The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood ★★★★

Chris Chibnall's homage to 1970s Who sees the return of the Silurians. Rory is erased by a crack in time

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Story 209

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Series 5 – Episodes 8 & 9

“Homo reptilia. They occupied the planet before humans. Now they want it back” – the Doctor

Storyline
In Cwmtaff, south Wales, in 2020, an ambitious project to drill down into the Earth crust disturbs an ancient reptilian race, once dubbed “Silurians”, who are now drilling their way up. There are earth tremors, holes open up and the ground swallows drill workers and then even Amy, who is subjected to a traumatic examination by the reptiles. The Doctor tries to persuade the humans and Silurians to live in peace and share the Earth, but the reptiles’ military leader is determined to wage war. Heroic Rory is touched by the crack in time and thus erased from history and from Amy’s memory.

First UK transmissions
Saturday 22 May 2010
Saturday 29 May 2010

Production
October 2009 to January 2010. Llanwonno church, Pontypridd; Bedwellty Pitts, Tredegar; Tower Colliery, Hirwaun, Glamorgan; Mir Steel, Newport; Hensol Castle, Vale of Glamorgan; temple of Peace, Cardiff; Plantasia, Swansea; The Vicarage, Rhymney; Upper Boat Studios

Cast
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
Rory Williams – Arthur Darvill
Alaya/Restac – Neve McIntosh
Nasreen Chaudhry – Meera Syal
Tony Mack – Robert Pugh
Ambrose – Nia Roberts
Mo – Alun Raglan
Elliot – Samuel Davies
Malohkeh – Richard Hope
Eldane – Stephen Moore

Crew
Writer – Chris Chibnall
Director – Ashley Way
Producer – Peter Bennett
Music – Murray Gold
Production designer – Edward Thompson
Executive producers – Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger, Beth Willis

RT review by Patrick Mulkern
Now this feels like proper, classic Doctor Who – on many levels. Gripping storytelling, terrific pace, spooky direction, a grand idea (the monsters were here before us), a small-scale Earth setting in the near future, characters worth caring about, and plenty of meat for the three leads. Plus, a companion in real peril. Blasé Amy is at last allowed to freak out – and understandably – when placed in not just one but three nightmarish situations: burial alive, a gas chamber and dissection. And like 1970s Who, we even seem to have adverse weather plaguing filming. During the night shoot, when Cymtaff is covered by a forcefield, how can it be raining?

Just as his 2007 episode, 42, borrowed from Planet of Evil (1975), Chris Chibnall again brazenly mines the series’ former glories. Drilling into the Earth’s crust (Inferno, 1970). Village isolated by energy dome (The Daemons, 1971). Welsh mine, and man turning green (The Green Death, 1973). People and Tardis sucked below ground (Frontios, 1984).

Many of those classic adventures were, in turn, reheating ideas from Quatermass and John Wyndham novels, so it’s a fine tradition.

Of course, the major revisit is the Silurians. Revealed gradually (silhouettes, claws, heavy-breathing…) over several weeks back in 1970, these reptile men were the first Who monsters that haunted my childhood. And tonight as we see one darting about in a dark graveyard approaching the boy Elliot, I’m momentarily taken right back to that frisson 40 years ago.

The rigid warrior mask and a reptilian latex face beneath are both superb designs, the latter allowing for a startling performance from Neve McIntosh. The intention had been to keep the Silurians’ heads closer to the 1970s originals; here they look far more like the Draconians from Frontier in Space (1973).

The designers have also dispensed with the original Silurians’ rubber suits, wiggling heads and light-bulb third eye, which would all look ridiculous today. I do miss the old voices (Peter Halliday sounded like someone with emphysema gurgling down a hose) but I quickly adjusted to McIntosh’s waspish diction and Scottish accent. (Like Steven Moffat, she hails from Paisley.)

I didn’t have high hopes for Meera Syal. I’ve only seen her in comedies that never made me laugh, but she’s terrific here as drill project manager Nasreen, who shows unbridled faith in the Doctor and is determined to get aboard the Tardis with him. That said, she and Amy look ridiculously lightweight and ill-equipped as peace negotiators between the human race and Silurians.

Matt Smith again nails every scene, especially the Doctor’s guilt when he realises he’s let down Rory, then Ambrose, by placing their loved ones in danger. I completely bought his stirring speech to the humans to “be the best”, as well as his encounter with Alaya, when he tentatively removes her mask and says, “You’re beautiful.” I don’t want to inflame the acolytes of David Tennant, but whenever the tenth Doctor delivered those “You’re beautiful” lines, I’d cringe.

Arthur Darvill is engaging as poor goofy Rory who’s been seen to “die” three times in just a few weeks: twice in the Doctor’s imagination in the dream worlds of Amy’s Choice; and in Cold Blood, shot by a Silurian, as he was saving the Time Lord’s life. Worse, Rory’s body is engulfed by the Crack in Time, so that he’s never even existed, wiped from Amy’s memory.

The death of a companion is nothing new. Way back in the 1960s, Katarina and Sara Kingdom expired after only a few weeks’ time travel (in The Daleks’ Master Plan). And in 1982’s Earthshock, the almost universally unloved Adric was atomised, leaving the Doctor and the audience surprisingly devastated.

So how do young modern viewers react to such a cruel twist of fate? On the night of transmission in 2010 there was “an emotional trauma” in my sister’s family after watching Rory’s demise. My nephew Finn (then six) was at first shocked, then reduced to hysterical tears. My intention had been to gauge the reactions of my sister’s children, in some ways Doctor Who’s ideal audience, to Cold Blood and the fifth series in general. Finn, inconsolable, went to bed early, but, according to my sister, hadn’t been spooked by anything in this two-parter, and “liked Matt Smith very much” and had got used to him quickly. But my niece Kaia (then nine) stayed up for a few questions…

What did you enjoy about tonight’s episode?
I liked the fact they decided to try to share the planet. The monsters were good but not really scary. They just looked like funny lizards but quite human.

What do you think of Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor?
Well, um, he’s not quite as good as David Tennant. I haven’t really got used to Matt Smith yet, but he is a good Doctor. I like him, though his costume’s a bit dorky and his hair is crazy.

How do you feel about Amy?
She’s not been one of the best companions but I like her. She reminds me of my Auntie Eileen who’s Scottish.

What about Rory?
I wasn’t expecting him to die. That was quite sad.

What do you like most about Doctor Who?
You mean the actual programme? Well, I think the episodes have got gradually better with Matt Smith, cos the first one [The Eleventh Hour] wasn’t very good, the second one was better, and it’s gone on like that. And I like the new Tardis, because it’s even bigger now and it’s got platforms and stuff.

If you could go anywhere in time and space in the Tardis, where would you go?
World War Two because I’m learning about it at school. Or into the future to see whether global warming has got better.

What one thing would you change about Doctor Who?
The fact that Amy can’t remember Rory. Well, she might get a few flashes ­ like when something comes before your eyes. I hope she does.

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[We would see much more of Rory before the season ended – but I couldn’t tell them that.]