Review: Doctor Who – 5×8 – The Hungry Earth

Chris Chibnall turns in something that's "not awful"

The Hungry Earth

In the UK: Saturday 22nd May, 6.15pm, BBC1
In the US: Saturday 5th June, 9/8c, BBC America

Sorry to anyone who was desperate for a full review of Amy’s Choice (Why? Who are you?) last week, but I just ran out of time. All the same, I did do a mini-review of it on Friday in case you missed it.

But let’s move on to this week’s episode. With a song.

Who’s the writer who
puts terror in your heart?
He rips off everything
and he makes it three times worse.

Who’s the writer who can’t plot?
He made Torchwood what it was
and…

Oh screw it. I can’t be bothered doing any more. The chorus just goes Chris Chibnall, Chris Chibnall, Chris Chibnall, anyway.

Chris Chibnall is responsible for far and away some of the worst episodes of Doctor Who and Torchwood: Cyberwoman, 42, Adrift. You can usually pretty much guarantee as soon as you see our Chibber’s name in the writing credits that the following story will go down as smoothly as milk with a sell-by date of March 1998.

Yet it seems that while he still can’t produce a classic, with Steven Moffat overseeing things, he can at least produce something with a few good moments and that doesn’t suck anywhere near as badly as Victory of the Daleks. Of course, if you were expecting him to turn in something original, you really do believe in Stevie miracles, don’t you?

Plot
The Doctor, Amy and Rory have landed in the near future in a small Welsh village. It’s beautiful, but danger is just beneath the surface… the Silurians are back!

Was it any good?
Let’s start with the characters. Yes, the characters
There were, it has to be said, a good number of character moments in this. I’m actually starting to like Rory. He’s still a bit of a numpty but he’s slowly putting behind childish things and growing a pair, even if all he can ever do when bad things happen (pokes in the eye, insults, girlfriend being stolen, fiancé dying) is to glower a bit. Doormat.

His scenes with Amy actually made them seem like a couple as well. The interrogation of the Silurian by the Doctor was actually well written. And thanks to a combination of Matt Smith’s acting and Chibber’s writing, the Doctor came out well from about 80% of scenes. Amy, on the other hand, was confined mainly to getting captured and screaming after the first few minutes, so it looks like the return to the bad old days of old Who has been confirmed for the poor old assistants.

Plotting
Now, the plotting was a little slack. Given how every single bit of publicity has said “the Silurians are back – here are the photos”, to leave them until the end and present them as a surprise was a bit daft to say the least. We had the odd “nine minutes to wire up the village with webcams” plan that never actually got used. The story just sort of progressed, really, with nothing really to excite beyond people getting sucked down holes.

But, generally, it was okay. It looks like one of those two-parters where the first part is all set up and you get the pay off in the second part. We’ll have to look at the second part to see if the story was, overall, any good.

Homages
But as with any Chris Chibnall script, a fair amount of it was bollocks, derivative or derivative bollocks.

On the logic front, we have a drill going down 21km that appears to be run by three people who aren’t in the prime of life, right next door to a village that feels like it escaped from the Welsh version of Brigadoon.

No.

We have a terrible crisis with monsters about to attack. A kid decides to run off by himself in the dark to get his precious headphones, which are so precious he left them behind somewhere.

No.

The Doctor doesn’t try to stop him.

No.

Amy wears a micro-mini with tights because she thinks they’re going to be going to Rio.

No.

The Silurians are going to attack but don’t have any weapons.

No.

No, no, no. This is all very silly. It makes no sense. But Chris Chibnall is best known for character actions that seemingly come from nowhere, that seem massively out of character, and which are purely there to advance plot in a particular, necessary direction, so all this was pretty much a given from the outset.

As for derivative, it’s easy to point out this is basically Doctor Who and the Silurians crossed with Frontios with The Green Death, with – since this is Chris Chibnall – the compulsory movie reference of the week: Predator. But since DWatS was 40 years ago now and also featured the Silurians, it’s entirely forgivable for him to ‘homage’ that.

It just would have been better if he could have added to it and brought something new to the whole experience beyond ‘bio-programmed’ soil, which is nonsensical, and a public service film about dyslexia. Just something. Anything really.

Better than expected
Nevertheless, compared to the clusterf*ck that I was expecting, this wasn’t half bad. The Silurians were decently made up, if a little Star Trek: Voyager; there was nuance to them (okay, that’s mandatory if you’re homaging DWatS, but I still appreciate it being there); Matt Smith and Karen Gillan were great, even if Amy is now so off the wall, you wonder if she’s going to turn a bit Betty Blue at some point; there were some tense moments in the dark and with the eponymous ‘hungry earth’.

Murray Gold, though. Oh, Murray. What are we going to do with you? You were doing so well earlier this season, and now you’re back to your bad old ways.

Rating: 5.5/10




  • I feared the Chibnall too but this is probably his best script so far. Even so, I still found it a bit dull. It didn’t provoke any kind of reaction in me and I’m not desperate to see the second part.

  • bob

    Loved this episode. I recognise all the plotting flaws Rob’s mentioned however, but there are nearly always plotting flaws in DW (actually it’s possibly a scifi thing). Rory was indeed much better in this episode and given that I already liked him, this made the episode quite brilliant for me. Getting rid of Amy for the most part (with her ridiculous shorts) was a relief. It reminded me a lot of Impossible Planet with Meera Syal creating an instant rapport with the Doctor much like Claire Rushbrook.
    I wouldn’t say it was as good as Impossible Planet but I enjoyed it more than any episode since Turn Left.

  • SK

    Like I said somewhere else, the understaffed, underfunded field research project feels more real to me than the massive installations with armed guards and loads of technicians that Doctor Who sometimes does (the Inferno Project, say) but then that could be because I have a closer acquaintance with university research groups than either oil-company exploratory drilling rigs or something like DERA.
    But to me it seems the most plausible bit of the episode that a geologist might write a grant proposal to try digging deep into the Earth’s core in an abandoned Welsh village where there’s some funny grass, get an equipment grant that allows her to buy or lease the drilling rig, and then have to run the project on a shoestring budget that means she basically has to employ just the one family still clinging on from the days when the mine was working, and a few part-timers.
    As for the lack of security guards, what exactly are they supposed to be guarding, and from whom? There’s no equipment that’d be exactly easy to fence, there’s nothing for miles and miles around but sheep, and in any case it looks like there’s always one person on shift. Under those circumstances, why would you spend any of your precious staffing budget on a superfluous security guard? Especially if you’re an academic with a tenuous connection to the reality of anything outside your own obsession (including your own personal safety).
    Yeah, the rest of it’s silly: the Doctor suddenly switching from being very interested in the kid to waving him off was, I think, too abruptly and obviously motivated by script concerns, for example.
    all in all, I thought it didn’t do anything horribly terrible, and didn’t do much right: it passed the time setting up next week’s episode (yes, the CCTV plan came to nothing, but it didn’t feel out of place in an episode where basically everything was just getting people in the positions they have to be for next week, and padding out the rest for time — apparently the original cut ran to a coma-inducing sixty minutes!)

  • We are talking about a hole 21km deep (deepest hole at the moment is about 12km deep and that took 24 years to drill). If you think in terms of the maintenance needs of the drillhead, etc, the health and safety issues, removal of the dug up earth, management of coolants, computer monitoring et al, the three or four people there just aren’t anywhere near enough. The Kola hole had 16 laboratories working around it, and the whole installation was 200 feet high. When you then figure in the obvious fame such a project would have, the potential for terrorist attack, etc, you suddenly get a whole lot more people needed, too. It’s Wales – not Siberia. You just go down the M4 to get there (from London, anyway).
    Hell, how many blokes does it take to dig up the average road? How many people are needed to maintain a building 200 feet high? But, c’est la vie – budget cuts at the BBC and Doctor Who inevitably mean savings on this like extras. But you’d have thought a few more would have been in the script or at least visible, just as Silurian cannon fodder.
    60 minutes of Hungry Earth? Blimey.

  • stu-n

    There were lots of people around when the drill reached 21km, then they all buggered off for the weekend and the night shift was the one bloke with his copy of The Gruffalo. So, not completely unstaffed, but still some prime Chibnallity. Just thought I’d point this out.
    Focusing on the positives, I thought Matt Smith was excellent in this; his way of threatening people with a slight smile is growing on me (‘you’re better than this. I’m asking you nicely’). The interrogation was very well done, and the pep-talk in the church hall was ace too. I liked Meera Syal, and Neve McIntosh had some nice moments (although I’m struggling to understand (a) why she needed to wear a mask, and (b) why a lizard would have breasts, but that’s nothing to do with her performance, which was ace).
    As previously stated, I like Rory (he’s a doormat, but you can see why they’re together – he was probably the only person who stuck by Amy when she was a kid and everyone thought she was mad, he makes her feel safe, and he’s out of his depth but he’s trying to tread water frantically). Where he does come into his own is in plot mechanics – if you have two companions, you can split them up and have them discover different aspects of the story. I hope the corpse stealing gets explained, but knowing Chibnall, it won’t.
    The Chibnallity was definitely toned down. The plot stupidity was more of the ‘hang on a minute’ variety after I’d watched it, rather than the derisive laughter and yelling at the screen of Cybertits. So, watchable and fun, but below par. I’m sort-of looking forward to and sort-of dreading the next episode.

  • SK

    Okay, yeah, the style of project was completely out-of-scale to what they had achieved, but then as what-they-had-achieved is utterly implausible anyway (in fine Doctor Who tradition, I wasn’t considering that an issue. Just saying that such projects do exist, and are rather more common than huge ones like the Russian borehole. And isn’t it rather in keeping with the Doctor Who milieu that it should be one of those lone not-quite-garden-shed scientists who does the utterly impossible?

  • MediumRob

    “And isn’t it rather in keeping with the Doctor Who milieu that it should be one of those lone not-quite-garden-shed scientists who does the utterly impossible?”
    If this were an homage to Troughton or Tom Baker, maybe, but this was more of an homage to Pertwee – notably Doctor Who and the Silurians (giant scientific base filled with soldiers and scientists), Inferno (giant drill going towards the earth core populated by dozens of scientists, technicians, soldiers, etc) and The Green Death (great big company with dozens of miners, staff, etc) – so even as an homage, it should have had loads of people around. And I’d draw a distinct line between scientific research and giant engineering projects. You could probably build a NeffelWeffel drive in your garden shed, but there’s no way you could run any kind of significant drilling operation that way.
    “There were lots of people around when the drill reached 21km, then they all buggered off for the weekend and the night shift was the one bloke with his copy of The Gruffalo.”
    Don’t these things generally run all the time, since getting the drill head to start up again is nearly impossible once it’s stopped? Oh well, doesn’t matter, but it’s like in Torchwood when the nuclear reactor and all the town’s computer systems were run from an office block or the nuclear reactor has vents that pump into the control room – you can fudge it, but ultimately it’s too stupid to really blank completely.

  • stu-n

    Oh, the drill head was still running while Mo was the only person on the site. Like I said: Chibnallity toned down, but still in evidence.

  • bob

    “I thought Matt Smith was excellent in this; his way of threatening people with a slight smile is growing on me (‘you’re better than this. I’m asking you nicely’).”
    Oh totally agreed. This was the first episode in which I actually sat up and thought “wait… he’s actually pretty good”.
    Incidentally, we cut straight from this (telling Ambroise not to stock pile weapons) to a scene where the Doctor explained how the cctv system would act as a weapon. That kind of hypocrisy is common with the Doctor but it felt too unacknowledged to be purposeful.

  • Joe B.

    Haven’t seen it yet so I’m not reading much here, but I do have to stand up for one of Chib’s Torchwood eps, Countrycide from series one, which I think served a great purpose that first series in that it turned out there was no alien reason for the crime in question.
    And it was certainly creepy.
    Cannibal stories usually are.

  • Countrycide was the episode of Torchwood that was so colossally stupid that I gave up watching it during series one

  • Alex

    It could have been worse considering it was done by Chris Chibnall, and I agree with everyone who hated Countrycide, but I never did care for Tourchwood

  • MediumRob

    “It could have been worse considering it was done by Chris Chibnall, and I agree with everyone who hated Countrycide, but I never did care for Tourchwood”
    Torchwood: Children of Earth was actually pretty good, but most of it was rubbish. Second season definitely better than the first though.

  • stu-n

    “Torchwood: Children of Earth was actually pretty good.”
    The last episode, however, was shit on toast. Stale toast.

  • bob

    I’m still crying from that Tosh and Owen scene. John Barrowman may need to be shot but those two were great.

  • Children of Earth cuoldn’t make it back from the devastation of ep 4 really, although there were still some frightening good moments in ep 5.
    Season 2 Torchwood was undeniably better than S1, especially with the ending. But they wasted a lot of opportunities still. S1 was mostly nonsense, some of it a horrible mess (sorry, but Countrycide didn’t work for me). Nevermind, I did have one of my consistently best laughs ever listening to the Behind the Sofa/Tachyon TV crew dissecting Cybertits. Most ridiculous episode ever.

  • SK

    Oh dear me no, series two was terrible — much worse than series one. Series one at least had Out of Time in it. Series two had lots of camp madness, an awful ‘arc’ stuck together at the last minute and making no sense, a ‘how they met’ episode in which it was revealed that they met in the most boring and obvious ways possible, the tedious-from-the-off-but-somehow-getting-worse ‘dead Owen’ stuff, and did I mention the camp madness? Oh, and Adrift which takes special pains to be even worse than Countrycide.
    Series one was bad. Series two was utterly awful. Children of Earth was about three good episodes’ worth of stuff padded out to five, with a v. predictable ending.

  • The Hungry Earth. You know what, my heart sank just for a moment when I realised it was a Chib ‘special’. Heck, even partner has acquired awareness enough that he visibly winced at the sight of his name on the credits (I’ve kept myself so unspoilered I didn’t even realise he was the writer till the credits).
    BUT: 42 wasn’t as awaful as I expected (though it was lifted by Harper’s direction). And yes, even if it seems to damn with faint praise, the Hungry Earth was likewise ‘not as awful as we feared’. I totally didn’t recognise Neve M, but she was pretty decent behind the costume/make-up.
    It wasn’t a set-the world alight episode, but I didn’t drift (which I had been worried would happen). And I also didn’t throw anything at the screen.
    I’ll be catching up Sunday/Monday with the second part though. I can cope with that. No rush from my perspective. But Matt Smith was pretty damn good here. remind me again what order things were filmed in?

  • jon

    i just cant get into this new dr who!! ive really tried to like it but i cant! the acting is poor the scripts are boring the whole show reeks of something in terminal decline! i just hopeing they can pull it out of the bag in the next few episodes because i for one will have to stop watching it! matt you are the worse dr ever!!!!

  • SK

    Well, somebody needs to put the hyperbole down on the ground and back away from it slowly.

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • “Well, somebody needs to put the hyperbole down on the ground and back away from it slowly.”
    SK – you are a hero. That is going to be my riposte from now on to all ranty responses.

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()