Archive for June, 2010

So… what did I think about The Big Bang?

Posted on June 29th, 2010 in Culture | 6 Comments »


Doctor Who - Series 5 - Episode 13 - The Big Bang

Spoilers abound! Keep away if you haven’t seen the episode.

I wrote last week that Steven Moffat had painted himself into a corner somewhat. This episode saw him not so much leap the wet paint in a single bound as redefine the notions of “paint”, “wet” and “corner”. This is a totally different episode to The Pandorica Opens in a quite remarkable way – so much so that at times it barely feels like a continuation of the same story.

Much of it is absolutely dazzling. The return to the time and place of The Eleventh Hour, the brief sketch of a starless Earth (recalling Asimov’s famous short story “Nightfall”), the reveal of Amy inside the Pandorica “Okay kid, here’s where it gets complicated” and that’s just before the titles roll. Some of it is genuinely affecting – Rory’s double millennium stint on guard duty is a beautiful conceit – much of it is terribly funny – “I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool. *toss* *zap* – a lot of it is both complicated and satisfying – Amelia is thirsty because the Doctor stole her drink in the past to give to her now because she’s complaining of thirst.

However, much of it is also very dry. As the Doctor bounces back-and-forward in time, we delight in seeing the pieces of the puzzle come together, but it tends to feel more like completing a Sudoku than the catharsis of a dramatic narrative. Part of the problem is that stakes having been raised through the roof and then up another twenty storeys last week, many of the solutions come very easily this week. Moffat’s a rigorous enough writer to have provided one-line explanations for most if not all of the following gripes, but the fact is that none of them feel properly integrated into the story. A contradiction is still a contradiction, even with a throwaway pseudoexplanation.

  • Last week the Pandorica was impossible to open and the Doctor was trapped inside it forever. This week it can be opened and closed at will simply by waving the ever-popular sonic screwdriver at it.
  • Last week the Pandorica was a device which rendered the Doctor incapable of further action. This week it regenerates anyone put inside it.
  • Travelling in time is difficult which is why so few people can do it and why the TARDIS is so valuable. The time bracelet is repeatedly described as crude and nasty, presumably in the hope that we will never notice that it is in fact pinpoint and to-the-second accurate every single time it is used, instantaneous and in general better and more convenient than the often-unreliable TARDIS in almost every way.
  • The whole idea of a “restoration field” is bunkum. For an explanation as to why, see my future blog post on the difference between science and magic.
  • Stone Daleks!?

It’s that last point that I want to address now. As noted in the blog last week, as well as elsewhere, the supervillain alliance is risible as soon as you give it a moment’s serious thought. Moffat’s solution to this problem is to simply not include them in part two. In fact, throughout this peculiar episode, he simply drops concepts when they have no further role to play; Amelia disappears in the middle of the museum sequence with – again – only a single line to cover, Rory is controlled by the Nestenes only when it is required that he should be and so on.

What this means, and what adds to the Sudoku-feeling of this episode, is that there is no charismatic and yet hissable villain in whose downfall we can rejoice. Yet, this is not peculiar among Moffat scripts. Here’s a quick recap of his stories and their “villains”.

  • The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances – mindless nanogenes doing what they’ve been programmed to do.
  • The Girl in the Fireplace – mindless clockwork robots doing what they’ve been programmed to do.
  • Blink – characterless statues doing what their nature dictates
  • Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead – characterless shadows doing what their nature dictates
  • The Eleventh Hour – mindless police force hunting criminal by-the-book
  • The Beast Below – political brainwashing system
  • The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone – as Blink
  • The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang – apparently an alliance of supervillains, but actually what must be overcome is not the alliance but the fact of the universe having been extinguished

Not one good villain among them. The Eleventh Hour probably gets nearest. Prisoner Zero him/her/itself gloats in a suitably villainous way, but isn’t the main foe. In the same time period, other writers gave us The Editor, The Dalek Emperor, Mr Finch, John Lumic, The Family of Blood, The Master, Miss Foster, Davros, the Dream Lord and Restac. What’s Moffat playing at?

Then there’s the list of things which simply weren’t explained at all – some of these were trailed into the next series but many were never even mentioned.

  • Why doesn’t Amy remember the events of The Stolen Earth?
  • Why should the TARDIS exploding extinguish every star in the universe?
  • If the Earth is orbiting the TARDIS as it explodes, just where is that brick wall which River Song can’t get past?
  • How does remembering the Doctor bring him back to life anyway?
  • Who is River Song and what was she in prison for?

Now, all this may sound as if I didn’t much like it, but the fact is I really, really did. The lack of a good villain does make it hard for the Doctor’s victory to resonate, and the incomprehensible scale of the problem means that the solution seems intellectually interesting rather than emotionally satisfying, but there are moments of sweetness, tenderness, and even greatness at such frequent intervals, that as severe as some of these problems sound, they are mere niggles when you actually sit and watch the story unfold.

River Song’s extermination of the stone Dalek, the dying Doctor’s last words inside the Pandorica, “I escaped! I love it when I do that” followed by the horrible realisation that he is simply pausing on the threshold of death, and most spectacularly, brilliantly, jawdroppingly wonderful of all – Amy’s realisation that what her wedding is missing is Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed and Something Dimensionally Transcendental.

Then Matt Smith dances like a loon, a pair of married companions hop into the TARDIS for the first time ever and we’re off to the Orient Express it seems. Whew.

A fitting climax to a thirteen week run which was often astonishing, sometimes frustrating, but never (almost never) less than entertaining. I hope that next year the new production team will feel a little more secure in their roles, and some of wrinkles will be ironed out.

In the meantime, I’m going to see what else this blog is good for, but if nothing else, I’ll be back to review the Christmas special. Geronimo! Meantime here’s my summation of Series Five.

The Eleventh Hour: good introduction to the new team. 4/5
The Beast Below: didn’t really make sense, but I was captivated by the energy and oddness of it all. 4½/5
Victory of the Daleks: nadir of series five. 2/5
The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone: practically perfect. 5/5
The Vampires of Venice: better than the Dalek nonsense, but only just 2½/5
Amy’s Choice: slight but engaging. 3½/5
The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood: graceless but efficient with a killer ending. 4/5
Vincent and the Doctor: horrid. 2/5
The Lodger: flawed but enjoyable. 3/5
The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang: the best and the worst this series has had to offer, but more of the former than the latter. 4/5

So… what did I think about The Pandorica Opens?

Posted on June 23rd, 2010 in Culture | No Comments »

Doctor Who - Series 5 - Episode 12 - The Pandorica Opens

Spoilers!

Now, let’s have a chat about season finales.

In the 1960s, Doctor Who was pretty much a year-round production. The first year saw 42 episodes produced and transmitted on a weekly basis, with a further four-part story (later edited down to three parts) recorded and then held over to start the new season after only a seven week gap. In the seventies, the workload was scaled back to 26 episodes a year (today we have half the episodes each year, but they’re double the length) but again, the practice of “holding over” one story to start the next season was maintained – so for example, even Robot, Tom Baker’s first story, was recorded immediately after work had finished on Planet of the Spiders and by the outgoing Jon Pertwee production team.

Throughout these years, the season finale was often nothing special. Sometimes, as with Planet of the Spiders or The Green Death, these end-of-season stories happened to coincide with changes in the regular cast, but equally such changes could happen in mid-season as with The Hand of Fear. More importantly, in all other ways these stories were not vastly different from those which were transmitted either side of them.

In the late seventies and early eighties, each season did tend to come to a fairly definite end, following which the production office would briefly shut down and then gear up again for the following year’s onslaught. This did mean that the final story of each season tended to have a fairly obviously defining characteristic. It was the one where they’d already spent all the money – Time-Flight being the most obvious culprit here. When Peter Davison left, producer John Nathan-Turner took the decision to move the regeneration story up one, so the season finale is not the regeneration, it’s the first full story of the new Doctor (and obviously done on the cheap).

It may also be worth noting that these two stories – Peter Davison’s final outing, The Caves of Androzani, and Colin Baker’s first effort, The Twin Dilemma, recently came first and last respectively in the Doctor Who Magazine poll of all stories ever. That these two stories, transmitted consecutively could be so wildly divergent is an indication of just how little quality control was being effected by the then producer.

In the new era, things are very different. With one person in the role of both executive producer – having overall creative control of the series – and head writer – contributing the lion’s share of the scripts – an entire season can be designed with a beginning, middle and end. Russell T Davies wrote an unprecedented eight out of 13 episodes for Series One, transmitted in 2005, including two out of the three two-parters, and including the two-part season finale. For the first time, a season of Doctor Who stories was itself telling one longer story. (Successfully, that is.) The “Bad Wolf” clues, dropped as early as the very first episode, coalesced into a hugely dramatic showdown between the new, battle-scarred Doctor, and an entire army of space-faring Daleks. It was an astonishingly climactic end to a season which looks a little ropey and uncertain in places today, but which five years ago did the impossible – it made Doctor Who viable again.

This was topped with almost effortless ease in 2006 with what might be my very favourite episode of the revived series to date. (No, it’s Blink. No it’s Midnight. Wait – I forgot about Human Nature.) Not for the rather implausible Torchwood business, not for all that nonsense about the Void being a cosmic hoover, not even for the fan-pleasing yet wittily-done Dalek vs Cybermen showdown (“this isn’t war, this is pest control”) but for the heart-wrenching, gut-aching Bad Wolf Bay farewell between the Doctor and Rose. A friend of ours brought her ten-year old daughter round a couple of days after Doomsday went out. She’d missed it, so we let her watch it as the grown-ups talked. As Rose struggled to cling on to that lever, we gradually stopped talking and began watching the screen. And by the time the Doctor was burning up a sun just to say “goodbye”, all four of us were sobbing uncontrollably.

This, of course, creates a problem.

Now, each season finale has to be bigger, more awesome, more show-stopping, more heart-tugging, and more spectacular than all those which preceded it. And ideally in a different way. In the 2007 series, Rusty got away with this, but only just. The return of the Master in Utopia is brilliantly handled, The Sound of Drums successfully gets our heroes into All Sorts Of Trouble, while pulling together strands from earlier episodes, and Last of the Time Lords manages to make the best of the inevitable reset switch with a couple of useful reversals, the sense that some of the participants at least have not been reset and so have paid a price for their endeavours, and for a real look at what being the last of your kind (such a Doctor Who cliché!) actually means. But, by now the cracks are beginning to show.

The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End are colossally self-indulgent and the return of Davros is muffled by the presence of too many other villains and allies all competing for our attention. Then the final episode shakes off any goodwill it might have accumulated by revisited and traducing that final scene in Doomsday. I thought the fourth series was in general very strong and I liked Donna enormously, but Journey’s End would have been a fucksight better without Rose in it. And probably without Davros too.

Which brings us (vaulting over The End of Time – this blog post is long enough as it is) to Mr Moffat’s first go. Which option will he take? Bigger and better – more and more old foes and returning friends, or something smaller, darker and more Silence in the Library-esque? Well, now we have our answer. Like The Hungry Earth, and The Stolen Earth before it, much of The Pandorica Opens is teasing. We all know, as if we haven’t guessed from the end of The Eleventh Hour, that the contents of the “Pandorica” will be revealed in the closing minutes of this episode. The question is not where will we arrive – it’s how entertaining will the journey be? But Moffat also has a second significant problem of expectations to overcome. The longer he puts off telling us what The Pandorica is and what it contains (and, as I say, he’s been putting it off for around ten episodes now!) the more fuckstaggeringlyawesome it has to be when it’s finally unveiled.

Let’s take the first of these problems first. In hindsight, it’s pretty obvious that that the Doctor was the only feasible candidate for the contents of the Pandorica. After all this build up, it can’t just be Thorax Last of the Huggliubdiums, of whom we have never heard before. It has to be something reincorporated from earlier in the show’s mythos, and that probably means from earlier this series. So that very long pretitles sequence serves double-duty. As well as setting up the story that is to come, it also rules out a number of possible, if not exactly probable, candidates. River Song? Nope. Churchill? Nope. Van Gogh!? Not on your life. Liz Ten?? And then, fifteen minutes before the end, all the new series’ major monsters crop up, also (apparently) keen to see what The Pandorica contains. So, it doesn’t contain Daleks (classic or shit models), Cybermen, Sontarans, Autons, Hoix, Blowfish or Weevil either. And we’ve heard no rumours of returning companions (good, leave Rose Tyler where she is please) and it’s too early for a rematch with The Master so unless it’s the surprise reappearance of the Menoptra (you laugh, but who ever thought we’d see the Macra again!?) it has to be the Doctor himself.

What comes between the arrival at Stonehenge and the opening of the Pandorica is therefore, once again, just delaying tactics, but what delaying tactics they are, and how many other revelations are packed in to this? The Doctor and Amy’s hilarious and terrifying encounter with an amputee Cybermen, the striking reappearance of Roranicus, Amy’s remark that Pandora’s Box was her favourite book, the gorgeous set design and location filming, and any number of quotable one-liners (“I hate good wizards in fairy tales. They always turn out to be him.”), all add up to a thoroughly engrossing, exciting, suspenseful and fan-pleasing forty minutes.

The last five minutes does see Moffat painting himself into a corner a wee bit. As with The Master broadcasting to the “peoples of the universe” in part four of Logopolis, the need to raise the threat level to cataclysmic proportions comes at the cost of a certain level of credibility. The quadruple-threat cliffhanger (Doc’s in the box, Amy’s shot by Rory, River’s stuck in an exploding TARDIS and the universe itself is being extinguished) is written and staged with enough vigour and energy that I was just about able to buy it, but stop and think, even for one moment, about this “alliance” and what it means, and how it was brought about, and the whole thing quickly becomes laughable, as a number of hilariously satirical threads on Gallifrey Base demonstrate (“What did they all say while waiting to surprise the Doctor?”, “The Alliance Conference Call”, “What did they all say after the Doctor went into the box?”).

But, I have faith that Moffat can bring all this together, maybe even confront the reality of this alliance, as RTD confronted the reality of taking a young woman away from her family and friends on a tour of the universe. I have no idea how The Big Bang will resolve any of this, but if I know my Moffat, the clues are already in front of us. So here’s what I’ll be looking out for on Saturday night.

  • “Amy, does it bother you that nothing about your life makes any sense?”
  • The crack removing people from ever having existed
  • What else does Amy remember – what else did the Doctor implore her to remember?
  • What has Amy forgotten and why?
  • What else is in Amy’s head?
  • What was River Song in prison for?
  • The Pandorica is a “fairy tale”, according to the Doctor
  • 26 / 06 / 2010.

See you on Saturday!

So… what did I think about The Lodger?

Posted on June 21st, 2010 in Culture | No Comments »

Doctor Who - Season 5 - Episode 11 - "The Lodger"

Spoilers ahead, but as this is a week late, I shouldn’t think this is too big a problem.

So, Moffat rounds up all of his sit-com buddies and gets Simon “Men Behaving Badly” Nye to write an episode which turns out to be a rather nice little “bottle show”. He gets Richard “Vicar of Dibley” Curtis to write another, which pleased some with what they saw as its heartfelt artistic passion, but which so irritated me with its cack-handed monster that I couldn’t buy into the emotion of the climactic scenes.

So it’s left to Gareth “The Shakespeare Code” Roberts to give us Timelords Behaving Badly, also known as the Smith and Corden show. Unfortunately for Doctor Who fans, this was within days of Corden and Patrick Stewart making total twats of themselves at that awards ceremony, and so it was with a certain amount of trepidation that we approached this slightly unusual episode.

I thought that the set-up was fresh and funny. I like the idea of The Doctor having to spend several days passing as human, without the aid of a chameleon arch and a load of borrowed memories, without a companion to fall back on, and with the added complication of being dropped into a will-they-won’t-they-best-friends-each-too-scared-to-make-the-first-move situation. And, to his credit, Coren played his part with sincerity and wit and Daisy Haggard – so good recently in Psychoville – is also suitably vulnerable and yet not pitiable.

Add to this a wonderfully creepy mystery up the stairs and Karen Gillan making the absolute most of the pretty limited opportunities she’s given and we should be all set, right? Right? Sadly, this is yet another near miss, in a season which has been littered with them. I’ve long said that history will record that Russell T Davies’ chief contribution to Doctor Who, once it was actually back on the air, was the care that he lavished on every single script, whether it had his name on it or not. Some, he simply burnished up. Others, like The Satan Pit, he rewrote from top to bottom. When he didn’t perform uncredited rewrites, either for contractual reasons as with Fear Her, or due to illness as with Daleks in Manhattan, the results were generally unpopular stories which languished at the bottom of season polls. Possibly the reason that some of his credited stories were not so well received is precisely because only one mind is at work on them.

Moffat is thought to have a rather more hands-off approach to scripts. Pitching ideas to writers, suggesting plot turns here or character beats there. Protecting the tone through the production process, but nothing like the kind of top-to-bottom rewriting that the horribly overworked Davies indulged in. The result is that many of this season’s scripts – especially those without the name of the executive producer on them – feel a little undercooked, or have holes in the plotting which let them down.

The Lodger is let down in two different but equally serious ways. The first is that, with no passionately ranting Welshman babbling about “truth”, too many gags have made their way in which can’t be justified beyond “wouldn’t it be funny if…?” The Doctor’s omelette-making is overdone, his behaviour in Fatty’s office does nothing to earn the praise which Fatty’s boss lavishes on him, his lack of knowledge social niceties is totally at odds with the Third Doctor’s easy bonhomie with UNIT soliders and Whitehall penpushers; his bewilderment at the sport of football is hard to take following the Fourth and especially the Fifth Doctor’s fondness for cricket, and his inability to integrate with Fatty and Doe-eyes is almost impossible to accept as a continuation of the Tenth Doctor’s Christmas Dinner with Rose and her family.

All of which I could just about let go, if not for the fact that they fumble the climax so badly that it calls into question almost all of the preceding half-hour. Once Doe-eyes goes upstairs to her apparent doom, we the audience are well aware that the stakes are suddenly much higher than they were. But the Doctor has been steadfastly refusing to mount those stairs and find out what has been going on up there for days, letting innocents march to their death while he twats about on the football pitch or spits out wine or chats to Amy in the TARDIS. Suddenly, he has no reason to wait any longer, but all that’s changed is that Fatty’s caught him out. Any reason to wait still exists. If there was no reason to wait then he’s just let all those people die because… well, because pretending to be human was more fun!?

Pretty much all of which could have been avoided if he’d known it was Daisy Haggard up there, but he doesn’t. He and Fatty run up the stairs, not knowing who they’re going to find. The final scene is well-done and if the slack plotting didn’t ruin it for you, then Fatty and Doe-eyes’ eventual reunion is both neat, resolving both plots at once, and satisfying, but it’s a shame that the villain is yet another Moffat implacable robot on auto-pilot, a reprise of the Chula nanogenes from The Doctor Dances, the clockwork robots from The Girl in the Fireplace, or the Atraxi from The Eleventh Hour.

So, some funny lines. Some charming performances. A novel situation, but a lack of rigor, truth and care which left me more let down than entertained. Neither the disaster which this clash of genres might have been, nor the triumph given the talent on display. Three stars.

So… what did I think about Vincent and the Doctor?

Posted on June 8th, 2010 in Culture | 1 Comment »

Doctor Who - Series 5 Episode 10 - Vincent and the Doctor

Spoilers!

Doctor Who is rightly praised for the extraordinary flexibility of its format. Not content with science-fiction adventure stories, the series can encompass political thrillers, bedroom farces, psychological horror, childish whimsy and pretty much anything else you can think of. Even when the series settles down and finds something it’s good at, like base-under-siege stories, a story like The Mind Robber will come along and upset the apple cart. Sometimes, like Troughton’s adventures in the Land of Fiction, these experimental efforts become generally very well-regarded. Others, fandom declines to clasp to their bosom quite so firmly, such as The Gunfighters. Still others remain controversial – loved by some, hated by many – such as Love & Monsters.

Vincent and the Doctor was certainly an experiment, tackling the psychology of depression while setting a beloved artist in his historical context, all shot through the prism of Steven Moffat’s “fairy tale” vision of the series, and including a few brief mentions of the ongoing series arc. I wholeheartedly support this experimentation with the formula. I also thought the results were almost totally unsuccessful.

This is of course, merely opinion, and rash is the critic who attempts to give mere opinions the weight of facts. It is not true to say that Vincent and the Doctor is unsuccessful. Good friends and respected critics found it profoundly moving and exciting (and it is, of course, much less risky and exposing to sit on the sidelines and grumble about how manipulative a piece of art is, than to express your wholehearted admiration and love for it). It does, however, remain my opinion that Vincent and the Doctor did not work for me at all.

The pre-titles sequence is almost identical to the opening of The Time of Angels, with The Doctor and Amy once again discovering something odd in a museum artefact and charging off to find out what’s wrong with it, only here it’s done without any panache or grace. It’s not at all clear why a visit to the Musée d’Orsay should be a special treat for Amy, not is it at all clear why there are in such a hurry to race back to 1890 given that 1890 will wait for them to get there for as long as they like. And the justification “I know evil when I see it” (one of a handful of poorly-dubbed Matt Smith lines in this episode) is paper-thin.

So, the titles haven’t even run yet and already we’ve got a slightly awkward juxtaposition of a brief art history lecture and a sudden mysterious urgency to investigate a monster. On arrival in Provence, things brighten up a bit. Tony Curran is excellent both in appearance and in manner as the troubled Vincent, and his Scottish accent is incorporated with a sly gag. Director Jonny Campbell recreates van Gogh’s paintings in his compositions without making too big a deal of it, and the story begins to settle down.

At this point, I would have been perfectly happy if this had simply been a story of what happens when van Gogh met the Doctor and Amy, but up pops an invisible monster to remind us that this is Doctor Who. Sigh. The Krafayis is generally rather poorly realised with the Doctor not even facing the same direction as van Gogh when attempting to attack it, bits of scenery occasionally falling over, but never creating the impression that a creature is moving around, and actors being hoisted up on wires or falling over in a slightly embarrassed fashion.

Why it isn’t killing dozens of people isn’t made clear, nor is there any real connection to the rest of the story. Between only van Gogh being able to see it (and paint it), the Krayfayis itself being blind and van Gogh’s impassioned rant about being able to hear colours, Richard Curtis obviously has something in mind about what one person can see and another can’t, but it never really comes together. I suppose allowing these two plotlines to merely touch instead of intersect is preferable to desecrating van Gogh’s genius with some science fiction nonsense about his visions of the world being due to an excess of midichlorians in his blood, but the overall impression is still of a perfectly good, if slightly patronising, story about Why Vincent Van Gogh Was Sometimes A Bit Sad But Still A Jolly Good Painter, rudely elbowed out of the way for some rather clumsy science-fiction slapstick.

And then the Krafayis is dead, stabbed with an easel if that’s supposed to make this feel like more of a piece, with 15 minutes to go, which means we get undoubtedly the most questionable sequence of all – van Gogh’s return visit to the museum. Firstly, this is – for my money – somewhat overplayed at best. To the soaring strains of emo-pop, we hear Bill Nighy eulogise van Gogh’s art while the poor man stands and listens. I know it’s meant to be an uplifting and heartbreaking and yet ultimately sensitive depiction of depression, but to me it felt glib and sentimental without really connecting with anything. Secondly, and perhaps more seriously, the Doctor’s attitude towards this troubled soul’s mental health seems to me to be wildly cavalier (being shown this kind of future might drive anyone mad) and the lack of impact on the rest of van Gogh’s life, while probably truthful, did render the exercise slightly pointless. Ultimately, I simply struggled to accept the reality of any of it – even within Doctor Who’s loose fantasy context. I knew what the scene wanted of me, but I just didn’t feel that it had earned it.

As ever, there are pleasures to be had. In the scene where van Gogh, the Doctor and Amy lie on their backs looking at the stars, we get a vision of what a more restrained, more controlled, more truthful version of this story might have looked like. I’d cheerfully watch Bill Nighy (uncredited for some reason) count backwards from 1000 and I’ve no doubt he’d make it a fascinating experience. Matt Smith is absolutely brilliant once again, even when the script only gives him falling over to do, it was nice to get that quick name-check for Rory and I loved the TARDIS being fly-postered, and those posters burning off in the vortex. Ultimately, however, this was my least favourite story of the series so far, with the sole exception of Victory of the Daleks, which slips lower in my estimations with every passing day.

Two stars.

So… what did I think about Cold Blood?

Posted on June 2nd, 2010 in Culture | No Comments »

Doctor Who - Series 5 - Episode 9 - Cold Blood

Spoilers below, read on with care.

Last week, I said I was going to withhold judgement on this two-parter until I’d seen how (and if) all the set-ups were paid off. I’m pleased to say, in general they paid off handsomely. But this was also an episode of two halves. We’ll get to the last ten minutes in a second, but let’s take the Silurian story first.

It’s Stephen Moore doing a portentous voice over! Fantastic way to get me in a good mood, straight away. Totally unexpectedly, one of my favourite actors – one of those wonderful British character actors who’s been in just about everything but never, until now, Doctor Who – starts intoning gibberish over a picture of planet Earth, and even though the voice over telling us the end of the story at the start of part two is a complete steal from Doomsday, I just loved it.

And, as I predicted, the episode kicks off with all the characters who had been held in stasis, suddenly springing into life. Amy finally escapes from her shackles, Ambrose goes mental with a taser and the Doctor rings the front door bell. From here on, it’s pedal-to-the-metal, will-they-won’t-they stuff all the way to the finish, with some lovely good-news-bad-news sequences and masses and masses of Silurians, swelling further the ranks of twenty-first century Doctor Who monsters represented by two-or-three fully characterised individuals with impressive make-ups and any number of interchangeable troops, their faces covered by helmets, masks or cowls (see also the Sontarans, the Judoon, the Sycorax etc).

Is it perfect? Of course not. The Silurian/Human peace conference is unbelievably shallow and glib, as is the absurd division of Silurians into completely compassionate, open, sensitive and friendly on the one hand (Eldane, Malohkeh), and war-hungry psychopathic ape-haters on the other (Alaya, Restac). But this is Doctor Who – bold, colourful, exciting, fast-moving. Not some turgid political play at the Royal Court. Sure, they are broad brush strokes, but with performers as strong as Stephen Moore and Neve McIntosh, the script can trust them to find the shades of grey. Particularly fine was McIntosh’s little gasp of regret and grief at the sight of her sister’s corpse.

And while I’m griping, the Doctor and Eldane’s solution is also both patronising and a cheat. Patronising because the solution to the problem of sharing the planet with homo reptilia is unlikely to be as simple as pressing the pause button and getting three people to start up a new religion. A cheat because the magic decontamination thing was in no way set-up. But amid the whirl and dash and energy, I still found it hugely enjoyable, even on a second viewing. Mo never grows a character, and Eliot seems to lose his – even his dyslexia’s not mentioned again, but Tony, Nasreen and Ambrose are all vividly written and strongly played. There are also hints that we haven’t seen the last of Tony and Nasreen either.

Then there’s the last ten or so minutes. First of all, after three crackless episodes, the crack is back. Then just as I was wondering how long he’d be around for – boom! – Rory dies. Two death scenes in three episodes is quite a lot, and it’s a pity that as far as we’re concerned, Amy’s already lost him once. But to lose the memory of him too is ghastly and the Doctor’s guilt will be unbearable. One assumes that The Pandorica, when it Opens will have Rory-Restoring powers but, in the third of this episode’s triple whammies, it certainly seems to have TARDIS-fragmenting powers.

Wonderful stuff, and as we race towards the end of Series Five I can’t believe so much has gone so quickly. Cold Blood on its own is easily worth four-and-a-half stars, but I can’t completely forgive the padded-yet-garbled The Hungry Earth, so four stars for the story as a whole.

Next week – Vincent van Gogh as written by Richard Curtis.