Now this feels like proper, classic Doctor Who – on so many levels.
Gripping storytelling, terrific pace, spooky direction, a grand idea (the monsters were here before us), a small-scale Earth setting in the near future, characters worth caring about, and plenty of meat for the three leads. Plus, a companion in real peril. Blasé Amy is at last allowed to freak out – and understandably – when placed in not just one but three nightmarish situations: burial alive, a gas chamber and dissection.
We even have adverse weather plaguing filming. During the night shoot, when Cymtaff is covered by a forcefield, how can it be raining?
Just as his 2007 episode, 42, borrowed from Planet of Evil (1975), Chris Chibnall again brazenly mines the series’ former glories. Drilling into the Earth’s crust (Inferno, 1970). Village isolated by energy dome (The Daemons, 1971). Welsh mine, and man turning green (The Green Death, 1973). People and Tardis sucked below ground (Frontios, 1984).
Many of those classic adventures were, in turn, reheating ideas from Quatermass and John Wyndham novels, so it’s a fine tradition.
Of course, the major revisit is the Silurians. Revealed gradually (silhouettes, claws, heavy-breathing…) over several weeks back in 1970, these reptile men were the first Who monsters that haunted my childhood. And tonight as we see one darting about in a dark graveyard approaching the boy Elliot, I’m momentarily taken right back to that frisson 40 years ago.
And oh, what joy! The designers have dispensed with the original Silurians’ rubber suits, wiggling heads and light-bulb third eye, which would all look ridiculous today. I do miss the old voices (Peter Halliday sounded like someone with emphysema gurgling down a hose) but I quickly adjusted to Neve McIntosh’s waspish diction and Scottish accent. (Like Steven Moffat, she hails from Paisley.)
The rigid warrior mask and a reptilian latex face beneath are both superb designs, the latter allowing for a startling performance from McIntosh.
I didn’t have high hopes for Meera Syal. I’ve only seen her in comedies that never made me laugh, but she’s terrific here as drill project manager Nasreen, who shows unbridled faith in the Doctor and is determined to get aboard the Tardis with him.
Matt Smith again nails every scene, especially the Doctor’s guilt when he realises he’s let down Rory, then Ambrose, by placing their loved ones in danger. I completely bought his stirring speech to the humans to “be the best”, as well as his encounter with Alaya, when he tentatively removes her mask and says, “You’re beautiful.” I don’t want to inflame the acolytes of David Tennant, but whenever the tenth Doctor delivered those “You’re beautiful” lines, I’d cringe. Not tonight.
So roll on, part two – Cold Blood. Now will that just refer to reptilian biology, or our actions as humans, or something else entirely?