I should probably get back to writing about Series 5. It's
only been like 50,000 years.
It's been so long since I wrote about The Hungry Earth that in the intervening time the Chibnall era has officially started and had its first series. Looking back on this two-parter now, as a story written by a showrunner before taking office, there is a lot of Series 11 in this. Small community settings, big ensembles, and sympathetic monsters who aren't really monsters are all ideas Chibnall would come back to. It's also kinda funny that Chibnall will actually be showrunning in 2020, the year this story takes place, so maybe we will literally come back to this. Chibnall's fondness for monsters who aren't evil works really well with the Silurians, allowing their underground society to feel like a proper society rather than another group made entirely of identical warriors like Daleks or Cybermen. Not that there's anything wrong with Daleks or Cybermen, but they aren't Silurians.
The Chibnall era's tendency towards inventing new, one-use monsters is also kinda felt here. Despite the fact that the Silurians are a recurring monster from the classic series, their appearance in this two-parter radically redesigns them and establishes them as not really wanting to be recurring baddies. They do appear as part of the evil alliance in The Pandorica Opens, but they also show up in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, another Chibnall script, as entirely sympathetic human-like space travellers. The biggest impact the Silurians have in New Who is through Madame Vastra, one of the Doctor's trusted allies. The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood isn't really a launching point for a new alien menace to be returned to as A-list villains every three years or so. Instead, they feel right as home in this particular story, which simply couldn't have been told with any other villain species.
For me, the most effective part of this episode is the resolution to the main conflict, when the Doctor promises a future where humans and Silurians can one day co-exist. Because Silurians revealing themselves to the surface world would cause a huge unavoidable shift in Doctor Who's status quo, all of the most interesting options with Silurian stories are restricted. Here though, the episode gets to maintain the continuity of every Earth-based episode set post-2020 while still at least feeling like this conflict was worthwhile. A debate was had and in the end an agreement was made, and I'd love to see Chibnall revisit this idea of humans and Silurians sharing the Earth in the future. Except it would be humans and Silurians and Zygons, but nobody knows about them, so shh!
Of course the bigger bits of Cold Blood's ending are all related to Series 5's arc - the first death of Rory Williams and the reveal of the TARDIS fragment. Incidentally, this is the part of Chibnall's pre-era writing that I desperately wish he would return to. The strength of Series 5's overall storyline is in how it spreads connecting elements across the series. Every few episodes there's a new development with the cracks that keeps things interesting, and that mystery is then directly dealt with in the finale. The reveal that the TARDIS is what blew up to cause the cracks in time is brilliantly done and really ramps things up effectively.
What sticks in my mind most about this story is how detailed and lush Silurian society is. Although I would've liked the design of the Silurians to be a little closer to the original - I think it would've enhanced the message if we were asked to show sympathy to creatures that looked completely inhuman - the decision to make every Silurian look different works brilliantly. Not only do I remember the generic Silurian soldiers but also specific members of their society, like Restac, the military leader, and Malohkeh, the head scientist. Their faces as well as their outfits are distinct while still feeling like a part of the same world. As I say, Daleks and Cybermen are great; sometimes you want an army of faceless identical monsters to angrily storm the place. But the Silurians need a bit more nuance then that, and the make-up and costume design provide that nuance.
The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood is a fine reintroduction to the Silurians. It's a necessary reiteration of the basics: there's a species living under the ground who have a legitimate claim to the Earth. Now that we have the basics, I would be interested to see another Silurian story that takes the concept into some new territory, perhaps with the proposed future alliance between humans and Silurians (and Zygons, shh!). It's possible Chibnall could do that as part of Series 12 in the real life future year 2020. If Moffat is allowed to bring back the Weeping Angels and River Song for a two-parter when he took over, we can let Chibnall do this.