Review: Doctor Who – 5×9 – Cold Blood

Not bad, but not as good as it should have been

Cold Blood

In the UK: Saturday 29th May, 7pm, BBC1
In the US: Saturday 12th June, 9/8c, BBC America

Well, blimey. You could knock me down with a feather. A Chris Chibnall story that’s a very close approximation to good. Will wonders never cease?

Spoilers and general tomfoolery after the jump.

Plot
The Doctor battles to prevent an all out war between the Silurians and the humans. But as a potential apocalypse looms, the Doctor discovers an even more horrifying danger waits for him…

Was it any good?
Compared to The Hungry Earth, it was certainly a marked improvement. The pacing was better, there was very little “Chibnall character crunching” (the tendency of characters written by Chris Chibnall to do bizarre, out-of-character things purely because the plot demands they do them). There were some clever touches – the flashback from the future at the beginning, actually making sure the Doctor had a plan, the not necessarily happy endings for a bunch of character. There was even a tragic moment or two.

And yet… And yet it all felt a bit limp.

Rory
Poor old comedy relief Rory. Deaded. Never even having been born (how does that work exactly? Does his mum suddenly remember giving birth to nothing but air or something?). He had an heroic death, which was nice.

But did I care? Not really. Karen Gillan tried her best. Matt Smith tried his best. I wanted to care. It should have been sad.

But it wasn’t. Maybe it was because Rory’s penultimate act in his life was to be comic relief and get insulted by Amy – indeed, they made up most of his previous acts, too – that I wasn’t especially moved. Maybe if he’d been anything except “the bloke who hangs around with Amy and the Doctor”, it would have meant something more. Maybe if he hadn’t died in Amy’s Choice as well. Maybe if he hadn’t been zapped by a bad special effect then felt up by some glowing space tendrils. Maybe if Amy hadn’t been instantly made to forget his death and had been given time to grief, instead of just leaving the Doctor to remember – and suddenly giving him more pressing things to be worried about.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Whatever the reason, Rory’s death/departure from the show was inevitable, through a combination of series format, pre-show publicity, choice of actor, lack of character development, function within stories and more. You could see it coming – it was just a question of when and how (which isn’t to say it won’t all be reversed in the series finale). So I was prepared for the worst and the worst happened.

Plot
Then there was the plot. Good plot. Serviceable plot, with nuance and subtlety, albeit with a slightly weak ending and over-reliance on the sonic screwdriver.

It was, of course, the plot to Doctor Who and the Silurians, with great big chunks of ideas (not even the best ones) borrowed from its predecessor. The characterisations of the Silurians, the intricacies of their society, their attitudes to humans, plans to resettle in uninhabited regions of the world: all from the original.

That would be why it was good then. Chibnall-proof that.

Outside of that core plot, there were the usual huhs. I’m still not entirely sure why, when last week the Silurian scientist was clearly evil and performing dissections on humans, suddenly he was all fluffy and everyone loved him this time round. I’m not sure why Silurian venom (that’s a new one) can mutate human beings. But hey, that’s all Chris – we’d have to ask him.

Breathing space
Now, everyone used to complain a lot about Rusty and his over-emotional stuff. Me? Never. Never ever never ever never. You must be imagining that.

But I have to say, this two-parter while interesting intellectually, lacked emotions. To a certain extent, that was a combination of characters and acting. I really didn’t care about the dumb family, for example, because they were sketchily drawn at best.

But Amy’s spikiness is starting to make her feel more like The Companion than a real character. She wanders into situations, acts in unlikely ways, pays the price and nothing seems to happen. You’d think she’d be a little more circumspect by now.

The focus on action and plot, while in essence a good thing, means we no longer have those great Tenth Doctor moments, where they actually sat down and talked about emotions and relationships and how everything felt. This feels more like an adventure series, but I’m not sure I actually like that.

Series arc
The cracks are back. Not sure, again, why the Doctor can stick his hand in the cracks now, when he couldn’t back in The Time of Angels (you’ll have to ask Chris), but it looks like an exploding TARDIS might be responsible for all the bad things happening.

We’ve had a lot of moments like this, this series, with the Doctor getting a terrible revelation about the series arc. But, hey, next episode, it’s all forgotten about as we go for another exciting adventure with that wanderer in time and space known as the Doctor.

If you’re going to have a series arc that’s going to pop up in every episode, that arc basically implying the universe is in trouble, the Doctor’s going to die, and the TARDIS is going to explode, wouldn’t the Doctor be doing a tad more to investigate? Shouldn’t each episode’s plot be a little more linked to the arc, rather than featuring the occasional guest appearance?

Conclusion
While it moved along at a reasonable pace and had some good moments, The Hungry Earth never quite hit excellent – but thankfully, it never hit “complete rubbish” either. Nice to see the Silurians back, but even though this was “the one in which Rory died”, it was actually quite forgettable.

Rating: 7/10

  • The venomous tongue thing didn’t make any sense. Is this an ability that all Silurians have now? If so why didn’t the captured Silurian use her tongue (fnar) to escape captivity? (I know she had a bit of a martyr complex but COME ON)
    And a venom that doesn’t kill but mutates you into a lizardman, what? How, why? It just seemed that it was an attempt to chicken out of killing any of the guest stars.
    The Rory moment should have had impact but as he’d already been killed in the previous story, it didn’t have the same effect. Maybe they should have killed him for real in Amy’s Choice? Still, it was a moment that almost made the episode worth suffering through.
    I really hope they make some more Torchwood, if only to keep The Chib away from Doctor Who.

  • “The venomous tongue thing didn’t make any sense. Is this an ability that all Silurians have now? If so why didn’t the captured Silurian use her tongue (fnar) to escape captivity?”
    I believe it’s supposed to be an ability this bunch of Silurians has (other differences: they don’t have the magic third eye, but they have noses and breasts as well). Why the Doctor knows all about it is unexplained. As for why she didn’t use her tongue, apparently they need 24 hours to replenish their venom sacs. How the Doctor knows that, I don’t know.

  • SK

    Maybe, maybe, maybe.
    Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
    I thought the same as last week: competent, nothing terribly wrong with it, but nothing terribly affecting ot memorable or, well, good, either. The plot from Doctor Who and the Silurians (will nobody get the title right?) was rather wasted as the running time meant that it had to be zipped through at double-fast speed, meaning there wasn’t time for any of the subtlety of the original where characters’ actions had understandable motivations: instead you have The Good Silurian and the Bad Silurian, the Good Humans and the Bad Human, and the Good ones are good just because they are Good and the Bad ones Bad simply because the plot demands that there be Baddies On Each Side (they almost manage something deeper with the granddad who is willing to betray his race for a cure, but that goes nowhere, or the daughter’s killing of the pretty Silurian being an accident, but that isn’t brought up again — while you’d think that when they bring the body down they might say ‘there was a terrible accident’ they don,t because she can’t have been careless and angry, she has to be BAD). But then that may also be a function of the Chibnaliser rather than the running time.
    I was surprised by Rory’s death — it was obvious that he’d be got rid of, but I think I was still lulled by Davies’ self-confessed (in The Writer’s Tale) inability to kill any major character (as opposed to promising to do so and then chickening out). Tacked onto the end of an uninvolving episode, and being so badly done (I’m going to go out on a limb and claim there is no way to direct ‘X pushes Y out of the way of a weapon and gets shot instead’ — has such a thing ever happened in real life?), it lacked the impact it probably should have done. But intellectually it does make me wonder where the series is going, as clearly it’s going to have an impact later on (this whole series’ over-story being about how things from the past keep turning up to have an effect after you’ve forgotten about them).
    My strongest impression, though, is how disappointed I was to see the return of the sonic screwdriver being used as a gun, all too common throughout Tennant’s era. Indeed, I think the screwdriver was used as an active device (as opposed to passive information-gatherer, apparently its normal role under Moffat) more times in these two episode than in the entire series up to now; but even that wouldn’t have been so bad if they hadn’t had him shoot his enemies’ guns out of their hands with it.

  • DOPEaddict

    Is there simply not enough time for The Moff to exert some quality control over the scripts? The gulf between his and the rest is troubling, to say the least. I really like Rory but felt nothing, and this week’s characters were unlikable and one-dimensional. Oh well, still more enjoyable than most of what I watch on tv.

  • Chris S.

    The whole “erased from time” thing makes no sense. So, okay, Rory never existed. In Amy’s new reality, he isn’t there in The Eleventh Hour to reveal where Prisoner Zero is getting its shapes from and thus set up the finale. He isn’t her fiancé, so she doesn’t run off with the Doctor to postpone the mundane life their marriage represents to her. There is now absolutely no reason for them to have gone to Venice. And the Dream Lord wins, because Amy no longer has any choice to make in Amy’s Choice.
    This would all make a bit more sense, and have been clever and a little chilling, if the Doctor and Amy had gone back into the TARDIS after Rory bought it and found Geoff waiting for them. And later saw older versions of her and Geoff watching them from the top of the hill.

  • On the Doctor’s lethargy:
    Well, yes. But again, people are assuming that the cracks are just happening to appear. I’ve always thought that he’s seeking them out. He knows where they’ll appear and taking the TARDIS to intercept. In other words, he’s lying. A lot.

  • stu-n

    For Rory’s disappearance making no sense, this comment might be helpful.
    ‘People think time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but seen from the outside it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff.’
    Having said that, I thought it was fairly awful, although not knuckle-biting bad. That’s the New Chibnality, I suppose.
    The Silurian Doctor Mengele was just… weird. The Doctor kinda loves him, although he and his family have been doing vivisection on humans for centuries? No.
    The Silurians will sleep for a thousand years – and wake up just as the surface of the planet is destroyed by solar flares? Or have we forgotten The Beast Below already? No.
    Amy’s falling asleep in the peace talks? No.
    The whole concept of the peace talks? No.
    People live in the Sahara and the Outback, you know. No.
    The Crack being shoehorned in right at the end, with no impact on the rest of the story? Shoddy. The Moff showed how to do it in Flesh & Stone.
    Smith continues to knock it out of the park, even with lousy material, but his performance is pretty subtle, compared with Ecclescake’s gurning-and-shouting and Tennant’s wide-eyed shocked face. The emotional kick of the Rusty era *is* missing, but that slipped over into mawkishness far too often for me. What we need is Family of Blood/crying-Bernard-Cribbins emotion; we need to avoid Martha-wuvs-the-Doctor/WeirdClingyRose emotion.
    Still, I’m Trusting The Moff. What I’m worried about is that you could probably just watch his episodes and lose the rest, and not really miss much so far.

  • This was the worst of the new series so far for me, for all of the reasons mentioned above. I don’t really get why Rory got to be killed twice. It lost its impact second time around. Kept thinking he’d sit up and say, Got you! Also, it was all the Doc’s fault he got killed. And couldn’t work out why the Doc then allowed his body to disappear. They had time to get it back in the tardis.
    I agree with Stu-n about the emotional stuff too, I prefer it understated, but here it was perhaps so understated you could have been forgiven for thinking no one cared. Rory’s death reminded me a bit of any of the deaths in Harry Potter – you’re supposed to care, but they happen in the middle of action, so you move swiftly on and don’t think of it again. I think he & Amy both deserved a bit better.
    Hope that the Van Gogh episode is better. It looks fun, certainly…

  • “But again, people are assuming that the cracks are just happening to appear. I’ve always thought that he’s seeking them out. He knows where they’ll appear and taking the TARDIS to intercept. In other words, he’s lying. A lot.”
    Thing is, does he KNOW he’s ‘chasing’ the cracks ‘intentionally’ (timewy-wimey, not sure if he knows now or in the future)… mind starts to ache but interesting point about him lying.

  • stu-n

    By the way, the clips of the next episode look very promising, although the extremely Scots Vincent is a little strange. I imagine some people here will enjoy the accent, though. Mentioning no names, especially not Rullsenberg.

  • “By the way, the clips of the next episode look very promising, although the extremely Scots Vincent is a little strange. I imagine some people here will enjoy the accent, though. Mentioning no names, especially not Rullsenberg.”
    HA HA. Could you be implying sir that I have a penchant for Scottish actors?! Shame on you for…
    oh, hang on. You’re right. Yeah. A Scottish Vincent won’t disturb me much.

  • MediumRob

    “I’ve always thought that he’s seeking them out. He knows where they’ll appear and taking the TARDIS to intercept. In other words, he’s lying. A lot.”
    There is that possibility, which I mentioned a while back, and certainly if it comes true, it’ll be an interesting series arc. But it does mean that Amy is having to be ever so trusting (“Hey, Doc, why are we doing this rather than trying to work out what caused the cracks?”) which is out of character. And having the Doctor lying to his companion(s) at every turn would be a new wrinkle in his character, too.
    My suspicion is that the cracks are appearing where the TARDIS lands because they’re caused by future TARDIS exploding and the ripples going back to previous locations the TARDIS visited (although who knows if it’s the TARDIS, rather than a split off version, say…)

  • SK

    The Doctor lying to his companions wouldn’t so much be a new wrinkle as going back to the good old days, though (what we really need, now, is for Amy to develop an urge to blow stuff up).
    The ‘rippling back through places the TARDIS has visited’ explanation is the best one I’ve seen: ‘following the cracks’ doesn’t quite work because the first couple of times he leaves before seeing the crack, I think.

  • stu-n

    “My suspicion is that the cracks are appearing where the TARDIS lands because they’re caused by future TARDIS exploding and the ripples going back to previous locations the TARDIS visited (although who knows if it’s the TARDIS, rather than a split off version, say…)”
    That does explain those ‘The Doctor in the Tardis doesn’t know’ remarks, doesn’t it?

  • I’ve always held that the Doctor is a big fat liar. LOL He lies about his age, he lied about his parentage (probably just to get laid – that was the Eighth Doctor’s “personality quirk”), he lies about “sliding” between dimensions. Actually I prefer that he is – gives him an interesting shade of gray….

  • And there are anomalies from earlier in the series, like Amy sending a message back to herself (how? Not explained) in episode 2, & the doctor returning (on his own?) in the second Weeping Angels, episode, which suggests some strange timey wimey stuff is going on. I read your sentence several times, Rob, and it still made my head hurt(-: I quite like the idea of a lying doctor too, but why does he lie?

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