THIS EPISODE TAKES
AFTER THE TV EPISODE
AND PRIOR TO THE
AUDIO BOOK "THE
'THE COMPLETE FIFTH SERIES' LIMITED EDITION STEELBOOK BLU-RAY DVD
(BBCBD0130) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2010.
the most important day in the history of Earth: the dawn of a new age of harmony... or the start of its final war.
The Doctor battles to prevent all-out war between the Silurians and the humans. But as apocalypse looms, the Doctor discovers THAT an even more horrifying danger waits for him...
29TH MAY 2010
(45-MINUTE EPISODE, Part 2 OF 2)
After being a little disenchanted with last week’s dawdling, introductory instal-ment, I’m pleased to report that Cold Blood is an altogether different animal. Where The Hungry Earth was sluggish, Cold Blood is fast as lightening. Where The Hungry Earth was conventional and conservative, Cold Blood is pioneering and provocative. And where The Hungry Earth drew only a modicum of praise from me, Cold Blood is about to be drenched in my esteem.
“This place is enormous…”
The most immediately apparent difference between last week’s episode and this is the shift of locale. Though a few scenes do still take place above ground, for the most part we find ourselves in the reptiles’ gorgeous subterranean city. Bathed in a wonderfully redolent earthy-orange and furnished with lava pools and all manner of prehistoric flora, the city is a visual feast. When grumbling about lost third eyes and absent vocal oscillations, it’s all too easy to be blasé about what we’ve gained in exchange, and this city in all its HD majesty is one of the most excellent examples of where this story trounces its 1970 forbearer.
Another is in the deft characterisation. With the best will in the world, heavy and anonymous rubber suits aren’t conducive to subtle, layered performances, and here Chris Chibnall’s script presents us with one of the best-drawn reptilian characters that the series has ever produced. Stephen Moore, who followers of the Doctor’s Big Finish audio adventures will no doubt recognise from his memorable turn in last year’s Eight Truths / Worldwide Web, is absolutely astonishing here as the thoughtful and wise reptilian ambassador, Eldane. His commanding tones are audibly laden with burden, and his framing narration and cut-away ruminations imbue the whole story with a deservedly historic feel.
“This is the story of our planet, Earth. Of the day a thousand years past when we came to share it…”
Richard Hope’s Malohkeh and Neve McIntosh’s twin femme fatales are most imposing too, though they aren’t afforded the same depth as Eldane. Malohkeh plays the traditional part of hesitant peacemaker, whilst Restac and Ayala relish their roles as warmongers – roles that they are prepared to lay down their lives for. That said, I was a little sceptical of Malohkeh’s apparently sudden change of heart. He goes from happily dissecting “vermin apes” to championing an alliance with them within the space of about five minutes, which just doesn’t ring true.
The rump of the supporting humans impressed me more this week too, particularly Nia Roberts’ Ambrose. Encouraged by the Doctor to be the best that a human being can be, Ambrose allows herself to be taunted into torturing and killing Ayala, butchering any chance of a peaceful accord before the episode has really begun. It’s an excruciating scene to watch - inevitably we condemn Ambrose’s actions, but it isn’t hard to see how she did what she did. Her matriarchal instinct forced her to confront her family’s abductor, who then did her level best to rile her. The outcome was agonisingly foreseeable.
“There are fixed points in time where things must always stay the way they are.
This is not one of them, this is an opportunity… So do good.”
Indeed, ‘agonising’ is probably the one word that encapsulates this episode. In previous Earth Reptile stories, I never felt that there was any chance of a peace being successfully negotiated, yet here the prospect seems almost tangible. With the Doctor preaching about “fixed points” and “opportunities”, and the history of the planet conveniently in flux in any event, I could readily believe that Eldane, Amy and Nasreen were capable of hammering out a mutually-acceptable resolution. The fact that humans and reptiles were sat round the same table speaks volumes in itself, but when buoyed by some eloquent – and eminently reasonable – proposals from both parties, the prospect of peace had never felt so real. Or at least, it would have done, had I not been sat there with the knowledge that Rory and his cohorts were on their way down with the corpse of a warmongering reptilian martyr.
Even so though, Chibnall’s script still managed to surprise me. I was impressed with his choice to leave the fundamental issues in abeyance, rather than plumb for a ‘traditional’ ending that would’ve seen the humans wipe out the reptiles and the Doctor reflect forlornly on the human race’s (and perhaps even his own) aggression. The implicit idea that in a thousand years time the reptiles will wake, ready to negotiate a peace at least (and with a couple of ready-made ape ambassadors waiting in their freezer to assist!) is a pleasant, almost Star Trekky one, but it’s one that I think is infinitely more uplifting than the standard default.
“[You thought you’d lost me] because I’d been sucked into the ground? You’re so clingy.”
Of course, on a personal level the story’s conclusion is anything but elevating. In fact, I can’t think of anything sadder. With the plot effectively sewn up, our heroes race for the safety of the TARDIS, only to discover another of the cracks in time and space that have hounded their tracks ever since The Eleventh Hour. Restac bursts into the room, the Doctor in her sights. But as he’s in it up to his elbow (quite literally), Rory has to make the valiant save, sacrificing himself to save the Time Lord in the mêlée. The Doctor then has to prise Amy away from Rory’s prone body as the crack expands to consume it, all the while desperately trying to help her to cling on to the memory of her rapidly-fading lover.
“Move away from the light, if it touches you you’ll be wiped from history.”
Now the death of a companion always comes as a body blow - even if it’s Adric - but to die and retroactively be erased from existence is too harrowing for words. And Rory’s fate is made even more bitter by the fact that he’d thought himself invincible – just a few hours earlier he’d been cheerily waving at his future self, safe in the knowledge that both he and Amy were to survive their travels with the Doctor. Seeing Amy, her tears dry from never having been cried, waving at her lone future self makes for the most dour concluding scene since David Tennant’s Doctor stared blankly at the camera at the end of Journey’s End.
I suspect, however, that we haven’t seen the last of the companion that never was. Indeed, Arthur Darvill’s character might well go down as the only companion in the series’ history to die twice on screen yet survive to tell the tale. With The Big Bang scheduled to air on the date that Rory is set to marry Amy, the series might yet end with some mad sort of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey do-over. After all, if young Rory had never existed, then why would the engagement ring that he’d bought for Amy still be waiting inside the TARDIS? Why would Amy think that she can see another figure waving at her? And why would she mention “boys”, plural? Rory’s not gone. Though by the looks of that shrapnel the Doctor pulled from the crack, I can’t say the same of his trusty old TARDIS...
“My thoughts turn back to the Doctor, the losses that he suffered then…
and the greater losses that were still to come.”
Looking at this two-parter as one complete story, it stands up far better than I originally thought that it would. As one ninety-minute piece of entertainment it delivers on almost every front; it’s just a shame that fifteen minutes or so couldn’t have been dropped from the first half in order to give us a frenetic, Voyage of the Damned-length special. In isolation though, Cold Blood is one of the finest episodes of Doctor Who’s 2010 run, and it’s also one which finally sees Chris Chibnall equal the quality of his dark and delicious Torchwood scripts where it really counts.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Cold Blood has to be the most predictable, clichéd, and unoriginal episode of Doctor Who that I have ever enjoyed so much. There’s barely a scene in this is story that feels remotely new in the series. The plot is a direct, if very successful, update of the original Silurians serial. The reptilian characters are, for the most part, utterly clichéd and one dimensional - we’ve got the arrogant, trigger-happy soldiers; the wise, careful elder; and the two archetypal science fiction scientists - the cruelly callous vivisectionist and the softly-spoken, mild-mannered thinker - although, inexplicably, these are the same chara-cter, jumping suddenly from one to the other in one of the worst bits of characterisation yet seen in the series. Damn it, though, I enjoyed watching them. All three of the main Silurian actors puts in a fine performance, and it’s particularly good to hear the soothing tones of Stephen Moore again. Mind you, it has to be said, that while Neve McIntosh was doing her utmost to portray two reptilian characters as sinuously and serpentine as she could, neither Stephen Moore nor Richard Hope seemed to bother. Perhaps they forgot they were supposed to be playing reptiles.
“Long time ago I met another tribe of homo reptilia. The humans attacked them. They died.”
There are plenty of problems that I could quibble with here. The utter predictability of the plot for one. From Ambrose panicking and killing Alaya, to the inevitable uprising by the reptilian military, the entire plot could be forecast from the end of Part 1 - with the exception of those shocking final moments, of which more later. Even Nasreen’s decision to stay in hibernation with Tony Mack and the reptiles, while incredible, arrived with a sense of crushing inevitability. I like Meera Syal, and Nasreen. She should have gone off with the Doctor. Still, there’s a school of thought that says “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and when a plot works, does it matter if we’ve seen it before? Now we can see it again, with higher production values (although perhaps not as high as the previous few series).
Clearly, this episode is a visual feast for much of its runtime, in a way that the previous village-based episode failed to be. The reptile people’s underground city is rather beautiful, and the subtle differences in the reptilian make-up proves that this modern interpretation of the Silurians has some real benefits over its more iconic predecessors - there’s some genuine acting to be seen under those scales. I also love the Sea Devilish masks that the foot soldiers wear - good finance and an effective image at the same time.
“Amy Pond and Nasreen Choudhury speaking for the planet. Humanity couldn’t have better ambassadors.”
If there’s one thing that irks me though it’s the whole “thousand years later” part. It would have been genuinely interesting if the episode had subverted expectations and actually changed history, rather than fobbing it off for a future time. I can only hope that there will, eventually, be a visit to the shared Earth of the 31st century, especially if we get to meet Nasreen there. Nonetheless, that’s not what I’ll remember first when I think back to this episode.
No, the thing that everyone will remember most is Rory. Now, I was expecting a time crack to show up here at some point, but I wasn’t expecting what would happen when it did. After all the predictability of this episode, it serves up a real belter with Rory’s stunning, sudden death. Beautifully staged, wonderfully acted and genuinely affecting, this is sure to be a scene that will stick in the mind after the series has finished for the year. And to follow it up with the heart-rending effects of the time energy, erasing Rory from history while Amy struggles to retain her memory of him - heartbreaking. This series always makes up its own time travel rules, and a moments consideration on all this talk of fixed points, erasures from history and mutable timelines reveals that it makes sod all sense. This doesn’t matter. This is a genuinely unsettling, yet intriguing, story arc that we have this year, for the first time since the old days of the Bad Wolf.
“Where there’s an explosion, there’s shrapnel.”
Now, while it’s kind of hard to accept that the Doctor can just stick his arm in a rip in space-time, what a reveal it leads to. That little piece of police box speaks volumes, yet tells us so little. Knowing what we do about the finale, knowing that it features River Song, knowing that she may be destined to kill the Doctor, knowing that the TARDIS is seemingly fated for destruction - it all paints a distressing picture of the Doctor’s immediate future. Still, it will, of course, be resolved. Will Rory be saved, somehow? I think so. It’s the question of how that is keeping me intrigued - that, and the consequences should the Doctor start messing with time again...
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Although I found that individual scenes in Cold Blood worked very well, on the whole I found the episode quite a disappointment; visually, emotionally and structurally. What I wanted was a story as powerful as the original Silurian seven-parter; one that would make me think about humanity’s weaknesses and capatilise on the awesome moral dilemma of the Silurians wanting to claim back a planet that could be seen to be rightfully theirs. What I ended up getting was a swift jog around some unconvincing tunnels, a touch of diplomacy, and the Silurians popping back to sleep again for another thousand years. ‘Anti-climatic’ would be an understatement. And to think at this point in Series 4 we had the masterful Forest of the Dead, probably the most accomplished forty-five minutes of Doctor Who since the show returned.
The voiceover that narrates the story suggested something far more epic than what we got and left open the possibility that we might even see the world shared by the two races a thousand years later. Frankly, I think setting the story there might have been more gripping. This is probably my biggest issue with the story – it feels unfinished, as if we’re only seeing the first part of a longer story. As nothing has really been resolved, I imagine that the open threads will be picked up in due course.
“Not got any celery have you?”
The other problem I had was the scale of the story, which was all channelled through a single family. This didn’t really bother me in the first episode because the story was that of a quiet Welsh mining village under siege. Now we are moving into much more epic territory with an entire civilisation under the ground threatening humanity’s survival. In The Poison Sky we had the Sontarans and UNIT growling at each other – the potato heads in their spaceship and UNIT in their impressive base. Here we have negotiations over a battered, old PC laptop that just happens to be hanging about in a church ruin. It just feels un-important somehow. Russell T Davies stories were always told on such a grand scale, with the whole world in mass hysteria and news reports offering a clipped view of the horrors all around the world. It became something of a cliché during his era, but if ever there was one story that should have had huge consequences for the world it was this one. The human race doesn’t find out about the Silu-rians en masse and I think that would’ve made for a far more interesting story, to see how we we would all cope with such a revelation.
I thought that most of the performances were a bit off kilter this week as well, including our regulars. For the first time, Smith wanders through proceedings without any gravitas. His “don’t you hurt her!” when Amy has the gun taken off her was ridiculously camp, and he even fudges what should have been the best moment in the story (“You are so much less… than the best of humanity!”) as though he’d forgotten his lines! I don’t know what has happened to Karen Gillen but she has lost all of her appeal throughout this two parter. Amy comes across as a smug, in-yer-face, cocky and selfish woman who wants to have her cake and eat it as far as her men are concerned. Until the story’s climax she barely functions in the plot and only chips in with the odd line to be utterly obnoxious. I hope this wasn’t what Steven Moffat had in mind when creating her character. The first five episodes saw him busting his gut to make Amelia Pond as irresistible as possible, but ever since she jumped the Doctor in Flesh and Stone and became all woman she has lost that touch of magic, of a child travelling in the TARDIS in an adult’s body and that’s a real shame. Let’s hope that next week’s Van Gogh episode will see the return of the sweet Amy Pond that I so love.
“We’re not monsters. And neither are they.”
The Silurian characters are a mixed bunch and, again, I never got the sense that I was looking at an entire civilisation when only three people had been given speaking parts. I rather liked Neve McIntosh’s slithery reptilian performance as Restac - she delivers her lines in truly villainous style - but as my colleague Dan points out (above) she is the only one who’s trying to pretend that the Silurians are a race of lizard people. Stephen Moore and Richard Hope wander around like your average human being with green faces. There was something lovely about Eldane, Nazreem and Amy sitting around a table trying to negotiate for parts of the planet, but I could have done with far more of this dialogue and less running around in caves with laser guns. As the Doctor says: “not bad for a first session, more similarities than differences.” It would have enhanced this story no end to have seen more of this sort of dialogue.
Cold Blood did manage to brew up some really tense scenes around the death of Alaya though. Ambrose is such an interesting character because you could imagine any mother killing the Silurian if they were provoked in the same way. The confrontation is quite an adult scene for so early in the evening with Alaya wanting to be killed so her death will spark a war. Smiling whilst you are being murdered is chilling. There is something deliciously ironic in the Doctor’s attempts to broker a peace between humanity and homo reptilia which is constantly under threat by one woman who is just trying to protect her family. Both Ambrose and Alaya are basically one dimensional characters who are serving a plot function but within those roles they do create moments of real tension.
“First you take my son and then you hurt my dad. I’m just protecting my family here, that’s all.”
Nazreem’s involvement in this episode was arbitrary but I did love the moment where the Doctor managed to shame her into speaking for the human race. Her face when he says “be extraordinary” was priceless. They actually have a much better chemistry than he and Amy do in this story, and I think it would have been interesting to her step into her shoes for the rest of the season. Still with Nazreem opting to stay with the Silurians, I hope that we will be seeing more of her in the future.
Finally, though it’s hardly a screaming endorsement of this episode’s writer, Chris Chibnall, I found Rory’s sudden death at the end of the story most gripping. His manner of dispatch was hardly revolutionary - in fact, it was downright bland - but the consequences of his death are what suddenly shot my interest right up. The mysterious cracks in time are back and this one eats Rory whole. Moffat is such a devious bastard for introducing Rory as an odd man out, integrating him into the TARDIS team in Amy’s Choice and then having him prove his worth in this two-parter only to snatch him away from me as I was starting to prefer him to Amy! Suddenly Matt Smith and Karen Gillen snap into focus as the Silurian story drops away and they deliver an extremely powerful moment as the Doctor tries to make Amy remember Rory and struggle against the inevitability of time itself. Amy’s “you have to make it okay!” broke my heart, and once again proved what a fallible Doctor Matt Smith’s incarnation is. And as if that weren’t enough, we get another bombshell dropped on us – the Doctor has pulled a piece of shrapnel from the crack which appears to be a piece of exploded TARDIS shell! Where on Earth all this is leading I have no idea, but I feeling that Moffat is going to pull this season into shape in superb style in his closing two-parter He certainly has a lot to work with.
“I don’t understand. We were on the hill. I can’t die here…”
Overall though, Cold Blood was a huge disappointment for me. It had all the elements of a good story, but failed to cohere into one. Too many missed opportunities for drama and some really underwhelming performances left me feeling very let down. A shame, really, because every other season has knocked one out of the park in this slot.
Copyright © Joe Ford 2010
Joe Ford has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
The Earth Reptiles’ city is not destroyed at the end of this story – its inhabitants simply return to their cryogenic chambers to sleep for another thousand years or so. This bleeds beautifully into the fourth-millennium Earth painted in many Doctor Who novels, where humans and reptiles live in peace, as well as begging a far future sequel that tells of how…
Rory’s death and erasure from history provokes a whole host of continuity questions. Did the events of The Eleventh Hour, Vampires in Venice, Amy’s Choice and this story occur without him? The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang seems to suggest that following “Big Bang II”, events happened as shown on screen, though this is a little unclear presently.
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