So here, we hit the difficult middle-of-series sticky patch with the three episodes of Doctor Who on this third DVD and Blu-ray volume of series five. It features one of its better episodes, but also what turned out to be the weakest story of the whole thirteen episode run. Matt Smith’s portrayal continues to evolve though, and by now he’s really hitting his stride, although not even he can overcome the weaknesses of the second two-part story. Meanwhile, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvil make particularly fine and feisty back up, especially in the first of these three stories, which also contains some very witty writing from “Men Behaving Badly” creator Simon Nye and a versatile story set-up designed to resolve some of the increasing ambiguity in the relationship between the three TARDIS travellers -- at the same time as hinting at a much darker current in the Doctor’s character than his most recent incarnation’s quirky bow-tie-&-tweed persona might’ve previously suggested.
Episode Seven: AMY’S CHOICE
It’s been five long years since Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) last travelled through space and time with the Doctor. The former companions are now happily married and have settled in a lovely cottage in the picturesque, pensioner-populated village of Upper Leadworth, where Amy is heavily pregnant with their fist child. The TARDIS materialises in the middle of their garden's flower-bed one morning, and after pretending that he’s just dropped in to check up on them, the Doctor eventually admits that, really, he’s actually arrived here by accident. Cue uncomfortable silence as the Doctor tries to come to terms with the gentle rhythms of rural village life; with its park benches (’What will they think of next?’), old folk peering from behind net curtains, and chirrupy bird song wafting among leafy lanes. Rory, with his embarrassing pony tail and now a full fledged doctor (‘at least I'm actually qualified to call myself a doctor!’) is clearly content and happy, but could Amy have really given up her life of adventure and wonder for this?
Perhaps not -- for all three suddenly awake in the TARDIS console room and realise that they've just been having exactly the same dream (the Doctor, tellingly, calls it a ‘nightmare’). Amy is relieved to discover that she isn't pregnant after all, though. Even better, Rory doesn't really have that awful pony tale either! But then they just as suddenly 'wake up' again back in Leadworth -- and everything about their life here feels just as solid and real. Surely this is the true reality then, and the imagined life back aboard the TARDIS was the dream?
Back in the TARDIS ‘reality’, the matter is partially resolved by the appearance of a strange man who dresses almost exactly like the Doctor and calls himself the “Dream Lord” (a blistering performance by Toby Young). He seems already to know and despise the Time Lord, and has devised a conundrum in order to undermine his, admittedly rather confused, relationship with his two travelling companions: the trio are faced with two dangerous scenarios, only one of which is real. In Leadworth an alien race called the Eknodine have taken over the bodies of the elderly and now peer out of their mouths with a single eye extended on a stalk. The creatures are killing off the young by breathing on them, draining their life energy and turning them to dust. On the TARDIS meanwhile, everything is turning to ice and the power of the ship fading as it drifts ever closer to a mysterious ‘cold star’. The Dream Lord informs the Doctor and his companions that they can only escape by dying in the dream reality, which will then wake them up and free them of the illusion once and for all. The problem is though, if they pick the wrong scenario to die in, they won't be waking up anywhere ever again!
Simon Nye is, of course, an extremely well-established and very capable writer, but he is mainly known for scripting comedy and particularly for his work in the situation comedy genre. With Richard Curtis also contributing a strong episode later in the series, it seems that comedy makes for a remarkably good training ground when it comes to writing for the show -- although many were skeptical when this veteran-comedy-writer-heavy list of story contributors was first announced. As you would expect though, there is plenty of finely honed witty repartee between the Doctor and his companions on display in this episode, while the performances of all three lead actors are consistently a delight, veering from the laugh-out-loud funny to the extremely poignant as the story gets more tense.
Toby Young’s mysterious trickster, the Dream Lord, provides some witheringly cutting acerbity directed at the Doctor; but also some very funny moments, chiding and needling the Doctor with sarcastic lines like ‘you've got so much tawdry “quirkiness” you could open up a shop selling tawdry quirkiness. The situations the Doctor must deal with in this episode are equally dangerous, but of the two, the dying TARDIS scenario is the more banal and runs along fairly predictable ‘science fiction’ lines; although it does provide a rather clammy moment when the Dream Lord, kited out in luxury dressing gown, comically casts himself as a sleazy lounge lizard type, who comes on to Amy while suggesting that the Doctor also has an unwholesome interest in redheads (’Hasn't he told you about Elizabeth the First? Well, at least she thought she was the first!’); the situation in Leadworth, meanwhile, is where the episode’s colour and Nye’s crafty, rather politically incorrect, sense of humour is let off the leash: old age pensioners here become sponging alien invaders, preying and living off the energy of the young. Like a Romero zombie, they're a rather slow-moving threat: tottering on zimmer frames and walking sticks, but still lethal if they manage to breathe on you. The scene where the Doctor and his companions discover all that remains of a children’s playgroup -- little piles of dust on top of a field-full of children’s clothes -- is verging on the tasteless, and Nye seems to enjoy inserting several dubious moments into the episode. In one scene, for instance, an old lady gets walloped with a plank of wood! They just about get away with it on prime time TV by virtue of the fact that she happens to have a horrible eye on the end of a long stalk emerging from her gawping mouth at the time.
This episode, as the title suggests, does result in Amy finally facing up to the task of sorting out and admitting to the nature of her feelings for Rory and the Doctor, but it also reveals something unexpectedly dark in the core of the Doctor’s personality that seems to hark back to the Valeyard from Colin Baker’s “Trial of a Time Lord” season strand. The rivalry between the Doctor and Rory is really symbolic of the possible life choices the two men represent for Amy. The fact that she left in the TARDIS on the eve of their scheduled wedding day, suggests to Rory that Amy no longer wants the life he has to offer her, especially now she’s been exposed to the majesty and wonder of the Universe thanks to the Doctor. But as far as Amy is concerned, the fact that they are in a time machine means: ‘It can be the eve of our wedding for as long as we want!’ To which Rory replies, ‘ but we have to grow up sometime.’ Reconciling her feelings for Rory and marrying (no pun intended) them with her compulsion to experience all that the Doctor can show her is what this episode comes down to; while also hinting at a further role for this ‘dark side’ of the Doctor when the cause of the crack in time (which is mirrored in the Doctor’s method of extricating them all from the illusion at the end of the episode) comes to be explored more fully, presumably in the next series.
Episodes Eight and Nine: THE HUNGRY EARTH/ COLD BLOOD
This two-parter, scripted by “Torchwood” writer Chris Chibnall, sees the return of a fan favourite monster from the Perwee years, but in a story that more or less just repeats exactly the same moves as those which the creator of the Silurians, Malcolm Hulke, made in the original 1970 serial, which was itself further developed in his ensuing novelisation, "Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters". Leaving aside the controversial question of their dodgy nomenclature (reptiles hadn't yet even evolved in the Silurian period) this indigenous species of ‘Homo Reptilia’, were created as producer Barry Letts' way of bypassing Hulke's criticism that the alien invasion storyline had become one of only two story types (the other being the plots of ‘mad scientists’) the series had left available to it during John Pertwee’s early years -- thanks to the production decision to exile the Doctor on Earth after Patrick Troughton’s Doctor was sentenced by the Time Lords in his final story “The War Games”.
Instead, Letts and Hulke came up with a scenario in which the Silurians’ civilisation ruled the Earth for most of its history, during which time they became extremely scientifically and militaristically advanced, only vacating the planet’s surface during the Eocene epoch in order to avoid a catastrophic event that threatened the race with extinction. They went into a suspended animation, deep in the depths of the Earth, only to awake in the present day to find that apes had ‘stolen’ their planet from them. In other words, the usual scenario has been reversed and we are now the alien invaders. The Doctor’s inherent sense of fair play means that, rather than attempt to thwart the Silurian menace, he instead looks for a way to get each side to accept the other’s right to exist in peaceful harmony. The bleak ending of the 1970 serial saw the Doctor being overruled by the Brigadier and the Silurian enclave destroyed by a UNIT bomb.
The original Silurian adventure was broadcast against a backdrop of racial unrest and heated debate on the subject of immigration in Britain during the late sixties and early seventies, when Enoc Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood Speech’ first became the lightning rod for polarised opinions on these matters in 1968. So it’s easy to see why the time was felt to be ripe for a return to the theme in 2010. Add to that thought the knowledge that Chris Chibnall is clearly in Pertwee-era tribute mode here, and the familiar feel to this adventure begins to make sense: we get the Welsh mining village from “The Green Death”, the impenetrable dome around the village from “The Daemons” and, of course, humans tampering with the Earth (this time it’s a giant drill; in the original story it was a nuclear reactor) and waking up its original intelligent inhabitants from Hulke’s “Doctor Who and the Silurians”.
The Doctor promises Amy and Rory a nice holiday in sunny Rio de Janerio but, as per usual these days, the TARDIS ends up in the wrong place and takes them to a small Welsh mining village in the year 2020 instead. Which explains why Amy is clad in a vanishingly teensy micro-skirt for the entire story … probably. A vast mining operation is underway, led by Doctor Nasreen Chaudry (Meera Syal), which aims to drill deeper into the earth’s crust than has ever been attempted before in search of the source of some unusual minerals which have been recently discovered in the area.
While the Doctor and Amy investigate the drill site, Rory gets mistaken for a policeman by a local woman, Ambrose Northover (Nia Roberts) and her son Elliot (Samuel Davies), who mistake the TARDIS for a portable crime lab and ask him to investigate the mystery of the disappearing bodies in the local graveyard: the grave of one of their relatives has been discovered to be empty, yet with no sign of any previous disturbance around the site. Elliot proposes the hypothesis that whatever took the bodies entered the graves from below.
While speaking to Doctor Chadrey and her chief engineer Tony Mack (Robert Pugh), the Doctor feels that there is something strangely wrong with the ground. Suddenly the earth opens up beneath them and he realises that the ground has been bio-engineered by some outside force with advanced technology. Amy is swallowed up and taken prisoner by a reptilian humanoid experimenter in a surgical smock, with a scalpel in his hand and dissection on his mind. Elliot’s father, who is a worker at the drill site, is also one of his unwilling experimental subjects.
Back on the surface, the sensors monitoring the drill’s progress pick up alien life forms ascending from the depths -- someone is drilling up to meet them! The Doctor and Rory organise the others and barricade themselves in the local church, but Elliot gets left outside alone and is abducted by the Silurians (the Doctor has by now realised who he is dealing with). They do manage to capture one of the creatures though (not before it manages to infect Tony with venom after he’s caught by a sting from its Triffid-like extended darting tongue) and the Doctor proposes that the two sides negotiate with a view to exchanging their hostages and coming to an agreement about how they are going to co-exist on the planet. But this will prove as difficult as it ever has, as both sides distrust the other and will go to any lengths to keep their loved ones from perceived harm, even if it means resorting to violence …
The captured Silurian proves to be from an aggressive female warrior cast who have been woken by the disturbance from the drilling activity because of an inbuilt defence mechanism in the suspended animation process designed to protect the colony from threat while it sleeps. This sub-species of the Silurians do not have the red third eye which marked out the creatures during the Pertwee years. In fact, good though the prosthetic make-up is, it looks nothing like the original Silurian design at all. Gone, it seems, are the days when actors would allow themselves to be buried unrecognisably behind an obscuring rubbery alien mask -- now, unless it’s the Daleks or the Cybermen (who themselves have been given a chunky Metal Mickey makeover), most alien creatures in the series have to look recognisably human in order to allow the actors mobility of expression. It means the Silurians now tend to look rather like generic Star Trek aliens with scales -- at least once their scary lizard-like masks are removed.
It turns out that this creature wants nothing less than to start a full-scale war with the human race and wipe all the ‘stinking apes’ (she’s a sort of lizard Charlton Heston then, it seems!) from the Earth’s surface, so that her species can reclaim its rightful home. In the second of the two episodes, the Doctor and Chadrey journey down to the Silurian base and discover not just a tiny community (as was the case in the Pertwee adventure in 1970) but a huge gleaming underground city -- although most of its inhabitants have yet to be woken up. Only Doctor Malokeh (Richard Hope), whose been taking bodies from the graveyard (as well as the odd live subject) in order to study the evolution of the apes walking the surface, and the warlike female caste led by Restac, the ‘sister’ of the captured Alaya (both parts are played by Neve McIntosh) are awake, along with some female solidier Silurians. Restac proves every bit as warlike as her sister, and although the Doctor had left them with a stirring speech about how they must be the best that humans can be, Alaya manages to goad Ambrose into doing the one thing the Silurian actually wants her to do -- kill her, and thus provide the catalyst which will see her race take full vengeance upon the human race.
There is undoubtedly a great deal of potential in this attempt to remake and partially update the original Pertwee story, but this fairly middling effort -- despite a beautiful prosthetic design for the Silurians and an impressive underground cave-civilisation set; a striking performance from McIntosh and solid work from the other guest stars -- just never really gets going and seems to run out of gas when we get to the ridiculous climax in which the Doctor assigns Amy and Chadrey the onerous task of representing the entire human race in the negotiations with Silurian leader Eldane (Stephen Moore); negotiations that are to decide how the Earth is to be divided up between the two species. The idea that they could ever command the required authority for such a job isn't exactly made to look plausible by having Amy looking bored and petulantly thrusting her head into her hands throughout the proceedings. Neither Matt Smith nor Karen Gillan can pull this one off -- the whole scenario is crazy. Why would anyone take the slightest bit of notice of them, let alone the combined leaders of the nations of Earth? The 'real' dramatic core of the episode appears unexpectedly, right at the end when the ‘crack in the Universe’ story arc returns in a sudden way, precipitating Rory’s apparent demise, along with the fractures in time which cause all record of his existence to be erased forever -- even from Amy’s memory.
This DVD volume of Doctor Who series 5 adventures comes with another episode of "The Monster Files", which this time is a ten minute featurette on the Silurians. It tackles their previous history in the series and the thinking behind their redesign for this new story. The actors who play them are interviewed about their approaches to playing the creatures while Neve McIntosh is shown undergoing the lengthy make-up procedure that had to be endured while the prosthetics were being applied. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan provide more enthusiastic soundbites on the subject of the Silurians and their amazing make-up. The whole thing runs just under ten minutes and has a soundtrack by Muse.
As ever, both DVD and Blu-ray formats are available with exactly the same content.