Note: The following review contains spoilers for all aired episodes of Doctor Who, including the most recent, “Cold Blood.”
In many ways, “The Hungry Earth”/”Cold Blood” two-parter is the most complex and complicated episode of this series of Doctor Who to date. It centers on a situation that seems inescapable and futile. Neither the humans nor the Silurians are in the right, and yet through a series of actions and miscommunications on both of their parts, war seems inevitable for the majority of the story. The second episode in particular builds tension beautifully, as the burgeoning optimism regarding the peace talks is countered by our knowledge that when the Silurians discover that Alaya has been killed, all chance of derailing the disaster will go to hell. Chris Chibnall’s script wisely ensures that mistakes and poor decisions are made on both sides, so neither can be easily identified as the one who is at fault or the villain. Ambrose demonstrates how humanity can falter and fail, but at the same time, not only was Alaya baiting her (not to mention responsible for the kidnapping of her son and husband, and the poisoning of her father), but her sister, Restac, was equally willing to execute first, ask questions later. Meanwhile, the Silurian doctor and the wise negotiator represent the best of their race, while people like Nasreen and Amy (who first gets into trouble as the result of not heeding the Doctor’s advice in trying to rescue a complete stranger) represent the best of theirs.
Although a staggering amount occurs in these two episodes, the moment that will most likely stay with us the longest is Rory’s shocking and unexpected death. A few episodes back, Rory basically told the Doctor that he is dangerous because he inspires people to do stupid things to impress him, and now Rory dies by doing something that he himself would have considered stupid a short time before, in order to save the Doctor’s life. This says a great deal about how much Rory has grown over a short period of time and how heroic he has become. He no longer confuses courage with stupidity, jumping in front of the Doctor just as swiftly as Amy reached out to help Tony in the previous episode. Had Rory died trying to protect Amy, as he did in one of the dream realities of Amy’s Choice, it wouldn’t have had the same impact nor would it have indicated how brave he had become. Risking or sacrificing one’s life to protect one’s fiancee is not quite as selfless an action as doing it for someone one has recently accused of stealing said fiancee, and yet Rory does it, to save someone who is nearly 1000 years old, no less, without a moment for pause or reflection.
Of course, the most tragic aspect of Rory’s sacrifice is that, being swallowed by the Crack, he has been erased from all of existence, including Amy’s memory–a cruel fate to befall such a kind person who died in such a heroic manner. His “death” in Amy’s Choice foreshadows this event but cruelly twists it. That earlier death is what convinced Amy that the only reality she wanted to live in was one in which Rory was by her side, whereas this one eliminates Rory from her mind all together. Never has the Crack seemed more dangerous and terrifying. It swallows up whole lives, whole realities. It will be very interesting to see what happens to Amy next. So much of her motivation this season has been in running away from a wedding and a relationship that she only just realized she wants very deeply. Now that this relationship never happened, what does she now think was her original reason for joining up with the Doctor? The concept of our memories making up who we are has been explored on Doctor Who many times in the past. What happens if, as what happened to Donna, our memories are taken away from us? Do we become different people? The Doctor, who remembers everything–both things that occurred in the far distant past and the far distant future–is beginning to lose his memories in a more elaborate way. It’s not that he doesn’t remember the events any more but that history may now be different than his memories of the events originally went, which is an equally–if not more–troubling prospect.
It is, therefore, very fitting, thematically, that this story involves the Silurians, a forgotten race in Earth’s history. For all intents and purposes, humanity’s memory of the Silurians has completely disappeared, if it had ever been there in the first place. This episode is about what happens when we are asked to accept responsibility for things that we cannot remember, that are not even part of our history or knowledge. The episode ends on the major irony that all of the progress that is finally made in paving the way for a union of these two races, one thousand years from now, may now never have occurred at all. And yet the episode leaves us with some hope, in the form of the narration spoken by the Silurian leader, in the future, which seems to indicate that everything might be alright, assuming this isn’t the echo of a future that is about to be undone by the Crack. It seems, however, that it would be too dark for Doctor Who for the efforts and struggles of such people as Nasreen and Rory to be completely wiped out, which leads me to wonder whether this is indeed a subtle hint that time can be rewritten, as referenced in “Flesh and Stone.” I guess the major question is whether this “rewriting” referred to the effect of the Crack in the first place, undoing what had been done, or whether it refers to what can be possibly done after the Crack has done its damage.
For now, we are left with the uncomfortable evidence that Rory has disappeared from Amy’s future timeline (only she, rather than she and Rory, are waving back at her at the end of the episode), and that the Doctor pulled a charred fragment of the TARDIS from the Crack, giving credence to the disturbing suggestion that the TARDIS and/or the Doctor might, in the future, be to blame.