All right, if you truly loved The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood, this may be your moment to turn away.
First off, I really think this could have been dispatched quite neatly in a one-shot episode; why was it two?
|Rule Three: When confronted by a mysterious
hole in the ground…
Part of the problem I had with these shows was — being the creaky dusty antique old series fan that I am — I remember seeing this story the first time around. And the second. And even the third. And this is not the “same story elements” or anything like that; I’m talking the same damn story. Not to mention all the other stories this particular one borrowed from. And normally I’m fine with that; this time, I just wasn’t in the mood. And I couldn’t get in the mood.
It was an unfortunate story to watch back when it was Doctor Who and the Silurians and it wasn’t much more fun as The Sea Devils or any of its other incarnations. Although here we also must acknowledge nods to Inferno (an episode I hate and was terrified by as a child but which I find strangely compelling and largely underrated) and The Green Death. (Oh, and did anyone else catch what I thought was a subtle nod to Blink? “Look, a big mine’y thing!”? No? Was it just me?)
I’m not going to bother with any kind of plot summary here; if you haven’t seen the episodes yet — well, what the hell are you doing reading this? Go watch them! Then come back and read this. If you didn’t like them. Er. Yes. Apologies, I guess, if they were really the light of the season for you.
Don’t get me wrong: there were bits of both shows that I really, really liked: Elliot (the little boy), Nasreen, Tony, the Silurian doctor and head-of-state figures — all very interesting, nifty characters. The basic idea was a reworking of the set-up of The Silurians that could have been — fun? but it never seemed to find pace. If there was a tempo, I missed it.
And did anyone else want to take Ambrose, Elliot’s mother, and just…find some nasty alien and hand her the fuck over? Like “Here, man, no strings, have fun”? Maybe we could have talked the 456 into taking her? Maybe it’s just me but the overprotective, angry mother figures — not just here, but as a trope in genre fiction generally — drive me straight up a wall. I realise the whole point was to set up a parallel between her and Restac in the Silurian world and I wanted her to die anyway. I love the Doctor’s take-down of Ambrose at the end of Cold Blood; she says, “I fucked up;” and he has an opportunity here to soothe or reassure or ameliorate…and normally I’d vote for him to do any of those things and this time I think his dressing-down is not only deserved, it is both timely and appropriate: “Yup, you did. Try to help your son to do better. ‘Cause you blew it.” And exit. Thank you, 11.
|Rory in command? Not quite.|
There was also a missed opportunity here to give Rory some more independent agency. It would have been nice if he’d been able to restrain or manage Ambrose — possibly with Tony’s more direct support? — or save Alaya. The second would have been particularly nice given his background as a nurse. I can see why someone decided it was simpler to have Alaya die and precipitate the whole human/Silurian war thing again, but I wish that, as with Riddick, we might have gone another way. This was — this was all something I had seen before and, despite a small number of fun moments, it wasn’t a story I was that fond of the first time ’round.
And, of course, the ultimate kiss of death in the second episode: the voiceover. There are so few voiceovers that are done well and not simply because the screenwriter couldn’t think of a better way to get information across that you can probably number them on one hand. Riddick’s v/os in Pitch Black and Chronicles aren’t bad, although they are a bit awkward — perhaps less so in Black than the sequel since the first one is something of an exercise in awkward. There’s Sarah Connor’s fadeout v/o in T2 — epically awful. Selene’s in Underworld and Underworld 2 — okay, more successful in the former than the latter. The varying v/os in Stranger than Fiction — successful to a large degree because of the Secret Life of Walter Mitty-like bizarrity of the whole thing. Kevin Spacey’s closing v/o in American Beauty — a spectacular success. Anyway, you get the idea. I think — perhaps v/os work best if you don’t need them? They work all right for dramatic effect on their own — see my proviso for the Underworld movies above — but mostly if you need them, you’re sunk. I think.
Okay, so enough of the bashing. What were the good bits? Well, to my mind, the Silurian doctor was wonderful — interested, intellectually curious, open-minded, helpful, explanatory.
The dialogue between the Doctor and Alaya was great: “What would you sacrifice?” No answer to that one. I was waiting for either a monologue about loss and loneliness or some sort of snappy one-liner…Silence was a much better response. I am really very much enjoying how Matt Smith is stepping up the adulthood of the Doctor as the season goes on; yes, there’s still the very childish enjoyment of silly things (fish fingers and custard, anyone?) and the hyper energy and the frantic need to explore new things (to distract from old things, presumably). But to go along with this there is not only the dark side familiar to us from 10’s worse moments, but also a core of really solid maturity that seems to exhibit itself mostly in some phenomenal self-control. 11 isn’t wound so tight he’s about to snap — which was where I felt 10 was heading more and more of the time — it’s more as if his self-control is of such long duration and so familiar that it’s become like a well-worn but incredibly sturdy piece of leather. It has give, yes, but it isn’t breaking any time soon. And you’re not getting around it with cheap shots which is what Alaya’s parting question definitely was.
I love the way Amy steps up to the negotiations at the end of Cold Blood — and, I must say, the last ten minutes of Cold Blood were great stuff. We were out of the woods — well on our way to the happy ending and the TARDIS spinning off again — and the rules change.
|And the bad news is…|
I couldn’t help thinking, watching the last scenes with Rory and the Crack o’Doom and the TARDIS fragments that this was something of a defining moment for 11: instead of letting Amy forget (which I couldn’t help thinking would have been 10’s response, given what he did with (or to) Donna in Journey’s End), 11 fights to have her remember despite the pain he knows it will cause her: the memory is worth the pain. Being the person to remember — or to be able to remember — makes it doubly important to put the effort into remembering. If you’re the only one who knows what happened, then you have to remember; you don’t really have an option because if you forget, then no-one remembers, no-one knows,…and then what?
And all of that, of course, just makes it doubly painful when, inevitably, Amy’s memory isn’t as strong as the time energy spilling from the crack and engulfing Rory. The parallels between this and Journey’s End just seem stronger the more I think about it.
Then, of course, there’s the true humdinger of an ending — not that we couldn’t all have figured it out on our own, but the confirmation was nice to have.
Still. If you really wanted to dropkick me, Moffat, you should have had it be part of the Doctor’s coat or Amy’s necklace. Like so much else in this two-parter, it didn’t quite step up.