Tom Steward has happy dreams but finds something unpleasant underground…
A fantastic episode in every sense of the word. Stories set predominantly in fantasy spaces have a long history in the show. The third Dr. Who serial, a two parter called Edge of Destruction, had the Doctor and his companions psychically induced by the TARDIS into paranoid fantasies. Over the decades we’ve had The Mind Robber set in a parallel universe of fiction and several stories which explore the Freudian dream world of ‘The Matrix’ on the Doctor’s home planet Gallifrey such as The Deadly Assassin or The Ultimate Foe.
Stories such as these have been thin on the ground for a long time now, but Amy’s Choice made a case for commissioning more in the future. Sitcom writer Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly) seemed an unusual choice for this episode but his ornate and surreal dialogue enlivened the ponderous aspects of the episode: ‘If you had any more tawdry quirks, you’d have to open a tawdry quirk shop’.
Smith reached a new level of brilliance with his facility for absurd comedy and sublime moments of acting weirdness. Toby Jones is one of Britain’s finest screen actors and as the Dream Lord he provided one of the most compelling, entertaining and exquisitely devised villains in the show’s history. This was also an extremely challenging episode that showed violence towards old people as part of its fantasy plotting, something I found very brave and consonant with the new series’ proclivities towards adult horror fiction.
The Hungry Earth
This was a promising start to a much-anticipated two-parter heralding the return of some long-neglected Dr. Who monsters: underground-dwelling, prehistoric reptiles The Silurians. The Silurians appeared twice during the Pertwee/Letts era in Doctor Who and The Silurians and The Sea Devils, which raised moral quandaries about genocide and colonialism. A hotchpotch of references to the Pertwee serials of the early 1970s (the drill from Inferno, the rural Welsh factory town of The Green Death), this was entertaining enough for one episode, however gratuitous and jumbled the homage often seemed.
The tendency towards smaller casts and settings (another village community) seen throughout the season made this serial a lot more enjoyable and dramatically successful than Russell T. Davies’ many attempts to create the TV equivalents of bloated Hollywood blockbuster disaster movies, like the 2009 Christmas Special Voyage of the Damned. This trip down seventies lane whet the appetite for the comeback of the Silurians but it was clear from the little we saw of them in this opener that they were to be a let-down. They were visually unexciting, confusingly written, and far too humanised even in this instalment. This was, however, a prime example of the show addressing the nation’s children and their issues by making good use of Smith’s chemistry with younger actors. The scenes involving the Doctor and his burgeoning friendship with the dyslexic son of the man kidnapped by the Silurians are amongst the best in this season.
Cold bloody awful! This was a shocking conclusion to the two parter. The Silurians made an ill-advised return in the Peter Davison serial Warriors of the Deep in 1984 and had become dull and repetitive. Here they were even worse.
Ensnared by stodgy, dialogue-heavy scenes, the actors playing the Silurians – resembling characters from early 90s anthromorphic cartoons such as Dinosaurs or Fraggle Rock - never had a chance. No story of any interest emerged once the characters had entered the Silurians’ underground society. Moreover, the opportunity to discuss moral dilemmas surrounding indigenous populations, arguably the original motive behind these monsters, was completely missed. Environmentalism and coalition governments were on the agenda, but completely scuffed by pretensions of epic science-fiction and abrupt shifts between political debate and action.
Other causes for concern were the deeply misogynistic subplots suggesting women’s inability to make clear moral choices and their inferiority to benevolent patriarchs. The use of voiceover, which leadened many of the stories in the Davies/Tennant years, especially finale The End of Time, was similarly pointless here. Cold Blood was partially redeemed by a final ten minutes which gave an emotional clout to the ongoing ‘crack in time’ arc. Smith also deserves credit for still being able to provide several moments of classic Dr. Who overacting. His hammy writhing on the Silurians’ medical examination board was worthy of the finest pantomime of Pertwee and Troughton while his look of horror at the close of the episode fondly recalled Hartnell’s spine-tingling stares into the distance.