Thursday, June 03, 2010

Doctor Who - Cold Blood

Warning: This recap contains spoilers. And I mean huge spoilers, so do not read it unless you've seen the episode.

Usually I start these off by talking about the events of the episode in something like a chronological order, discussing themes and ideas along the way. I'd like to break away from that this week to address a criticism I've read about this series, which will then lead to the major event that occurred at the very end of Cold Blood.

A few weeks ago, I read an article online (which I now for the life of me cannot find) in which the writer criticised the current series for a lack of deaths. Admittedly, the article was based on the first three episodes of the show, before we got to the death-and-erasure from time heavy two-parter The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone, but they had a point. Russell T. Davies, for all his flaws as a showrunner and writer, did know how to up the stakes by killing a few innocent bystanders now and then to keep things interesting. Some of these deaths didn't make sense, such as Kylie Minogue's in that rubbish Christmas special a few years back, and the frequency with which supporting characters died could actually decrease the peril of the show by essentially saying, "Well, millions of people can die, but the Doctor and Rose/Martha/Donna will never be harmed," but it was an effective tool.

This week, though, we saw the culmination of what seems like Moffat's strategy all along, as the death of Amy's boyfriend Rory (Arthur Darvill) was easily the most emotionally devastating moment of the current run. Everything about it was beautifully handled; Rory's sacrifice to save The Doctor, his last conversation with Amy and, the kicker, having Amy forget all about him when one of the cracks in time devoured his body. The lack of death in the series beforehand made his sudden departure all the more shocking and effective. If that was Moffat's plan all along, then bravo.

As for the episode itself, it was a mixed bag. As with the first episode, there was a lot of stuff I liked in it, but the whole was not the sum of its parts. The reintroduction of a pet theme of the show, humanity's capacity for good, and how the failure to live up to the best of the species will ultimately undo us, was welcomed, especially since it operated on both grand and small scales.

The bigger picture was about the chance for humans and Silurians to share the Earth and avoid war. The way in which the negotiations crept by tiny steps towards some form of a solution based on the similarities of the beings involved was heartening, and it was nice to see that 'the best of humanity' in the episode was basic kindness and decency, rather than outgoing heroics. The Silurians even got in on the act, with Malohkeh, the Silurian who was prepared to dissect Amy at the beginning of the episode, emerging as a very compassionate scientist whose actions stemmed from a curiosity that made him seem like a kindred spirit to The Doctor. His death midway through the episode, when the militant Silurians who wanted to wage war rebelled, was surprisingly moving because of how much time the episode invested in showing him to be just quite a nice guy.

On a much smaller scale, it was about the willingness of the characters to do what they felt was best, and how things began to unravel when a rash act committed with the best intentions - Ambrose killing the captive Silurian - undid everything by giving the radical Silurians the chance to seek revenge. This ultimately culminated in Rory throwing himself in front of a laser intended for The Doctor, but prior to that we got to see Tony (Robert Pugh), with venom pumping through his veins, trying to be civil to the Silurian who poisoned him, the deciding to stay underground with Nasreen (Meera Syal) in order to work with the Silurians.

I also found the idea of a 'temporal tipping point', a moment in time when things are not set in stone but can go any number of ways, really quite interesting. Doctor Who has never encumbered itself with pretensions of profundity - it's happy to be a piece of escapist entertainment and I am happy to watch it as such. But this does throw up questions of free will and determinism that are really key to the very notion of time travel and, more importantly, the role of a character like The Doctor, who journeys through time and space to help people. Is he predestined to help them, or does he operate outside of time and, as a result, is able to alter events so that they go in the right direction? It's something that I've often wondered, mainly because the show has always played so loosely with its own chronology and continuity that you can't help but ask these questions if you're paying attention, so the idea of tipping points does seem to provide the show with a perfect loophole; The Doctor can't interfere - he can't go back and stop The Daleks from being created, for example - but if he recognises that he is at a point where things can change, it is imperative that he does whatever he can.

So, I liked a lot of the ideas in the episode, but the execution felt clumsy. Not as clumsy as last week, which tried to juggle so many ideas that it eventually dropped most of them, but still very inelegant compared to some of the other episodes this year. I think my main problem was that, having set up the need for humans and Silurians to talk it out and reach an agreement by the middle of the episode, then destroyed that chance for peace soon after, the rest of the episode consisted of getting things back to the status quo.

The elder of the Silurians, aghast at the prospect of war, offers to release a toxic gas that will force all the militant ones to choose between dying or going into suspended animation until such a time as humans and Silurians would be able to work together. This would allow everyone else to escape, and put things back the way they were at the start of the previous episode, except with a few less humans on the surface, and with those left on top having a greater knowledge about the world. It just felt really anticlimactic building up to a point of conflict, then retreating like that.

So, not one of my favourites of the series so far, but that last couple of minutes just - just - about redeems it. As does the reveal at the end that The Doctor was able to extract a piece of broken and burned TARDIS from the crack in time, suggesting that exciting and terrible things await the Timelord in the near future.

Rating (as a single episode): 7/10 (5/10 if you discount the last five minutes)
Rating (as part of a whole): 6/10