Series 5, Episode 9: Cold Blood

There are fixed points in time, but this isn’t one of them. This is a tipping point.”

After last week’s prolonged set up, this week we got action aplenty – almost too much to cram into one episode, but a satisfying conclusion to the thorny problems established in part one. Humanity vs Homo Reptilia – both had a legitimate claim to the Earth and neither were monsters. Both were right, and wrong. It’s the kind of tricky moral problem that gives each new Doctor a chance to show us his own moral strength by attempting to resolve the dilemma; like Tom Baker in Genesis of the Daleks, or most notably Jon Pertwee in the original Doctor Who and the Silurians.

Chris Chibnall has said in interviews that the first thing he did to prepare for writing this story was to read Malcolm Hulke’s novelisation of that original story, published as Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters (the very first Who book ever bought by a very young me, fact fans). You can tell; what he’s done with the Silurians here is create the exact same set of character dynamics. Just as in Hulke’s original, we have the wise, moderate elderly leader, the young, hotheaded warmonger and the dispassionate scientist. The scientist this time turned out to be sympathetic to humanity, taking care of their young, which was a nice touch. Mind you, it was difficult to square this with Mo’s assertion at the end of the last episode that he had been dissected while conscious. I would have preferred it if Malohkeh had started off unconcerned with these mere animals but gradually persuaded that they were intelligent creatures with as much right to dignity as he did, rather like Zira in Planet of the Apes. But there was so much story to pack in that the niceties of such subtle development would have had little room to grow.

Stephen Moore played wise old Eldane with the perfect degree of sympathy, though he was perhaps a little too sympathetic to the humans from the outset, given the scenario. His voiceover at the opening of the episode (a very Russell T touch) undercut a lot of the tension immediately by demonstrating that the Silurians, and he himself, would survive the proceedings. I’ve never cared for this kind of portentous voiceover, even with the deliberate attempt to mislead the audience. But Moore’s mellifluous tones did at least lend the story a real gravitas from the outset – even to those of us for whom he is, inescapably, the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android.

Neve McIntosh built on her fearsome performance last week to give us not one but two aggressive warmongers. Alaya got the martyr’s death she so obviously longed for, but her role as chief antagonist was supplanted this week by Restac, an even bolder performance as the scar faced warrior chief. Chris Chibnall seemed to be working towards the same ‘caste’ system shown in Warriors of the Deep, when Silurians were the leaders and thinkers and Sea Devils were the warriors. It was actually better developed here (though it could hardly have been worse than Warriors of the Deep), and we got a glimpse at a society that had some real depth – politics, a caste system, a scientific and aesthetic culture. It’s just a shame that such depth had to be represented by only three characters, although to be fair Chibnall managed to show more of the Silurian society than Malcolm Hulke did with the similar limitation of three representatives.  The Sea Devils got even shorter shrift in their debut story – only one of them had a speaking role!

Restac was most obviously reminiscent of Star Trek’s Klingons in her impassioned warmongering, and the other end of the scale was nicely represented by Eldane and Richard Hope’s almost cuddly Malohkeh. Still, it was hard to see how a balance of power was maintained with masses of warriors and no other scientists or politicians in sight. The big reveal of the city at the end of part one had led you to think that here was a very well-populated settlement of Homo Reptilia, but we then discovered that comparatively few had awoken from hibernation, and all the hibernating reptiles were warriors. The script didn’t extrapolate, but I for one would like to know why they had such a huge army millions of years before humanity was any kind of threat. Perhaps they weren’t quite the noble civilisation the Doctor like to portray them as.

And neither was humanity. The debates were handled well, with the Doctor, as before in the original story, trying his best to act as intermediary. But as with the original story, we got the sense that the Doctor was being a little too idealistic in his bigging up of humanity. So it proved, with Alaya being killed to almost provoke the war she was so keen on by Ambrose, whose well-meaning attempts to protect her family almost doomed the planet. It was a nice portrayal of the road to hell being built on good intentions, and Ambrose’s obvious remorse did show humanity to have more of a conscience than the reptile warriors, but it was obviously all going to go as badly as it did in 1970. At least there was no Brigadier on hand to blow them to smithereens this time.

The resolution was satisfying without being as dramatic as I’d hoped. Once again, the Doctor, this time with the Silurian leader’s agreement, decided that neither species were ready to live together in peace. After halting Restac’s CG-driven palace revolution with a handy gas decontamination procedure (another nod to Warriors of the Deep? Surely not), Eldane put his people back into hibernation with the alarm set for a thousand years time. The voiceover at least implied that this would be successful, presumably with the aid of young Elliot in spreading awareness of their existence – although UNIT have known about them for a long time and don’t seem to have bothered telling anyone. It’s rather a heavy burden for one little boy to prepare the planet for peaceful co-existence.

All the character arcs were at least nicely resolved. Tony Mack would stay with the Silurians to be cured of his venom infection, and Nasreen would stay with him, building on the hints of romance between them in the first part. Robert Pugh and Meera Syal played both parts well, particularly Syal who managed to balance her usual comic persona with some real drama. Nonetheless, I had to wonder whether they knew what they were letting themselves in for. Perhaps a sequel story could show the far more epic emergence of Homo Reptilia in the future, with the baffled Tony and Nasreen acting as ambassadors? Nice thought, but probably unlikely to happen.

The conclusion to the story proper was somewhat undermined, however, by the appearance, yet again, of Amy’s crack (chortle). Not that this wasn’t, in itself, a very dramatic sequence, it’s just that when the pace is at its highest, this sequence seemed to rather unbalance the dynamic of the story. It’s unlikely to be any fault of Chris Chibnall’s though, and this scene did at least neatly tie in to the actual story with Rory sacrificing his own life to save the Doctor from the dying Restac.

Even though it didn’t arise from the story proper, the ultimate fate of Rory is, I suspect, going to the most memorable sequence in the two-parter. Surely even those who initially disliked him must have warmed to the character by now, and his sudden death was totally unexpected. And not just his death; with the time energy leaking out of the Crack, he’s been erased from ever having existed. The sequence of the Doctor desperately trying to keep his memory in Amy’s mind was a real lump in the throat moment, as was the moment on the hillside when she clearly had forgotten Rory was ever there. But that engagement ring’s still in the TARDIS, and we’ve still to resolve the issue of the Crack. I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility to imagine that Rory will be back, and it’s a measure of how much I liked the character that I really hope he is.

So, Crack aside, what we got was a workmanlike and occasionally inspired remake of Doctor Who and the Silurians. And there’s nothing really wrong with that; an actual sequel would, like Warriors of the Deep, have had the additional problem of explaining the concept to a new audience. Effectively revamping their origin story was a far easier approach, and I liked that Chibnall kept the ‘approaching Moon’ plot point as the reason Homo Reptilia went into hibernation. I also liked that the script, at least in this episode, always referred to them as Homo Reptilia; while I’ve read that it may not be entirely taxonomically correct, it’s a sight more valid than ‘Silurians’ or ‘Eocenes’. And it was apparently Chibnall that specified that their guns should look like the ones from The Sea Devils. I like that attention to detail.

Better than last week, though the two-parter as a whole was rather badly structured, Cold Blood was an enjoyable episode, and one of Chris Chibnall’s best scripts, though somehow I was expecting a more epic conclusion than the traditional Pertwee-style explosion. But it was thoughtful, well-acted and left the viewer with a lot to chew on, and that’s the mark of a good story. Not a classic, at least in my opinion, but certainly good. And with the big reveal that the Crack contains bits of the disintegrated TARDIS, some ominous foreshadowings of things to come…

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