• 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.
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”.
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.