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.