John Kahane (jkahane) wrote,
John Kahane

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Thoughts on DW: "Cold Blood"

Caught the ninth episode of Matt Smith's run as Doctor Who, "Cold Blood", the second part of the story that began with "The Hungry Earth", on Saturday night here in Canada. Here are my thoughts and observation, with perhaps a few ramblings.

The second half of a two-part story that started with "The Hungry Earth" and sees the return of the Silurians to Doctor Who, "Cold Blood" was a very good episode in a lot of ways, but it wasn't really classic Doctor Who at all, despite some of the excellent performances and the surprises during the plot resolution.

At its heart, "Cold Blood" is all about family and the extremes people (women, in particular) will go to in order to defend their family. Ambrose is perhaps the true villain of the piece, as she makes mistake after mistake, compounding her initial error in her treatment of the Silurian captive with ever more extreme moves. While each error takes her further and further away from being "the best of humanity" that the Doctor is hoping for, each individual step is understandable given her perception of the situation she is in. I thought that Nia Roberts did a fabulous job of conveying Ambrose’s anguish, but also her determination to take actions she would not otherwise condone in defense of her kidnapped husband and child.

On the other hand, there is Alaya’s military-minded sister, Restac (I loved the Doctor's gut reaction line, "Oh dear, really? There’s always a military, isn’t there?", when he meets her). She’s pretty much already spoiling for a fight, but the fate of her sister pushes her over the edge into a determined, almost unthinking course of action that brings doom upon her people. The fact that Neve McIntosh played both roles leads to momentary confusion when Restac first appears and speaks, but it was a clever move having the same actress play both roles. More on both Alaya and Restac later.

One of the real strengths of the script is that Chris Chibnall drew upon Malcolm Hulke’s original story, and had the other Silurian characters reflect differing types and points of view. The scientist figure revised his view of humanity upon realising they have evolved and are no longer the creatures once hunted by the Silurians. Even wiser is the Silurian leader Eldane, a character privileged with an incongruous and rather out-of-place voiceover that pops up at the opening, middle, and close of the episode, placing the story in the context of ancient history. While Chibnall avoids the kind of overt left-wing politics that Malcolm Hulke often included in his stories, the debate between Amy, Nasreen, and Eldane over their respective races’ use of the Earth gave the episode a clear green shade of environmentalism. In solving the immediate problem and giving the Silurians and humans a potentially prosperous future, Chibnall has found the "other way" that eluded the Peter Davison's fifth Doctor when he encountered/will encounter the Silurians, Sea Devils, and humans in 2084 ("Warriors of the Deep").

I'm still not impressed by the new Silurians and their look. The warriors were much more faithful in both look and feel to the originals, but I think the real strength in this one was the fact that the Doctor Who production team are constantly trying to balance the monster designs for the costumes and the expressiveness that the actors in those costumes can get. One thing that was handled well in this two-parter was the range of emotion that the Silurian actors were able to display, and in this it seems that the folks at the Production office have taken a lesson from the folks who did such great work in Babylon 5 in this regard. That said, I do think they could have benefitted if the Silurian actors had worn contact lenses, perhaps snake eyes rather than chameleon eyes, but that is obviously nitpicking on my part.

What was very surprising to me in a negative way was Alaya. I had actually hoped that she would survive longer than she did, and like her sister, Restac, the seeming need for the bloodbath that both wanted made little sense to me, as it appeared she didn't she even consider for a second that perhaps her race wouldn't be so victorious in battle. Alaya definitely didn't consider that, given the way she played things out with both Tony and Ambrose in this episode. She obviously wanted one of them to kill her, and she pushed hard enough to achieve her goal. With Tony, Alaya played on his helplessness as he found himself more and more infected (but not killed) with her venom but it was her whole baiting and use of Ambrose that worked for her in the end. It seemed to me that the whole family element that was so strongly played out in the first part of the story came to fruition and deadly doings here, as Ambrose had the most to lose - Mo, Elliot, and Tony - and thus Alaya provoked Ambrose into killing her. Not that it was right or wrong of course, but I actually felt sorrier for Ambrose than I expected to. Sure, I knew that by killing Alaya, Ambrose had screwed the Doctor over royally, but given how desperate she was, it should be noted that Ambrose didn't intentionally try to kill Alaya. However, it didn't stop the desperate housewife from having her own little back-up plan when Rory felt compelled to bring Alaya's body down to the Silurian city when they were given the means to descend.

And then there's Restac. She was worse in many ways than Alaya. While I felt for her when she had to see her dead sister wrapped in the red blanket thing, any sympathy that I had for her vanished when she went on her rampage to scupper the Doctor trying to broker the peace treaty between the humans and Silurians by having Amy, Nasreen and Eldane speak openly of trying to find solutions to their difficulties. Silurian politics was hardly riveting stuff, of course, but the interplay between Nasreen and Amy was pretty good, and one could perhaps argue that Restac's lust for war (what else can one call it?) was a neat way of injecting some needed action into the proceedings. The Doctor certainly wasn't making an unreasonable request by trying to broker peace between the two species, and he was certainly generous given that he spent the first quarter of this episode being tied up, tortured, and nearly executed for his troubles.

Insofar as the resolution of the conflict between the humans and the Silurians, there were a number of ways out of the situation. The solution that I had hoped for was that the Silurians didn't have to be destroyed at all. They've survived under the Earth for many millions of years, after all, longer than our race has existed, and could wait a few more million years until the humans are either extinct (which we know they won't be) or ready to deal with them peacefully, when they have colonised galaxies and can offer them a whole new planet to live on. This is likely how the Doctor saw the situation, from what I saw in the two episodes. I was sort of right, in that Homo Reptilia went back into hibernation for a thousand years. This actually pleased me, as I was delighted to see an ending that didn't involve all of the "aliens" being destroyed in some catastrophe arising from tragic stupidity on the part of one side or the other. I was wonderfully surprised at the decision by Nasreen to stay with Tony in hibernation, to help Homo Reptilia contact a humanity that will possibly also be ready for contact with Earth's original caretakers. It was the perfect solution that would appeal to the Doctor, though not one the Doctor has often been able to use.

What stunned me the most about the episode was the return of the crack in space and time, and Rory's death, erased from history the way Amy almost was in the Weeping Angels story. It struck me that this was likely why Amy and Rory saw their future selves in the previous episode, to prove that he had been erased from time, because Amy now only saw herself there on the hill. History can be rewritten, as the Doctor has said several times in this particular series of Doctor Who, but I loved the revelation that the item the Doctor took out of the temporal crack was a burnt fragment of the TARDIS that had been seemingly destroyed. From another time? The future, maybe, or a possible future?

While I enjoyed the episode overall, some of the writing seemed...sloppy. For example, Elliot's dyslexia is mentioned three times in the first episode, and he actually is encouraged by the Doctor to work around it nicely, but is totally ignored in this episode. It seemed almost tacked on in the first episode, and now for no reason. In retrospect, it was a waste of the story's space, and a lack of tightness in the script. Due to the 45-minute time constraints, you can't waste valuable dialogue time on sequences and events that don't drive the story forward. In many ways, the episode left me wanting more, and just didn't live up to the quality of the first part of the story.

Other snippets of thoughts...

The writer of the story, Chris Chibnall, and Steven Moffat dared to do something that hasn't been done for 30 years: Kill off a companion. Just when I thought the story was all over, Rory gets shot, dies, and forgotten. Amy has no recollection that she ever loved him. Now *that* is killing someone off really horribly. The tickler of course is the fact that I'm not convinced that Rory was truly a companion, but this may be resolved as the series goes on. And what about the wedding ring that Rory put in the TARDIS for safekeeping in the first part? What's going to happen with that?

I loved the various references to the previous Silurian and Sea Devil appearances in the series. It was a neat touch that the venom we thought was killing grandad Tony, which I first thought was the Silurian plague stuff, was actually transforming him into a reptile. Nice. And the string vests of the warriors reminiscent of the Sea Devil costumes, as well as the heat ray weapons, had more than a slight nod to the Sea Devil arsenal previously seen in the earlier stories.

Overall, I give this episode a 7 out of 10.
Tags: doctor who, review, tv hut

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