor met the aquatic relatives of the Silurians, and then 10 or so years later Peter Davison encountered both races in the year 2084 in the lackluster tale “Warriors of the Deep” (which wasn’t written by Hulke). All three tales are available on DVD in the “Beneath the Surface” boxset, and each of these stories amounted to a moral dilemma for the Doctor, as he tried desperately to broker peace between the two species, and they always ended badly, with no clear winners. This new two-parter (or at least CB) tells the same story, once again, which isn’t a problem for anyone who hasn’t seen all the old serials, but for those of us who have, when all is said and done, there’s bound to be a “That’s it?” as the final credits roll.

Well, maybe not, as CB finished off with a one-two punch that has little to do with the story, and more to do with seasonal Pandorica arc (there seems to be a lot of that this season). The ending of CB is such a narrative shock that it leaves one forgetting how rote much of what came before really was – again, at least for old school fans, and since I am one, I can’t write from any other perspective. The only major difference between this tale and the serials of old is that it ends on a considerably happier note, and instead of some mass slaughter, the Silurians go into hibernation for another thousand years. Really what the story feels like is, ironically enough, a setup for the return of Silurians, presumably next season, which I welcome, because there surely must be a great deal of untapped potential in this concept provided someone actually takes us there. So much of the dialogue and so many of the situations in this story seem inspired by or ripped directly from all the previous homo reptilia tales, that I’m surprised Malcolm Hulke didn’t get a co-writing credit next to Chris Chibnall. But I’m loath to hold any of this against the story, because the concept needed to be re-established for modern audiences unfamiliar with the originals, and Hulke did such a bang-up job back in the ‘70s, that maybe there was almost no other way to accomplish this than by going back to the concept’s roots, given how original it is as sci-fi concepts go. The Silurians are a fascinating enough race that they deserve to get the same kind of returning screentime that the Daleks and the Cybermen do. This could go on for a long time on this series, with all kinds of twists and turns along the way.

Probably the most frustrating aspect of CB in particular is the Doctor’s ongoing insistence at brokering peace between the two species. On three occasions he’s learned that this doesn’t work, so why would he possibly think it would be a success this time? Why is he so optimistic? The human race seems worse than ever before, so why is he being so fucking blind to the truth? Once again, for anyone who’s seen the classic serials, this just makes no sense. I’m very interested to hear opinions from fans that’ve never seen the classic serials, so by all means, fill up the comments section below with your thoughts on this story.

Finally, we must cover the one-two punch. The death of Rory – the real death of Rory, instead of the bogus one we got in “Amy’s Choice.” It’s a well played scene, with the Pandoricrack erasing him from time itself – and Amy’s memory – afterwards. Really, really great stuff from all parties involved, and a real punch to the gut, as is the wraparound bit where Amy is now standing solo in the distance. All that said, there’s no fucking way this guy is gone from the series. This was a massive fakeout if ever I’ve seen one, and I’m quite sure he’ll somehow come back to life in the two-part season finale. (Perhaps Rory will become the “Doctor Who” equivalent of “South Park’s” Kenny?) And then there’s that chunk of the TARDIS the Doctor pulled out of the Pandoricrack. What the hell is going on there? I get bored with speculating and much prefer to let this series wash over me, but I always love hearing what others think is around the corner, so let’s hear it, kids. Since Part One of the finale is playing in the U.K. this weekend, keep your comments relevant to what’s been shown in the U.S. No cheating or spoiling if you’re ahead of the game.

Oh yeah – one last thing. A couple of my “Doctor Who” peeps and I came up with a Facebook group recently. It’s called “A Clive Barker penned episode of ‘Doctor Who’ is a great idea!” and I think the name of the group is fairly self-explanatory in a Betty White/SNL kind of way. If you agree with the idea, please join this group, and suggest it to as many people as you can. Don’t worry, it’s a quiet group, and we won’t bombard your FB page with all sorts of nonsense. We just want to see the member count grow and grow, until Steven Moffat has no choice but to offer Mr. Barker a shot at writing an episode of “Doctor Who.”
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NEXT TIME: The Doctor meets Vincent Van Gogh, in the Richard Curtis penned episode “Vincent and the Doctor.” Having already seen this episode, I will boldly proclaim it unquestionably the best episode of the season, so by all means don’t miss out.

Classic “Who” DVD Recommendation of the Week: I honestly can’t recall if I’ve ever recommended the final story of the ‘60s, “The War Games,” before, but I’m recommending it now if for no other reason than because it’s an important story that everyone needs to see (well, the final episode of its 10-part girth is anyway).

(Thanks as always to Sonic Biro for the screencaps.)

  

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