Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Plot-Heavy, But Well-Paced, "Cold Blood" Works Fairly Well!

The Good: Good performances, Good pacing, Decent themes
The Bad: Light on character development, Very wide focus for the narrative
The Basics: The Doctor Who episode "Cold Blood" resolves the events of "The Hungry Earth," albeit in an unremarkable way.

When it comes to Doctor Who two-parters, it is interesting to see which ones hold up best over time. There are some that are more or less essential to Steven Moffat's vision of Doctor Who, but not all of them hold up extraordinarily well. The two-parter that began with "The Hungry Earth" (reviewed here!) and ended with "Cold Blood" is essential to Moffat's Doctor Who; it introduces the premise of the Silurians on Earth, which leads to two of his fan-favorite characters, Madame Vastra and her wife, Jenny. "The Hungry Earth" forced the two-parter by drawing out the very thin conflict in it a bit longer than it needed to be. "Cold Blood" is a second-part that begins with so many calamities in progress that it is very hard to watch on its own.

"Cold Blood" is an episode mired in the weight of consequences; the consequences of the prior episode and consequences of ancient (unseen) events that are being referenced. Because of the emphasis on resolving the quagmires in which the main characters found themselves in "The Hungry Earth," it is impossible to discuss "Cold Blood" without some references to the prior episode.

Opening with The Doctor and Dr. Chaudhry investigating the massive Silurian city they found deep under the Earth, they are knocked out by Silurian soldiers. Amy, captured in the Silurian lab, is about to be dissected when the doctor is called off to identify the new intruders and picks the Doctor's pocket for the key out of her restraints. On the surface, Tony Mack confronts the imprisoned Silurian, Alaya, to try to find out how to stop the Silurian infection that is spreading through him. As The Doctor talks to the Silurian Doctor and military leader about other homo reptilia he has encountered, Tony's daughter Ambrose attacks Alaya, accidentally killing her.

The military leader Restac brings The Doctor and Chaudhry to a military tribunal, where they are joined by Amy and Mo. Restac demands to see Alaya when the Silurians contact the surface. When Ambrose and Restac square off over the communication system, Amy's life is put in peril. Doctor Malohkeh awakens the leader of the Silurians, who overrules Restac. The Doctor brokers a peace with the Silurians, but it is based on Alaya being alive. The Doctor has Amy and Dr. Chaudhry negotiate with Eldane, the leader of the Silurians to figure out how to make peace and share the planet Earth. Rory convinces Ambrose to go down to the Silurian city with Alaya's body to face the music,

"Cold Blood" is hampered by a narrative issue from "The Hungry Earth," which is that Amy and Rory saw future versions of themselves from a distance. That conceit sets the episode up with the feeling that there cannot actually be casualties among the three main cast members. Writer Chris Chibnall put the conceit in and it feels somewhat cheap to the viewers to use the conceit at all, if only to violate it, so the viewer watches most of the episode without much concern for the fate of the characters. Indeed, the opening monologue from one of the Silurian characters indicates immediately that the episode will have peaceful results; that The Doctor successfully brokered a peace at a high price.

Rory's arc is very minimized in "Cold Blood," given that most of the conflict on the surface involves Ambrose and Alaya. The rising sense of menace in Rory's plotline has to do with the threat of war and the potential that Ambrose's actions could lead to Tony's death. Despite The Doctor insisting that this is not a fixed point and anything could happen below the surface, "Cold Blood" is somewhat hampered by its own density. Rory's portion of the plot is packed with incidental characters and they are kept in check by a war that seems unlikely from the outset.

Below the surface, the idea of the peace talks is an interesting one, which has a very quick solution to the surprisingly simple problem. Amy sees something pretty much immediately and it is shocking how long it takes the characters to get there. The subterranean plotline is diluted with Mo searching for Elliot and a military coup by Restac. The packed plot moves right along and is interesting, but so many of the characters are fundamentally uninteresting. Ambrose and Restac are both xenophobic jerks and the viewer who is sophisticated enough to appreciate an episode of television that has a focus on a peace process are smart enough to get that the homo sapiens and homo reptilia are more similar than they are different without being beaten over the head with it.

The performances in "Cold Blood" are all right, but until the episode's final moments, there are no truly amazing performances. The episode is so packed with guest characters that none of the guest performers manage to break out; they are all competent, but not exceptional.

That is pretty much the death knell of "Cold Blood;" the episode is adequate and completes the arc, but not in any exceptional way.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Fifth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of Matt Smith as The Doctor here!

For other works with reptilian aliens, please check out my reviews of:
"Distant Origin" - Star Trek: Voyager
"Deep Breath" - Doctor Who


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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