May 29th, 2010
I didn’t have a whole lot to say about last week’s “The Hungry Earth,” both because I wanted to talk more about the two episodes which preceded it and because it isn’t actually really important. While “The Time of Angels” was also the first part of a two-part story, it seemed like it had a narrative of its own: actions were undertaken, and the tension built during the first hour felt carried over into the second. This time around, meanwhile, there was no transfer of tension, as “Cold Blood” more or less takes the basic facts and situations created in the previous episodes and gives them consequence the first part was lacking.
This isn’t to say that “The Hungry Earth”/”Cold Blood” is entirely dissatisfying – rather, I simply want to note that this is a much less intriguing way to do a two-part episode, a scenario where the first part can be pretty easily summed up in a brief one-minute synopsis and the rest filled in through a few bits of dialogue here and there. However, luckily for the series, this episode packs both an emotional and intellectual wallop, delivering some key clues to the “endgame” of the series while also creating a substantial bit of narrative gymnastic which adds a new layer of complexity to our understanding of Amy Pond. Throw in a compelling glimpse at the Doctor’s love for humanity mirrored by a race with absolute disdain for them, and you’ve got an hour that does a better job at giving some hints at the big picture than it pays off the hour we spent last week.
And considering its position at this late stage in the series, that’s probably okay – the standalone story might have needed some work, but the ramifications of the story on the Doctor, his companion, and the series as a whole are a nice bit of momentum heading into the final act of the series.
Is it cheating to introduce a narrative element which allows the series to go on as if a fairly substantial event hasn’t actually happened? The notion that Rory being subsumed into the light emerging from the crack in time means that he has been erased from history seems like a fairly substantial shortcut, a way for the show to keep doing light-hearted journeys into history (like next week’s visit to Vincent Van Gogh) even after Amy sees her fiance murdered in front of her. Sure, the Doctor is immune to the crack’s influences and will be forced to live with Rory’s decision to jump in front of the speeding laser in order to save him, and we as an audience aren’t going to forget what happened with Rory either, but there’s a tremendous risk with introducing a substantial event like this one without the necessary mourning period.
It places a lot of expectation on the execution of that death: if we are not going to see a character’s death reflected every week within the person most impacted by it (Amy), then we are going to need to see that initial response in vivid detail so that our memory of it can fuel our recall of those events when the series purposefully refers to them (either through the Doctor or through Amy’s actions speaking to their relationship). And while I don’t necessarily know if Chris Chibnall’s script laid out the situation perfectly (I wasn’t sure why the Doctor couldn’t disarm her before anything went down, for example), Karen Gillan absolutely sold it: while she may no longer remember Rory, we will remember her traumatized response to his death and her struggles to keep him in her memory before a sudden jolt erases him (perhaps forever, or perhaps until the climax of the season where the Doctor stops the anomaly but as a consequence returns her memory and creates a situation not dissimilar from my understanding of what happened with Donna wherein her memories become so traumatizing that she can’t cope with them. Anyways, that’s just me spitballing). Gillan and Matt Smith both did some tremendous work in those sequences, and regardless of where the story goes or how “Cold Blood” got to that point the emotional execution of the moment was spot-on.
I like the notion of this event as a potential pivot, a non-fixed moment in history that can he changed through human (or homo reptilian) intervention – part of the tragedy of the episode is that the Doctor is in fact speaking of Rory’s death in that moment rather than an accord between the two inhabitants of the planet, the initial moment of Rory and Amy waving from across the way replaced by Amy simply waving to herself. There was some speculation last week that this implied something more, perhaps connecting with the discontinuity in jackets that we saw in “Flesh and Stone” as the Doctor (perhaps feeling the need to more greatly emphasize the threat of the crack having gained further knowledge about its origins) potentially traveled back to that moment, but it seems like (for now) it was simply a way to represent the impact of these events: not only was this Rory erased, but future Rory disappeared as well, and we wonder whether future Amy is aware of what happened below or not (as she seems dejected rather than elated to see herself, lacking the enthusiasm we saw from Rory and Amy earlier). It’s a complicated situation, and one that I think is interesting enough to overcome any of its current vagueness within Chibnall’s script. We’ll see what the rest of the season answers: perhaps then I’ll have some issues with the ways in which something which is apparently abnormal (visiting your own exploits) was used as a simple way to indicate a changed future, but for now I think it worked to emphasize Amy’s blankness.
What worked somewhat less was the execution of the story itself. The human side of this story was told through thinly drawn characters without any real personality, making the pedestrian hostage situation more boring than I think the show thought it was. I never cared about any of the humans, and so the scenarios which mucked up the peace accord between the two sides never felt particularly important. I like the idea of the two sides attempting to broker a peace agreement, as it speaks to the Doctor’s instincts: he has an intense love for humanity, so to find a society who believes them to be uncivilized apes gives him an opportunity to sing their praises. However, while Matt Smith plays the heck out of the Doctor’s sheer pleasure at being present at this accord, the accord is actually pretty boring, and all of the interesting questions are filtered through either Amy (who is not the character to be consider these kinds of subjects) or the geologist who just isn’t interesting enough to sustain my attention. The Homo Reptilian side of the equation was far more interesting, and yet we didn’t really get to spend a lot of time on it beyond seeing the dove/eagle divisions within those members of its society who weren’t in hibernation.
Obviously, we now know that the explosion which creates the crack in time involves a piece of the TARDIS (established by the Doctor reaching into the crack to find shrapnel, the logistics of which I’m still sort of struggling with), so we have our marching orders: the Doctor is working towards discovering the truth about the crack in time (which seems to involve Amy to some degree) while Amy is now blissfully unaware of the tragedy she has suffered. It’s a cruel fate, and it will be interesting to see it play out within a “standalone” episode next week – in this case, the story itself felt like a missed opportunity, but the foreshadowing and major plot events managed to win the day.
- Ambrose does some very interesting things, but this does not make her an interesting character: because we don’t really care about her family, and because the confrontation with the Homo Reptilia was oddly staged and just really not effective at establishing the torture of her actions, her son’s horror at his mother’s actions never landed, and any chance of the character emerging as a tragic figure just didn’t work for me.
- When we heard the Homo Reptilian elder speaking over the voiceover, he spoke of the tragedy the Doctor created but also his good intentions: the way it was worded, it sounded like he was talking about Rory, and yet by the end it’s clear he could have only been talking about his own people. It bugged me when I went back to the episode, as I don’t understand why that “1000 years ago” bit was necessary to the momentum of the episode at the beginning (at the end it makes more sense, I think).
- The lingering question: will Rory’s absence allow the show to return to Amy’s romantic feelings for the Doctor? Curious to see how fans respond if they go in that direction.