5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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THE HUNGRY EARTH/COLD BLOOD
Buy this Doctor Who DVD: UK
Buy this Doctor Who DVD on Blu-ray: UK
We find it hard to imagine how these episodes look if you’ve only seen the new series. If that’s you, you owe it to yourself to see the Silurians’ original incarnation. (You can safely skip the two other stabs they had at it.) On the other hand, maybe it’s better that you don’t. Against The Silurians, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood might make you cry.
Those were the days. Seven, count ‘em, seven episodes, chocka to the gills with a complex, nuanced story. Characters in all shades of grey, including the monsters. Moral dilemmas out the wazoo. And a cold and utterly shocking ending. Absolutely primo stuff.
The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, although it positions itself as an analogous story in the mould of The Sea Devils, is really closer to a remake. And it’s going to be better, right? With all the lovely budget and CGI and stuff we have now?
The first time through, we actually enjoyed it far more than it deserved. The Pertwee tributathon, with the Welshness and the drilling and the Green Veins Of Death and all, was an easy win. And we’ve come to realise that whatever dreck is onscreen, if Matt Smith’s Doctor is in it it’s going to be sprinkled with sparkly magic dust that lifts the material far higher than it actually rates. Also, they do a much better job of showing the utter terror of being dragged down through the earth than Frontios manages. But despite all that, as the episodes unspooled the horrible reality was creeping through to us. It’s actually pretty awful. And think about it even for a second and it crumbles to dust.
Chris Chibnall, we have to confess, is not our favourite writer. His other Doctor Who ep, 42, was derivative, clichéd and frankly inept. And while he wrote a couple of creditable Torchwood episodes, he also wrote some utter clangers. The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood do not, shall we say, display his best side. He just can’t seem to do anything right.
Take the characters. The teaser’s actually very nice, with some good characterising stuff between Mo and his son, so that we actually care when Mo slithers away into the dirt. Then they chuck all that away when we don’t see Mo for, like, ever, and when we do he could be anybody. Elliot is a really great kid (and since we have a low nausea threshold for adorable little tykes that’s high praise from us), and his interaction with the Doctor is bliss, but again, it all comes to nothing. And the dyslexia, planted in the teaser as obviously as a Leylandii in a vegie patch, turns out just to be a bit of character detail and not a vital plot point at all. Dude, that’s not how you do it.
None of the others are any better, either. Whatever’s good about Meera Syal’s character Nasreen - the warmth, the realness - comes from her: the bad bits - the total lack of scienciness, not to mention the confusion about what kind of scientist she actually is - come from the script. Tony is a complete nonentity (apart from one weird moment we talk about later) and we’re not buying his apparent relationship with Nasreen for a second. And Ambrose (Ambrose?) is just plain terrible.
Nor do the Silurians escape. Who do we have? The psychotic twins on one side, cuddly Stephen Moore on the other. Not what you’d call light and shade, is it? The one Silurian who isn’t one-note, the scientist, doesn’t make any sense whatsoever - he seems terribly nice, doesn’t he, and the Doctor clearly likes him a lot, but wait a minute. Isn’t this the same guy whose hobby is vivisection? What the hell’s that about?
That’s the trouble with the plot, too. Half of it’s smack-you-in-the-face obvious, the other half is utterly loopy. And not in a good way.
First, we get the Ring Scene. Out of the blue, Rory makes such a heavy-handed fuss about Amy wearing her engagement ring that you can see Plot Plant written on it from space. Then a spurious (why doesn’t Rory just say he’s not the police?) scene about the missing corpses, never followed up on, that seems stuck in there for the sole point of making Rory stand in an open grave. Oh, the symbolism!
The Doctor and Amy investigate the drilling operation (the what? And why do Nasreen and Tony seem to be running the whole thing, whatever it is, between them from their garden shed? Oh, let’s not go there). Watch out for the magic dust, because Matt Smith is sprinkling it on deliciously (we particularly love the way he says “twelve minutes”), and his scene with Rory “Well, you should have tried harder!”) is sheer magic that even Murray with his woo-oos can’t tarnish.
Then, in the charm of the exchanges between the Doctor and Elliot, you can almost forget the silliness of the Doctor insisting on them gathering in the church (wouldn’t the TARDIS be a lot safer, even if it can’t take off?). Or the hilarity of them setting up a network that covers the entire village in eight minutes flat: all we can say is they sure aren’t using Windows Networking. And admiring the steel behind the Doctor’s smile as he asks Ambrose to put away the weapons nearly makes you forget how unreasonable the Doctor’s being: if you’re going to “temporarily incapacitate” somebody with a sonic pulse, what’s the diff between that and biffing them with a cricket bat?
But sorry, Doctor, even our enjoyment of Rory accurately pointing out that it’s rubbish that the (urgh) sonic screwdriver doesn’t work on wood can’t cover the idiocy of your letting Elliot run off with a minute to go on the countdown - or the time it takes everyone else to notice he’s missing.
And ooh! Little green men! Or reasonable facsimile, with included horribly CGIed tongue. And the Doctor in shades, which is lots of fun, and then it’s apparently OK to squirt someone in the face with a fire extinguisher even if you disapprove of cricket bats.
Oh yes, Amy. We’d forgotten all about her by this point, but her glass coffin thing is genuinely scary and we do like her “Did you just shush me?” line. But never mind her, because the Doctor’s taking off the Silurian’s mask and thousands of classic series fans are having a stroke. Where’s the third eye and stuff? We don’t actually mind about that: the Doctor did say it was a different branch of the species, after all, and the makeup is so lovely we can’t find it in us to carp about the non-reptilian eyes and such. Neve McIntosh manages to retain her beauty even covered in scales, which just goes to show that good bone structure goes a long way. We will say, though: a reptile…with breasts? Maybe those bumps are where she keeps her tongue.
The interrogation scene is, thanks to the actors involved, very nice indeed. We love Alaya’s lizardiness, and while we could do without her one-note foamy-mouthed attitude, Neve McIntosh brings complete conviction to it. The Doctor-style interrogation is also great, and it’s not all jelly babies either: the Doctor shows his teeth more than once. It’s a great two-hander.
Then off we go with the good old Silurian Question. It’s their planet, too, so what are we going to do about it? You’d have to be a lot less cynical than we are to envisage an answer to this question that doesn’t involve a good few rivers of blood, but it’s always worth a ponder. Of the four times Doctor Who has now had a go at said pondering, the first time was the most interesting and complex (and shocking): this, alas, is the least. We know Bad Things are going to happen to Alaya when the Doctor leaves her alone with assorted humans: it’s just a question of when.
That’s not helped, of course, by a script that makes Tony, whose grandson is being held hostage and whose life might depend on a prisoner exchange, suggest that they dissect her. Dear God. Yes, it’s supposed to be all parallel and stuff, but it’s ridiculous. Also, is the dome thingy gone or not? If it’s not, why does the Doctor suddenly think it’s OK to use the TARDIS when he didn’t before? And if it is, now that the door’s open, wouldn’t you think the others, whose loved ones’ lives are in the balance, would suggest TELLING SOMEBODY about this mysterious scourge from below rather than indulging in a spot of impromptu surgery themselves? What the hell good would finding the weak spots do for this bunch?
Oh, well. Onwards and downwards. (They said it, we didn’t.) Amy manages to pick lovable old Dr Mengele’s pocket while having her hand completely clamped down, and Matt Smith turns in some really excellent screaming and writhing. And we don‘t say that lightly: practically every other Doctor has gurned their way horribly through torture scenes. Back on the surface, there’s a really odd moment with Tony and Alaya in which he offers to let her go if she cures him. Shouldn’t this be a character-defining thing? After all, his grandson’s life might depend on keeping Alaya, so he’s trying to trade Elliot’s life for his. Despite this, it’s never referred to again and he keeps cruising on as one of the good guys. Huh? Similarly, Ambrose zaps Alaya just because of a bit of taunting, thus endangering her entire family, and Tony has the cheek to reprimand her when a few minutes before he was going to let Alaya go. Consistency? Not so much. This isn't character shading: it's picking incidents out of a hat.
The Doctor proposes a swap, and Restac, who’s even frothier-mouthed than her eggmate, instead decides on a clear message. Yawn, another fanatic. Not exactly ringing the changes, are they? But it’s insanely nice Eldane to the rescue, who negotiates with Amy and Nasreen despite having sensibly asked whether they have any authority and getting an accurate answer. Very heart-tugging but also very stupid. Also very stupid is Amy’s brilliant plan to plonk all the lizards in the Sahara and the Outback and the Nevada Plains because they’re deserted. Right, Amy, we pick you to tell the Tuareg and the other 2.5 million people who actually live in the Sahara. And the indigenous Australians living in the Outback. Not that we really need to take them into consideration, of course. After all, they’ve only been there for tens of thousands of years.
And then oops, here’s your minion who’s just a tiny bit dead. The Doctor assures Eldane that humanity are better than this, although considering his previous Silurian outings we’re not sure where he’s getting that idea from. Tony declares his love for his grandson - shame he didn’t remember him when he was trying to release Alaya, isn’t it? The toxic fumigation, a mad scheme if ever we’ve heard of one, kicks off. And oh yeah, Rory dies.
Let us say, before we say anything else, that this worked brilliantly for us. Not the actual mechanics of it, what with the evil villain loosing the fatal bolt before carking it and Rory nobly flinging himself in front of the Doctor, which are more old hat than a tricorn, but the reaction to the death. We felt the impact of his death completely, and even the second time through we couldn’t help sobbing like tiny children at Amy’s reaction as the Doctor drags her away. It was intensely believable. There have been a lot of supposedly emotional moments in both the old and the new series which have left us stony-faced, but this one more than did its job.
But at the same time, we didn’t believe it was permanent. Not for a second. Not after all that ring stuff. And especially not after just having pretend-killed Rory in the previous episode either. So the punch was pulled, and that’s a waste.
It’s not 100% terrible. We think we can safely predict that nothing with Matt Smith in as the Doctor will ever be that. But it’s profoundly, depressingly unoriginal. The dialogue clunks like a Clunk-O-Matic 2.0. The characters remain sadly random and/or undeveloped. And the plot machinery keeps poking through the holes in the tissue of gauze stretched across the top. In so many ways, it’s far from the Silurians’ finest hour. It might set out to be a homage, but instead only reminds us of how far we’ve come - the wrong way down the street.
MORAL: If you wake someone up early, you’re going to get a tongue-lashing.
I CAN SEE ALL THE WAY TO RIO
We keep seeing references to Amy wearing a miniskirt, but they’re actually shorts.
Why do Tony and Nasreen just stand and watch as the Doctor tries to pull Amy out of the hole? And why does the Doctor, after a feeble scrabble at the dirt, just yell “No!” a lot rather than do something useful like digging?
“First you take my son, now you hurt my Dad.” Er, what about her husband?
“We were a great civilisation.” Well, yeah, apart from that little moon thing….
REST, ICE, CELERY, ELEVATION
We know they’re trying to bring a nostalgic tear to our eye with the celery, but it makes no sense. The Doctor hasn’t been gassed, after all.
WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US
Is Tony dying or isn’t he? Alaya said she wanted to watch him die, and the Doctor refers to venom sacs, then all of a sudden he’s mutating.
ANYWAY, THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED. THE END
Why do they keep trying to do voiceovers? They’re all horrible. We don’t care if you have to hack out half your exposition because you overran: find another way.
Mo and Elliott’s haughty rejection of Ambrose for killing Alaya when they’ve been kidnapped, imprisoned and vivisected by the Silurians seems a little on the nose.
SOME LIKE IT HOT
What kind of a plan is the Doctor’s “Make it prophecy that the earth must be shared in a thousand years”? The most likely outcome we can see is that once UNIT get wind of it, they’ll be down there with a toxic fumigation of their own. Also, didn’t Beast Below say Earth would be ravaged by solar flares round about then? We know lizards like a tropical climate, but that’s ridiculous.
Buy this Doctor Who DVD: UK
Buy this Doctor Who DVD on Blu-ray: UK