By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | June 15, 2010 |
By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | June 15, 2010 |
“I dressed for Rio!”
It’s 2020, and in a quiet country village in South Wales, a father helps his son with his reading before heading off to nightshift work. They are reading from The Gruffalo, a popular children’s book by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Alex Scheffler, first published in 1999. It’s written in rhyming couplets and tells the story of a mouse that bluffs his way past a monster in the forest. (I looked it up.)
Mo, the dad, works alone as the night watchman at a drilling outfit that has just broken the record for the deepest penetration into the Earth’s crust at a depth of 21 kilometers. During the night there is a mysterious power outage, and the drill stops. He investigates a lower room in the drill facility, where he is ominously dragged into a patch of dirt and underground by an unseen force.
The next morning the Doctor, Amy, and Rory pop out of the TARDIS expecting to find Rio, presumably to continue the marriage gift that started in Venice with a sunnier and more festive atmosphere. The Doctor immediately senses something strange about the ground and notes odd patches of blue grass. Amy wants to leave, but the Doctor inevitably wants to investigate. Catching her attention, though, are a couple of people they spy far across the valley who are waving at them. Looking through binoculars, the Doctor confirms that this is Rory and Amy ten years in the future. “Humans. You’re so nostalgic,” the Doctor observes. Amy wants to visit with them, but the Doctor advises they not mingle with themselves. (Forgive me, but my word choice of “mingle” inspired a mental tangent about whether using time travel to partner-swap in this scenario would constitute cheating or if it’s simply outright weird.)
In another direction across the valley, the Doctor spies the drilling outpost, or as he calls it, a “big mining thing.” The Doctor dashes off to investigate. Rory and Amy reflect on the fact that they are still together in ten years and returned to their normal lives. Rory notices that Amy is wearing her engagement ring, and he insists that she not risk losing it while on their adventure. Rory tells Amy he will catch up and returns to the TARDIS to put the ring in a safe place.
Emerging from the police box, Rory is mistaken for a police investigator by Ambrose and Elliot, the mother and son we met in the opening. Never mind that a police box has suddenly appeared in this small country town in 2020 when they have already been largely phased out in the present day. I suppose Rory brought it in on a tow truck as far as they know. Regardless, I seem to remember this as an old Doctor Who gag, so we can forgive it.
Rory lets Ambrose and Elliot believe that he is the plainclothes officer who is there to help them. Perhaps as a new TARDIS traveler he feels the need to protect the time machine with the ruse. Ambrose leads Rory to the local graveyard and tells him that her aunt’s body and coffin had been removed without disturbing the ground above. (They discovered this when attempting to bury her uncle in the adjacent plot.) Rory is left to ponder the scene, and Elliot only offers him a helpful Sherlock Holmes quote along with the theory that the graves are eating people.
Elsewhere, the Doctor and Amy commit the minor transgression of “sonicking and entering” at the drilling station. The Doctor is still disturbed by the odd feeling of the ground. In the room where Mo disappeared, the Doctor and Amy find Dr. Nasreen Chaudhry and Tony, as well as the out of place patch of dirt in the middle of the floor that had swallowed Mo. Tony tells them that he has reactivated the drill that had been stopped the night before. The Doctor asks Nasreen about the nature of their machinery, and she is reluctant to be open with this interloper. The Doctor’s concern, however, is rapidly proven correct when the ground beneath the room begins to shake and more dirt holes spontaneously appear below them.
Tony falls into a hole and Amy attempts to save him, but she is pulled into a hole as well. Nasreen and the Doctor run back into the peril. Nasreen pulls Tony free, and the Doctor keeps hold of Amy, who is in the dirt up to her waist. The Doctor tell Nasreen and Tony to turn off the drill, and they rush away to do so. They are too late in the effort, as Amy is pulled completely underground and disappears, leaving a distraught Doctor.
The Doctor immediately works on the problem as Nasreen and Tony try to follow along. The Doctor determines that the ground is taking people as a result of “bio-programming,” a process that animates inanimate objects to react in certain ways to proximate living things. Nasreen reveals that they chose this drilling site because of the strange minerals in the area, as evidenced by the blue grass. The drill has been turned off, but the Doctor detects what seems to be the sound of drilling moving upward through the earth. Using their computer, the Doctor reveals that the sound was three transports traveling up through the ground that will arrive in twelve minutes.
The Doctor, Nasreen, and Tony rush to take cover in the local church. All the drill workers commute to the site, so only Tony’s daughter (Ambrose) and Elliot need to take shelter with them. Outside, the Doctor discovers that an electronic bubble created from below the ground is surrounding the area and preventing their escape. (He uses a slingshot left on the ground to reveal it.) This force field would also prevent the TARDIS from leaving in the limited time that they have before the transports reach the surface.
The Doctor tells Rory what happened to Amy, and Rory is very upset. The Doctor appeals to Rory to stand by him and promises that he will keep all of them safe. In the church the Doctor convinces Ambrose to trust him with the promise of also recovering Mo and asks the five of them to gather as much recording equipment as possible to monitor outside the church. Outside he asks Ambrose not to use the conventional weaponry she has gathered, as it’s not the Doctor’s way. She seems skeptical of the Doctor’s request. In a matter of a few minutes, they have rigged all manner of sensors outside, and the Doctor reveals to Elliot that he can use the sonic screwdriver to transmit an incapacitating pulse through the devices. The Doctor and Elliot share a moment in which the Doctor reveals that he misses Gallifrey and promises once again to recover Elliot’s dad. Elliot runs off to recover his headphones from his house, and the Doctor, who is absorbed in monitoring the computers they have set up, does not notice. At another spot in the church Tony reveals his attraction to Nasreen with a kiss, just in case this is the end for them.
The force field thickens to block out the sunlight leaving the area contained within in darkness. The Doctor, Amy, Ambrose, Tony, and Nasreen lock themselves in the church and wait for the sensors to detect whatever is outside. They realize that Elliot is missing, and the Doctor confirms that he saw Elliot last, continuing a motif for this episode and this season that has made Matt Smith’s Doctor into a more fallible character than we usually find in “Doctor Who.”
Outside, Elliot flees from bipedal creatures that we do not see well in the dark. He pounds on the church door, and we see him through a high-tech viewpoint of one of the approaching creatures. By the time the Doctor and company are able to open the door again, Elliot is gone. Ambrose finds Elliot’s headphones on the ground, and she is pushed down by one of the creatures, which we now see clearly as reptilian in nature. Tony catches up to her and pushes the creature away, but it lashes out with a long tongue that hits Tony in the neck. The creature retreats into the darkness. The Doctor and Rory arrive at the scene, and the Doctor promises that he will recover Elliot.
Using a pair of infrared sunglasses, the Doctor and Rory track down one of the creatures and trap it in Ambrose’s Meals On Wheels van. The force field lightens to reveal sunlight once again, and the Doctor and Rory hear sounds that indicate that the other two creatures have retreated back underground. The Doctor notes that both sides now have hostages, and he reveals to the audience that a lack of heat signature on the creature’s body has told him who they are.
Underground, Amy is trapped in a coffin-shaped chamber with a translucent cover. She can see one of the creatures outside, and its response to her protests is to render her unconscious with gas released into her chamber.
Above, the Doctor interrogates his prisoner alone. He has determined that she is a member of a branch of the Silurian species, the humanoid reptilians that evolved just as humans did from apes and have been slumbering under the ground in stasis for millions of years. (Doctors Pertwee and Davison previously encountered them.) The prisoner’s name is Alaya. She is a member of the Silurian warrior class that was awakened by the drill in order to protect her species. She tells the Doctor that they will wipe the apes from the surface and reclaim their planet. The Doctor attempts to negotiate a recovery of Amy and tells Alaya that he can help broker a peace between Silurians and humans. Alaya tells the Doctor that she will gladly die for her cause and asks him what he will sacrifice for his. The Doctor has no answer for her and walks away.
The Doctor explains to Rory, Nasreen, Tony, and Ambrose the history of the Silurians and their status as previous inhabitants of the Earth. His plan is to go underground to negotiate. Ambrose and Tony are reluctant to willingly follow the Doctor’s lead, with Tony asking if they should be dissecting Alaya to determine the Silurians’ weaknesses. The Doctor asks that these four humans consider the stakes and that they aspire to be the best of their species during this crisis.
Nasreen insists on tagging along with the Doctor in the TARDIS, and he acquiesces to her wish despite the danger. Before the Doctor can use the TARDIS to transport through space, one of the holes in the dirt has opened up and dragged the TARDIS down through the ground.
Rory, Tony, and Ambrose tell their chained prisoner that they will trade her for Elliot, Mo, and Amy. Alaya disagrees. She says that one of them will kill her and ignite a war in which all the apes are destroyed. She even knows which of the three it will be that kills her. Afterward, Tony examines the injury he received in a mirror; a green veiny bruise has appeared on his neck.
Amy awakes outside the shell but still restrained on a vertically oriented examination table. Mo is restrained nearby and reveals that the Silurians performed a dissection on him while he was conscious. There is a large scar on his stomach. He tells Amy it is better if she does not struggle. The Silurian doctor returns, ready to peform the procedure on Amy.
The Doctor and Nasreen arrive underground, and they are puzzled that far below 120 kilometers the environment is not much hotter. The Doctor is fascinated but not particularly shocked.
“It’s like this is every day to you,” Nasreen says with astonishment.
“Not every day. Every other day,” the Doctor replies.
The Doctor had expected to find perhaps a dozen Silurians in this settlement. Instead, as they crest a ridge, they find themselves looking down upon an entire city.
It was not until there were about 15 minutes left in the episode that I realized that this was a two-parter. In hindsight I did not mind that this episode was very slow in the set-up. Watching it a second time, I even found myself appreciating how much information is delivered in a short time.
The Silurians are an interesting enemy to revisit. I was a bit of a dinosaur nerd as a kid, so this idea of a Homo reptilia species that somehow dodged the major extinction events during its evolutionary chain and developed an advanced technology millions of years ahead of us is fun, even if it is an extra strain on our credibility.
Thematically, as I mentioned above, this episode does see Matt Smith’s Doctor continuing to make mistakes. In the face of these mistakes, he shows great resolve, but it seems like these mistakes and his recklessness are bound to catch up with him.
C. Robert Dimitri spent many of the prime Saturday nights of his youth staying home to watch syndicated episodes of Doctor Who on PBS, and his social skills might be beyond repair as a result. He’s not the most hardcore Whovian, but he’s a respectable representative. The first episode he remembers watching was Tom Baker’s “The Creature From The Pit.” At one point he obsessively watched all the Hartnell, Troughton, and Pertwee episodes that were available to him, and sometime around the age of 14 he dragged his mother to a Doctor Who convention. All he truly has ever wanted for Christmas is Perpugilliam Brown, but he would be almost as content with K-9.
For his birthday this year he received a Doctor Who sound effects toy that makes the TARDIS materialization noise, as well as K-9, Dalek, and Cybermen dialogue.