DOCTOR WHO 5.8 & 5.9
- The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood

The new Silurians

The Silurians have a long and illustrious history in Doctor Who; they are one of the iconic monsters of the classic series who have returned many times to bother the Doctor. They first appeared in 1970 in the Third Doctor’s first season, and in their seven parter debut those pesky humans roused them from their slumbers by inconsiderately building an experimental nuclear reactor in the Wenely Moor caverns. Having gone into hibernation to survive a global catastrophe and overslept due to hurriedly implemented technology, this colony of homo reptilia were none to pleased to discover their planet was now over run with apes. But despite attempts by the Doctor to broker a peace treaty with the more moderate factions of the Silurian colony, they sought to rid the Earth of its primate infestation and consequently were blown up by UNIT.

Original Silurian Original Sea Devil
Original Silurian & Sea Devil

However a few years later, they were back albeit in a different form. 1972’s The Sea Devils saw the introduction of an aquatic species of Silurian. This time the ancient beasts were deliberately roused from their slumber by the Doctor's arch enemy the Master, who intended to use them as an army to conquer the earth. Once again the good Doctor attempted to persuade the awakened former masters of the Earth to make peace with the apes. But human retaliation for their boat scuttling and the Master's counter arguments saw the Sea Devils deciding that making war was the only way. Hence the Doctor was forced to destroy them before they could reactivate the other colonies of their sleeping brethren.

1984 saw the TARDIS fetching up on Seabase 4 in the year 2084. Warriors of the Deep saw the Silurians and the Sea Devils appearing together at last - something many a fan of the Pertwee era had dreamed of. This time around the Earth reptiles Were seeking to exploit a power struggle between two super powers in order to get rid of the human race. Once again the Doctor cannot negotiate a peace between homo reptilian and homo sapiens, and once again it all ends in tears … well genocide by hexachromite gas at least. As the Davison Doctor ruefully says at this story's close - "there should have been another way..."

Silurian version 2 Sea Devil version 2
Warriors of the Deep Silurian & Sea Devil

And in this story, both species had had a make over. While retaining the same basic design there were several tweaks: the Silurians now had organic body armour and it was now clearer that the round orifices on their faces were mouths not snouts - as a child looking at still in various Who reference tomes I honestly thought they were noses! The Sea Devils also looked different; aside from ditching their string vests and were romping around in battle dress complete with nifty samurai style hats, they were a silvery grey rather than green and brown. Plus they looked, well, a bit desiccated; withered and somewhat worse for wear from kipping in dodgy freezers perhaps?

However you can’t keep a good monster down and the Silurians have made several other appearances in other Doctor Who media. They have appeared in two Big Finish audio adventures; in Bloodtide crossing paths with the Sixth Doctor and Charles Darwin, before tangling with the Brigadier and UNIT in UNIT: The Coup (which is available as a free download here).

The Virgin range of novels which kept the show’s torch burning in the years between the classic and new series also revived the ancient reptilians twice. Firstly in 1993, Blood Heat by Jim Mortimore saw the Seventh Doctor landing in a parallel universe where the Wenley Moor Silurians were not defeated and now rule the planet along with their pet dinosaurs.

And in 1996, Virgin released a Missing Adventures novel The Scales of Injustice by Gary Russell (which you can read online here) in which the Third Doctor and Liz Shaw discover another colony of Silurians. This novel bridges the gap between the Pertwee stories and Warriors of the Deep whose script suggested an unseen on television encounter. Additionally it also explains the design differences in the creatures' past appearances. Basically it's down to different sub species and this tale features a new sub species that were a hybrid of Silurian and Sea Devil.

The Earth Reptiles also made several appearances in several other novels and comics (visit here for a more in-depth history) and no doubt you’ll be pleased to hear that by the 30th century human and Silurian were living in peace at long last – at least according to these stories. And although their “canonicity in relation to the ongoing television series is open to interpretation” as Wikipedia would put it, this latest outing pleasingly does nothing to contradict them. However long before those happy future days where the Myrka will lie down with the lamb, comes The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood

Now writer Chris Chibnall also has a long history with Doctor Who. Rather infamously he appeared on the BBC discussion show Open Air in 1986 as a representative of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society and gave The Trial of A Time Lord a bit of a pasting. And this incident from his youth came back to haunt him when he penned 42 for series 3 of new Who and many episodes for Torchwood - some fans with long memories muttering about the relative blackness of pots and kettles.

However I am not one of them. Actually I have a bit of a soft spot 42, a decent story that suffered from appearing at the same time of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (which featured a not dissimilar set-up) and the miscasting of Michelle Collins in the lead role. And while it is true some of his episodes for the first series of Torchwood were a little ropey, that was true of all of that series which was hurriedly made in a hasty nine months. Plus the second season of Torchwood was a marked improvement on the first with the Chibster turning in some decent stories, and more tellingly perhaps, serving as head writer and co-producer. So I have no real problems when I saw his name on the writers' roster.

But before we see how well his latest scripts have panned out, let’s address the dinosaur in the room – the Silurians’ new look. As we've already seen, this race’s design has been altered in every television appearance, and so a change is not entirely unexpected and can be easily rationalised as a new sub species. However homo reptilia's new look is a radical make-over and takes some getting used too. On one hand, I can’t help feeling that the new look makes them too humanized. I can understand the decision to go for a drastic revamp in order to make the characters capable of more expression but they have lost the prehistoric otherness of the original designs. To sum it up in a sexist nutshell, I’m sure you shouldn't be able to look at a Silurian and think ‘nice legs!’

The change is so different that I felt that the script needed to explain it a little more other than alluding to them being a different tribe to those previously encountered. While I don’t require massive exposition bombs hurling continuity shrapnel everywhere and confusing the majority of viewers who aren’t Who obsessives, some little touches such as having them refer to themselves as the ‘high Silurians’ or some similar or showing a few old school reptiles in storage would have been enough for me.

Silurian-Sea Devil hybrid the New Silurians
Silurian/Sea Devil Hybrid and the new Homo Reptilia

However despite these niggles, I did warm to the new look quite quickly. And when you look a little closer at the reimagined designs, you see clear links to the classic series versions. Seemingly the designers have took a leaf from The Scales of Injustice as the new look is an amalgam of classic Silurian and Sea Devil features. Furthermore the costumes meld the vintage Sea Devil netting with the later Japanese armour stylings and even their weapons are look like they are the products of the same civilization; for example compare the new Silurian rifles with the iconic circular guns of the first Sea Devils. But most importantly, the new make up looks fantastic and really does allow the actors to emote properly and convey distinct and different personalities – something crucial for this tale’s success.

But was this two parter a success? Though there were a few missteps, on the whole this was a highly entertaining outing and another two parter that delivered the goods instead of floundering in the second half. But before dishing out the brownie points, let’s address the weak spots first.

Firstly the voice-overs at the beginning and the end were a bit superfluous. Although the opening narration verged on becoming an integrated spoiler, they weren’t that terrible, but equally they really didn’t need to be there. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who got a sinking feeling as Cold Blood started; the last time they used an opening narration we got the messily scripted The End of Time and as soon as Stephen Moore started speaking the bad memories came flooding back... But in fairness, that’s RTD’s fault not Chris Chibnall’s.

Secondly, I did feel that Amy was somewhat underwritten for most of the time. Her scenes and the beginning and at the close of the adventure were spot on, but while she was gallivanting about at the centre of the earth, her dialogue did descend into a series of quips. And while there were some amusing retorts and remarks, there were a few too many.

Finally some of the CGI was a bit ropey. The tongue attack in The Hungry Earth didn’t quite cut it for me. It looked far too blatantly digital and way too long to be plausible. I couldn’t help feeling that a practical effect would have worked better. However the similar attack in Cold Blood came off pretty well. And there was another rough spot in the effects work in the first part too – when the Silurian shield blocked out the light. Here though, it was more the way it was presented; like in Vampires in Venice the lighting in the preceding scenes and the effects shots we were shown quite didn’t match up smoothly. Rather than having expanding black spots sprouting over the force field, we should have just had the dome slowly and evenly darkening.

I know that a certain amount of dodgy effects are inevitable in television sci-fi, particularly in Doctor Who which needs to do a lot more than the average telefantasy series requiring fresh sets, costumes, monsters and effects nearly every episode. But on balance, so far this series has done far better in not overextending its reach than it did in the RTD days, and this story is a good a example of that – yes, there may be the odd moments where you can see the money and time running out but they are minor niggles rather major annoyances.

All in all though, all of the above are small criticisms and the story had more than enough highlights to make up for them. To start with, although this adventure is set in 2020, there was a delightful dollop of 1970 in the proceedings as Chibnall has included numerous nods to the Pertwee era. Obviously we have the return of the Silurians, but also we have drilling to the earth’s core (Inferno), a Welsh village (The Green Death), a force field preventing escape (The Daemons) and even a creeping bodily infection (The Silurians and The Green Death) – all that was missing was an appearance by UNIT.

And Chibnall nicely captures the feels of those Third Doctor days too, in both atmosphere and by having the plot hinge on properly explored moral dilemmas. In fact the story was so redolent of the 1970s, I was concerned that the second part would see a straight retread of the original Silurians story. As it turned out though, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood worked beautifully as a sequel to their previous outings yet was still stand alone enough for the causal viewer. While some viewers may have felt a little let down there wasn’t a massive kick off in the second part, I personally applaud the decision to keep the story focused the individuals, with fears for family and paranoia mirrored in the two races. The Silurians have never been just another race of homicidal maniacs and it was great to see a conflict with humanity filled with shades of grey.

And speaking of which, Chibnall’s epic continues to build the Eleventh Doctor’s character – rather than the Lonely God know it all, this series is showing us a Doctor who is more fallible, who does make mistakes and isn’t nearly as sure of himself as the Tenth, which is all for the better. Similarly it was good to see humanity messing up for a change and the Doctor being disappointed rather glowing with pride. As well as delivering all kinds of sci-fi eye candy and action, this story had great emotional weight too, with satisfying consequences and pay offs for all the characters. And while I would have liked to have seen more exploration in some areas, but there is a limit on the running time after all and I’ll happily trade off a little depth for the well rounded story arcs we got for all the cast.

To pick up on some concerns from previous stories, I did actually finally buy the Rory/Amy relationship in this story. Although they only had a few short scenes together, the relationship did click with me this time round and it was also good see Rory proving himself to capable adventurer rather than just a the bumbling comic relief. All of which made Rory’s death all the more poignant. Now I never expected him to stick around; previous form (Adam, Captain Jack, Mickey) suggested he’d have a couple of travels then leave the TARDIS but I didn’t expect them to kill off, never mind erase him from time completely!

And while it seemed a little too in keeping with the RTD period to have a third person onboard just for a couple of stories, it was so much better handled here. Plus it is actually integrated into the series’ story arc; indeed the whole relationship triangle plot line actually means something in the ongoing narrative of this series rather than just having been thrown in to provide the odd bit of emotional content. What I am really enjoying about this Moffat season, is that there is a strong continuity between the stories; there are proper consequences to whatever happens in any particular episode, and previous events are built on in subsequent instalments.

And I particularly like that even when a story concludes, we are often still getting a cliff-hanger – and by the Hand of Omega Cold Blood has a classic! The whole Cracks business is building up nicely to a highly intriguing series finale. Given this series’ proclivity to do the unexpected, I really wouldn’t be bet on Rory being resurrected at the series end either.

And don’t think Moffat and co. won’t trash the TARDIS either. It’s been done before - the Time Lords effectively broke it when they exiled the Third Doctor to earth, and in the BBC range of Eighth Doctor novels, the TARDIS got such a pasting it took a century to repair itself. We could be getting a stranded Doctor story arc for Matt Smith’s second season, although I’d put my money on Moffat doing something far more mental than just dusting off the old exile routine…

But getting back to the latest Silurian outing, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood was a great slice of Doctor Who; Chris Chibnall neatly blended the flavours and themes of classic series with the stylistic and dramatic sensibilities of new Who which resulted in an adventure that was packed with intelligence and fun in equal measure. And while it may not be the strongest story of the season, there was something for everyone to enjoy in this one.

JIM MOON, 30th May 2010