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And once underway, the story charges full speed ahead, with one excellent beat leading logically to another, and another, and another, as Chibnall works his magic and proves his worth. The excellence of the Jon Pertwee era is evoked, as images of Welsh mining, huge drill-rigs, churches, and whole villages surrounded by alien forcefields bring to mind such successful season finales as "The Green Death" (story no. 69), "Inferno" (story no. 54) and the much-loved "The Daemons" (story no. 59). Chibnall also excellently employs time-pressure to the drama's advantage - not surprising since his previous Doctor Who effort, "42" (story no. 188) was named after its time pressure. However, I think the 12-minute limit for the activities of the Doctor and party in the first episode is a little too limited to make believable all that they manage to accomplish. Pick a larger number though, and all is well.
I also think the story might make slightly more sense if the TARDIS had gone underground under her own power. Though the TARDIS actually moves around quite a bit before the story is over, the director chooses to leave out nearly every opportunity to involve the police box in a trick-dissolve effect, which is disappointing. However, I must admit I didn't even notice this on first viewing when watching all the stories in rapid succession. Indeed, the story's twists and action remain so compelling that it is very easy to become completely engaged and just go with it. Still, proper materializations would ultimately be more satisfying than many of the long-term interpersonal relationship scenes for the regulars that occur in and around the TARDIS.
Were we about to drill into another pocket of Stahlmann's gas again? About three-quarters of the way through episode one, it looks as though the much anticipated reveal of this week's adversarial force is about to occur, and having successfully avoided exposing myself to any and all spoilers including knowledge of episode titles and which ones were parts of which stories, I had only my knowledgeable fan suspicions as to who this week's "monsters" might be. Suddenly, a pattern sprang to obvious clarity in my mind. If this was some new creature invented for the show this year, it would probably be quickly fought and defeated, and the story would end with a one-episode length. If, however, it was a returning villain, and my guess was that we were dealing with either Tractators or Silurians, the Silurians especially were just way too complex and interesting, and absolutely demanded a second episode. Perhaps this speaks loudly to the lack of quality and complexity of what we are able to get on Doctor Who in the modern format. Stories as short as one 45-minute episode end up rushing around without making time to flesh out a new world or design alien characters with impact. I think more 90-minute stories per season could successfully redress the balance. Plus, a season that allowed more creative freedom in each story (instead of being tied to another finale trying to top all that has come before) would be a glorious breath of fresh air. The 2005 season template, though successful, has become too predictable. Moffat's favourite criticism of 1970's Doctor Who is now applying to his own era in a whole new way.
"I'm asking you nicely...."Best of all is simply the focus of the character interaction in this story, which the Doctor nicely keeps returning to over and over, nudging it to remain upper-most in the minds and the dialogue of everyone present: To be the best you can be, the most noble, especially today. To focus on the ideal, and act on principle. I'd be keen to put that into EVERY Doctor Who story, instead of wasting time trying to think up one silly fear after another. Well, here's one story that deserves the highest rank for having ideal behaviour as a focus, almost as a reward for getting over unjustifiable levels of fear over the unknowns surrounding the Silurians. It even goes so far to make the optimistic side of this classic struggle real and believable and tangible, something that seemed to escape writer Malcolm Hulke in most of his original adventures including both "The Silurians" and "The Sea Devils" (story no. 62), and equally escaped Johnny Byrne's and Eric Saward's writing skills during "Warriors of the Deep".
Half of the trouble with new millennium Doctor Who is that by always meeting our alien monster adversaries on Earth, we almost never see them in their own proper natural spheres of influence, and thus have a chance to treat them with the cultural respect that would be so much more interesting that the usual terrestrial defense so commonly rushed through. Had this turned out to be a Tractator story, I'd really be getting into my usual rant about the lack of interstellar settings that the show should be using more often. Well, at least for the Silurians, Earth IS their natural habitat and sphere of influence. Thus, the character opportunities are greater, and new millennium visual effects can deliver the spectacle of their civilization and architecture and all the other goodness we should be getting all the time on this show. This is the story that gives us precisely the type of social complexity and cultural variety that one would want alien planets to deliver. So, in an almost inadvertent way, this is actually the best alien planet story of the season, without actually being an alien planet. Too bad they cut the scene of the Doctor and Nasreen exploring the plant chamber, as it would further enhance this idea, and episode one was short enough that it had the time to accommodate this scene.
The story-specific action wrapping things up at the end is good solid stuff for the most part. The only thing raising my eyebrows is the timing of the Silurians' next hibernation cycle. Thirty or forty years would be about right by my reckoning, considering how much closer a good solution was in this tale than in "The Silurians" in the 1970's, also taking into account humanity's shift from third to fourth density consciousness which will peak even before 2020 when this story is set. Also, if you compare the worst of Silurian behaviour in this story with the worst of Human behaviour, it seems they have an even greater need to evolve and grow in wisdom than we humans do - which they probably will not have a chance to succeed at while in suspended animation.
But it is surprising that the Doctor isn't more alarmed at having the alarm set for a thousand years. That means they'll wake up in the late 29th century / early 30th... which brings us to the backstory events of "The Ark in Space" (story no. 76) and "The Sontaran Experiment" (story no. 77), which this season's "The Beast Below" (story no. 209) has just reminded us of. Humanity abandons the Earth due to solar flares. These Silurians are either going to wake up, come out, say "Crap, now we've got solar flares", and have to go right back into hibernation...... or if that doesn't really bother them they may just take over the planet in humanity's absence, and when the Humans come back from the Ark and the outer colonies, the Silurians can snub their noses at them, and say "Turnabout is fair play". (Now THERE's one idea for the next Silurian sequel! I'm not convinced it's the best way to go though....)
Rory and Amy's final business in the story is a bit of an ugly display of cliché, and it does feel a bit tacked on to an ending that already had too much pressure from a ticking clock story-wise to believably absorb these bits. In particular, the guest characters lose themselves a little too conveniently in deeper portions of the TARDIS (which the viewers still don't get to see), and it seems quite out of character for them to not remain more involved in the urgency of this last-minute escape.
Plus, we have to put up with a major "danger area" in terms of sci-fi ideas: that of rewriting time such that someone or something you know could suddenly no longer have existed. Normally, this is ridiculous, if mere journeys in time machines like the TARDIS allowing new decisions to influence the past are meant to instigate it, because everyday decision-making branching into parallel universes is a core part of what's going on, and most sci-fi writers failed to wrap their heads around it. Most of the dialogue that "The Hungry Earth" offers on this subject seems as unsophisticated as in most other unenlightened sci-fi. Things like the Doctor's assertion that there are moments in time that must remain fixed, but today's possible Silurian/Human coalition isn't one of them.... what the hell? That makes as much sense as the ancient complications that tried to explain the orbits of the planets while keeping the Earth at the center of the solar system. Not convincing. At least with the season arcs, Moffat and co. use some additional concepts to fuel their ideas, which earns them a bit of creative freedom. But even at best, time rewriting feels like an idea that science fiction has dwelled on too often and too clumsily for us to get excited about it yet again this year. In effect, the jury has to remain out, until Moffat resolves this part of his mystery and lets us know what the hell he believes is really triggering this whole chain of events.
On the plus side, this sequence feeds effectively into the season's whole remember/forget theme, but this is little consolation since it is so harsh and ugly on top of its high probability of being just a ridiculously rubbish fear-fantasy anyway. And though I hated the method, perhaps it achieved the end result of allowing the Doctor and Amy to finally be free of fifth wheel dynamics for the rest of their time together on the show.
This story has become available on DVD.
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Note: The full season sets contain commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and other extras. The smaller volumes only feature the plain episodes.
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