“The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood” is Chris Chibnall’s second contribution to Doctor Who, after his debut script “42” in Series 3. It’s also the second two-parter of Series 5, maintaining the show’s well-established tradition of each new season reintroducing an antagonist from the classic series by bringing back the Silurians. Like “The Time Of Angels” before it, “The Hungry Earth” serves as something of a climax for the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory’s adventures in the middle portion of Series 5, and the consequences of this two-parter will once again affect the trajectory the rest of the season is on.
Future showrunner Chris Chibnall is a writer who, for better or for worse, loves having a large ensemble cast to work with in his episodes. It wasn’t that apparent in his first episode, “42” (which followed your classic slasher flick formula where a masked killer hunted down a group of redshirts, one by one), but it’s a lot more noticeable here that Chris Chibnall juggles a lot of characters in this story – between the three main leads, the human supporting cast, and the Silurians who all have different agendas of their own – and since this adventure is spread out over two episodes, he’s thankfully able to balance them all well. By your usual Doctor Who standards, the first episode is surprisingly restrained and slow-paced, and it spends a lot of time building up tension, prolonging the mystery of what could be terrorizing a tiny village in Wales, what kind of unknown, advanced threat could be coming out of the Earth to attack our heroes – but it never drags, and it always intrigues. The second episode also instills you with a growing sense of dread, but for different reasons: once they’ve split up into two groups, the Doctor and his friends have no idea how much danger they’re in, just how much Ambrose has screwed them all over, so the viewers spend most of “Cold Blood” waiting for that particular shoe to drop.
At the start of “The Hungry Earth”, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) is all set to take Amy and Rory on a fabulous trip to Rio De Janeiro so they can have some fun in the sun, but of course, he gets sidetracked when the TARDIS takes them off course, depositing them in a little village in the middle of nowhere. The Doctor quickly gets the impression that there’s something wrong in the British countryside, and as it turns out, he’s right. In this little village, the ground eats people: dragging them down below the soil against their will, which happens to both Mo and Amy in two creepy scenes that wouldn’t feel out of place in the horror movie “Tremors”.
It doesn’t take the Doctor long to guess that some form of intelligent life must be behind these disappearances, and he wants to keep everything under control as much as he can when the invaders arrive, so he quickly appoints himself leader of all the humans in the surrounding area. From there, he makes it his mission to act as a peacekeeper between the humans and the Silurians, trying his best to broker peace between the two races over rights to the planet, to prevent a bloody war from breaking out where one side slaughters the other – but he has his work cut out for him. Something I really like about “The Hungry Earth” is that, compared to several other episodes of this show, the supporting cast doesn’t just blindly defer to the Doctor, as much as he might wish that they would. They all have agency, they all make major decisions that impact the plot, and not all of those decisions are good. In fact, this two-parter has an excellent example of the snowball effect happening and working against Eleven. Early on, the Doctor lets Elliot, an eight year old kid, wander off alone while there are creatures coming out of the Earth to attack them all, which is incredibly careless and irresponsible and it winds up severely damaging Ambrose’s trust in him when he needs it the most.
In “Cold Blood”, the Doctor finally seems to be making some progress with winning over the Silurians, and then things really start to get interesting. When it comes to the human race’s development, 2020 is a temporal tipping point where anything can happen to change the future, so (like in “Aliens Of London“) the Doctor is thrilled that he might get to see history in the making as humanity makes first contact with other forms of sentient life. He’s done his part, so he’s content to stand to the side and let the humans represent themselves and the needs of their species, encouraging them all to be the best that they can be to create a brand new world – I swear, this side of the Doctor’s personality is so wholesome. Alas, it doesn’t last for long, and the Doctor’s hopes are crushed. Thanks to Ambrose’s actions, the usual status quo is upheld for mankind, and the best thing he can do for the Silurians is give them hope for a better future (which is still a better outcome than the endings they received in many of their previous appearances).
The storyline regarding the cracks in time has been put on the backburner for these last few episodes, to focus on sorting out interpersonal drama between our TARDIS crew, and just when you might have started to forget about it, it returns with a vengeance in the climax, when the Doctor, Amy and Rory stumble upon another rogue crack. And despite the Ponds warning him not to, the Doctor insists on taking a look at it, because he’s sick of being ignorant about them compared to his enemies. For the second time in this two-parter, the Doctor’s carelessness winds up having dire consequences when his pride not only gets Rory shot, but also gets him erased from time altogether – and the information he gleams from the crack is just as disturbing. In a nice, subtle bit of foreshadowing, both “Victory Of The Daleks” and “Amy’s Choice” have briefly made the audience wonder what would happen if the TARDIS ever exploded, and as it turns out, the Doctor’s ship dying is the source of the cracks, spelling doom for the near future in “The Big Bang“.
By “The Hungry Earth”, Amy Pond and her fiancé Rory have definitely decided to go through with getting married, but they’re still putting it off for a little while longer, to enjoy touring the universe. A brief encounter with their future selves early on lulls them both into a false sense of security that everything will turn out alright after they get hitched, since they’ve already forgotten what the Doctor taught Amy in “Flesh And Stone”: that time can be rewritten. The main trio is split up early on, with disastrous consequences, when Amy gets dragged underneath the Earth and held captive by the Silurians (as a result of her saving Tony Mack’s life). From there, she’s very nearly tested upon – while she’s still alive – in a nightmarish cliffhanger for the first episode, before she manages to escape.
Amy shows off a lot of her growth as a companion in “Cold Blood”. While she’s working with Mo, Elliot’s father, Amy tries to use what the Doctor taught her to stay calm and sensible, compared to Mo, who’s a lot more rash and prone to panicking – she knows there’s no point in escaping if they can’t come up with a plan (which unfortunately does not pan out for them). Later, the Doctor lets Amy and Nasreen engage in peace talks with Eldane, the leader of the Silurians, to work out a compromise that would benefit both of their species, which is a testament to how much the Doctor trusts her judgment. Karen Gillan really gets to show off her acting chops in this two-parter when she’s portraying Amy’s hysteria: first when she’s being pulled underground and she’s quite rightly freaking out, and again when Rory gets shot and Amy is having a full-scale breakdown as the Doctor drags her away from Rory’s lifeless body. Amy’s grief as her world falls apart all at once is hard to watch, but the artificial cheeriness that’s forced upon her a few minutes later, when the amnesia sets in, stings even more. Poor Amy Pond has once again lost another vital part of her life to the cracks.
As you would imagine, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) is not happy in the slightest when Amy gets kidnapped by the Silurians, since this is exactly the sort of thing he was afraid could happen on their weekly sight-seeing trips. But by this point in the season, he’s come to realize that he can’t just pile all of the blame onto the Doctor every time something goes wrong: he needs to actually pitch in and do something constructive as well if he wants to make a difference. So the two men join forces so they can solve the case of the missing people and get Amy back together, which leads to a rarely seen dynamic. It’s no secret that Eleven and Rory aren’t as close as Eleven and Amy are, and they seem like two guys who probably wouldn’t hang out if they didn’t have a mutual friend in common. With Amy missing, Rory acts as the Doctor’s primary companion for once, and the two men spend a lot of one-on-one time in this episode, bonding a bit.
After having several adventures in the TARDIS (both onscreen and offscreen), Rory has grown to respect the Doctor and trust him a lot more now, and in “Cold Blood”, he gains a much greater understanding of what the Doctor does all the time and how hard it can be. When the Doctor goes to talk to the Silurians, he puts Rory in charge in his absence, giving him the job of keeping the humans from doing anything stupid – and Rory fails. Alaya dies on his watch, and everything gets shot to hell after that. Rory ultimately winds up taking a bullet for the Doctor, as the ultimate sign of how he’s come to consider the Doctor a friend of his, and immediately afterwards he’s erased from time. What the cracks in time can do to people was horrifying back in “Flesh And Stone”, when the clerics fell victim to one, but it’s so much worse here when they claim someone we know and care about. And since Rory has already had a close shave with death before in “Amy’s Choice”, any first-time viewers would have every reason to assume that it’s sticking this time.
Every once in a while, I do enjoy a good betrayal arc in a story, and Chris Chibnall gives a pretty meaty one to Ambrose Northover, the most notable human character in “The Hungry Earth”. Right from the start, she’s the one who’s the most skeptical of the Doctor’s claims when he suddenly appears, predicting doom for their little village. Later on, when she does decide to take him seriously and pack some weapons for them to defend themselves with, the Doctor warns her not to because he hates weapons, but he doesn’t actually give her a reason that would dissuade her except threatening her in a rather self-righteous fashion. From there, Ambrose’s son and her father get attacked by the Silurians, the former of whom was supposed to be under the Doctor’s care at the time. From her perspective, the Silurians have come after her entire family, so she’s desperate and resentful, and by now, she has zero reasons to trust the Doctor to make good on his word.
So naturally, she’s the one who winds up doing something stupid. She literally tazes a bitch to death during a failed attempt to get some answers out of her, and while Alaya and Restac are both thoroughly terrible people, “Cold Blood” does not dance around the fact that that was some straight-up murder on Ambrose’s part. And instead of backing off and rethinking things in horror and regret like most people would, Ambrose only doubles down and digs herself in deeper at every turn as she tries to regain control – trying to beat Alaya and Restac at their own toxic, self-destructive game – which nearly gets Amy shot; she even talks her dad into helping her commit further treachery. And she does wind up paying the price for her foolishness: her actions cost her her father for the rest of her life, when he has to hibernate with the Silurians for a millennia, and Elliot (who was pretty disgusted by his mom’s actions when he learned about them) will probably never respect her again.
Ambrose’s husband Mo, proves to be a pretty likable character for someone who has such a minor role in this story. Mo is a friendly, good-natured man who tries to help his son make something of himself in spite of Elliot’s lack of faith in his own abilities. And after they both get kidnapped by the Silurians, Elliot’s safety and well-being is his primary concern. He also manages to find some common ground with Amy, who’s a complete stranger to him, because they both have a lot to lose at the moment. Like his father, Elliot is a charming enough kid, and in hindsight, he’s the first example of Chris Chibnall deciding to include a character with a learning disability in one of his stories, six seasons before he would make Ryan Sinclair one of his first companions. Elliot is dyslexic, and while he tries to deal with it the best he can, he’s painfully aware of how it could affect his future (and he’s also a very lonely child in his tiny village), so his self-esteem level is pretty low. Still, he aspires to be a junior detective and he comes to idolize the Doctor, who encourages him to reach his full potential, just like his dad.
Tony Mack and Nasreen Chaudry are colleagues and eventually lovers, who have spent years tunneling into the Earth, in search of knowledge. Nasreen in particular is an Earth expert who rather admirantly leaps at the chance to go underground with the Doctor and explore its depths, enjoying every minute of it. She’s a level-handed woman who’s skeptical of the Doctor’s wild theories at first, but after a while she takes it all in stride, and she really grows on you as a character. When Tony has to go into hibernation with the Silurians, so they can cure him of Alaya’s venom, Nasreen decides to stay behind too, so she can be with the man she loves and live out her dream come true. I can already tell she’s going to do one hell of a good job of improving human and Silurian relationships in the future.
Following in the footsteps of the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Master and the Sontarans, it’s the Silurians’ turn to be reimagined and revamped for a modern era in “The Hungry Earth”. The Silurians are a species of lizard men who lived on the Earth long before humanity, and have spent the last several millennia hibernating underground, inhabiting a hidden world that you would probably expect to find in a Jules Verne novel. The inner-workings of Silurian society that we get to see in “Cold Blood” are fascinating, particularly how the women are the warriors of the tribe. Whenever the Doctor tries to delicately broker peace between two warring factions of people in this show, his efforts are always destroyed by some trigger-happy warmonger, like Stephashin in “Cold War“. These sorts of characters are usually male, but in “The Hungry Earth” the ones who are baying for blood and escalating the violence the most are all women, which is an interesting change from the norm when it comes to Doctor Who antagonists.
The first of whom, Alaya (Neve McIntosh), is a proud, smug, spiteful soldier who’s incredibly self-righteous. When the humans take her as their prisoner, she doesn’t even try to escape and is simply content with offering judgment on their hearts. She goads Ambrose into killing her because she’s proud to be a martyr for her cause, hoping her death will spark a species war that the humans will lose. Her sister, Restac (also Neve McIntosh), is more of the same: an incredibly racist control freak who thinks human beings are vermin and would like nothing more than to wipe them all out, so her people can take back the planet she feels they own. The other Silurians above her keep overruling her, so eventually she takes matters into her own hands: and like a true extremist, she eventually turns against the very same people who’s interests she claims she’s acting in when they stand in her way.
We’re given our first proper introduction to Malokeh, a Silurian doctor, during the cliffhanger for the first episode, where we come to the horrific discovery that he dissected Mo while he was still alive, and is all set to do the same to Amy before a bit of good luck saves her. From there, we discover that he and his family have been taking human children away from their families for centuries so they can study them in secret, which has some really disturbing implications. But apparently the Doctor doesn’t have a problem with that, since he announces that he’s just become Malokeh’s newest fan later. He’s a more sensible reptile than Restac – he has no desire to start a war with humans that they probably couldn’t win just for the sake of racism – so naturally he’s the first one she kills off. I feel like, because Malokeh is a lot less awful than Restac, this episode wound up glossing over his own morally messed-up actions, which is something that happens sometimes in Chris Chibnall’s episodes and it becomes a lot more noticeable once he becomes the series’ showrunner.
Eldane, the leader of the Silurians, is portrayed with plenty of wisdom and dignity by Stephen Moore, and his character is a breath of fresh air compared to several other warhawks in this story who are itching for a chance to unleash the fires of hell. Eldane is skeptical himself about what the Doctor has in mind, but he’s willing to hear him out for the sake of humans and silurians, and for the first time in this story, level heads start to prevail as they start to seriously consider how the two species could benefit from sharing the planet. This two-parter ultimately has a bittersweet ending where the Doctor and the Silurians have to put their plans on hold for a thousand years, but there’s still hope for the future nonetheless, and it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity that we never revisited this colony again in the future, to check on their progress.
The director of this story, Ashley Way, seems to work well with the lighting department when it comes to amplifying the mood of certain, uneasy scenes, giving us several memorable, well-crafted sequences: like Mo wandering through an abandoned digging site at night during the cold open; Alaya stalking Elliot from the shadows outside of a church, always staying obscured in the backgrounds of several shots; the rather chilly interrogation scene between the Doctor and Alaya where the camera grows increasingly off-kilter as both sides push and pull at each other, seeing how much ground they can gain; that incredibly creepy shot of Malokeh advancing on Amy from out of the dark with his surgical tools, ready to operate on her; and of course, the visually thrilling climax, where the Doctor and his friends race up and down the underground caverns of the Silurians’ city.
Compared to their previous work on the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Sontarans, the costume and make-up department gives the Silurians a pretty big overhaul with their new design, removing their third eye from the classic series. They wanted to give the actors a chance to be more expressive and show off a wider emotional range, while also still staying true to the lizard men’s old look and accentuating their reptilian features. Like in the previous episode, CGI is used sparingly in “The Hungry Earth” (mainly for laser blasts and the Silurians’ elongated tongues), so it’s always rendered well by the Mill – particularly during the wide shots of the beautiful flora and fauna that’s growing around the Silurians’ city. Since this story is another major turning point in Series 5, Murray Gold’s score incorporates a lot of the major themes for this season, like “I Am The Doctor“, “The Majestic Tale“, “Amy In The TARDIS“, “Amy’s Theme“, and “The Patient Centurion“, while also introducing a sinister new theme for the Silurian race that’s used extensively throughout the two episodes, to symbolize their strength.
“The Hungry Earth” is a much more slow-paced episode than Chris Chibnall’s first story, “42”, but it lives up to the same standard of quality that he set in that episode, giving us a classic Doctor Who adventure filled with frights, betrayal, peace triumphing over war, and a few surprisingly graphic murders.
* This depiction of the near future turned out to be very inaccurate, for reasons that Chris Chibnall could not have predicted. If this story was really set in the year 2020, the Silurians wouldn’t be the only ones wearing masks.
* “How much further do you think we’ll go?” “Into the unknown” Well, you just caught a Disney Princess’s attention.
* Mo, my man, if a great big hole just appears by itself in the middle of the floor, with smoke billowing out of it, why the hell would your first impulse be to stick your hands down into it?
* “Hang on. What are you doing with that?” “Engagement ring. I thought you liked me wearing it” “Amy, you could lose it. It cost…. a lot of money, that” Keep talking, Rory. I’m just as curious as Amy now.
* “You’re not making any sense, man!” “Excuse me, I’m making perfect sense. You’re just not keeping up” Oof.
* “You’ve stopped the drill, right? And you’ve only got the one drill?” “Yes” “You’re sure about that?” “Yes” “So, if you shut the drill down, why can I still hear drilling?”
* “The blue grass? Oh, Nasreen. Those trace minerals weren’t X marking the spot, saying dig here. They were a warning. Stay away. Because while you’ve been drilling down, somebody else has been drilling up”.
* “Look, Ambrose. We saw the Doctor’s friend get taken, okay? You saw the lightning in the sky. I have seen the impossible today, and the only person who’s made any sense of it for me, is the Doctor!” “Him?!” “Me. Hello!”
* “I need a map of the village marking where the cameras are going” “I can’t do the words. I’m dyslexic” “Oh, that’s all right, I can’t make a decent meringue. Draw like your life depends on it, Elliot” Because it pretty much does.
* For the record, there’s no way they wired up that whole village in just eight minutes.
* “Is it monsters coming? Have you met monsters before?” “Yeah” “Are you scared of them?” “No, they’re scared of me” Modesty.
* “Can’t you sonic it?” “It doesn’t do wood” “That is rubbish” “Oi, don’t diss the sonic!!!” Yikes.
* Oof, that anguished yell of fear from Ambrose when she stumbles upon Elliot’s headphones was some damn fine acting from Nia Roberts. I felt that.
* Because of bad timing, we were denied a high five between Eleven and Rory, and that’s a shame.
* “I’m the last of my species” “No, you’re really not. Because I’m the last of my species and I know how it sits in a heart. So don’t insult me”.
* “This land is ours. We lived here long before the apes” “Doesn’t give you automatic rights to it now, I’m afraid. Humans won’t give up the planet” “So we destroy them!” “You underestimate them” “You underestimate us“.
* “Nobody dies today, you understand?” Oh, Doctor. You saying that was perhaps the biggest jinx you could have uttered.
* “Nasreen, it will be dangerous” “Eh, so is crossing the road”.
* “No. Shall I tell you what’s really going to happen, apes? One of you will kill me. My death shall ignite a war, and every stinking ape shall be wiped from the surface of my beloved planet” “We won’t allow that to happen!” “I know apes better than you know yourselves. I know which one of you will kill me. Do you?”
* “One small tribe? Maybe a dozen?” “Ah, maybe more than a dozen. Maybe an entire civilization living beneath the Earth”.
* “How did you get that?-” “What, you never picked a lizard man’s pocket?” Between this, and Amy instinctively knowing how to pick a lock in “The Beast Below“, she was quite the delinquent in her youth, wasn’t she?
* The special effects that were used for Eleven’s ‘decontamination’ session makes it look like he’s having a really wild acid trip.
* “Who are you?” “Restac, military commander” “Oh dear, really? There’s always a military, isn’t there?”
* “Tell me, what’s the cure for my dad?” “He’s vermin, he deserves a painful death!” “I am giving you a chance” “I knew it would be you! The one with the most to lose! The weakest! WAUUUGGHHHH!” Suicide by cop: lizard woman edition.
* “Okay, sorry. As rescues go, that didn’t live up to its potential”.
* “There are fixed points through time where things must always stay the way they are. This is not one of them. This is an opportunity. A temporal tipping point. Whatever happens today, will change future events, create its own timeline, its own reality. The future pivots around you, here, now. So do good, for humanity, and for Earth”.
* “Malokeh, I rather love you” Why, though?
* “Where are we?” “Well, I’ve got to be honest with you, son. We’re in the center of the Earth, and there are lizard men”.
* I’d just like to point out that when the Doctor and his friends haul ass out of the Silurians’ courtroom to avoid getting shot, Eldane is smart enough to go with them. At this point, Restac is enacting a full-scale coup, and it doesn’t take much to guess that once she’s done killing off all the ‘apes’, her former leaders are going to be next on the chopping block. Eldane decided he was not sticking around for that part.
* “So, here’s a deal. Everybody listening. Eldane, you activate shutdown. I’ll amend the system, set your alarm for a thousand years time. A thousand years to sort the planet out. To be ready. Pass it on. As legend, or prophesy, or religion, but somehow make it known. This planet is to be shared” “Yeah, I get you”.
* “This is my fault” Yeah, it pretty much is.
* “Come look for us”, Yeah, Nasreen, they’re never coming back there.
* Rory, my man, the next time you shove someone out of the line of fire, you should probably get clear too.
* “All of Nasreen’s work, just erased” “Good thing she’s not here to see it, she’s gonna give Tony hell when they wake up”.