Sunday, May 23, 2010

Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends

Doctor Who: The Hungry Earth

Okay, first things first. The new Silurians are rubbish. The new Daleks are slightly awkward in proportion at first, but you get used to them. Making them giant was awesome and the being the Classic Who lover I am, the deliberate nod to the Peter Cushing films (aka Amazing Technicolor Daleks) make me quite happy. The Cybus Industries Cybermen are a nice update while maintaining a Mondasian look. And the new Sontarans actually look like Sontarans instead of funny men in rubber suits. The point, ladies and gentlemen, is that up to this point, Doctor Who has had a pretty good track record of updating the looks of its monsters. The Silurians, however, look nothing like Silurians.

What happened there? The Silurians are supposed to look fish-y not like something out of Star Trek: Voyager. Standard “humanoid lizard” is lazy. And just not Silurian. Not. At. All. I would say Jon Pertwee would be ashamed but he was against reviving the series after it was put on indefinite hiatus in 1989. Also he’s busy being dead.

Yes, yes, I get that these Silurians are meant to be a different branch of the same species and all but really that’s just a hand wave. Point is the new Silurians look bad.

Anyway, new Silurian-dislike aside, it’s official. We have our first piece of crap of the Matt Smith era. Like I said last week, The Beast Below and Victory of the Daleks may have been undercooked and The Vampires of Venice definitely wasted an opportunity to see the return of the Great Vampires, but they were still damn entertaining outings.

Not so here. In fact, my video stopped working at 29:32, and I was indifferent. I was indifferent. Never in the history of Doctor Who have I been indifferent. Even during the godawful moments of the Russel T Davies era, even when it was so godawful I would rather suffer all the torments of Hell than sit through his shite, if my video stopped I would have been shouting all manner of obscenities and desperately scrambling to make it work again. I tried twice, and when it didn’t work, I closed the window and went on to something else. (I did come back about ten minutes later, and then had to wait forever for it to buffer enough to get to where I was, and by the time I hit play again I was considering going to bed and just starting over in the morning)

That is a big problem.

And speaking of the Russel T Davies era, this whole episode feels like a holdover from those days. For one thing, the Eleventh Doctor is behaving wildly out of character. Sure, we’re still new to the man, but at this point, he’s settled into his body and his basic behaviors are pretty much set in stone. The only way those should change is if there’s a very radical situation that demands it. Instead, what we get is the Tenth Doctor. I see nothing whatsoever in the writing of Eleven. Many times it deliberately takes from Ten, and other times the dialogue feels like Chibnall wrote Ten and then simply toned down the manic. Everything about this episode, though, feels like it belongs with David Tennant. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn on Confidential that Chibnall originally wrote this for those days and it was one of many scripts RTD disposed of. If not…

The worst part, really, is that I didn’t have particularly high expectations going into this. I have seen one thing – only the one – written by Chris Chibnall before this. You know what that was? 42. Yeah, that episode. On paper it sounds brilliant. Spaceship about to hurtle into the sun with 42 minutes to get things up and running and stop the solar monster thing that is quite literally vaporising people. How can that possibly go wrong? But it did. Initially I just chalked it up to the Third Series. I thought DT was good – not great, but good – in Series Two but in Series Three his acting defaulted to Large Ham and the already shaky writing went down the tube, and so began a period of ever increasing desire to see Tennant’s era end. In all seriousness, by the time Tennant announced his departure, I was practically praying for the show to go back on indefinite hiatus instead of carry on as it was.

And then of course we find out from RTD himself that he rewrote everything. And I mean rewrote everything. Not just a bit of touching up to keep things in line with his vision. Oh no. According to RTD, at least 60% of an episode was rewritten, and in often cases he completely rewrote episodes and left little to nothing of the author’s original work. So after that revelation I was willing to chalk up 42 and the other non-RTD stinkers to being mediocre-at-best at first and then having been utterly raped by Davies.

This episode puts that to death. I know nothing of Chibnall’s work elsewhere, but for the love of god keep him away from Doctor Who. In terms of writing, I can find nothing about this story to praise. Not even vaguely.

Of course, some of the problem comes from the marketing itself. We’ve all known for ages the Silurians/Eocenes were coming back. Unfortunately, this whole episode is pretty much contingent on us not knowing. I mean, once we know, what the hell is there for us to enjoy? The view, and that’s about it. Thank god for micro-shorts and the Welsh countryside.

I’ve seen some people say it’s a very Classic Who story, but it isn’t, friends. It just isn’t. This is RTD Who hamfisting as many Jon Pertwee references as it can into an hour. Add to that characters behaving out of character, utter pointlessness (why have future Amy/Rory standing on a distant hill? Guarantee you that will not come up again, at all), lack of suspense, or really anything else, and what we have, friends, is forty-three minutes of hot air.

Thank god for the performances. Matt Smith, as always, is utterly brilliant, although he comes off a bit worse than usual here – probably because of the Tennant-ness of the script in an episode where he isn’t meant to be acting like David Tennant (although how brilliantly did he do that, eh?). Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan do equally well with what they’re given, but it’s not much and what’s there isn’t particularly good.

I will say this about the story: It is a two parter, and often with these kinds of shows, the second part is the stronger of the two. Judging by the setup here and the Next Time, though, it’s not going to be one for the history books. Anyone else getting the whole Star Wars vibe from some of the shots in the trailer?

Going back to the redesign thing for a sec, you know what my biggest issue with the new Silurian look is? It’s not even the fact that it’s just so extremely very not good. These Silurians are too damn human. The whole point of their species if that they are what came before. They should be as far removed from humanity as possible. And now we have humanoid lizards. Massive misstep indeed. I mean, how can you take a she-Silurian hissing about killing damn dirty apes seriously when she looks like one of the apes she wants to kill?

It boggles the mind, friends, how the ball could have been dropped so hard. Even with The End of Time – the ridiculous big ball of everything that made the Russel T Davies era bad – I found things beyond performances to praise. Even in the so-incredibly-bad-why-did-you-make-this-a-standalone-opener End of Time Part One had things beyond performances to praise (although not many). Not since the Series Four finale have I been so put off by an episode of Doctor Who.

And I’m just repeating myself. Over and over and over. Because unfortunately that’s all I have to say and I feel like this should have some degree of length.

Verdict: The script is clunky at best and a holdover of one of the weaker RTD episodes at worst, the new Silurian design is just bad, and another episode that had the potential to be a great Classic-style story has been wasted (let’s face it, Cold Blood won’t be picking up those pieces). If you haven’t already watched it, avoid at all costs.

Oh, and one last minute addendum: While this episode definitely would still have been quite very bad, they made a mistake by scheduling it after the brilliance of last week's episode. Putting the Silurians after Venice and then having the Dream Lord probably would have worked out better in the long run.

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