Come the opening of the latest Doctor Who two-parter with The Hungry Earth, you might mistake yourself for having tuned into something entirely different altogether. There’s a quiet, rural Welsh valley in 2020 (courtesy of a bit of trouble with the Tardis again). Idyllic surroundings. Soft, gentle music. And then the small matter of a great big mine in the middle of it all.
The people staffing the mine too have clearly been swatting up on their Armageddon (the film). For they’re expert drillers, who – when we meet them pre-credits – have managed to reach previously uncharted depths. Yet, their joy is inevitably quite short lived, as we jump into an episode that gets off to a fairly bleak start in all, as the night security guard discovers not everything is quite what it seems.
It’s a measured start for a confident, at times, quite laid-back episode, that’s happy to use the extra expanse of time afforded to it by being split into two instalments. The Hungry Earth, as you might expect, is all about the setup, above moving people to where it needs them to be for the next part.
Which means, for the purposes of part one, it focuses primarily on the Doctor. This is a good thing, and we get some real quality time with him here that’s always welcome. There’s still that lovely undercurrent of friction about Smith’s portrayal of the Time Lord, and here he’s primarily in puzzle solving mode, albeit with a bit of the grumpiness we’ve come to expect.
The episode also gives Rory a little bit of work to do, and introduces the story’s guest stars, the drilling team of Meera Syal and Robert Pugh, who slot into place nicely. In this episode, one has slightly more work to do than the other.
In the spirit of not spoiling the story, we’ll leave the narrative there, short of to say that there’s no over-the-top cliffhanger again. This is in keeping with the tone of this latest series of Who, and instead we get a sufficient positioning of pieces left in place in time to pick up next time around.
If you’ve been looking for your slightly more traditional monster story in this series, then this is the closest you’re likely to get. And again, the foes – which dig back into the Doctor Who back catalogue – aren’t just rampaging people in suits out to destroy everyone on some megalomaniac mission. Logic has a part to play here, and their motivation is made clear.
Chris Chibnall’s script manages to squeeze in a bit of Sherlock Holmes, along with a spot of The Gruffalo, and he meticulously builds things up as the episode progresses. It’s steady work, with a slowly increasing peril, and while vintage Who it isn’t, an enjoyable 45 minutes it certainly is.
It’s still a comparably quiet, quite low key episode for the most part, and one that doesn’t do anything particularly radical. What it does do is diligently build up the foundations of a story that we look forward to some kind of pay off for next time.
Our spoiler-y review will be live on Saturday night.