“Cold Blood” completes the two-part story of the clash between the Silurians—a species of intelligent reptiles that long ago dominated the Earth—and present-day humanity, showing the two sides being unable to overcome their seemingly irreconcilable differences. For the most part, the story quite closely follows the path taken by the original Silurian story (called, surprisingly enough, “Doctor Who and the Silurians”) forty years ago. However, there’s a real sting in the tail, courtesy of the overarching plot arc of this season, the “crack in the universe” that seems to be following the Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy (Karen Gillan), and Rory (Arthur Darvill) wherever they go. Previously, the crack had been most prominent in “Flesh and Stone”, where indeed it provided the actual resolution of that story’s threat; here it simply arrives as an appendix to the main story. But more of that later.
Last week, I was rather harsh toward the first episode of this story, “The Hungry Earth”, finding it somewhat lacking in meaningful plot (there was lots of action, but little of it relevant) and serving mainly as a prologue to set up the actual humans-versus-Silurians story.
Its purpose was to create and isolate a small group of humans which could then, in this episode, be placed in conflict with an equally small group of Silurians. The two groups serve as proxies for their respective races, enabling the story to at least attempt to address present world-spanning issues without trying to depict a full-scale inter-species conflict that would be impossible to show on the canvas of a television series. Indeed, apart from the odd CGI vista here and there to create a sense of scale, this story could more or less be told with the resources of the old Doctor Who series—specifically, the Jon Pertwee era, from which it draws so much inspiration.
One of the attractive attributes of the Silurians in their original story was the way they were depicted not as a horde of identical monsters, but as actual characters, with individual motives and disagreements among themselves as to the best way to deal with the humans. The writer of this story, Chris Chibnall, has reused this idea—not that this was visible last week, since we only saw one Silurian, the warrior Alaya (Neve McIntosh), who was captured by the Doctor in order to give the humans a hostage to exchange for Amy and the others who had previously been taken by the reptiles. Kept under guard, Alaya proves to be totally hostile to the “apes” (as she contemptuously refers to them), taking a perverse delight in taunting Ambrose (Nia Roberts) and her father Tony (Robert Pugh) with the Silurians’ abduction of Ambrose’s husband and son, and the fact that the venom she stung Tony with earlier is slowly killing him. She aspires to martyrhood, being totally willing to die in the belief that it will ignite a war in which her people will reclaim the surface. In one of the high points of the episode, she manages to goad Ambrose into repeatedly attacking her with some kind of taser-like weapon until she gets the death she so eagerly sought. Ambrose’s horrified realization that she may have destroyed the chance for a peaceful resolution, even as she defends her actions (“I just want my family back”), is very effective.
Once we get down to the Silurian city, the reptiles become more complex. The leader of the warriors, Restac, soon captures the Doctor and Nasreen (Meera Syal), who were drawn down to the city in the TARDIS. Her desire to revive all of her soldiers from hibernation and lead a war to reclaim the surface brings her into conflict with the scientist Malohkeh (Richard Hope), who doesn’t share her instinctive hostility to the humans. He’s not exactly a warm, cuddly character, as he is quite happy to experiment on the captured humans in the interests of science, but when Restac overreaches her authority he takes action against her by reviving the ruler of the city, Eldane—whose calm, reasonable tones are provided by Stephen Moore, well known to sci-fi fans as the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The conflict between the three Silurians—the wise elder, the young firebrand, and the pragmatic scientist—is a direct reflection of the original Silurian story. Its outcome, though, is different: In the original, the youngster killed the old leader in a coup and began a direct attack on the humans, which led directly to the final disaster. Here, Restac rather vindictively has Malohkeh shot by her warriors, but Eldane has her measure, and ends up finding a way to defeat her.
Throughout this story, both humans and Silurians are always bringing out the worst in each other, ignoring the Doctor’s exhortations to find common ground and rise above their conflict. Both sides have valid grievances—undeniably the Silurians attacked the humans first, but then we find out the Silurians were only awakened in the first place by the threat to their city posed by the humans’ drilling. Chibnall sharpens the conflict further with the capture of family members on both sides—it turns out that Restac and Alaya are from the same “gene chain” (which of course also, conveniently, allows them both to be played by Neve McIntosh). The lack of a clear division between “good guys” and “bad guys” is the best thing about the story—both species have a valid claim to the planet and are going to have to find some way to share it.
The episode makes the interesting choice to slightly distance itself from the viewer by starting with a voiceover narration from Eldane (which returns in the middle, and again at the end) which immediately introduces a sense of scale and importance to the proceedings:
Eldane: “This is the story of our planet, Earth. Of the day a thousand years past when we came to share it with a race known as humanity. It is the story of the Doctor, who helped our races find common ground, and the terrible losses he suffered. It is the story of our past, and must never be forgotten.”
I found that one effect of the narration was to introduce an element of doubt into my mind as to how I expected the story to go. If you imagine the episode without it, even without knowing how previous Silurian stories have ended, it seems inevitable that everything will completely fall apart from the moment the Doctor tells Rory and the others to come down to the Silurian base and to bring Alaya with them, not knowing that Alaya is already dead. The opening narration, however, implied a successful resolution to the conflict, which intrigued me—not least because it would be a far-reaching change to the present-day world of the show, even more so than the way the existence of aliens seemed to become everyday knowledge during the Russell T Davies era. The Doctor’s emphatic statement that this situation was not a fixed point in time, where the outcome could not be changed (as seen in, for example, “The Waters of Mars”), was also suggestive. In the end, the series (probably wisely) decided not to go down that path, and the final twist, with Eldane finding a way to deal with Restac and put his people back into hibernation for a thousand years, was a neat way of bringing this particular story to a close without asking us to swallow a pat resolution of the entire human/Silurian conflict.
The Doctor spends much of his time being frustrated that he can’t seem to bring the two sides together, and Matt Smith gives his usual excellent performance. Interestingly, he is separated from both Amy and Rory for most of the episode; instead, Nasreen is by his side as a substitute companion, and works rather well, as she is fascinated by the Silurian city, and takes the lead in trying to work out a way for humans to share the world with the reptiles. It was a nice touch to bring back her romantic relationship with Tony (as established last week), when he needs to stay in the Silurian city due to his infection by Alaya’s venom, and she decides to join him in hibernation.
The one aspect of the story I had a real problem with is the portrayal of Amy. Chibnall writes her in a shallow, very self-consciously “sassy” way—she’s flippant and snappish toward Rory, and in the Silurian city she keeps making lame quips that suggest nothing so much as a failure to understand the seriousness of the situation. Indeed, in the scenes where she is supposed to be helping Nasreen negotiate with Eldane, she is rather weirdly shown as seemingly bored and half-asleep. This unsympathetic treatment of the character is a disappointment, particularly after her excellent development in earlier episodes like “Amy’s Choice”. Rory, on the other hand, is very good throughout. As with last week’s episode, Arthur Darvill gets lots of scenes away from the Doctor and Amy, and clearly shows Rory growing in confidence as a leader, taking charge of the group on the surface after Alaya’s death and paying attention to the Doctor’s instructions.
In the end, the Doctor gets everyone out of Restac’s clutches thanks to his sonic screwdriver, which is unfortunately overused in this story, giving the Doctor the ability to disable the Silurians’ guns with a wave of his hand. Normally I’m not that bothered about the sonic screwdriver being used to hurry the plot along, but this really was going too far. Anyway, once they’ve got away, Eldane manages to shut down the Silurian city with a convenient “toxic fumigation” facility which will kill any Silurians that don’t return to hibernation. And now it’s time for the standard “get the hell out” scene that usually ends a story like this—we’re expecting the Doctor to herd his surviving allies into the TARDIS and for them to all escape with seconds to spare. Which is exactly what happens…
Except that this is where the episode takes a sharp turn, as the crack in the universe suddenly shows up in the wall of the cave next to the TARDIS—this time it’s a wide, deep gash in the stone with bright light pouring out from it. The Doctor decides to examine it more closely, reaches into it and brings out something wrapped in his handkerchief. But the delay allows Restac to catch up to them. She is dying from the toxic gas, but manages to get one shot off first—and Rory leaps in front of the Doctor and is fatally hit.
This entire ending sequence is gripping, as tendrils of light from the crack take hold of Rory’s body and begin to erase him from history, just as happened to the clerics in “Flesh and Stone.” The Doctor has to physically drag Amy away and into the TARDIS, and Karen Gillan’s performance comes back into focus after the lapses earlier in the episode, as a distraught Amy frantically tries to hold on to the memory of Rory. But a sudden lurch of the TARDIS distracts her, and it’s immediately clear she’s totally forgotten about him. On the floor, the Doctor sees the engagement ring which Rory left in the TARDIS last week—the only trace left of him.
Back on the surface, the tie-up with the beginning of last week’s episode is complete as Amy again sees her future self waving to her from a distance—but now she’s alone. Time has definitely been changed after all. It’s a real gut-punch of an ending, but it does have the effect of somewhat diminishing the story that led up to it. I know I’ll most likely be thinking about Rory’s fate rather than the Silurians whenever I look back on this story. And that is only reinforced by the final shot, as the Doctor unwraps the piece of “shrapnel” he found in the crack—and is shocked to discover it’s a piece of the TARDIS’s police box exterior. Another piece (literally) of the twisted jigsaw of this season, leading to what should be a cataclysmic finale in a few weeks time. I can’t wait to find out how it all fits together.
Next Week: It’s time for this year’s celebrity historical episode, as the Doctor and Amy take a trip back to Provence in 1890 to drop in on one of history’s most famous artists, in Richard Curtis’s “Vincent and the Doctor.”
Classic Who DVD Recommendation of the Week: After you’ve seen “Doctor Who and the Silurians,” which I recommended last week, check out its sequel, “The Sea Devils,” starring Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning.
For more Doctor Who recaps, click here.