Imagine my dismay when I realized that this week’s episode of Doctor Who, titled “The Hungry Earth,” started rather similarly to a dreadful SyFy original film I reviewed last month called Mongolian Death Worm. Thankfully, Who‘s version of the “scary creatures awakened by deep-below-the-surface drilling” plot-line featured vastly superior writing, acting, and direction to MDW, but on the flip-side, this opening half of its two-part story arc doesn’t exactly rank as a high point in series history, either.
Like last week’s “Amy’s Choice,” our opening shot focused in on pastoral British countryside — Cwmtaff, South Wales in 2020 A.D., to be specific. I got a hearty laugh at the Doctor declaring “Behold, Rio!” as the realization dawned on Amy and Rory that they hadn’t exactly arrived at a tropical paradise.
Instead, it turned out that our space travelers had arrived at Cwmtaff just as a mining operation had hit the 21 kilometer mark, and one of its night-shift workers had been sucked beneath the earth’s surface by creatures unseen. While Rory went off to play amateur detective investigating a local case of empty-grave syndrome, the Doctor and Amy visited the drilling site, where the latter was pulled into the ground as well. (Anyone think that engagement ring on the TARDIS control panel will somehow come back to play a significant role in next week’s second-part conclusion?)
As far as I’m concerned, the little details of this week’s telecast were stronger than the sum of its parts: Little Elliot quoting Sherlock Holmes, Amy getting outraged at getting shooshed by an alien (while trapped in a glass coffin), Nasreen expressing shock at Tony’s adrenaline-fueled kiss. But the overarching story here felt slightly recycled — with the aliens ascending to the surface (only 12 minutes away!) and an energy dome being placed over Cwmtaff to cut off both power and sunlight.
Things got a little more interesting when the Doctor and Rory managed to catch an alien a homo-reptilia prisoner, Alaya, in an effort to negotiate a hostage exchange. Call me crazy, but I was picking up on not-so-subtle subtext that sounded like references to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Elliot’s mother, outraged at her son’s abduction, asking “You’re gonna negotiate with these aliens?” The Doctor explaining to the humans that “your drill was threatening their settlement.” And even his parting message to Rory, Tony, and Ambrose that the only way the conflict could end was by behaving like the very best of the human race, and keeping Alaya alive and comfortable: “You are decent, brilliant people. Nobody dies today.”
Not that it’s all Kumbaya in Cwmtaff. As we headed for “to be continued,” we had Alaya telling her captors: “I know which one of you will kill me. Do you?” And we had a very scary reptile-person descending on Amy with a scalpel, the better to dissect her while she was fully conscious. (Gulp.) And, of course, we had the Doctor and Nasreen discovering that the underground visitors weren’t just an angry band of ragtag survivors, but an entire civilization. Poor Nazrene exhibits all the classic attributes of Doctor Who cannon fodder — sweet, intellectually curious, oblivious to danger, and so so stoked to be part of the Doctor’s plan — but I’m hoping somehow she’ll survive to reunite with her alien-infected love interest. In fact, after the death of the “vampire” queen in Venice a couple weeks back, here’s hoping next week’s conclusion finds a happy and peaceful resolution for all parties involved. Once in a while, even in Who-ville, you need a little sunny optimism, no?
Now, before I turn things over to you, let’s review my favorite exchange of the week, as Rory pleaded with the Doctor to use his Sonic Screwdriver to knock down a tricky church door:
The Doctor: “It doesn’t do wood.”
Rory: “That is rubbish!”
The Doctor: “Oy! Don’t dis the Sonic!”
What did you think of “The Hungry Earth”? Were you picking up on subtle political undertones, too, or am I floating out in the universe on my own here? And do you think there’ll be a peaceful resolution in next week’s episode? As always, if you’re located across the pond and know how the story ends, please don’t spoil it down in the comments section for U.S.-based Who fans. And to get updates on my Who recaps and other pop-culture musings, follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.