Sunday, 30 May 2010

DOCTOR WHO: 'THE HUNGRY EARTH'/ 'COLD BLOOD'


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...

8 comments:

  1. When you forget to mention things you end up leaving comments on your own blog! (Sure hope I don't respond by blocking me...)

    It was also disconcerting to see the sonic screwdriver back again as a magic wand, after all the earlier efforts to undo all that nonsense. Most egregious of all, it seemed not only able to deactivate the Silurian's weapons but make them forget they had those poison tongues...

    ...a power it doesn't seem to have had over the blogsphere. Compared to most others, I was almost indulgent!

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  2. Hi, Gavin. As a fellow long-time Rilstone follower, I feel stupid that it's taken me this long to discover your blog, and especially your unusually perceptive Eleventh Doctor reviews.

    I've just read them all in sequence, and I've been impressed not just by the points you've made but also by how very different your impressions have been from my own, which are chronicled on my own blog.

    In short, we seem to have liked and disliked almost opposite episodes: I found Victory of the Daleks to be imbued with disturbing mythical resonances, for example, whereas I thought Amy's Choice was an inconsequential zero-stakes game.

    And yet, I can't really disagree with any specific point that you make. It's like my reaction to Rilstone's LotR movie reviews: I have to agree with all of his criticisms, but I still come out loving the movies where he doesn't. (And conversely I can't share his inexplicable fondness for The Phantom Menace.)

    I am really not sure what to make of all this.

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  3. Thanks for the comments, Mike. I'll be sure to check out your blog.

    I've felt the exact same thing about Andrew's blog from time to time. I certainly enjoyed his 'Phantom Menace' review more than I did the bloody film! Maybe if something's well constructed enough it's like being inside someone else's head for a bit. Or maybe there's a kind of joy in seeing something from a perspective, rather than the clutch of almost random prejudices that people normally spew up over the net. Who knows..?

    I also wonder if this has been something of a 'Marmite reaction' season, not only are people unlikely to like all the episodes, they'll be divided over which they like. The most recent one is perhaps a case in point...

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  4. 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?”

    What with how many hands television scripts go through, I assumed that he didn't. Given that it was the only part of the episode that was actually compelling and well-written, I assumed that it was Moffatt - either adding the end scene entirely (which, being arc-related and not otherwise related to the episode, would make sense), or else just giving it a (major) polish.

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  5. Possibly so, but I think we should be wary of automatically attributing things we like to our favourite writers and vice versa. Some people seem insistent that anything good that happened during Hartnell must have been down to David Whitaker. And Whitaker's own scripts were good, but it does seem a bit polarised.

    i take the point about it being arc-related, however.

    PS I love Sixties Marvel, so I'll have to check out your blog once I get the chance. Right now, though, it's time for a belated Vincent review.

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  6. That's a wise point, and if I'm being fair I have to admit that I surprisingly found the first episode not too shabby. (It's just the second half that immediately plummeted to meet my expectations.)

    And I'm glad to hear it! I've always found your posts on Andrew's blog to be incredibly insightful, so I look forward to hearing your thoughts...

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  7. I'm not 100% sure *I* agree with Andrew Rilstone's review of Phantom Menace...

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  8. The perils of committing yourself to print!

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