Doctor Who: Cold Blood (2010)

Warning: spoilers throughout.

So here’s something I’m kicking myself for not seeing last week: the metaphor of Alaya as terrorist.

Doctor Who Cold Blood
Of course, she remains primarily a creature of pure, wicked temptation, a serpent (literally, ahem) pushing those around her toward their basest, worst selves. She knows her role is to be killed, so she delights in teasing the humans, hoping that she can bring at least one of them down to her level. She is the devil; instead of forbidden fruit, she offers a path toward a greater sin.

But let us also consider the secondary allegory, which becomes more clear in the opening scenes of “Cold Blood.” Here is someone so determined to wage war against her perceived aggressors that her best course of action (she believes) is to goad them into violence. She is “bringing the war to us,” to bend a well-worn and admittedly crappy phrase from the past decade. She will not listen to reason, she will refuse to understand boundaries between civilian and soldier, she will only be content when war is declared and her enemies defeated.

That line, then, leads to thoughts of torture. She expects only the worst from us humans, and knows full well how the weakest will be the first to strike. When the Doctor growls at Ambrose for being “less than” the best of humanity, he’s growling at every government official and policy wonk that approves of the sorts of loopholes and legalese that permit torture as an acceptable way of doing business.

Stepping back from such symbolism to get a larger view, we see one of the most widely used of all sci-fi tropes: the hawk and the dove. We meet Alaya’s sister, Restac (who, like Alaya, is played by Neve McIntosh), who hungers for war even before she learns of Alaya’s sad fate. And we meet Eldane (Stephen Moore), an elder statesman who hungers for peace. (Curious that in science fiction, it’s the youth that wants blood; in real life, it’s often the elders – elders who avoided combat in their own youth – who start wars. Still, the logic is understandable; the brashness of youth and the wisdom of age are clear stereotypes.)

(And while we’re doing parentheticals here, let’s take a moment to note that of the Silurians, the heroes are all men – well, reptiles – of science, and the military – “there’s always a military,” the Doctor groans defeatedly – are the villains. “Who” has always stood by this: brains over brawn. This is a long-standing theme in the history of science fiction, and you can always tell what’s on a country’s mind by seeing who gets to be the good guys. The atomic age had it flipped, with scientists as the baddies. These days, we trust science more than the government. And all that scary reptile-surgeon stuff from last week turned out to be a red herring; the guy turned out to be quite trustworthy and brave, best befitting, the episode tells us, anyone in his profession.)

Anyway. The hawk and the dove. Again we’re taken back to 1970’s “The Silurians” and the Third Doctor’s attempts to broker a truce by sidestepping the warrior youth and reaching out to the elders. That plan failed when UNIT – officially a military unit but unofficially a stand-in for “the Man” – hastily destroyed what they thought to be the entire Silurian race.

It makes perfect sense, then, for the Doctor to trust the first round of human/Silurian negotiations not to the governments that weasel their way into policies of torture (and weasel out of responsibility for it), but to Amy and Nasreen (Meera Syal), who represent humanity at its most pure, at its most open, and – most importantly, perhaps – at its most average. The Doctor implores Nasreen to “be extraordinary” (and as the look on her face shows, who can resist such a demand, when it’s the Doctor asking?). The greater point, though, is that any of us can make that leap from ordinary to extraordinary. The Doctor knows that the vast majority of humanity is peaceful at heart. Where Alaya puts her faith in our species’ worst, the Time Lord puts his in our absolute best.

When it’s all over, the Doctor still has faith, if not in Ambrose, then in her son (Samuel Davies). There is always hope in the next generation. Prejudices fade, acceptances grow. Maybe the Doctor’s right. Maybe in a thousand years, humankind will be ready to welcome a strange new neighbor to their planet. Indeed, the episode’s wraparound narration from Eldane reveals that same possible future, and it sounds like a good one. Hope for the future, for hatred and violence to fade away as the years march on.

That’s what’s going on in “Cold Blood” – the hawks and the doves, the struggle for peace over war, a desperate yearning that we can all get along, all told through the lens of a ripping adventure sprinkled with bold dialogue, daring escapes, and, of course, “squeaky bum time.” But not a single word of it matters, because the only thing on your mind for the past however long it’s been since you watched the end of the episode has been: HOLY CRAP RORY’S DEAD.

And not just dead. Erased from existence. Deleted from all of time and space. Forever gone from Amy’s memory, who now knows nothing of their engagement, their love, their wave from the hill.

So that’s what the wave was all about – it’s not a hint at some big finale moment, it’s a simple illustration to show Rory’s departure from the universe. It’s not enough that we must watch through teary eyes as the poor guy strains to comprehend how he can possibly die, what with their obvious future and all. (Arthur Darvill’s performance here is… well, “exceptional” hardly seems adequate a term. It shouldn’t be a surprise, considering how well he crafted a full three dimensions to his “lovable buffoon” role – a role often reduced in other series to one dimension, if any at all – and yet it’s still a bit stunning to see such sorrowful depths in Darvill’s delivery. His reading of “I don’t understand” is absolutely, horrifically crushing.)

We see Amy fight against all hope to remember Rory, and we see her lose to the light of the crack in the universe, and we see her carry on in sweet obliviousness. But even here, it doesn’t entirely sink in, until Amy spots her future self across the way… and smiles. “Hello, me!” she shouts joyously, and that’s when it fully hits us: Rory is gone, and the best we can hope for is for Amy to think for the briefest of moments that she saw someone else, too.

Oh, and then the Doctor finds out the TARDIS is going to be destroyed in the future, or something. Oh.

The crack in time and space has now worked its way into a full-on arc of front-row importance. It’s a rather tough thing to juggle a major arc and individual stories in a way to appeal to both the die hard fan and the casual viewer who might not mind missing a few weeks. Steven Moffat and his crew are keeping all their balls in the air (um, so to speak) splendidly; I’m willing to sit through a few seconds of unnecessary flashbacks each week if it means keeping “Who” from turning into one of those shows where if you miss half an episode, you’re screwed for the whole season. Most importantly, though, the crack arc is making me all the more impatient for the next week’s episode. It’s more than just “oh, the next one’s got Van Gogh.” It’s “oh, the next one’s got Van Gogh, and HOLY CRAP RORY’S DEAD AND THE CRACK IS GROWING AND THE TARDIS IS DESTROYED IN THE FUTURE OR SOMETHING AND HOW WILL IT TURN OUT??!!?!” The difference is slight, but important.

Doctor Who The Hungry Earth - Amy and Rory Waving

Doctor Who Cold Blood - Amy Waving

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One thought on “Doctor Who: Cold Blood (2010)

  1. Jim Fung says:

    Loved Cold Blood’s exploration of themes relevant to the War on Terror and nonviolence. It’s not quite as simple as military hawks vs scientific doves either. Cold Blood shows how do-gooders with the best of intentions (Ambrose, who works for Meals on Wheels) lead us into war too, as as happened with the disastrous intervention in Libya.

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