Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood

Way back in the pre season publicity there was a lot of talk of a new approach to Who, treating it as a modern day fairy tale. To a greater or lesser extent this approach was evident in the whole of the season. In the first episode we have the orphan girl who grows up in a spooky old house with a room nobody ever sees. In the second we have the space whale carrying the whole or Britain on its back. We have vampires and dream lords and even the Dalek episode has shades of the Tin Man/Pinnochio.

This story therefore strikes a discordant note being a love letter to the Pertwee era of the show. The choice or writer is equally discordant. Why Chris Chibnall was chosen to write this one is unclear to me. He is a competent writer, but one who seems to write to the level of the brief he is given. Its arguable that nothing improved Torchwood in season 3 so much as his absence from it. The first two seasons certainly varied wildly in tone and approach and at times in season 1 the show took a positively bizarre approach to its arc and character development eschewing the resent switch but similarly failing to deliver conclusions to any of the character's individual story arcs. On the other hand Chibnall's finale to season 2 worked as a neat conclusion and, by RTD's own admission, crystalised what the show would go on to be. Similarly I have always been rather fond of 42 and episode unfairly maligned because of Michelle Collins' performance.

Nevertheless it seems to me that this story would have been the perfect story for Mark Gatiss (far more so than the Dalek one). Gatiss already has already demonstrated the chops for such a tribute in his novel Last of the Gaderene and the 2 episode format would appear to be far more suited to his style of storytelling.

It was never entirely clear to me what the production team were trying to achieve in bringing back the Silurians. I can't see that they have a huge nostalgia factor for Joe Public. Their first appearance is highly regarded by fans of a certain age and a certain style of Doctor Who. Their second is almost universally reviled by all fans. Neither story were big hits with the viewing public of the time. They do not fit the mould of being a classic monster in the way the Daleks or the Cybermen or Master do. I don't even think they rate in terms of B divisions monsters like the Sontarans, Ice Warrior or Rani. Arguably, your average punter on the street would be more likely to remember "the one with the maggots" than "the one with the Cave Monsters" if asked to recall some classic monsters. Furthermore any attempt to trade of the nostalgia factor of the Silurians as monsters is completely undermined by their "re-imagining" as a Trek/B5 style alien. The originals may now look cheap (or more accurately DO now look cheap) but in some ways humans in rubber and a mask are better than humans in makeup. Similarly the original story presented us with "scientific", "political" and a "military" leaders. The implication of this story is that the Silurians have a caste system. Whilst this is a logical development from the earlier story, it is to my mind an unwanted formalisation of the society. Human governments tend also to be comprised of leaders of specific groups and interests, but that does not mean our society is comprised solely of those groups and interests. It seems to me that Who does Monsters and Aliens. The monsters are monolithic cultures and the aliens are multi-cultural. It is for this reason that, to my mind, the sea-devils were always the much better antagonists. Being much dumber than the Silurians they basically fall into the monolith monster category.

I take the point that the Silurians are intended to be a proper society and that they have a perfectly valid point of view and a perfectly legitimate aim in wanting the Earth back. This is all well and good in theory. In practice there is never enough complexity shown in the species for them to be a truly believable alien society (as opposed to a believable monster) and there's no way the show is ever going to feature an earth run or shared with the Silurians. Even the right on lefty New Adventures continuity didn't have that happen for another thousand years or so. The consequence of this is that the end of any Silurian story set in modern times is either (1) they all die, (2) they all go back into hibernation. Dramatically then they are a dead end of an antagonist. On top of that the comparatively luxurious length of the modern two parter is still shorter than a Pertwee (or Davision) four parter and is nowhere near long enough to offer an effective presentation of the Silurian culture or the ethical dilemma posed by the story. In view of this, again, I can't help but think the Sea-Devils would have served this story better (or even the Ice Warrior as our nearest solar neighbours).

On top of all this we have the bizarre ending. The decision to kill off Rory is another part of this story that baffles me. Was there anyone who saw it that wasn't expecting him to be revived in some SF fashion by the season finale? Dramatically it doesn't really take us anywhere. We already know from the previous episode that he DOES really mean something to Amy. It doesn't even have the fun and entertainment factor of Adric death. Even those that don't like the character don't loath him as much as Adric! It seems he dies only so he can be resurrected in an "unexpected" way so Steven Moffatt can show how "clever" he is.

So yeah, there's a lot in this one that doesn't sit well with me. That being said there were a good few things I did enjoy. On a purely superficially level the throwbacks to the Pertwee era were a nice change from the RTD era "London and soon the whole world will be in peril and its all on CNN and everyone knows about it" motif. Matt was great (again) as was Meera Syal. I was surprised by that to be honest. I fully expected a painful "ernest" and/or "I'm above this" turn from her akin to Keeley Hawes in season one of Ashes to Ashes (or indeed Meera herself in Jekyl) but she put in one of the best performances of any of the guests since the shows return. This was particularly impressive and creditable given some of the dialogue she was given. The design work for the underground Silurian base was wonderful too (and yes I know they went to the same place as the Doctor's Daughter and no I don't give a toss). Although the death of Rory may have been the nadir of the season, the moments in the TARDIS immediately after the death were beautifully written and acted.

I'm not usually one for ranking episodes on a scale. But overall I cannot recall a story that ever fit so comfortably at 6 out of 10. This was the epitome of average with a few great moments being weighed down by a total lack of original though, clear direction or consistent tone.

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