Cold Blood

5th June 2010 • Review by John Hoare •

I have a confession to make: the name “Chris Chibnall” does not make my blood run, erm, cold.

Maybe it’s my reservations about judging any writer’s work when RTD was known for rewriting nearly every single script anyway. Maybe it’s because I’ve blanked out the entirety of 42. Or maybe it’s because Chibnall was responsible for one of my favourite episodes of Life on Mars. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t going into this pair of episodes with an immense sense of dread.

Neither, mind you, was I going into it with much knowledge of the Silurians themselves. I knew the basic idea behind them, but shamefully, I haven’t seen any of their Classic Who episodes. The concept is a brilliant one – and wipes out my other abiding memory of politics and Who (which is Robert Holmes whining about taxation), and I know enough to know that that hasn’t changed much; I was worried that The Hungry Earth hadn’t set up the concept enough, but that’s more than rectified here. The make-up and costumes are brilliant, and make me wish that Who would do proper alien make-up more often. (Yes, yes, I know – technically they’re not aliens. Shut up.) But the serious point is: I would do Alaya. I am not even joking. If she wanted me to, of course, not if she’s in captivity and… I’m going to leave this now.

Alaya. Oh yeah.

But what really makes this episode work for me is what drives the whole middle section: the death of Alaya. This creates a tension rarely seen in the series – because it’s all about the reaction of The Doctor. Character of the week gets upset, fine, I can live with that, whatever. But piss off The Doctor, and I get shit-scared. It matters. Usually, he finds out straight away – but here, there’s a great big block of tension waiting for him to find out. And so the middle part of the episode – traditionally where things can flag slightly – worked entirely. If anything, you wish The Doctor could have done the righteous anger malarky a bit more; but he’s a sensible guy. He’s trying to smooth things over to save the planet, after all. But I’m not entirely sure Tennant’s Doctor would have left Ambrose on such good terms.

For all that, it’s impossible to ignore the irritating flaws in the episode. Things that could easily have been fixed, but… weren’t. Actually, the worse example is in The Hungry Earth, where Rory goes back to the TARDIS to put back the ring; never have I seen the mechanical gears of storytelling grind so obviously in the series. In this episode, what rankles me most is The Doctor, having banged on and on about not using weapons, greeting Amy Pond and gun with a gleeful “”Amy Pond! There’s a girl to rely on!” It wouldn’t matter if the episode addressed the essential contradiction, even briefly – a line of dialogue would do. But it didn’t.

(I’m also not quite sure I believe Amy wisecracking in the face of death at this point of the episode. The Doctor, yes, but not her. I’d be screaming my tits off.)

Meanwhile, yet again, we get mentions of these “fixed points in time”. A RTD-idea – and one that, no matter how many times they use it, and in different ways, will never work for me. It’s a solution to an innate problem with the programme – “why don’t you stop wars and genocide and stuff, Doctor?” – but all it does is draw attention to the problem. If they can come up with WHY certain points in time are fixed, and others aren’t, maybe I’ll listen. Until then, I’m sticking my fingers in my ears and going “lalalalala”.

THE DOCTOR TOUCHES A CRACK

THAT climax, then. Everything gets sorted (I thought the negotiation scene was especially well done), and then unsorted – and then the crack appears, and the storytelling clunks slightly clumsily into Moffat-mode. But hey, I’ll take the clunk. Rory dying – in the most complete way possible – was a real shock, despite it happening just the other week, and brings home just how much the last few episodes had made him work. And Amy’s reaction was beautifully played by Gillan. Oddly, however, it’s the first time this series that I’ve been slightly less convinced by Matt Smith.

As for the piece of TARDIS… wow. The TARDIS is one part of the mythology you don’t mess with: a sacred icon of the show. To fuck around with it for the sake of a joke, as in The Time of Angels, doesn’t really work, no matter how extremely amusing it is. But done for the sake of drama, it leaves you with the best cliffhanger so far this series. Even if when you think about it for even a nanosecond, the Doctor’s laissez-faire attitude to reaching into the crack doesn’t square up with anything from Flesh and Stone.

(Worth pointing out too, that they actually built some of the crack physically into the set. For the first time since The Eleventh Hour, it felt real, rather than just an effect. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the destruction of the drilling site; if only the money could have been found to do it with modelwork.)

The best Who has to offer, then? Very far from it – and compared to previous late-season two-parters, nowhere near the same league. But enough suspense and shocks – and Stephen Moore – to more than make it good viewing. I’ll take it over Tooth and Claw at any rate.

<flamebait>, or something.

John Hoare spends his days skulking around a TV playout centre and wondering when he’ll be asked to leave. He posts a variety of nonsense on his blog Dirty Feed which steadfastly refuses to capture the zeitgeist. When he says run, run. Run.

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7 Responses

  1. Cold Blood was a lot stronger than The Hungry Earth – a lot stronger – but it was still far too clunky for my liking. This entire story is the low point of Series Five for me.

  2. >Meanwhile, yet again, we get mentions of these “fixed points in time”. A RTD-idea – and one that, no matter how many times they use it, and in different ways, will never work for me. It’s a solution to an innate problem with the programme – “why don’t you stop wars and genocide and stuff, Doctor?” – but all it does is draw attention to the problem. If they can come up with WHY certain points in time are fixed, and others aren’t, maybe I’ll listen. Until then, I’m sticking my fingers in my ears and going “lalalalala”.

    It’s no less wishy-washy than the reply to the question ‘If God exists, why doesn’t he stop wars and stuff?’. If free will were really the answer, why does God bother issuing guidance at all, and why would God waste time punishing ‘sinners’?

  3. > To fuck around with it for the sake of a joke, as in The Time of Angels, doesn’t really work, no matter how extremely amusing it is.

    Worked for me.

    However I agree on the Fixed Points idea. I can’t get on board with that at all. Namely because if a point before the ‘fixed point’ is in flux and could involve the entire universe being wiped out… well then the fixed point ISN’T fixed surely?

  4. Ridley

    Saw “Doctor Who and the Silurians” for the first time yestertoday. I’m surprised there’s no mention round here (that I’ve seen) about how darn similar it is to series 5’s two-parter.

    Especially when Chibnall’s output already felt like it was a remnant of Russell T Davies Who.

  5. si

    First saw ‘…The Silurians’ when it was repeated on BBC2 twelve years ago. It was so boring and overlong, they skipped the rest of the Pertwee years (they’d repeated ‘Spearhead From Space’ just before), and skipped straight to ‘Genesis of The Daleks’, then stopped the repeat run completely.
    Basically – I don’t like ‘The Silurians’, and I hate Chibnall’s two-parter. Shame, really – I adore his earlier story, ’42’ – very underrated.

  6. Ridley

    You like Edge of Destruction. If that’s the worst ‘Classic Who’ gets in my viewing, I’d be happy!

    I liked the first Silurian story. Even that red Silurian that keeps jittering when he talks for some reason. The dinosaur I could do without. Of the old Who I’ve seen, which isn’t that much, I think there’s often an episode or two that feels like padding in the stories. There was an element of it in those Pertwee episodes, and the reveal that Dr. Quinn(?) is working with the Silurians is shown too early, but it felt more like two plots had crashed together for me.

    I skipped Chibnall’s episodes on the DVD when I bought it. That they’re an inferior remake of the original story lowers my opinion of them further. :p

  7. Andy M

    I think ‘The Sea Devils’ is much, much better than ‘Doctor Who And The Silurians’ (call it by its name) even though received fan opinion seems to say the opposite. The less said about ‘Warriors Of The Deep’ the better.

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