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WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS!
It’s been five years since Amy and Rory travelled in the TARDIS with the mysterious Doctor. When he shows up again, on the eve of the birth of Amy and Rory’s first child, danger is not far behind him. Amy is faced with a heartbreaking choice that will change her life forever...
Many fans seem to appreciate Amy’s Choice far more than the two-part Silurian story that follows it. For me, however, the three episodes on this DVD are of a fairly consistent quality, as I will attempt to explain.
Amy’s Choice is undoubtedly an enjoyable change of pace. It begins five years into Amy and Rory’s future, a jump made all the more believable by the precedent set by the Doctor’s inadvertent abandonment of Amy for a total of fourteen years during The Eleventh Hour. For the first few minutes, it seems as though the show has returned to the domesticity of the Russell T Davies era. However, it is then revealed that the 2015 timeline is just one of two parallel plotlines. Are the Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) in the TARDIS dreaming about being in Upper Leadworth, or are they in Upper Leadworth dreaming about being in the TARDIS?
Writer Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly) keeps us guessing. Though best known for his comedy writing, he injects plenty of drama into his script. Though there are comical moments, many of them involving Amy’s pregnancy and Rory’s ponytail, the level of personal jeopardy for the protagonists is unusually high, with the threat of disintegration by killer pensioners in one possible reality and the danger of freezing to death in the other. The imagery of the iced-up TARDIS interior is, if you’ll excuse the pun, truly chilling.
Orchestrating these events is the Dream Lord, someone the Doctor has met before. I didn’t guess his identity: judging by his powers (godlike, in his own realm) and motivation (hatred of the Doctor), I thought he might be the Celestial Toymaker or one of the Guardians. In fact he’s the Doctor’s dark side, which sort of makes him an alternate incarnation of the Valeyard. Actor Toby Jones could easily have played the part for laughs, like Q in many of his later appearances in the Star Trek franchise, or Superman’s nemesis Mr Mxyzptlk, but Jones makes the Dream Lord decidedly menacing.
One thing that lets the episode down is the nature of the alien presence in Upper Leadworth. Sinister residents of Amy’s home village, who reveal their true natures by opening their mouths? Aliens that appear in the form of frightening eyeballs? It’s like a combination of ideas from The Eleventh Hour. Having said that, perhaps this recycling of story elements is a deliberate clue to the nature of this world.
Another problem is the predictability of Rory’s fate. As soon as he stepped aboard the TARDIS in The Vampires of Venice, I expected him to be written out shortly afterwards, like Mickey Smith in Series 2. Nevertheless, his sacrifice and Amy’s reaction to it are dramatic and moving, and, though his condition “gets better”, it is in fact a foreshadowing of things to come...
Amy’s Choice is not without its faults, but for the most part it goes like a dream.
In 2020, the most ambitious drilling project in history is under way. Dr Nasreen Chaudhry and her team have reached 21km into the Earth’s crust, but something is stirring far below. Amy discovers that there’s nowhere to run when you can’t even trust the ground at your feet...
Well, perhaps it’s not the most ambitious drilling project in Who history, not if you take into account Professor Stahlman’s scheme in Inferno, and Torchwood and UNIT’s even more impressive drilling operations mentioned in The Runaway Bride and Journey’s End. However, those ventures were probably top secret, so Nasreen Chaudhry (Meera Syal) wouldn’t have heard of them. Alternatively, perhaps this is the most ambitious drilling project yet because the crust is so thick at this point - it does look like quite a hilly area.
In addition to Inferno, The Hungry Earth also recalls another Season 7 story. I refer, of course, to Doctor Who and the Silurians, the story that introduced the reptilian foes that return in this two-parter. In fact, Chris Chibnall’s story is a veritable field day for fans of the Jon Pertwee era, as it also features a small Welsh mining village (as in The Green Death), which is isolated from the outside world by an energy barrier (as in The Dæmons).
The new, more expressive prosthetics used for the Silurians, a different subspecies from the ones we’ve seen before, are arguably closer in appearance to the Draconians in Frontier in Space, though the masks worn by the Silurian warriors do bear a resemblance to the Silurians of old. Could it be that the creatures we saw in earlier stories were also wearing masks? This might explain actor Norman Comer’s blinking eyes, visible behind his Silurian mask, in Warriors of the Deep! The design styles of the old show are also evident in the warrior caste’s guns (which resemble the Sea Devil guns used in The Sea Devils and Warriors of the Deep) and uniforms (which reflect those of the Sea Devil warriors in Warriors of the Deep).
The Hungry Earth could have done with restating the fact that time can be rewritten in the Doctor Who universe, otherwise it may appear that there’s no real threat to Amy and Rory, since their future selves are seen alive and well at the beginning of the episode. Actually, there was to have been a scene in which the Doctor and Amy discuss that very issue, but it was left on the cutting room floor when the first edit seriously over-ran (I hope to see plenty of deleted scenes when the complete series box set is released). Perhaps the scenes involving the future Amy and Rory should also have been cut, for reasons of clarity. As it is, the situation is made clearer in the next episode.
Like Amy’s Choice, the opening episode of this two-parter isn’t perfect, but it sets things up nicely for a more effective part two...
The time travellers find themselves plunged into battle against a foe from a bygone age. The Doctor must face his most difficult challenge yet and he tries desperately to ensure that Alaya’s prediction of a massacre does not come true. Can Tony and his friends be trusted...?
In Cold Blood, Rory, separated from the Doctor and Amy, really comes into his own, taking charge of the situation up top, tending to the injuries of Tony Mack (Robert Pugh), and effectively conveying sheer panic when it appears that his fiancée has been executed. However, it’s what happens to him in the final moments of this episode that really sticks in the memory, and both Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan give poignant performances here.
Series 5 has shown a structural tendency towards epilogues that deviate from the flow of the preceding narrative. Sometimes these codas are detrimental to the enjoyment of the episode, as is the case with the anti-climactic and over-long scenes involving Bracewell at the end of Victory of the Daleks. Sometimes they are genuinely moving, as is the case with the ending of Vincent and the Doctor (in the next volume of this series). Sometimes they raise eyebrows and are truly surprising, as is the case with Amy’s sexual advances at the end of Flesh and Stone. The climax of Cold Blood is both moving and surprising, with the sudden appearance of another crack in the universe, the fate of Rory (the predictability of which has been pre-empted and thus offset by its precursor in Amy’s Choice), and startling new evidence about who and what is involved in the explosion that caused the cracks...
The episode also features a thoughtful performance by Stephen Moore (Marvin in the radio and television versions of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) as the Silurian leader Eldane.
The production team effectively swells the ranks of the Silurians, creating a convincing illusion of a vast underground city, populated by numerous revived citizens with many more still in hibernation. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the human population in this two-parter. The scale of the drilling operation seems small compared with that of Inferno (though to be fair the beginning of The Hungry Earth sees Nasreen sending most of her staff home for the weekend). The level of threat to humanity as a whole is undermined by the containment of the seemingly all-but-abandoned mining village, whereas the events in Doctor Who and the Silurians reach heavily populated areas, due to the infection of Masters.
The battle scenes are impressive, though the edit loses sight of Eldane, so it’s not immediately apparent that he has joined the humans. His siding with the humans and his solution to the conflict are both rather convenient.
However, this is offset by the subsequent tragedy that befalls the TARDIS crew, which remains compelling viewing, even after the revelations that take place in The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang.