Doctor Who: Series 7, Episode 5–The Angels Take Manhattan

“I always tear out the last page of books. That way I don’t have to know the ending. I hate endings.”

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New York, New York. So good they named it twice. The Big Apple. The city that never sleeps. The city that… well, wasn’t strictly integral to the plot of this emotional farewell to the Ponds (finally given the name of ‘Williams’ as a last courtesy to Rory). Don’t get me wrong, the location work, by the talented Nick Hurran, was exceptional, moody and atmospheric. But really, this story could have played out anywhere. New York was just the icing on the cake. Since I’m on the topic, shame they didn’t consider Los Angeles; given the monsters involved, that might have been somewhat appropriate.

But then, it wouldn’t have had that gimmicky title, reminiscent of countless Hollywood classics (ironically enough), but most of all, for me anyway, the masterpiece Muppets Take Manhattan. Though this did manage to be scarier than that – just. I’m not sure whether I’d rather face a Weeping Angel or an enraged Miss Piggy.

Indeed, gimmicks seemed at play a lot here. As I theorised a while ago (see last week), the temptation to have the Statue of Liberty be a Weeping Angel was just too good to pass up (perhaps Mr Moffat is gambling that nobody remembers Ghostbusters II). It did look great, looming over that rooftop with a snarling mouth full of fangs, but the spectacle did require some equally spectacular leaps in logic. For a start, given its illuminated location in the middle of New York Harbor, it would have to be quite lucky to be unobserved enough to move when it needed to. And when it did, did nobody notice it had gone? It was hanging around that rooftop for quite a while!

There were leaps in logic aplenty here, both within the episode itself and as part of the larger story of Amy and Rory that started back in The Eleventh Hour. When did the future Ponds arrive to wave at themselves during The Hungry Earth? What was the real explanation for Amy’s excessively large house? Why did she not remember big events like Dalek invasions? And if we were never going to get answers to all these things, why have the Doctor continually drop hints about them?

Still, if there’s one hallmark of what I guess we must now call ‘the Moffat era’, it’s temporal paradoxes. Time has been rewritten so much over the last couple of series (not to mention rebooting the entire universe based exclusively on Amy’s memories) that it can be used as a way to paper over such inconsistencies. I don’t much care for that rationalisation though – it smacks of a post facto way to excuse loose plot threads.

Given Moffat’s fondness for rewriting timelines, it seemed a matter of convenience here that suddenly the Doctor was unable (or unwilling?) to change futures he’d seen or knew about. He’s managed to rewrite time plenty before (see Day of the Daleks for an obvious example), to the extent that Russell T Davies had to invent the concept of ‘fixed points in time’ to justify why he sometimes couldn’t. But that principle has always been flexible to fit narrative continuity; that’s why the Fifth Doctor couldn’t just nip back to that freighter and rescue Adric (thankfully).

I can understand why, reading the above, you might think I didn’t enjoy this episode. But actually I did, to the extent that I was prepared to (just about) forgive it those staggering leaps in logic. After all, they’re mostly the ones that only fanboys like me were going to spot. I’d guess that, for most viewers, the biggest concern was the final farewell of Amy and Rory.

In this, the script was clever, playful and tricksy. It had been well-publicised that they were leaving, so  I’m guessing it was written with the assumption the viewer would know they were leaving, making the suspense depend on how it was going to happen. Would they decide to stop travelling with the Doctor (after last week’s affirmations)? Would they be killed? Would they simply die of old age?

Moffat’s script cunningly played with all these expectations, ultimately managing to make the Ponds’ fate a combination of all these things with, bizarrely, still managing to live happily ever after. That might seem like trying to have your cake and eat it to some, but actually that element of the script hung together just fine. After wiping out the Angels HQ by dying twice (in one episode – a fitting farewell for Rory), Rory then got zapped back to the past. Amy chose to follow him, to be with the man she truly loved. They both lived happily ever after, in the past, unable to return. Then died of old age, leaving a Manhattan gravestone and a message for the Doctor. And as I said, all that at least made sense, and actually managed to prove just about everyone’s speculations right in one way or another.

The script was actually masterful at misdirection from the very start, introducing a Raymond Chandler-style PI who seemed to be narrating the story, then got zapped back in time by the Angels after witnessing his own death as an old man. It was good to see the Angels back to their original USP of sending people irretrievably to the past and feeding on the time energy thus produced; gripping though their last appearance was, it never seemed consistent with what we knew that they were suddenly dispatching their victims by snapping their necks.

As it turned out, most of the episode ended up being set in that film noir era of 1938, to which Rory had been zapped while off getting a coffee for Amy and the Doctor. That gave the director, set designers and costume designers the chance to have a field day with noir conventions, into which the Angels fitted surprisingly well. True, the ‘McGuffin’ of having one Angel in the custody of acquisitive crime lord Grayle (nice to see Mike McShane) neither made sense nor was followed up on after the gang escaped; but that’s the sort of window dressing so frequently used by Chandler, who confessed that even he didn’t know who’d committed one of the murders in the 1946 adaptation of The Big Sleep.

But really, all the twists, turns, moody lighting and misdirection were all to get Amy and Rory to the roof of that building, and the point of both choice and affirmation that, finally, they were more important to each other than the Doctor was to them. Rory’s plan did (just about) make sense, based on what the Doctor had already told him – avert the death of his elderly self by dying now, and (for wibbly, wobbly reasons) the resultant paradox would cancel out everything the Angels had done, leaving him alive again.

When it comes to standing on a ledge about to jump, though, it’s a leap of faith. It was the first of a number of points in the story where you thought Rory in particular was going for good. The scene was beautifully played by Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, who by now must feel like they know the characters inside out; and when they both jumped (to the Doctor’s anguish) it felt like that must be the end for them, slo-mo, heartfelt Murray Gold music and all.

But no, they woke up back in that graveyard, sitting bolt upright like Captain Jack returning to life. And all looked rosy until Rory noticed that gravestone – given the themes of the episode, perhaps he’d have been all right if he hadn’t seen it. His sudden instant disappearance at the hands of a lone surviving Angel was the last we’ll ever see of him, and that felt like a bit of a cheat. It did explain why the script had already given him two emotional death scenes this week, but ultimately just disappearing – that didn’t feel right, somehow.

Thankfully, Amy got a truly heartwrenching farewell, as she made the near-impossible choice to leave the Doctor, to leave her daughter, and even to leave the here and now irrevocably behind, to be with the man she loved. That scene, for me, was actually quite difficult to watch – given the genuine offscreen chemistry oft displayed by Karen Gillan and Matt Smith, their emotions seemed to transcend mere acting.

It was the little coda that really got me, though, as the Doctor realised that the handy “River Song, Private Eye” book referred to throughout must have been published by Amy herself, and would have an afterword. So it proved, and as Karen Gillan’s voiceover reminded us of everything Amy’s done and seen over this last three years, it was hard not to tear up.

So, the Doctor’s lost his best friends, for the first time in this regeneration. How will he cope? “Don’t travel alone,” was Amy’s sage advice – we all know what happens when nobody’s there to stop him. It might have been fun if River had accepted his offer to travel with him for a bit – Alex Kingston was on good form this week, balancing the scenery-chewing with moments of genuine pathos and emotion. She also looked surprisingly good in a trenchcoat and fedora, though I would have expected 1938 eyebrows to be raised at a woman dressed like that!

However, I’ve had my complaints over these last few years that River’s ubiquity and dominating presence seemed to be turning the Doctor into a supporting character in his own show, so having her around all the time might not be a good idea. Besides it would be hard to square with what we know of her character’s future. She’s already been paroled from prison and gained her professorship – because the Doctor’s been wiping out everyone’s records of him, not just the Daleks. Lucky for UNIT last week that he left their database alone.

Farewell then, Amy and Rory. I know they’ve not been to everyone’s taste; some friends of mine have been less than keen (putting it mildly) on Amy’s character or Karen Gillan’s realisation of it. But I’ve enjoyed them both. I think Gillan did have to grow into her character more than Arthur Darvill did (he seemed to have it nailed right away), but Amy ended up being far more interesting than she first appeared.

Whatever your opinion of Moffat’s stewardship of the show, you have to concede he’s tried doing something really different with these companions – having them flit in and out of the Doctor’s life but never really leave, while they aged in real life between his visits. And let’s not forget that they ended up being the parents of the Doctor’s wife!

And now they’re gone, after a longer continuous period on the show than any companions since its return. Christmas will explain how the Doctor manages to pick up the girl he’s already seen converted into a Dalek then blown to bits. Well, it might explain; with Moffat, you can never be too sure.

For now, this was an emotional episode that frustrated as well as entertained. Ten out of ten for Amy’s farewell, only five out of ten for Rory’s. Brilliantly atmospheric, but often didn’t make sense if you stopped to think about it. Mind you, doesn’t that just sum up Moffat’s style in one sentence?

Doctor Who Season 5–the Facebook Marathon: Part 4

The adventure continues.

March 11, 2011, 9.06 pm. With friends from various corners of the globe now chiming in on the Facebook discussion, it’s time to embark on the first two parter of Doctor Who season 5 in my marathon viewing. For the purposes of these posts, a two parter counts as one story, so both episodes are covered here.

NB – as before, if your name or image is on these screenshots and you’d rather it wasn’t, PM me on Facebook and I’ll edit the image. Thanks!

After only one episode away, that man Moffat is back, and he’s brought his most popular baddies with him…

Season 5, Episode 4: The Time of Angels

Somehow, my Facebook typing remains mostly accurate despite my increasing consumption of that most British of beverages, gin and tonic:

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River Song is back, and she’s trying to escape from a futuristic prison that looks suspiciously like a maintenance tunnel in Cardiff. But I’m more preoccupied with the oddly familiar young man she’s entrancing with her hypno-lipstick:

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At this point, I hadn’t become as jaded with River’s constant reappearances as I was later to become. This leads me to question the bleeding obvious:

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At this point, some ire is directed toward the then-new showrunner:

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The dialogue is channelling Frankie Howerd:

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As an Angel looms out of a TV monitor to reach for Amy, Steve sees it differently:

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As ever, I’ve discovered that one of the cast is quite an attractive young man; thankfully this trope hasn’t ended with the departure of Russell T Davies:

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As this is the second time I’ve seen it (the broadcast being the first), hindsight enables me to pick out some inconsistencies that I missed the first time:

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Ever the Robert Holmes wannabe, Moffat is ratcheting up the terror:

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The first episode reaches an exciting climax, but I’ve noticed something different from the original transmission:

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After a fag (no, a cigarette, not the other kind), it’s straight back for part 2:

Season 5, Episode 5: Flesh and Stone

Even more than the first part, Mr Moffat is letting his influences show:

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Like Tom Baker, Matt Smith has an excellent habit of counterpointing the scary bits with humour that doesn’t undermine them:

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The Doctor tricks the Angels into revealing their difference from the Spanish Inquisition:

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Being a little tipsy now, I decide to ruminate on the ongoing plot arc by quoting Leonard Cohen. Amy (not that one) chimes in:

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Contradicting what we’d previously been told, the Angels can be fooled into freezing by making them think you can see them. I may be tipsy, but my fanboy nitpicking head is still functioning perfectly. Steve comes up with the only possible explanation:

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As the terrifying set piece of Amy picking her way, blinded, through the artificial forest unfolds, I’m more preoccupied with her shoes:

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The Angels are defeated by hurling them into Amy’s crack, erasing them from ever having existed. Not for the last time, my nitpicking power enables me to spot that Mr Moffat’s timey-wimey narratives don’t always add up:

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With the excitement over, it’s time to (re)assess the story as a whole:

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So, opinion was more divided on this one, and even I had to concede it wasn’t as good as I said in my initial review. If you’re a regular reader of the blog, it’s worth noting that I write my reviews as soon as possible after watching, to capture the impressions I have at that precise moment. It’s actually not that unusual for me to become more critical of a story after I’ve given it glowing praise, it’s a habit I’m trying to combat!