Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Reaction: THE HUNGRY EARTH
Written by Chris Chibnall, directed by Ashley Way, 2010
At least with a real unadulterated stinker, you know it's fairly unlikely many people are going to turn round and say it was brilliant. The trouble with inconsequential, nothingy filler like this is how many people will be won over by it - which is grim, because this is a lazy, lazy story. I have no problem with writers showing their influences, but when you can tick off a handful of blatant precedents from within the series (Doctor Who and the Silurians (obviously), Inferno, The Dæmons, The Green Death, Frontios, Father's Day), something's severely wrong. Whether deliberate references or not, that forcefields round villages and bodies being sucked underground and Welsh mining villages facing deadly danger have all been done within THE SAME SERIES, one has to worry.
Everything about this story creaks. Though realised perfectly well, this sort of tedium just isn’t really worthy of anyone's time. And what's worse is knowing the production team think they're doing something new and relevant. All the bollocks on Confidential about how the Silurians need reinventing - a mentality I loathe anyway, and no, they don't; they didn't even need to come back. There's a disproportionately massive build-up to their appearance within the story, but, really, who gives a shit about the Silurians? Of the past series' established returnees which haven't already been plundered, the Ice Warriors are about the only ones with any potential mileage left. The Silurians - really?! And then to redesign them to within an inch of their lives, so they have almost nothing to do with their previous realisation, surely defeats the object of their reappearance anyway.
If the new design were a success, I wouldn't pooh-pooh it on general principles alone; I’m pooh-poohing it not because it's a new design, but because it’s so much less memorable than the original. At least they could have kept the third eye, which was the defining featuring of the original, as well as a fairly interesting idea (is a really poor CG tongue actually any better?). We've all seen slightly rubbery reptile-people on screen before. These are entirely undistinguished, and much as they may be better in terms of allowing individual characterisation, there's nothing to define them from any number of creatures from Buffy or Farscape. I can’t be the only person who instantly coveted the alternative updated-but-recognisable Silurian maquette briefly glimpsed in Millennium FX’s workshop on Confidential.
I have my worries about the sheer amount of recurring monsters this year; it smacks of Moffat trying to have his cake and eat it, with a new Doctor, companion, TARDIS interior, titles sequence and theme arrangement - but then loads of ‘safe,’ familiar enemies.
This does make me ponder though what monsters I’d bring back if (…when!) I have the opportunity to do so. In fairness, anything other than the Daleks and Cybermen, and maybe Sontarans (at a really charitable push) isn’t going to mean the first thing to anyone outside of fandom, so the difference between the Zygons and the Vervoids coming back would be entirely meaningless. (Although, as long as it’s done well, any recurring race should be able to have the same impact - as long as they aren’t handled as if every single casual viewer should know their entire backstory, as in the early eighties.)
There must be something to be said for journalists being able to Wikipedia old monsters, which I suppose amounts to a little extra publicity, but really, besides the big-hitters… I wonder whether Russell T Davies or Steven Moffat are ever tempted to bring back something really shlocky (I’m choosing to ignore Gridlock, as the Macra amount to little more than an in-joke) – maybe do an Alien Bodies on the Quarks or the Voord or something. (Knife-wielding rubber-clad ninjas? That works.) Or maybe something which never troubled a general audience first time round, like the Haemovores.
It’s often said in regard to lamentable, unforgivable Hollywood remakes (of either stone-cold classics – like the eternal triumvirate of never-should-have-been-allowed desecrations: The Wicker Man, Get Carter, and The Ladykillers - or fast-turnaround English-language cash-ins like the US Let the Right One In or the mooted Will Smith Oldboy) – why not remake something that was crap to begin with, rather than sullying the original? I can’t help feel the same mentality might be a preferable approach to returnee monsters – lets face it, a fan’d get a thrill whether it’s the Voc Robots or the Dominators that’s coming back, so surely it’s preferable to improve something rather than risk damaging the original.
Anyway, it does feel like the series needs to do something different, otherwise we’re in for an endless parade of rehashes of adequate but uninspired (seventies) monsters: the Axons, the Krynoid, giant maggots, the Draconians, etc, etc…
I'd feel slightly more charitable about a still ill-conceived 'reimagining' if the story as a whole presented the slightest whiff of originality. The Silurians have a good concept going for them, but not when we’ve seen it all before.
Of course it's unfair to vilify a given author, but then some people do bring these things on themselves. Chris Chibnall does have quite an abominable reputation, and though mostly derived from his Torchwood scripts (42 was... fine), it's not something he's done much to repudiate here. I do often despair of the 2005-current series' pathologically fast-paced format, but, on this evidence, why not utilise that pace to fill two episodes with much more event than possible in a one-off story... rather than simply slowing the action to a crawl, and thinly scraping the story over two weeks, like butter over too much toast. (Two-parters should have the same pace with more content, not just slowed down to fill the slot.) I'm absolutely not adverse to stories building over a longer period (hello The Invasion and The Daleks' Master Plan), but there's no advantage here, when the story, such as it is, comprises a boring scenario, boring characters, and boring script. All we get is unsatisfyingly laboured foreplay, with a fudged, um, climax.
The format applied to the series by Russell T Davies is going to cast a long shadow, so forgive me if I seem a little bitter - it's just that one of the few things that could be relied on over the post few seasons is that this slot would deliver one of the year’s strongest stories, from The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances to Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. On the basis of The Hungry Earth, this story is already falling considerably short of that standard. It even manages to make this TARDIS crew seem flat, for the first time, and the device of using an ‘ordinary’ character to reinforce how amazing the Doctor is is getting very old.
Victory of the Daleks was just fluff; fair enough. The Vampires of Venice was, if nothing else, funny (and it was nothing else). The Hungry Earth was - what? Even its potential atmosphere - quite effective in a pre-titles sequence which almost made the Death of the Week not seem entirely perfunctory - was undermined by stupid, forced lapses of logic like the Doctor only realising he's facing Silurians/Eocenes/Homo reptilia/Earth Reptiles after seeing that they’re cold-blooded (no brainer, surely?), or forgetting about little Timmy, or whatever his name was.
I can't even be bothered to say anything cutting. I wish I could say this was a disappointment, but I didn't even have high expectations to begin with. It’s particularly galling that this season’s equivalent of The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky (a tedious and unoriginal two-parter needlessly reintroducing an ‘updated’ classic series monster) comes directly after its best story, Amy’s Choice.