Series 5, Episode 5: Flesh and Stone

What if time could run out?”

The satisfying conclusion to the return of the Weeping Angels saw the titular villains collide head on with the real villain of this year’s story arc – the mysterious Crack in Time. It was another ‘cracking’ script from Steve Moffat, proving yet again that, unlike many Star Trek writers, he’s capable of writing a two parter where the second part lives up to the promise of the first.

Very much like its inspiration Aliens, the big reveal that the monsters were everywhere around our heroes was followed by a frantic, tense chase, in this case through the innards of the crashed Byzantium. More superb direction from the impressive Adam Smith ensured that this was a heart in mouth, action packed episode that, unlike many a Hollywood actioner, never lost the depth and emotional involvement developed in the first part.

Like a Hollywood actioner, it had some brilliant set pieces, and unlike the shoehorned in ‘Spitfires in space’ bit from Victory of the Daleks, these integrated with, and arose naturally from, the story – the hallmark of how a good set piece should work. We were into one from the very beginning, as the Angels gradually encroached on our heroes in the flickering light of the Byzantium’s entrance corridor, while the Doctor worked frantically to open the inner hatch. “Nobody panic… only me then.”

Undoubtedly the best set piece though, and the one destined to be remembered by loads of kids when they grow up, was the bit where Amy had to walk, eyes closed, through the Angel-infested forest, as the creatures slowly, creepily, came to life around her. Steve Moffat has, as the later Confidential showed, an incredible gift for portraying the archetypal nightmares of childhood, and this is one that would certainly have had the younger me waking up in the night thinking about it. I guess it’s the influence of his two young sons – and it’s Louis Moffat who we, reportedly, have to thank for this episode’s perfect, creepy title.

Action and suspense still mixed perfectly with character involvement, as we saw in the moment when Bishop Octavian was revealed with his throat in a near death grip from a frozen Angel. It was a perfect bit of misdirection in the script; just as the danger of the Crack had been revealed – “There’s worse than Angels out there!” – the Doctor turned to see the jump out of your seat image of Octavian with a ghastly Angel’s arm around his throat. “I beg to differ, sir”. The horror was mixed with real pathos, perfectly underplayed by both Matt Smith and Iain Glen. The tears in the Doctor’s eyes said it all as he turned away, leaving the Bishop to certain death. One thought occurs – did the whole ‘Church military’ idea stem from a character called ‘Bishop’ in Aliens? I wonder…

The forest was a good setting for the episode. Like last week’s caves, it’s a traditional scary Doctor Who archetype. Think of Planet of Evil, Kinda, The Mutants… well, maybe not the last one. But it was a splendid, and logical, touch to have it contained within the crashed ship, like the biodomes in Silent Running or the ‘ship’s garden’ in The Black Hole. The ‘tree-borgs’ were a nice science fiction idea in a story that, as usual for Moffat, was so brimming over with interesting concepts he could afford to chuck them out randomly without even paying much attention to them.

Amy’s ‘countdown’ was another chilling sequence where the viewer was allowed to see what was happening before the characters onscreen – although I suspect the Doctor picked up on it rather earlier than he revealed. Apart from the inherent scariness of the very idea – an Angel in Amy’s mind, rising from her visual cortex – it was yet another example of how chillingly malevolent these monsters are, as ‘Angel Bob’ revealed that they were using the countdown to scare her, “for fun, sir.” Brrrr.

With Amy so central to the peril of this episode, River Song seemed rather more sidelined than last week. But while not so integral to the action, she still got plenty of great character moments, even offering, against all logic, to sacrifice herself to seal the Crack. We know that she can’t, because her death later in her own time stream has already been shown, but she doesn’t. And we also got more hints as to her background, but, satisfyingly, no real answers. The hints add to the puzzle of who she’ll turn out to be, and Moffat has promised that she’ll return and they’ll pay off. But, increasingly, it’s looking like nothing so simple as her being the Doctor’s future wife. We now know that Octavian got her out of prison for the mission, and that she was there for killing “the best man I’ve ever known”, the obvious implication being that her younger self killed an older version of the Doctor. As much as anything, though, a hallmark of Moffat’s writing is misdirection, and such an obvious hint is unlikely to be the real answer. I look forward to her return – assuming the excellent Alex Kingston is available when necessary – and wonder whether, perhaps, it will be later this season…

And so to the real villain of the piece – the Crack in Time. So scary even the Angels run from it, it’s arguably undercutting the monsters’ menace to have them sidelined for a more nebulous threat. But again, it integrates perfectly with the story, and fits into the structure perfectly to provide its ultimate resolution. For the first time, the Doctor and Amy have become aware that it’s following them through time and space, and it’s become clear to them, as well as us, that it’s all about Amy. Somehow.

And is it scary? Well, it was deeply unsettling as cleric after cleric went off for a closer look and never returned, and we realised that those left had no memory of them ever having existed. Obviously, any sci fi fan had an instant grasp of what was happening – the crack erases its victims from history altogether. And that’s a damn scary idea, in my opinion. “I told them it was the end of the universe.” “And what is it?” “The end of the universe.” The Crack is obviously the key to why Amy doesn’t remember the Daleks, and it’s a better explanation than Donna Noble always having a hangover when aliens invade. But how far back is the new series erasing Doctor Who continuity? Obviously Russell’s increasingly spectacular alien invasions had left Who Earth increasingly divorced from the real one, and it’s a good idea to have the clock reset. But I’d hate to lose everything Russell established, and if the Crack erases back far enough, then maybe none of the show will ever have happened. Still, I have a complete trust in Steve Moffat to resolve the conundrum well, and I look forward to it. Though I do sort of hope it’s not all a big plot of the new Rainbow Daleks.

The Crack is also the key to the story’s resolution, and a neat one it is too; with the Angels having drained all the ship’s power, the gravity fails and they fall back into it, effectively sealing it. For now. But if that means these Angels never existed, surely there would have been no reason for the troops to be after that first one. Or for the Byzantium to have crashed on the planet in the first place. I can’t stand the confusion in my mind! But that’s time paradoxes for you, and Steve Moffat’s one of the only writers who successfully explores the potential of this aspect of the show. I did notice one odd thing, and it might have been a continuity error, or it might not; when the Doctor returns, improbably quickly, after leaving Amy in the Forest to give her a couple of words of comfort, he’s wearing his jacket. The one the Angels took from him earlier, which he isn’t seen wearing at any other subsequent time in the story. It’s something you can only just make out, as the shot’s in extreme close up on the Doctor’s face, but it’s there. A continuity error? Or is it another Doctor, perhaps from a later time stream? If it were anyone other than Steve Moffat overseeing the show, I’d put it down to a mistake and forget it. But it’s a hallmark of his attention to detail that it’s made me wonder. And that also makes me wonder about the other apparent ‘error’ we’ve seen – the commencement date on Rory’s NHS ID badge being 1990, when presumably he would have been about five. Another error? We saw it in extreme close up, so I have to wonder. And with the Crack playing havoc with time…

Matt Smith was the best he’s ever been in this story, complemented perfectly by Karen Gillan. The interplay when Amy was near death was excellent, with the Doctor pragmatically refusing to lie to her about her condition. He must have learnt his bedside manner form Gregory House! It’s yet another example of how this Doctor is perhaps slightly more alien than his predecessor, and when Amy finally decides she wants to jump his bones in the final scene, he takes an age to catch on and then fights her off, with a near comic outrage. Refreshing that he does that, and even more refreshing that Amy’s looking for nothing as long-term as a relationship. But he’s let off the hook – and instantly back to his in control self – when he realises that Amy’s wedding is the date from which the Crack originated. It certainly removes any doubt as to the time period of that first story – Amy’s wedding is due on the 26th of June 2010. And if eagle eyed viewers haven’t noticed, that’s also the very date on which the last episode will be transmitted! Oooh…

2 thoughts on “Series 5, Episode 5: Flesh and Stone”

  1. This season seems to have had some (to me) piss poor editing in places, with the doctors coat snafu im now wondering if maybe its part of the story rather than poor continuity and shody editing.

    My favourite scene this week was the “bridge” scene, if it wasnt a nod to trek then there never ever will be a nod to trek on who.

    Great development of the story arc in this episode also, really came together in the last 20 minutes.

    Classic

    Like

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