purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
[personal profile] purplecat
I actually thought The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood was surprisingly good, but it must be said I was working from fairly low expectations. Those expectations were that I've considered Chibnall's work on Torchwood to be, broadly speaking, a bit dumb and that The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood seemed to be generally coded as one of NuWho's "Big Dumb Two Parters" (i.e. an early to mid-season two parter, featuring a (preferably classic series) monster with a focus on adrenaline and effects over anything more substantial). On that basis I think this two parter stood up pretty well, both in comparison to Chibnall's other work and in comparison to other NuWho big dumb two parters. It does fall apart if you start to poke it with a stick, but I felt no real compulsion to do so while I watching and was content simply to be entertained.

For the classic Who fan this story was clearly riffing on the seven episode long Pertwee story, The Silurians, in which the Doctor's attempts to broker a peace between the humans and silurians is thwarted by the warmongers within both races. It was written by Malcolm Hulke, arguably one of the most gifted writers to work on Doctor Who, whose stories are typified by a reluctance to use out-and-out villains and monsters and, often, by a strong anti-military antipathy. The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood more or less retells this story but supplies a more upbeat ending and avoids Hulke's use of racial memory induced madness (which, it must be said, I have always been a little dubious about, irrespective of its dramatic effectiveness). Much like my thoughts on Victory of the Daleks' reworking of Power of the Daleks I see no real harm in reusing the framework of a tale from forty years ago, especially when its generally regarded as one of the classic stories of the series. I certainly think the story benefitted from giving its monsters a sympathetic point of view, even if its inherited knee-jerk response to militarism and violence was less successful.

I could pick a lot of holes in this story but the biggest and most central problem, and one that typifies many of the others, is that Alaya's death makes no difference. The central core moment of the two parter should have been Ambrose's murder of Alaya and Restac's discovery of the fact and, indeed, the acting and direction seem based on this premise but, in fact, no one does anything they wouldn't have done anyway as a result. Restac has already committed to a military solution and Eldane's commitment to peaceful co-existence is unaffected by the reveal. Although, in what I suspect is a failure in the editing suite, it actually came as a surprise to me to discover that Eldane had opted to run with the Doctor's faction rather than remain behind with Restac.

Leaving aside plot illogic, [livejournal.com profile] lil_shepherd has pointed out that this is a story which portrays women as, essentially, illogical and violent while men are the voices of authority and reconciliation. Restac, Alaya and Ambrose typify this approach and are contrasted with the Doctor, Rory, Eldane and Tony. Even Nasreen is shown rejecting Eldane's suggestions for co-existence, apparently out of hand, until persuaded otherwise by Amy. In some ways, I wish this was a deliberate theme. Although objectionable, an exploration of that old cliche about women protecting their young/families would at least have been interesting and clearly distinct from the 1970s version of this tale. Sadly I expect this is, in fact, merely a rather unfortunate consequence of a desire to provide "strong" female characters, a superficial grasp of what that means, and the inherited antipathy towards the military mind-set. Of all these characters Ambrose comes off worst. I find it hard to imagine a mother, desperately clutching at straws to save her family, would so easily end up killing the one bargaining chip she had for securing an exchange of hostages, especially once she's been told, multiple times, that this bargaining chip is the only hope her family have. Would it have been so hard to motivate her actions a little better? For instance by giving her reason to believe that her husband and son were already dead?

However, a positive side-effect of the deliberate hawk/dove split of the characters was a much more satisfying portrayal of Rory. In place of the comedy ineptness of Amy's Choice we got a story that show-cased the strong aspects of his character without making him into some super-intelligent action man. It even hinted at ways his background as a nurse could have been usefully used. I was sorrier to see him go at the end of Cold Blood than I would have been if his death had taken place at the end Amy's Choice.

Despite the lack of logic, I found myself pretty entertained by The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood as it unfolded. The pacing kept everything trundling along, and the divisions within the humans and silurians kept everything interesting. I had a lot more time for this, while watching, than I did for much of Torchwood. It would be tempting to suggest that where the story is working it is because of the long shadow of Malcolm Hulke but I'm not sure the answer is as simple as that. I wonder if Chibnall is actually more at home producing tales for a `family' audience than for an `adult' one. One of the most widespread criticisms of Torchwood has been that its interpretation of adult storytelling was, broadly speaking, adolescent. The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood seemed a lot more comfortable with itself than Chibnall's other work and while there was still a fair amount of dumb on display, it was much less obvious than in Torchwood and didn't, in my opinion, detract nearly so much from the basic entertainment value of the two episodes. Moreover this marks an ambitious (if arguably unsuccessful) attempt at a type of story-telling missing from much of NuWho in which there are no out-and-out villains and the drama unfolds because of a multitude of individuals following their own agendas and beliefs about the correct course of action. That this should be happening in a "Big Dumb Two-parter", I find all the more impressive.

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