Ah, another mid-series two-parter, another chance to reinvent a classic series enemy.

That’s not entirely a fair statement, as representing old series enemies in a more contemporary context has been a fairly standard theme throughout each series. Even “Rose” used the Autons as bad guys for the first episode, rather than an original enemy. But it probably is fair to say that the success of these various reintroductions has been…mixed.

While “Rose” did bring back the Autons, it also failed to provide any real personality to them. In the past, the Nestene Conciousness behind the Autons always worked through a human collaborator. There was no sign of that here, leaving the question of how, precisely, mannequins with guns inside them were placed throughout London shopping centers. While they do provide the benefit of a recognizable enemy to bridge the old series and the new, they may just as well have been generic aliens.

“Dalek” did a much better job, making a sometimes inelegant piece of design seem scary. There was a real sense of menace and danger to one, single, solitary Dalek that made the idea of an entire army of them seem truly Earth-shattering. Too bad all of that momentum was wasted by several stories in which the Daleks came back for really-reals this time, only to be banished forever, again, by the end of the season. Three times.

The redesigned Cybermen from “The Rise of the Cybermen” seem to have been one of the more contentious redesigns, judging from online reactions. This is one of those situations where I find my own reaction to be heavily mixed. On the one hand, bringing back the original Cybermen raises the specter of all kinds of incredibly dodgy and dated bad science-fiction concepts, such as their planet of origin, Mondas, being a “twin” of Earth that orbits on the other side of the sun. Having them come from a parallel Earth retains much of the same intent, but makes them a little less dated. Aesthetically I’m rather fond of their new look, save the stylized “C” on their chests, and given that their looks were modified a number of times in the old series, I’m not too put out by the change. On the other hand, though, I think the efforts to make them inhuman and robotic have gone too far in the series. For the most part, the new Cybermen may as well be robots. The original Cybermen had flashes of anger and arrogance and pride that served as a reminder that these are creatures that were once human.
I also wish that they were still killed by contact with gold, but I’m willing to admit that I might be in the minority on that one.

They certainly did bring back the Macra in “Gridlock,” didn’t they?

The Sontarans were actually changed very little when they were brought back in “The Sontaran Stratagem.” They’re still a race of short, belligerent clones who look vaguely like potatoes and shout a lot. The only real change is that this time there’s a lot of them instead of one or two skulking around in the back-ground. Their design is updated, but still fundamentally the same.

And then we’ve got “The Hungry Earth” which brings back the Silurians, which we all know everyone is going to call them no matter how embarrassed the writers get over the name not being scientifically accurate. This has been another seemingly controversial update, and I will admit that part of the appeal of the classic Silurians is that they were utterly inhuman looking. The practical nature of this change is obvious, as now actors can actually, well, act if they’re playing a Silurian, but I will miss the third eye and head ridges. But establishing that this is yet another sub-species of the classic Silurian model does somewhat mollify the change. If purists really want to worry about it, the “real” Silurians are out there, somewhere. Probably somewhere under western England.

As for the episode itself, even more than most two part stories, much of this episode felt like set-up for the “real” story in part two. Even the ending is not so much a cliff-hanger as a “to be continued” moment. Which is odd, because otherwise most of the story felt very small scale. One little group of people being endangered by something unknown and inhuman. It’s a classic premise for the show, but the flip into “the great meeting of the cultures” doesn’t quite seem to mesh. And, yes, knowing what it is to come in the second part goes some way towards explaining that, but we’re still left with a story that feels less like a whole than two different concepts clumsily joined together.

9 Responses to ““They’re not aliens, they’re Earthliens.””
  1. M.A. Masterson says:

    It occurs to me that a lot more could be made of the Silurians in a North America/Native American context/metaphor.

    And here is the line where I’ve erased several unkind sentences about Chris Chibnall, who I’m sure is a lovely man.

  2. Mark Clapham says:

    The crabs in Gridlock are, of course, the Macra.

    The Myrka is, of course, what is inside the Pandorica. Using exactly the same costume as in Warriors of the Deep.

    (Yes, Macra…that’s what I get for staying up late to finish a post.–Dorian)

  3. how, precisely, mannequins with guns inside them

    Ah! Now. I thought this was part of some kind of plastokinetic…thing. Like, the Nestene Consciousness was animating the mannequins on a molecular level, handwavingly creating soldiers out of the mannequins that were already in-store, and technobabblically forming the hand-guns out of the plastic already there. Rather than installing anything in the mannequins and having them shipped to stores, if you see what I mean.

    In other news: original Marvin! Meera Syal! I’m not sure who the equivalent of Meera Syal would be to an American audience, but it’s worth just sticking her name into YouTube or Amazon and seeing what comes out.

    In other other news: the end of the 2-parter here. You know: The. End. bit. I wonder just how much bigger That Got, if you catch my drift.

    I really hope you enjoy the next episode, Dorian. I’m a bit cynical when it comes to Richard Curtis (blame Four Weddings, which I sat through twice and got into trouble with the girl I was sat with because I didn’t. laugh. once.), but it’s a good’n.


  4. Tim O'Neil says:

    Man, this was a good set-up, but I am of the opinion that the next episode is – with the exception of the very end – completely, irredeemably awful.

    Also: the thing that bugs me about the new Cyberman is just how weird it is that another race of Cybermen would be created in another universe with no connection to the original Cybermen whatsoever – a bit of a stretch that doesn’t even seem to be in any way probable. It sort of ruined the Cybermen for me in this new series.

  5. JauntyJohn says:

    There’s an old saying about playwriting, that if you’re going to put a gun on the mantle in Act One, somebody sure as hell better pick it up and shoot it in Act 2. (Okay, okay, it’s a rough paraphrase, but I got the spirit of it.) Two things in ‘The Hungry Earth’ really made me think of that:
    1. “Who are those people over there waving at us?” If it *was* future Amy/Rory (only the Doctor really got a look at them, and he didn’t have a big reaction one way or the other beyond his fond observation about humans and nostalgia) but no more comes of it, then it was a lot of business just to set up another moment between R&A which highlighted Rory’s sensitivity to Amy’s seeming ambivalence (though she always thinks of him in the crunch, I’ll give her that.) When Rory ran back to the Tardis to put the ring away, I more than half expected future-him to pop up when he exited, with some dire warning or Important Message.
    2. The engagement ring, sitting there on the Tardis console, still plainly in sight when the Doctor and Nasreen are in the Tardis and it is pulled below the surface. All of the above of course might just be a facet of avid-fan-overthink, too.

    I think I might enjoy Nasreen as the Companion more than Amy and Rory… which is not to say that A&R aren’t nice kids, but Nasreen was a real kick.

    Amy is more of a classic “hero” than the Doctor is, and while I find that very interesting, it’s also very … *shrug* … losing children, making mistakes… it’s one thing to have a character be flawed… even deeply flawed, but quite another to have them begin to feel somewhat ineffective. Do the people writing these stories even *like* the Doctor? It is as if the show relies on my affection for the franchise and Doctor 11’s particular quirks to keep me fond of the character. On the other hand, because of all that, there’s a real sense of danger for everyone around him.

    Beautiful make-up on the Silurians. Just gorgeous.

    The Doctor’s stirring speech was, indeed, stirring. Whatever is going on with each episode, now that we’re 8 or so eps in, I give Smith high marks for the trick of making some difficult leaps seem quite natural. (And while yes, TV is a visual medium, I was so disheartened by all the natter everywhere about his face, his forehead, his hair… hopefully we’re past all that now.)

    A lizard-man in a surgeon’s mask advancing upon you while holding a scalpel, presumably to dissect your while you’re still awake. Scary stuff. Very.

    I can forgive a lot of set-up when there is a lot of payoff. It’s a lot to accomplish in forty-minutes-and-change.
    But if someone doesn’t pick up the gun they put on the mantle in Act One somewhere along the way in Act Two I might lose a little faith in the storytelling.

    Still, I’m all in.

  6. Mark Clapham says:

    Oh, wait a sec – just need to correct my correction, it cannot have been the Macra.

  7. Bill D. says:

    The new series Cybermen bug me in much the same way that they do Tim. And while I can buy into that they were developed on Earth instead of Mondas in the other universe, I was annoyed that no connection has ever been made to the originals beyond the Doctor or the Daleks basically saying “they sort of look like ours,” and that as far as the show is concerned, these are *the* Cybermen now. It was a little easier to ignore for The Next Doctor, since no mention was made (that I can recall) of the parallel universe connection, but the entitled fan in me is annoyed that we finally got a Dalek/Cybermen throwdown, except that it wasn’t the “real” Cybermen.

    And for what it’s worth, I’m annoyed by my own annoyance, because the Cybermen are my favorite Who monsters, and I want to like whatever stories they appear in, and I like this current design best of all.

    And I have your back on the gold allergy thing. Maybe it’s silly, but it made for some fun moments (especially McCoy’s reaction to seeing a Cybermen felled by one of Lady Peinforte’s arrows in Silver Nemesis). But I’m probably biased, since the old CBS/Fox VHS release of Revenge of the Cybermen was my first exposure to the series back in the mid 80s, and anything connected to that story I think of fondly. Why isn’t that on DVD yet?

  8. Scott says:

    Were the classic series Cybermen ever totally destroyed? Or shouldn’t there be some around to bump into the alternate universe versions? I kind of expected at least a nod to the fact that the new Cybermen have eradicated the classic Cybermen, or replaced them, or maybe even a geeky explanation about how they were created when the classic cybermen bled over into a parallel universe or seeded other realities or something about how they were connected to the old set.

  9. Jeff R. says:

    The original series Cybermen were totally destroy edseveral different times, which is to say that there’s no real barrier to their coming back whatsoever.

    I like to think of the new Cybermen as still being vulnerable to gold, but alchemical gold rather than the literal stuff. Which is to say, the higher parts of human nature, the exposure to which has been part of every non-Dalek-based solution to new Cybermen problems. If I ever decided to write some newwho fanfic (which I would totally call a spec script rather than fanfic as such), it would be a story along those lines with Issac Newton and both flavors of Cybermen…

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