I don’t have a whole lot to say about this latest ’Doctor Who’ two-parter, partly because I’m not convinced that Chris Chibnall had a whole lot to say when he was writing it. Of course that may well be down to me. I’ve most fixed on how Moffat has moved things on since the Davies era. So to reprise the Top Twenty Greatest Pertwee Scenes ain’t what I’m after right now. If I had to sum it up in a phrase I’d say “serviceable but generic.” It was certainly a more effective piece of teatime TV than it’s risible predecessor ’Vampires In Venice’.
I more-or-less agree with Frank Collins’ review, including the point about it being “an improvement on Chibnall’s previous efforts”, though that phrase possibly counts as damning with faint praise. (Please note Collins’ review was written after the first episode, so when he suggests “the meat of the story is in the second part” he can’t be held to account.)
After ’The Sontaran Stratagem’, Andrew Rilstone suggested we should take an indulgent approach when ’Doctor Who’ turns to the generic. (“If I'm offered 'cliff hangery flying saucery earth invasion stories', then I'm inclined to accept them as such.”) Perhaps he’s right. (And the subject is likely to come up again, after all.) But this is made harder when they insist on writing the same moral set-pieces into it; which, devoid of any meaningful context, become drearily sanctimonious. Chief offender here was the bright lad Elliott “getting” the Doctor’s speech about truth and reconciliation more than the adults – oh, please!
It was all rather neatly summed up when the captured Alaya has her warrior mask removed to reveal a reptilian but more expressive face beneath. As if to say, these are not the simple rubber-suited Silurians you remember from your youth! Yet nothing in the story’s content ever builds upon this image, it remains unearnt.
What surprises there are mostly come from things being telegraphed and then not happening. A big deal is made of Elliott reading ’The Gruffalo,’ but no Gruffalo is invented to defeat the foe. Elliott is pointed out as dyslexic, but there’s no follow-up scene where all depends on him reading something. Admittedly had these cod-obvious notions been followed up, then that would have been cause for complaint in itself. But without anything better to replace them, withdrawing them just comes to feel like sleight-of-hand. (In a story already full of manipulations. In the first episode the Silurians have already dissected several human corpses, the living Mo and are about to make a start on Amy. But all of that simply gets forgotten in the rush to make the medics goodies.)
The one exception to this rule is the Silurian Alaya’s prediction “one of you will kill me. Do you know who?” Naturally we assume it’s the tongue-lashed Tony, who’s already somewhat green around the gills. But it turns out to be Ambrose who, in a nicely chilling scene, is goaded by Alaya into killing her - thereby scuppering all chances of peace. (In fact the better scenes tend to revolve around the capture of Alaya, such as the Doctor’s interrogation of her.)
So, woman kills woman. A warring military against noble, truth-seeking scientists is scarcely groundbreaking stuff for ’Doctor Who’ or SF in general. (Think of the gorillas versus the chimps in ’Planet of the Apes’.) But having a female warrior class set against male doctors? Added to which Ambrose’s motivations are portrayed as rounded, and not simply stemming from weakness or fear. Perhaps nothing is really done with these notions. But they flicker with interest while they’re on the screen.
The one telegraphed element which did happen was the death of Rory - an event about as expected as his eventual return will be. But this was given a nice twist by the Crack then causing Amy to forget him, with the Doctor struck unable to say anything. Dying is one thing, but the idea of being forgotten by those who loved us is excruciating. This both moves things on from ’Flesh and Stone’, where we didn’t actually care about those forgotten soldiers, and drew its strength from what wasn’t up on the screen – it’s Amy’s frisky obliviousness which is hard to take. This is so much more effective than the grief porn which Chibnall subjected us to at the end of the risible ’Cyberwoman’ episode of ’Torchwood’. It rather beggars the question, “If you can write, why don’t you?”
And we did get two whole episodes of Karen Gillan back in her miniskirt. Amy should be made to “dress for Rio” every week, methinks...