Season 31, Episode 9 – Cold Blood, by Chris Chibnall

June 5, 2010

Review by Martin Odoni

Not bad. Indeed by Chris Chibnall’s standards, pretty good. It has some interesting, if not exactly original, things to say about human desperation and its capacity for corruption and violence. The points raised about over-population and resource-limits are worthy, although again not exactly revelatory. Restac and Alaya are unsubtle racism figures, about as subtext-lite as the Kaleds in Genesis Of The Daleks, but I guess they’re still valid. I still find the portrayal of Alaya and Restac a bit limited and hard to reconcile with the Silurians in general – they really do have nothing to like about them at all – but happily they prove to be the exception. Eldane in particular is very much more in keeping with the Silurians of old. It does smack of cheapness, by the way, that Alaya and Restac were both played by the same actress.

It’s a better-than-usual second part, which is an achievement in itself, but there are still weaknesses.

The dialogue remains hit-and-miss, as it always does in NuWho. Many lines are too flippant and smartass to sound natural, and they really start to annoy more than usual here, particularly from Rory and Amy. There are excellent moments from most of the guest cast, usually when their characters are affected by real moments of turmoil and are therefore having to play things straight. The story does have some very effective patches of real drama, and I can’t help feeling it would have worked a lot better if it had tried to focus on that instead of playing for casual laughs at unsuitable junctures.

Some of the characterisation is a bit inconsistent and implausible, and this is especially evident from Mo’s interactions with Malokeh. In the first episode, Malokeh was a heartless, indifferent scientist who was fascinated to learn about unknown life-forms, but quite unmoved at the thought of dissecting sentient creatures while they’re wide awake, like a toddler unthinkingly tearing the legs off insects. Suddenly he is shown here to have a deep conscience and to be greatly troubled by the prospect of an unnecessary war. And I am frankly amazed that Mo does not sneer, or even react, when the Doctor expresses his love and admiration for the old scientist. Has Mo simply forgotten that Malakay had opened up and examined his insides without anaesthetic an hour or so earlier?

The negotiations between Eldane and Amy and Nasreen are amateurish. I know they’re meant to be, but I refuse to buy the idea that it took Eldane such an apparently long time to suggest, "We can offer you improved technology in exchange for living space." Surely that would be the first thing he’d put on the table!

The scenes when Alaya is murdered, and also when the Silurians learn of it, are strong, again highlighting that when the episode tries to do drama instead of playing for laughs, it’s pretty good to watch. It’s a pity it has to keep ruining the effect by littering itself with lazy, self-satisfied slang references to "it’s pretty cool" and "super-squeaky bum time".

This is another of the recent episodes where the resolution isn’t really enacted by the Doctor. Eldane is the one who thinks up the idea of fumigating the Silurian tunnels, and also puts it into effect. Not a problem as such, but the Doctor is starting to look less effective than he used to.

One-note over-familiar-complaint-of-the-week: can we please have an episode or two where the sonic screwdriver is not used as a gun?

The ending with Rory’s annihilation from time arrived a bit out of nowhere. Bit of a shock-value-only send-off for him. And how come the Doctor wasn’t wiped when he put his arm in the time crack if Rory himself is wiped just by lying down near it? Still, it’s moving at the last, especially Amy’s desperation not to forget him. When she suddenly does forget him at the end and immediately cheers up, it is even more poignant, as there’s something very disturbing about someone being wiped from the slate like that. The true horror of totalitarian ideas laid bare, though I doubt that was Chibnall’s intention.

The final moment is really startling though. The TARDIS is set to explode in the relative future, and that, presumably, is what causes the time crack. That’s good stuff at least!

Performances are okay. Matt Smith is looking very settled in the role now. Arthur Darvill is inoffensive but still not really given much of use to work with. Karen Gillan is excellent at the end when she’s given something real to do other than make smug, flippant remarks, but again the strutting, sauntering smugness early on is a real ball-ache. Of the guest cast, I reckon Nia Roberts is probably the highlight, which is unsurprising given that she has the most complex role to play; a mother torn by fear for her family, and forced to behave with terrible dishonesty accordingly. Stephen Moore is predictably good as Eldane, although at times he does look a bit tired. Maybe the costume was a bit too heavy and warm for his comfort? That’d explain why he didn’t wear the Marvin costume in the TV version of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

Hmm, I wonder if there’s a reason why Restac is an anagram of ‘traces’?

Okay, what score to give it? It’s too flawed, alas, for me to give it better than a 6 out of 10, but it’s a whole lot better than Chibnall’s usual offerings, and it at least has the benefit of being a second part that isn’t weaker than the first for once. As both parts got a 6, I suppose the two-parter as a whole should get a 6 as well, although in fairness, the story as a whole is clearly better than the sum of its parts, so I was tempted to give it an extra point. I’ll think about it.


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