Eleven Years of the Eleventh Doctor: Cold Blood

doctor who cold blood review chris chibnall ashley way matt smith silurian neve mcintosh alaya restac

It is the story of our past and must never be forgotten.

There’s this oft-repeated (but not, as far as I can tell, actually verifiable) behind the scenes detail about Cold Blood suggesting that it was originally intended to be a much more structurally complex piece, edited down to its current form relatively late in the day when someone in the production got cold feet and lost confidence in the idea.

Apparently, the alternative would’ve seen Cold Blood structured a little bit like the film Memento – it’d be narrated by Amy, describing the events of the episode as she forgot them, the whole episode framed by that final scene where the Doctor is trying to stop her from forgetting about Rory. How exactly that would work I’m not sure: it sounds clever in theory but it’s difficult to imagine that in practice. More likely than not, I suspect what we’d get would’ve actually amounted to something disappointingly literal (the voiceover not mentioning Rory while he’s onscreen, that sort of thing) – entertaining though the idea of Chris Chibnall writing what could’ve been one of Doctor Who’s most technically innovative episodes is. (Granted, that does feel a little harsh – having the idea in the first place speaks well of Chibnall, even if he couldn’t quite get it to work, because it would’ve been a huge break from the realism established by Davies up to this point – but even so.)

Whether that’s actually true is hard to say – I couldn’t source the original claim, but feel free to write in if you can; interestingly, Moffat apparently wrote the linking narration by Eldane, and it’s unlikely he’d do that on a Chibnall script without good reason – though there is definitely a sense of this episode as having been restructured fairly late in the day. There are inconsistencies throughout: “follow Nasreen”, says the Doctor, watching everyone leave, before turning around to talk to Nasreen; the scientist Malokeh is, charitably, an inconsistently drawn character, never quite coalescing as menacing or sympathetic; so on and so forth. There’s a messiness to it, which does undercut it a little; this is the sort of episode (the very traditionalist, throwback type piece) that relies, if nothing else, on the competence of its execution, which isn’t quite there here.

It’s an interestingly cynical episode, though.

In part, I suspect that comes with the premise – there’s never going to be a contemporary (or near-contemporary, anyway) Doctor Who episode about sharing the planet with the Silurians. It’s too big, too much of a disruption of the show; you’d lose any and all verisimilitude between their world and ours, a loss which likely wouldn’t be worth what you’d gain. So always, whenever this premise rolls around, with the Silurians or the Sea Devils or both, it’s going to end with peace plans foiled by some act of misplaced aggression, and some platitudes about how there should’ve been another way, hopefully there will be next time, etcetera. There’s always going to be a cynicism inherent to these stories – what’s interesting about it is what that cynicism is directed towards.

With Cold Blood, Chibnall almost ends up restaging Midnight as a secondary plotline; I wish he’d leaned into that more, to be honest, spent more time with Alaya taunting and goading them in the church. There’s a version of The Hungry Earth that opens with Alaya’s already captured – akin to Dalek, I suppose – and goes from there, emphasising one of the more interesting ideas Chibnall brought to this, stressing the intimacy and proximity of it all. You get the sense that’s what he found most compelling about it all, if nothing else; Chibnall, I think, is probably a more cynical writer than he’s necessarily reputed to be – it always strikes me that there’s a deep vein of cynicism running through his Series 11 and 12 work, at odds with the much-vaunted hope and optimism that’s supposed to characterise the Jodie Whittaker era. (That’s the intentional cynicism, I suspect, rather than Nasreen’s ugly, Malthusian sentiments during the negotiation scene – an interesting, though probably accidental, suggestion of an alternate take on this episode where the problem isn’t literal aggression but more figurative.)

More than anything else, though, it got me wondering what a genuinely non-cynical approach to the Silurians would look like – one that would presumably needed to be more invested in the postcolonial resonances of the concept, probably need to be set outside of the UK. For all that Chibnall is to my mind a somewhat cynical writer, I don’t know that I’d say the same of him as a producer: that episode feels plausible in his era in a way it hasn’t previously, and it’s something I’d be interested to see in Series 13.

Related:

Eleven Years of the Eleventh Doctor

Doctor Who Review: Series 12 Overview

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