This two-parter is a bit of a damb squib, but I certainly didn’t hate it as much as some.
I’d go so far as to say I enjoyed a lot of episode 1, primarily because I rather appreciated the slow build-up and there were some nice Eleventh Doctorish moments in the mix: “Shh, Shh, Shh, have I gone mad? I’ve gone mad” was a marvellous interjection at a stage where he’s trying to convince people of the improbable. I thought Matt Smith demonstrated a fine range this week, from his typical bumbling eccentricity to some genuinely good emoting when Amy is pulled underground, to some effective quiet moments. I really liked his delivery of “No. You’re really not. Because I’m the last of my species and I know how it sits, in the heart, so don’t insult me.” He’s a more abstracted character than Tennant or Eccleston, more prone to putting people in danger, and less reliable at getting them out of it. I like that. I can’t imagine either of his predecessors forgetting the boy as he does here.
Part 2 on the other hand turns into a far more obvious retread of the Silurians debut story from the 1970s, but rushed and lacking in the necessary dramatic beats to make us really believe in the possibility of a treaty. We’re also lumbered with a lot of being captured and escaping, and fairly stereotypical nice sciency types and mean military types. The Doctor becomes more decisive, less quirky and more judgemental, which is to say he becomes David Tennant. It’s not terrible, but it never really engages my interest, or rises above its tried and tested concepts or plot devices.
Clearly the closing season-arc element is the most interesting, but it’s only when Rory dies that I appreciate just how utterly this season has failed to make me care about him. And just as importantly, how little I believe in the romance he shares with Amy. He’s… okay, but his death fails to evoke the tragic drama it’s engineered to. It doesn’t help that he dies in a pretty off-hand way, by the old baddie-with-one-vengeful-shot-left-in-them. It also doesn’t help that I strongly suspect this will all get unravelled in the season finale. I do love the idea that a major character can be written out in this way, and I think it’s a clever way to reset the status quo in-story for the next few episodes. It’s imaginatively done. I also like the way the crack in space-time is woven through the season so that it’s integral to the plotting and not just foreshadowed. (Even if I’m not quite sure how consistently it’s being portrayed given that the Doctor can rummage inside it and everyone else gets deleted just by being vaguely near it.)
Part of the problem with Rory is Amy. Amy keeps threatening to become a rounded character but remains a bit of an enigma. It’s tough to get below the surface. Much like companions in the classic series she simply *is*. She’s travelling with the Doctor. She reacts to things. But I have very little sense of what drives her. Perhaps the problem is that we’ve been given the answer – Rory – and I don’t buy it. I like her as a smart, sassy companion, but she doesn’t quite feel real. It’s a shame her chat with the Doctor about Rory was cut from part 1, because judging from Doctor Who Confidential it would have helped answer at least some of these frustrations.
Meera Syal is also pretty weak in an extremely underwritten role. One defining characteristic of this season has been the dearth of supporting characters who have really sprung to life as three dimensional human beings. When they do it’s often largely the work of the actors and the occasional telling moment. Nasreen is obsessed with geology and in love with her colleague. Syal doesn’t really do anything special with this thin material. The Doctor treats her like prime companion material but it’s very tough to see why.
I understand the desire to redesign the Silurians to give them a bigger range of expression and more identifiable emotions, but the make-up is crying out for some reptilian contacts or false teeth. Or a third eye. They’re far *too* human, and I think the same level of audience identification could have been achieved with a slightly more alien design. And, y’know, by writing them so I cared about them1. It’s a nice reversal that the females are the military ones, but it’s also random and inconsequential since in every other way they fulfil the role of the belligerent military aliens in a Doctor Who story. (I did also appreciate the fact that women drive a lot of the story, through both good and bad actions.)
Overall it’s a bitty, patchy, intermittently interesting two-parter. It grabbed me in parts, left me cold in others. Like a lot of this season it feels strangely uneven in tone and pacing, as if someone with no interest in traditional beginning-middle-end story structure or action-adventure plotting is trying to shoehorn their ideas into a foreign format.
Other than that, saxonb said just about everything I’d want to say, and better.
1 Also my wife missed the petulant Silurian from the Jon Pertwee story.