Sunday, 30 May 2010

Reaction: COLD BLOOD

Written by Chris Chibnall, directed by Ashley Way, 2010

Wow, congratulations, Mr Chibnall, that was even shitter than last week. I really was hoping this story might improve… but it was evidentially not to be. I found Cold Blood quite heinous – as I keep saying, much as I appreciate the general approach, tone, etc, of this season, that just makes missteps like this even more inexplicable and lamentable.

This story really feels like a renege on this season’s earlier promise; if The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone had been swapped with this, at least the season would’ve felt like it was improving.

Of the stories I’ve liked less, Victory was just kind of lame, while Vampires of Venice was funny but not much else – but this has no redeeming features. So much so that, forgive me, I’m going to resort to bullet points (a sure sign a story just isn’t worth bothering with).

Trad in the worst possible way, this episode was riddled with averted executions and convenient rescues – which actually make me very glad the new series ordinarily ploughs a new furrow. It might make its own mistakes, but at least they’re relatively novel mistakes.

Particularly glaring old school elements:
• A return to a rag-tag team of misfits alternately standing around awkwardly and running through corridors.

• The ‘villain’s dead – or is she!’ moment.

• The waddling Mindwarp-like scientist and clichéd wise elder role.

• Crappy, hammy deaths.

• Not one but two lame-o peril-averted-at-the-nick-of-time moments (“Fire!” “STOP!”). And, really, the dissection – is that acceptable as a cliffhanger resolution these days? He’s going to dissect the companion… oh, he was interrupted. That’s IT?

Other bad things:
• There does seem to have been some resistance to Karen Gillen/Amy within fandom, which I haven’t agreed with - but this script seems to have brought out the worst in absolutely every aspect of the production. I can suddenly see how her delivery could grate, being irritatingly one-note and arch regardless of the situation she finds herself in. Similarly, after she’s picked the pocket of a would-be dissectionist, I also get what people mean about her preternatural unflappability and competence. I’m going to be charitable and put that down to this one-off lapse in the writing though.

Similarly, this story actually manages to make the Eleventh Doctor seem like the adolescent imposter everyone was worried Matt Smith might turn out to be (which he mainly hasn’t) - all ‘zany’ dialogue and by-numbers moral condemnation in place of actual characterisation.

• The voiceover seemed like a rather desperate attempt to invest the story with some gravitas, but felt inappropriate and unnecessary.

• Bizarrely, the seemingly sledgehammer foreshadowing of Elliot’s dyslexia came to nothing. Maybe more cuts?

• The “dressed for Rio” ‘gag’ doesn’t even work – she’s wearing a (p)leather jacket, FFS.

• Meera Syal, though I like her, just isn’t that… good, in this context.

• There’s no fictive justification for the Silurians’ mask, which destroys suspension of disbelief because there’s no other way to view them than from a production PoV – ie, that they couldn’t afford prosthetics. The fey minidresses don’t help.

Having said that, given how shittily plastic the Silurians’ masks looked in teasers and publicity photos, they actually look a great deal better than the creatures’ faces proper. I guess I’m just a monster-monster person, rather than a people-monster lover.

• The Planet of the Apes-style trumpeting horn section. Nuff said.

• That there was no twist to Alaya knowing who’d killed her – well, of course it was the sour-faced harridan. Rory would’ve been more interesting.

• Cringeworthy fanfic sci-fi names: ‘Restac’?!

• Really obvious reuse of the location from The End of the World and Gridlock.

• And finally, the mind-bogglingly convenient ‘well, we’ll just go back to sleep then’ dénouement.

In the interests of balance (god forbid anyone think I’m not balanced) - good points:
• Rory, who I really like having along… Oh. (I do still wish for a 100% companion figure who simply happens to be male, though - Jack was a Doctor-surrogate, and Mickey and Rory wouldn’t be along for the ride if it weren’t for their other halves, the primary companions.)

However, even Rory’s death seems like a gyp (well, it obviously is); he’s been so blatantly set up as a dupe that it feels like the story arc contrivance it undoubtedly is, rather than a meaningful event in its own right. Especially as it was done (better) two weeks ago in Amy’s Choice.

• Robert Pugh.

• Nice to have a Doctor who’s good with children – it suits the storybook take on the series, and seems natural given his appeal to (and affinities with) that demographic. Strange this never really been done before

• Not so much ‘good,’ but it did amuse me that the Silurians’ camera system was apparently programmed to do crash-zooms at dramatic moments.

Anyway, I’m done with this story. Onward and (hopefully) upward.

The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood has been likened to a take on the trademark moral ambiguity Malcolm Hulke introduced into his scripts, but it comes off as a flaccid knock-off, with considerably less sophistication. In fact, its wannabe moral complexity has nothing on Doctor Who and the Silurians. The new series is obsessed with making every character likeable and giving everyone a redemptive moment, so much so that it comes at the expense of the story itself. The seventies had a much more pragmatic approach, in that many of the guest characters didn’t really ‘matter’ – and I mean that in a good way. Imagine a Doctor Who and the Silurians where Miss Dawson, hysterical PA, was considered worthy of her own emotional arc; I’m really not convinced that’d add anything.

While it’s pointless to say any particular stories from wildly different periods of the show (and of TV itself) are ‘better’ or worse than one another, that a modern story nods so clearly to a previous period, and not only manages to make a total hash of things, but also remove the elements which gave the earlier period its depth (namely its uncompromised and unshowy approach to the morality of the situation)… well, something’s gone tits up, hasn’t it?

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