Doctor Who: Series 13, Episode 4 – Flux: Chapter Four: Village of the Angels

“A Weeping Angel needs my help?”

(SPOILER WARNING!)

On paper, Village of the Angels has all the requirements for a classic episode of Doctor Who. A small village setting, isolated, cut off and besieged by the most terrifying monsters the recreated show has to offer. A historical mystery explained by means of twisty-turny, timey-wimey paradoxes. The TARDIS crew separated and in jeopardy, with the Doctor staging a last-ditch attempt to fend off the baddies, sonic screwdriver in hand.

And indeed it started out promisingly, making the most of these classic tropes of the show. Mrs Hayward, the stock rhubarbing local with dire warnings, was a dead ringer for Miss Hawthorne in The Daemons (with a timey-wimey twist of her own), while the disbelieving villagers were picked off one by one. Kevin McNally’s Professor Jericho was a well-written supporting character, a compassionate scientist given not so much to scepticism as the idea that the supernatural is simply unexplained rather than inexplicable.

Some suitably Hammer-esque direction from Jamie Magnus Stone bolstered the trad horror movie vibe. The sequence of the Angels trying to get into Jericho’s old house was truly tense, as they burst forth from TV screen and fireplace. There was some genuine body horror as Claire (Annabel Scholey) found herself turning into an Angel, much as Amy had done in Flesh and Stone. As in previous eps of the season, there weren’t many guest characters, but the ones that were there were well-written and played, perhaps due to a script co-written with Maxine Alderton, who did so well with The Haunting of Villa Deodati.

Yet with all of this promise, Village of the Angels never really cohered into a great episode of Who. Sure, it was atmospheric and had some excellent set pieces. But the wheels started to come off it in the latter half of the ep, and it ultimately seemed to fizzle out without a proper ending.

It has this in common with War of the Sontarans, and for the same reason. Both need to be fitted into the wider story that Flux is trying to tell, which compromises a perfectly good premise for a standalone story. Your mileage may vary on this – I know many fans who love an all-encompassing story arc full of mystery. But I also love a good standalone episode, and it felt like both this and Sontarans originally started out that way, before being retooled to fit into the wider storyline.

This was most obvious in the episode’s ‘B plot’, of Bel encountering hapless survivors of the Flux on a devastated planet. It’s always good to see Blake Harrison in anything, and I found myself surprised that he hadn’t been on the show before (though he had a really interesting regular role in the Big Finish audio dramas). And it provided a useful update on the nefarious doings of Azure, Swarm’s nasty sister, as she hoodwinked the desperate survivors into self-incarceration within one of the nasty-looking, skull-faced Passenger forms.

All well and good, but these cutaways served to distract from the undeniable tension of the main plot. Even then, they could have served as useful breathers from the A plot when the tension was ramped up to cliffhanger level. But as the main plot wound on, it became clear that its resolution too (insofar as it had one) was inextricably linked to the mystery of the Flux.

To be fair, this did provide some interesting twists. The revelation that the Angels were in fact working for the mysterious Division was genuinely unexpected – I assumed they were yet another bunch taking advantage of the situation. It might also go some way to explaining the unresolved cliffhanger at the end of the sadly cancelled Class, where the Angels were revealed to be in cahoots with… someone or other, to cause all that trouble at Coal Hill School.

Equally, we’d never seen dissent within the Angels’ ranks before; they’d always seemed a single-minded whole, with no individuality of their own. The revelation that Claire was being inhabited by a dissident Angel being hunted by the rest was an interesting addition to the lore of the creatures.

Said lore has never been all that consistent though, and some of the additions here seemed to contradict earlier plot points. For example, it was interesting to see that the result of being sent back in time by one for a second time resulted in actual, stone-crumbly death. Except wasn’t repeatedly sending people back in time their whole scheme in The Angels Take Manhattan, with the hapless residents of that New York apartment block?

And there’s always the problem with plot holes in timey-wimey paradox stories. It was a nice twist that doom-mongering Mrs Hayward was actually the missing little Peggy, having taken the long way round back from 1901. But Claire’s timeline was less clear. When we first encountered her in ep1, she already knew the Doctor “from the past”, though the Doctor didn’t know her yet.

It seemed reasonable to assume then that, in River Song fashion, this ep would show their ‘first’ meeting in the past of 1967. Except that, from Claire’s perspective, this meeting actually took place after her appearance in ep1, that being before the Angels sent her back to 1967. So that implies that, in Claire’s subjective past but the Doctor’s subjective future, they still have to meet for, from Claire’s perspective, the first time.  I know there’s still two eps left to go, so this might be addressed. If it isn’t though, it will count as a glaring plot hole.

With all this complexity going on, Jodie Whittaker at least managed to continue making a good impression. Her mental meeting with the rogue Angel inside Claire’s head was well-handled, the Doctor’s moral outrage well-conveyed. She also did well as the woman of action directing the defence of the Professor’s house against the Angels, who we’ve never seen in such numbers before.

Unfortunately, Yaz and Dan got far less opportunity to distinguish themselves. Consigned early on to the deserted village of 1901, it seemed like they had little to do beyond being identikit Who companions. In point of fact, Professor Jericho himself seemed to fill the traditional companion role rather better for this episode.

Though he too is now stuck in 1901, along with Yaz and Dan – another unresolved plot thread. Again, presumably this will be dealt with in a later ep, though the show’s been very inconsistent as to whether the Angels’ victims can be retrieved from the past via TARDIS. Still, where there’s a plot requirement there’s a way, though I can hope the inconsistency is at least mentioned in some throwaway line.

The Doctor’s ultimate ‘recall’ to the Division – and the worrying prospect that she seems to be turning into an Angel herself – was a good cliffhanger to end on if the main arc is what you’re most interested in. But it didn’t provide any resolution at all to the main plot here. People were still stuck in the past, the village in 1967 was still being menaced by Angels, the disappearance of its entire population still on track to happen.

So for me anyway, this ep was a frustratingly missed opportunity. There’s so much about it that’s good – the premise, the direction, the characters – and yet it fails to come together into anything that makes sense, because of the demands of the wider story. Again, all these loose plot threads can – and hopefully will – be resolved in a later episode. But I felt that this could have been so much better as a self-contained story that stood on its own terms.

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