Doctor Who #851: Cold Blood

"This is the story of our planet, Earth. Of the day a thousand years past when we came to share it with a race know as Humanity."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 29 2010.

IN THIS ONE... Negotiations between the Silurians and Humanity are going well, and then Ambrose does a bad bad thing. Oh yeah, and Rory is erased from History.

REVIEW: Frustrating is probably the watch word here. I'm frustrated by some of the lazy writing on display, though that's nothing new, specifically the conveniences that keep Amy from getting killed, not once but twice, the hijack of an unplugged computer screen as a two-way communications device, and Nasreen being such a non-character she can make choices entirely based on her not having a life outside this story. In the same vein, I'm frustrated with the Silurian military and how unreasonable it is in every way, holding Humanity to a complete double standard. Giving the males of the species all the charm and open-mindedness is NOT the same as drawing a three-dimensional culture. You've got 2D warriors and 2D scientists/diplomats with opposing views, which doesn't amount to a 3D people. And I'm frustrated, like most everyone else I think, with Ambrose, who's mamma bear attitude almost causes a war. Her reactions are probably the most realistic, of course, but characters that continually disobey the Doctor and refuse to act in everyone's best interests come off as stupid and irrational. That's in the program's DNA. But writer Chris Chibnall overdoes it. Looking at Cold Blood today, I'm reversing my position on Ambrose. Somewhat. It's clear she doesn't WANT to use the taser on Alaya, and it's the Silurian that keeps throwing itself at the weapon so she'll be killed and trigger her war against the apes. Given how tough these creatures are, I don't think Ambrose would even have thought a taser would kill it. An accidental death, though yes, as a result of torture. Kind of. It's what comes after that's really frustrating. Everyone recoils from Ambrose and the Doctor keeps hammering her on not being the best of humanity, right up to her last scene. It's like he's trying to drive her to suicide, or something. Ambrose doesn't help her case by shouting at the world and refusing all diplomatic contact with Homo Reptilia, but again, that's on Chibnall. It's the old "Humanity is the real monster" chestnut, but it's not really fair for a scared woman standing to lose husband, son and father on the same day, to be the symbol for it.

As for the notion that if not on 2020, at least in 3020, the Silurians might come to share the Earth with Humanity, well, that's a frustration unto itself. I originally thought it was good time frame for those events because Human Empire stories set in and around that millennium talk about Earth as almost a legend. By the 4000s, there had been an Ice Age which may well have driven the reptiles off Earth. But we don't actually need to fit it into past continuity, do we? The talk of unfixed, tipping points from which a whole new timeline can arise, is completely unlike anything heard on the show before. I'm not sure it makes sense. Does he mean it creates a parallel that leaves the original timeline intact (eating one's cake and eating it too, because it goes to reason, there's somehow a version of events where peace wasn't achieved), or does a Silurian Earth have zero long-term impact on history and future "fixed points"? Like parentheses in history where you can change loads with affecting the balance? It's not all that clear.

Temporally, we also have Rory getting eaten by a crack and ceasing to have ever existed. Well okay, but the rules of the game keep changing. The Doctor is able to touch the erasing light and reach into the crack to pull out a piece of TARDIS. It's a spooky moment that doesn't really pay off in the near future (it's own kind of frustration), but at odds with what happens immediately after. Because Rory's erasure is such a big plot point, we often forget he would have died anyway, taking a lethal blast for the Doctor. Is that why the Doctor is so keen on leaving right away? To erase Rory's death in the hopes of saving him by one day fixing the cracks? So now the cracks have energy tendrils that unravel your life, and though time travelers could remember the lost before, Amy forgets Rory this time. He's part of her personal (read as "pre-time travel") history, okay, I'll buy that. But the engagement ring stays? Protected by the TARDIS maybe? Maybe. As often happens in Moffat's era, audience response tends to intellectual puzzle-solving more than emotion, and the eventual answers don't always warrant the effort. AND of course, big crazy happenings like this kind of undermine the episode that went before.

My original review, 10 and 1 Things About The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, covers points from both parts of this story.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Again, it's fine, and even important in Moffat's canon, but the plot holes are (that word again) frustrating.


Andrew Gilbertson said...

"holding Humanity to a complete double standard."
That's Silurian 101. Remember the Sea Devils, where the Sea Devils agree to a truce, get depth-charged because they haven't actually told the humans about the true they've just that moment agreed to yet, and then get furious at the humans for breaking the truce and declare its war to the death? :-)

I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds this episode frustrating, the Silurians written as unreasonable, and the plot a re-tread of every other Silurian story ever. I'd add to that loathing the new Silurian designs (the whole POINT was that they are utterly alien, as grotesque and unrelatable to us as we are to them; that's what made the exploration of prejudice so strong, while these new Silurians lack it so completely madame Vastra can waltz around Victorian London and people who see her without a veil just assume she has a skin condition) and aggravation with the Doctor. Have you ever noticed he gets a 'whose side are you on' complex in Silurian episodes? Sometimes it seems like he's actually TRYING to provoke a war, saying things like "You can't hope to match their strength!" (just insult their manhood and double-dog-dare them to fight to the death while you're at it) or, in this case "...Humans killed them." Not "They attempted to commit plague-warfare genocide and were killed in the counter-assault" or "They declared war against ridiculously-superior numbers and I rigged a device to explode and they were wiped out," but "humans killed them."

It's kind of like running into a German soldier in the woods after WWII who doesn't believe the war's really ended, and in trying to talk him down, saying "I knew a great German leader once... British aggression drove him to suicide" because you saw Hitler shoot himself when the Allies were closing in. It's the worst possible way to phrase such a statement, leaving out major pertinent facts, and casting the people you're supposed to advocate for in the worst possible light.

And the Doctor does it in EVERY pre-Vastra Silurian story.

Chibnall overdoes it indeed.


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