cold blood

“Cold Blood” is more fun than “The Hungry Earth,” if only because we finally get down into the Silurian city and spend most of our time there. It doesn’t look entirely real, but then again it isn’t; it’s a hollowed-out environment as artificial as anything we’ve built for ourselves aboveground. It’s also pretty sumptuous in parts; turns out the Silurians are good with hydroponics and almost-Art-Deco interior design. Even the makeup doesn’t bother me at all now that I’m used to it. I love the masks, the guns, the clothes, the head crests — major props to the designers. With the sound down, this could be my favorite episode this season.

However, once you click off Mute, you’ve got problems. I guess they’re the sort of problems you could ignore if your expectations were low enough. For example, my expectations for “Vampires In/Of/Around Venice” were very low, so they were easy to meet. I expected silly and corny and that’s pretty much what I got; it’s not an episode I’ll go back and watch over and over. The return of the Silurians, though, had me hoping for a classic.

This episode starts with a voiceover by someone we haven’t met yet, in exactly the same way that “The End of Time” did, and the result is almost as cheesy. The voiceover comes back later on at exactly the wrong moment, ripping us out of the story so that Chibnall can deliver information he couldn’t figure out how to present dramatically. Maybe he just didn’t have time — to its credit, the story doesn’t drag a whole lot, though some of the action scenes seem to repeat themselves with diminishing effect.

Then we begin to meet some other Silurians, though not as many as you might expect, and it’s a little puzzling that a dire threat to the survival of their race didn’t result in waking up a lot more of them from hibernation. We also find that the females are without exception the aggressors, while the males are without exception pacifists. I hope this is based on some sex-linked behavior traits in reptiles (I don’t know offhand), because otherwise I have to assume it’s just a glib “role reversal” gimmick to avoid appearing sexist. Is it more sexist to portray women as weak and conciliatory, or to portray them as rabid killers? Maybe Chibnall should just have avoided the problem altogether by mixing it up a little.

The Doctor says “I (rather) love you” for the first time in this episode, as far as I know. He says it not to Amy or Rory or his sonic screwdriver (and can I tell you how sick I am of seeing him wave that thing EVERYWHERE? my Doctor is cricket balls and yo-yos, not omnipotent magic wands) but to a Silurian scientist. As far as I could tell, the reason for this effusiveness was that the scientist had just explained that although he kidnaps humans against their will and holds them captive and dissects them and causes them intense pain, he doesn’t actually HURT them. He just wants to help, in some vague way I’m not sure I understood. This is an example of the way this episode addresses moral issues.

Then there’s the way Alaya, the captive Silurian on the surface, is treated. What happens to her is (clumsily) presented as an accident, presumably because we’re too immature to deal with the moral complexity of understanding and forgiving (or not) someone with a tragic flaw. Unfortunately, this doesn’t allow the accident, and by extension the entire story, to mean much of anything. This moment, and the decisions and actions leading to it, should be the moral and dramatic center of the story, but instead it’s just an engine to drive us to an action-packed climax. In fact, this accident is almost the smartest thing to do, because it really does postpone a probably-fatal encounter between humans and Silurians, and doesn’t seem to ignite the all-out war Alaya was hoping for (since the pacifists barely seem to care).

After you’ve seen the episode, you can join me in wondering why the Silurians didn’t just go up to the surface and stop the drill themselves? And why they would have a tongue that stings people and causes “genetic contamination” as opposed to just poisoning them? And how “Homo reptilia” can be considered more proper than “Silurian,” since Reptilia is a class name, not a species name? “Homo reptilia” would only make sense if the Silurians and humans had a common primate ancestor. (It’s an interesting, overcomplicated idea, perhaps related to the aforementioned “genetic contamination,” but almost certainly not what the Doctor or the author were trying to suggest.)

The Doctor’s “probably worth mentioning” line was very funny and perfectly delivered. Amy’s comedy lines, though, just about all of them: not funny, not especially well delivered. She’s becoming Rose circa “Tooth and Claw,” laughing at stuff we have to take seriously for the drama to work, and that’s not good. Unfortunately even the ending can’t sober her up because she won’t remember it.

At least I can say I’m glad I was mistaken about Elliott’s role in the story, though a little disappointed that he really has none. That moment with Amy and Rory waving from the hill, though not explained, is at least significant in terms of advancing the season arc, and the discovery the Doctor makes about the Time Cracks at the very end is intriguing (maybe you saw it coming, but I didn’t).

And to be honest, as hamfisted as this was in terms of themes, characters, and plot, I’d still happily rewatch it. Perhaps I just love lizard people too much. And given how much they must have spent on the sets, costumes, props, and makeup, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a followup next season.