Written by Chris Chibnall
Directed by Ashley Way
A digging project finds it has awoken something from beneath the Earth’s surface.
The “scorpion in a box” trope (aka “A House Divided”) is a storytelling device, primarily of the horror genre, that sees characters trapped in a location while bad things are happening. The threat is from the outside, but the real point of the story is the development of characters, pitting said characters against one another, and watching to see who cracks first. This was a staple of The X-Files in its early years (with episodes like Ice and Darkness Falls being prime examples). It practically drives the zombie sub-genre. So while The Hungry Earth introduces The Silurians to New Who and is superficially about brokering peace between The Silurians and humans, the primary focus is on the breakdown of relationships and will as pressure is applied to the humans. Alaya says it best once The Doctor has left the church, that one of the humans will kill her and there will be war. Without the force of The Doctor’s personality, Ambrose and Tony could crack, either one of them has reason to threaten and possibly kill Alaya.
The force of The Doctor’s personality. I have to ask, is The Eleventh Doctor capable of commanding a room? Here’s the thing, The Hungry Earth, perhaps more than any other story since series one’s Empty Child/Doctor Dances story, feels like a classic episode of Doctor Who. We have the remote English village and a mining project. The pace of the first half of the episode feels about right for an episode out of the Pertwee or Baker (Tom) era. Perhaps it is the tone, this atmosphere, but it makes me wonder just how much authority The Eleventh Doctor has. Can he walk into a room and command it? He looks young, which is one strike against him. Tony and Nasreen don’t immediately buy his story of being from the ministry of drilling. Sure, this Doctor can be stern, but I don’t, at this point, feel he can command a room very well. I don’t suppose this is a requirement of The Doctor, but it something I miss in recent portrayals. The Eleventh Doctor especially seems to come across more often as an awkward big brother figure rather than a safe, authoritative figure.
While Amy is missing from much of this episode, I do feel this is where her portrayal beings to slip. I think that Chibnall is writing for Donna, not for Amy. Or maybe this is somewhat intentional. As the season has progressed, Amy has gone from doubtful, scornful, wide-eyed girl to using The Doctor to escape responsibility, to trying to have her cake and eat it too (not choosing between The Doctor and Rory). Now, she is in a bit of a character limbo. How does she grow as a character now that she has chosen Rory? It is hard to see that the events of the previous episode have made much of a difference in how the behaves, and we aren’t going to be able to see much more change before the shocking event at the end of the next episode. Honestly, I think the season had a certain momentum, and that momentum, at least where the characters are concerned, is about to become extremely uneven as we move toward the finale.
I don’t know that I have much more to say on this story until I’ve re-watched part two.