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Review: The Hungry Earth


The Hungry Earth is the eighth episode in the 31st Season of Doctor Who.

Review

In many ways I found “The Hungry Earth” extremely frustrating. It definitely suffers from being the first in a two-part story for me even if it does its job as the Doctor and his companions end up in Wales just as a mining team is attacked by a group of Silurians living under the Earth. It even leaves an intriguing enough cliff-hanger with a group of humans looking after a captured Silurian while the Doctor goes in search of Amy and the other captured humans in the Silurian home beneath the Earth. But despite mystery and tension throughout, there is just not enough meat to the story, and too many irritations.

Irritation number one is the damsel in distress stuff. Yes, yes: I’m not unaware that the companions are there to be captured and for the Doctor to rescue them. But eight episodes in, Amy seems to be falling foul of the damsel in distress device far too often for me. Or maybe it’s just the “Amy is in danger and Rory is annoyed at the Doctor” repetition that’s become annoying to me. She’s a great, sassy character and Karen Gillan does a great job with her. The scene where she berates her captor when trapped is good but the end scene with the Silurian scientist advancing on a trapped Amy to dissect her is so classically damsel in distress that I winced. Given that there are two companions, I rather think the whole storyline would have improved immensely if it had been Rory who had gone with the Doctor initially and been captured rather than Amy. It might have been an original twist: Rory in danger, Amy annoyed at the Doctor for losing him.

Irritation number two is the Doctor failing all the time. I completely get that the show is trying to move away from the Doctor as superhero concept and trying to make him fallible with the underlying note that he’s not always going to win. I can understand that it makes things more unpredictable and the Doctor himself more rounded as a character. But there’s just too much of it here in this episode: he loses Amy, his plan fails, he loses Elliot, the TARDIS gets dragged downwards rather than under the Doctor’s control, he fails to realize the extent of the civilization under the Earth. If this Eleventh Doctor is supposed to be a mix of mercurial genius and bumbling idiot, we’re getting far too much bumbling idiot and not enough mercurial genius. That’s not to say Matt Smith isn’t doing an excellent job: he is. His scenes with Ambrose (Nia Roberts) at the Meals-on-Wheels van and Alaya (Neve McIntosh) when he questions her are frighteningly good: genial but menacing.

Irritation number three is really that the story is dragged out to fill the episode. While there is an attempt to keep pace with the various captures (Mo, then Amy, then Elliot and finally the Silurian, Alaya), ultimately it feels like a repetition of the same event just dressed up differently each time. It feels too contrived to get the right people captured and in the right place to tell the rest of the story rather than each capture being meaningful and warranted. The mystery of the Silurians and the tension created by the artificial night and the chase after Elliot is well done but it’s all been done before. As a result, it all feels too much like what it is: a set-up for the second part.

In that respect, the episode does its job. And the cliff-hanger with Amy facing imminent dissection and the Doctor realizing the magnitude of what they are facing, is a good one. It’s certainly intriguing enough to hook viewers (or at least this viewer) for the second part. But I’m hoping the story improves tenfold.

The production values remain high in the main with the make-up department doing a great job with the Silurians who just look fabulously reptilian. So too does the special effects team with the reptilian tongue attack. I also loved the fairy-tale style Silurian civilization glimpsed at the end, the beautiful cascade of color and light. However, when the TARDIS makes the trip down into the Earth, the shaky camera effect leaves a lot to be desired and is far too reminiscent of the Enterprise shaking under a torpedo attack back in the original Trek series.

Personally, I can’t see “The Hungry Earth” winning too many accolades (make-up excepted). It’s just… dull. It’s not quite as bad as “Victory of the Daleks” (31.03) which keeps its place as the worst episode of the season to date for me, and it is the first part so perhaps the story will be better when viewed as a whole with the second. Fingers crossed.

Previously published at Geek Speak Magazine.

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