Doctor Who: Review supplemental on Cold Blood
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
As usual, John Bensalhia does nothing by halves, and reviews both The Hungry Earth & Cold Blood here...[SPOILERS]
From the opening moments of The Hungry Earth, you could be forgiven that you've stumbled upon a 21st century update of Born And Bred. Lush, peaceful countryside. Happy nuclear family. And all from the pen of creator Chris Chibnall. If I'm being honest, I was a bit apprehensive about this two-parter, since Chibnall's track record in the Doctor Who world hasn't exactly been stellar. 42 was essentially 42 minutes of relentless noise and grime, and not much else. And some of his Torchwood contributions were shaky to say the least - yeah, Cyberwoman and Countrycide, I'm looking at you. Luckily, though, this double whammy episode proved to be one of the most dramatic of the new season so far.
The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood should please the fans of the Classic Series. There are neat homages to Frontios (the earth dragging its hapless victims down underground), and more than a tip of the hat to the Pertwee era. The Silurians and The Sea Devils aside, we get a drilling project (Inferno), a Welsh mining village (The Green Death) and an enforced energy barrier (The Daemons). Even Tony's infection harks back to the body horror images of the Hinchcliffe years, when stories such as The Ark In Space and The Seeds Of Doom reigned supreme.
Oh, and in true Adric style, a companion dies. More on this later.
The two parter is initially a slow-burner. The Hungry Earth establishes the menace, and gradually builds up the suspense with the loss of Amy, the discovery of Alaya, and Tony's infection. However, Cold Blood ramps up the tension and foreboding and never lets the viewer go until the credits have been shrunk at the end. As soon as The Doctor demands that there is no death today, you just know that the proverbial is somehow going to hit the fan.
"As soon as The Doctor demands that there is no death today, you just know that the proverbial is somehow going to hit the fan"
Like all great Doctor Who stories, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood works on more than one level. Younger viewers can revel in the thrills and spills of the monsters and the action, while older viewers can not only enjoy the fast pace, but the moral issues that the story poses. One main theme of this story is the fallibility of individuals, and how their actions can have devastating consequences. With that in mind, to my tiny brain, four principal characters make serious errors of judgement.
Take Alaya and Restac (superbly played by Neve McIntosh). Both cannot suppress their warrior instincts. Alaya is taken captive, and used as a hostage by The Doctor in order to make a deal with the Silurians into freeing the captured Northovers and Amy. However, Alaya's warrior instincts make her something of a loose cannon. She decides to start goading Ambrose, taunting her about her father, her husband and her son. She pushes Ambrose to the limit, and naturally, she ends up dead. And likewise, the warrior Restac cannot see a way to meeting a peace with the human race. She protects her own, and is prepared to resort to bloodshed in order to prevent this from happening. And when she finds that Alaya is dead, this only makes a bad situation very nasty indeed. Naturally, this all comes to a head, when Restac, ignoring instructions to stay away from the toxic gas, takes revenge on the figurehead, The Doctor - without reckoning that a certain bumbling companion would take the bullet instead.
This personality trait of looking after your own is also in Ambrose Northover (a name that sounds like a new brand name of rice pudding for toffs). Ambrose is essentially the catalyst for the breakdown of the proposed deal between the Silurians and the humans. It's debatable whether both sides could have agreed. While both Nasreen and Amy were initially sceptical of Eldane, his promises of helping the human race to progress in advancements of science looked like they could have made an impression. Unfortunately, Ambrose is also something of a loose cannon, and her reason for shooting Alaya, regardless of whether she was looking out for her family, meant that the deal was in tatters the moment Tony brought Alaya's corpse before the Silurians.
And believe it or not, The Doctor's overwhelming obsession with curiosity doesn't end well. OK, let's cut him some slack - the ever-present threat of The Crack means that he has to investigate. But in his overriding mission to find 'shrapnel', he forgets to shoo Amy and Rory into the TARDIS. And in that moment of madness, he hadn't reckoned on a vengeful Restac. Four people who make mistakes - very human mistakes at that, and of course, this all culminated in the death of Rory.
Rory's death was a very brave move on the part of the production team. The accompanying Confidential included a shot of Steven Moffatt saying how the happy TARDIS team, fresh from a run of dangerous but thrilling adventures, had to be shaken up. All this was signposted from the moment that Rory said that he put his trust in The Doctor. And when Amy and Rory saw their 'future' selves waving from a distance, that strong confidence that they couldn't die was inevitably going to come back and haunt them.
"There's an awful lot packed into this story. Chris Chibnall's script is marvellous - it's not only full of thrills 'n' spills, but full of great characterisation."
Rory's death is even more hard-hitting when it turns out that he's absorbed by The Crack, and erased from existence. Every memory that Amy had, every experience that she had with Rory is gone - despite The Doctor's urgent pleas to remember. Without this scene, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood is a gripping enough tale, but Rory's death takes a great story and turns it into a modern classic.
Fantastic stuff, and apart from this conclusion, there's an awful lot packed into this story. Chris Chibnall's script is marvellous - it's not only full of thrills 'n' spills, but full of great characterisation.
He has cited the adapatation of Malcolm Hulke's Doctor Who And The Cave Monsters, which boasted some deep, well written character portraits of both humans and Silurians. The Silurians are well catered for here - the warrior Alaya and Restac aside, we have the scientist Malokeh and the warrior Eldane, the modern-day equivalents of the Silurian Scientist and the Old Silurian. Both Richard Hope and Stephen Moore are very good indeed, although I'm not so sure about the rather pointless voiceovers from Eldane, which to me, just seemed a bit misplaced.
"Meera Syal's Nasreen is one of the best guests so far. Syal is totally on the money as Nasreen. She's forthright without being too feisty"
On the human front, Meera Syal's Nasreen is one of the best guests so far. Syal is totally on the money as Nasreen. She's forthright without being too feisty. Intelligent and open-minded enough but knows when to call it a day (she agrees to her life's work going up in flames). And just when you think she's going to rebuff Tony's advances, she ultimately agrees to stay with him at the end. It's a well-rounded, well thought out character, and Syal's portrayal is just as well studied. Top marks too to Robert Pugh as Tony and Nia Roberts as the misguided but loyal family woman Ambrose.
And let's not forget the regulars who get some notable action to get their teeth into. Karen Gillan is admittedly under-used in The Hungry Earth, but her reaction to Rory's death is very well-played, and her final ignorance of what's happened is also effective. Matt Smith's Doctor continues to impress, with not only his usual mix of giraffe-like awkwardness and old-man-in-young-man's-body wisdom (his initial sit-down chat with Alaya is notably excellent), but with a rarely seen side of vulnerability. His reaction at Rory's death is also well acted, and for one moment, before he makes his shocking discovery at the very end of the episode, it looks like he's on the verge of tears. Or maybe it's just my bad eyesight.
Arthur Darvill thankfully gets one last gasp of greatness, and his swansong shows that there's more to Rory than just babbling worry. His fury at The Doctor for losing Amy to the earth is a notable moment, and yet in Cold Blood, we see that despite this, he trusts The Doctor with his life - to the point where he's willing to sacrifice this to help save the Time Lord.
The production values of The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood are also worthy of note. The lush foliage of the underground Silurian base is superbly realised, as is the Silurian make-up. Excellent direction too, from Ashley Way - those Silurian POV shots are a nice nod back to the days when we saw the world from Voc Robot or Rutan eyes.
Overall, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood is a triumph, and easily Chibnall's most successful contribution to date. There's one all-important mystery yet to be resolved though. Be careful of what secrets you uncover, as The Doctor finds to his alarm, when the shrapnel he finds turns out to be a charred fragment of the TARDIS. That can't be good, can it? Especially with the two-part finale only three weeks away
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