One of my favourite alien (or should that be earthling?) races of all-time in Doctor Who are the Silurians. I much prefer the Silurians from the original "Doctor Who and the Silurians" and their Sea Devil cousins from "The Sea Devils", but was never all that crazy about the Sea Devils' appearance in "Warriors of the Deep". So when I heard that the series under Steven Moffat was going to feature the reappearance of the Silurians in a two-part story no less, I was pretty pleased but somewhat apprehensive on the new design and look of the creatures.
In a lot of ways, "The Hungry Earth", the first part of the story, had a very Classic Doctor Who feel to it. From the opening sequence where Mo was dragged into the Earth and the arrival of the TARDIS with the Doctor and Amy engaging in a bit of breaking and entering into the complex where they meet Tony and Nasreen and learn about their project, to the sucking of Amy into the earth about halfway through the episode, to the business with Rory being mistaken as a policeman and recruited to find out what happened with the graves, and all the other stuff that happens in this episode, the story has the feel of an older Doctor Who episode, and draws on a variety of Classic Who serials for some of its inspiration, notably "Doctor Who and the Silurians" itself.
Matt Smith was in fine fettle as the Doctor in this one, and there were definitely moments in this episode when he was certainly channelling Jon Pertwee's Doctor. With his performances in previous episodes to this point, it's kind of neat that Matt Smith seems to be able to channel earlier versions of the Doctor quite well, and I'm rather glad that he's been focusing on the Hartnell/Troughton/Pertwee versions so far, but have to wonder if this is a hint as to what's going on. One of the highlights of his performance was the Doctor's positive glee when he realized who was responsible for the disappearances into the Earth being one of my favourite moments. Another highlight for me with Matt's Doctor was when Amy is sucked into the earth. While I didn't believe that the Doctor and Rory had truly lost Amy, there was a wonderfully effective moment that harks back to her abandonment issues, when the Doctor tries desperately not to let go of her hand. For just a moment it looks like he will rescue her, but she slips back into the earth, he appears to be powerless once more, something that is a theme in this episode at times. This loss of his companion is reinforced later when his carelessness costs him the loss of Ambrose's son, Elliot, as well. I was also very pleased with the Doctor's conversation with Aleya after she had been captured (more on that later).
Karen Gillan was positively Liz Shaw and Jo Grant mixed into one, right down to the opening scene when the group arrives in Cwmtaff and she says that she's dressed more for Rio. If anything bad's going to happen here, it's going to be to Amy Pond, and I can't say that I was surprised at her being taken, sucked down into the earth. The problem is that while there were great moments with the Doctor and Nasreen, the Doctor and Rory, the Doctor and Ambrose, the Doctor with Elliot, Amy Pond's only real contribution to the story was being captured by the Silurians, and attacked by one out to seemingly dissect her. I'm hoping that she has a larger role in the second part, but have to say that the story was pretty good without her for large chunks of it.
Insofar as this episode was handled, Rory earned his place as a bona-fide companion I think, but the character is still tempered by his continuing distrust of the Doctor and his meddling ways. One of the stranger aspects of this episode was the fact that the cracks in space and time don't manifest here at all, but instead we get a sequence where the Doctor, Amy, and Rory see two future selves of the latter pair in the distance, waving at them. I had to wonder as to whether this ties in with the Doctor's statement in earlier episodes that you can't cross your own timeline again. While some might complain about the future selves sequence waving from across the valley, I feel that this is bound to happen from time to time - previous companions arriving points in space and time where they know a younger version of themselves was/will be; tempting to turn up and watch from a distance. The scenes with Rory going through his paces in the graveyard scene were very good, and I was somewhat concerned at his leaving the engagement ring (or was that the wedding ring? I can't recall) in the TARDIS. That does not auger well for the next episode.
One of the interesting aspects of the story was the use of the guest characters. Since there is seemingly a shortage of guest actors for this two-part story, the family unit of Elliot, Ambrose, Mo, Tony and Nasreen was certainly a more developed group of characters in this episode. We saw that Mo was a good father at the start of the episode, we knew how clever Elliot was (even though he was self conscious about his dyslexia). I'll admit that I really liked Ambrose quite a bit. Of all the characters she was more sceptical of the Doctor, and even though she wasn't completely convinced that he could save their village from attack, she did try to help him as best as she could. She also managed to trust his word that he would get both Elliot and Mo back to her. Then there's Tony... The love angle with Nasreen aside, Tony seemed like the protective type, and his trying to save his daughter took a turn for the worse, resulting in his injury and the spreading infection whatever it is. Whether Tony will be the one to kill Aleya remains to be seen, but there's probably an interesting twist ahead in part deux. Child actors can often be a mixed blessing in this sort of thing, but the boy playing Elliot was pretty likeable, and it was interesting to see how clever he was as well. Elliot was the one who explained to Rory about the bodies being taken down from below, and it was also Elliot who asked the Doctor more directly about the monsters as well. I thought it an interesting twist that he was given the dyslexia, and I liked the Doctor's use of him to help them out and encourage him. Good touches. What was really weird was that we didn't actually see the Silurians take Elliot, and while we saw both Mo and Amy later on towards the end of the episode, we saw no sign of the boy. Hmm...
And then we come to the Silurian aspects of the episode. Hmm... To start with, the Doctor's explanatory dialogue about their origins was certainly enough to bring new viewers up to speed on them as a species, and I rather liked the bit where he declared that he was determined that no blood would be spilled between humans and Silurians. (And we all know how that's going to end up, don't we?) The Doctor's agitation when Tony wanted to dissect Alaya and his irritation with Alaya when the female Silurian vowed to slaughter all the humans were both wonderful moments, and highlighted some of tensions in the episode. The new look Silurians, while something of an improvement on the versions from "Warriors of the Deep", are certainly all that great in my opinion, reminding me of the Narns or even scaly Minbari from Babylon 5 a bit too much. I thought the masks were quite interesting, but am still uncertain of their function other than as a scanning device. Based on what we saw of the Silurians in this episode, the removal of the third eye and some of the mouth and oral aspects gave them too much of a human appearance. That said, it's important to remember that Alaya was only one of two Silurians that we actually got to see properly in this episode, so I remain optimistic about the Silurian appearance and we'll see what we'll see in part deux.
I rather liked the interrogation scene with the Doctor and Alaya, following the somewhat humourous capture of the Silurian female that he and Rory managed to contrivbe. It appears that the use of the "last of my species" defense isn't going to wash with the Time Lord, as he got visibly annoyed when Alaya used this defense instead of answering his questions. Mind you, the Silurians were only retaliating because they felt the drilling that Nasreen had instigated was a sign of an attack; judging from the clips of the next episode, there appears to be an all-out war on the horizon. I have to admit that I was pretty happy with the Doctor and Nasreen's discovery of the Silurian civilisation at the end of the episode, and shocked by the sheer vastness of it. That reinforced the whole lie on the part of Alaya.
Another scene that deserves commenting on was the bit with the Doctor and Nasreen travelling in the TARDIS together - well, okay, they didn't "travel" in it the standard way. I loved it, simply because the Doctor in New Who seems to thrive on interaction with an older companion as well as his favoured younger ones.
Overall, "The Hungry Earth" was a pretty good episode that had a lot of elements of Classic Who in it. The story moved along at a pretty good pace, and the mystery of the disappearances of people (heralded by Mo's disappearance at the very beginning) and the business with the graves brought the story into focus very early on. Excellent performances by Matt Smith, the guy who plays Rory, and the guest actors for the episode gave the story some added vigour, but it wasn't a perfect story by any means.
I give this one an 8.5 out of 10.