This week’s episode kicked off with a classic DOCTOR WHO set-up: Aiming for the beaches of Rio, the Doctor accidentally materialized in Wales 10 years in the future. Oops. Well, at least there was a big mining rig to investigate! What could possibly go wrong?
Plenty. The drill set a record by puncturing through the Earth over 21 kilometers down. Unfortunately, that was deep enough to bother the…downstairs neighbors (so to speak), who came up to have a word with the surface-dwellers. Those underground creatures were Silurians, old foes whom the Doctor called “the original owners” of the planet – and they want it back. The story of a deep-drilling project going horribly wrong has real-world resonance that the creators could not possibly have foreseen. Nobody could have predicted how horribly the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico would go. Then again, a giant drill in the lonely countryside should have instantly conjured memories of the Doctor’s third persona running into trouble with the Inferno project.
The Silurians traveling up the mine shafts immediately reminded me of Superman and the Mole Men, the 1950s theatrical in which subterranean creatures are disturbed by the deepest well ever drilled. The film was edited to become the initial installments of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN TV series. Those reruns absolutely terrified me as a child.
I was surprised it took the Doctor (Matt Smith) so long to recognize the Silurians as being behind the threat. He should have instantly suspected the reptilians — or the perhaps even the Tractators as soon as he realized the threat was coming from underground. Sucking victims underground was a signature of the Tractators in the Fifth Doctor story “Frontios,” so it might have been fun to have the Doctor operating under the assumption that those creatures had made it to Earth. Of course, I understand that from a storytelling point of view such a red herring would have necessitated exposition about the Tractators, and thus eaten up a lot of precious screen time with a threat that wasn’t even there. Instead, writer Chris Chibnall (TORCHWOOD) indulged in a different sort of fan service: the Doctor mentioned the alternate, “proper” name some fan wags have suggested for the Silurians, the “Eocenes.” (Because the creatures date back hundreds of millions of years to around the Silurian, Eocene and even Permian periods.)
It’s no surprise that the Silurians looked different this time around; they looked quite different in their two previous appearances (in the Third Doctor serial “Doctor Who and the Silurians,” and then the Fifth Doctor’s “Warriors of the Deep”), so why not take advantage of advances in makeup? Alaya looks wonderful, with actress Neve McIntosh sporting the best makeup job of the season.
I loved the bit about Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) visiting the landing site to relive “past” glories. That’s a sign that show-runner Steven Moffat is paying careful attention and putting the “time” in this time-travel series. It was strange to see the Doctor operating without Amy for a large stretch of the episode after she was “devoured” by the eponymous soil. The scene in which Amy was sucked into the ground could have been comical, but effective direction and terrific acting made it harrowing. It was truly heartbreaking as the Doctor thought he was losing another companion. The last “proper” companion to die in the line of duty was Astrid (Kylie Minogue) in “Voyage of the Damned.” I know everyone at Bowie Base One died in “The Waters of Mars,” but I don’t consider any of them (including Adelaide) to have been real “companions.” (Some may disagree with my interpretation, but this is a matter of subjective, personal preference.) This particular situation also conjured memories of Adric, who was killed when the spaceship he was on crashed into prehistoric Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs (there’s prehistory again!) in the Fifth Doctor story “Earthshock.” (Blame those pesky Cybermen!) However, unlike the situation with Adric, the Doctor had to look Amy in the eyes as he failed to hang on to her and she literally slipped through his fingers. Gillan was wonderful at portraying Amy’s fear of being smothered to death, and I felt sorry for the Doctor being left behind.
Speaking of leaving, who expected a dash of show history to be hidden in this episode? We viewers were lucky to hear a rare onscreen mention of the Doctor’s motivation for leaving Gallifrey.
“Soon as I’m old enough I’ll be off,” the boy Elliot told the Doctor.
“I was the same where I grew up” the Doctor replied.
“Miss it?” Elliot asked.
After a long, meaningful pause, the Doctor croaked, “so much.”
This exchange implies that the Doctor always had a restless spirit, and he fled his home planet voluntarily as soon as he could. This does not conflict with any of his previous descriptions of himself as an “exile” from his home.
Finally, I leave you with the line of the week, courtesy of the Doctor: “I’m making perfect sense; you’re just not keeping up.” We will all try to keep up with part two next week, “Cold Blood.”