Friday, January 6, 2017

Drag Out The Dragging When "The Hungry Earth" Consumes Doctor Who!

The Good: Performances and effects are fine, The few moments of character development are good
The Bad: Dragged out plot, Dull supporting characters/performances
The Basics: "The Hungry Earth" is a mediocre set-up episode that belabors its duration instead of developing a compelling story.

One of the elements of Doctor Who that I actually enjoy is the way it (occasionally) fearlessly reinvents reality. In the modern Doctor Who, the idea that the moon is a giant egg is presented in "Kill The Moon" (reviewed here!) and against all odds, the idea works for the show. Well before that episode, Doctor Who took a stab at the idea that humans were once not the dominant intelligent species on Earth in the two-parter begun in "The Hungry Earth." The idea of humanoid reptilian life forms that are intelligent is not a new one: V (reviewed here!) did it and the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Distant Origin" (reviewed here!) even posited something remarkably close to "The Hungry Earth" a decade prior to the Doctor Who episode penned by Chris Chibnall.

The Doctor Who take on humanoid reptiles on Earth leads to the introduction of the Silurian in "The Hungry Earth." The Silurian recur in a somewhat nonsensical way - having rewatched "Deep Breath" (reviewed here!) many times, my latest viewing of "The Hungry Earth" and its sequel episode involved looking for clues as to how Madame Vastra was on the surface during that time period. Alas, "The Hungry Earth" does not even hint at Vastra at all.

Opening on Earth, in 2020, the Discovery Drilling Project is digging in the Earth, deeper than humans ever have before. On the day that they hit 21 Kilometers deep, a man is sucked underneath the ground. The TARDIS arrives and The Doctor immediately feels like the ground does not feel normal. Amy is irked because the plan was for the TARDIS to arrive in Rio (which is what she dressed for!) and moments after arriving, Amy and Rory see themselves, from a distance, across the village. The Doctor posits that they are older versions of themselves, come to relive their great adventures, and advises them not to go interact with their older versions. While Amy and The Doctor investigate why the Earth feels weird, Rory finds himself embroiled in a local mystery, in the form of disappeared bodies from the local graveyard.

When Amy is sucked into the Earth, The Doctor works with members of the Discovery Drilling Project to discover why the Earth itself is consuming people. Using the Project's equipment, The Doctor realizes that something is boring its way up to the surface and shortly thereafter, the residents discover there is a force field that is keeping everyone in the village. The Doctor retreats with the workers, Rory, and the family of one of the workers, to the local church to steel themselves from an attack from below.

"The Hungry Earth" transitions from being a pretty typical Doctor Who episode that has The Doctor and his Companion to an episode that pairs The Doctor and Rory and gives Rory a decent amount of story on his own. Rory has a lot of anger for The Doctor and Arthur Darvill manages to play that without ever seeing melodramatic. "The Hungry Earth" repeats The Doctor's characterization more than it challenges or grows it as The Doctor tries to relate to the village's child, Elliot.

The risk with making a two-part episode can often be leading to a feeling of dragging out the elements of the episode to service the shooting schedule/season design as opposed to the narrative. "The Hungry Earth" is an episode that very clearly falls into that trap. The real-time build-up to the siege in the church tries to create a sense of tension that falls flat and feels forced. The use of the force field pushes the attempted mood by creating a field of darkness, but the episode's suspense does not land. In fact, when Ambrose notices that Elliot is not in the church, the revelation is so forced that it guts her character - she suddenly transitions into one of the worst on-screen mothers of all time through her neglect that only is realized when it becomes plot convenient.

The greatest amount of character comes from the episode's penultimate and final scenes, when The Doctor interrogates the Silurian Alaya and attempts to convince the humans in the village that no one needs to die. The Doctor tries his hand at peacekeeping and takes up his usual role as protector of humanity, with decidedly mixed results. In "The Hungry Earth," The Doctor is very much the predictable Doctor and he is surrounded by characters who are generally flatly drawn.

"The Hungry Earth" is not a bad episode, but it is very much an unexceptional one; not much happens, the characters do not grow and develop and the performances are not so exceptional as to wow the viewer. The result is a very basic hour of television that sets up a more impressive one.

For other big set-up episodes, please visit my reviews of:
"Heaven Sent" - Doctor Who
"Call To Arms" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"Destiny" - Legends Of Tomorrow

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Fifth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of Matt Smith as The Doctor here!


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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