Sunday, 30 September 2012

DOCTOR WHO, 7.5 - 'The Angels Take Manhattan'

Sunday, 30 September 2012

The fan-favourite Weeping Angels (frightening "living statues" that can only move when nobody's looking at them) terrorise New York City in Doctor Who's mid-series finale; an episode that also serves as a bittersweet farewell to companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill). Steven Moffat's the man behind the script, and although his time as showrunner's been pockmarked with plots favouring smarty-pants complexity over heartfelt emotions and character, I was relieved The Angels Take Manhattan" was so satisfying in a down-to-earth way.

What was particularly good about this episode was how Moffat took the Angels back to their origins in his award-winning "Blink", with their modus operandi once again being to zap people back in time to feed off their displacement's "time energy". The story even used an alternate version of the precognitive DVD from their classic debut, where David Tennant's Doctor was guiding the story from a future viewpoint, with this Doctor (Matt Smith) now owning a book written by author Melody Malone, pseudonym of River Song (Alex Kingston). A device that was also something of a tweak to the idea of River's TARDIS-shaped diary containing future spoilers.

The actual story of "The Angels Take Manhattan" is difficult to recap with any brevity, but I'll try. The Doctor, Amy and Rory had stopped over in the Big Apple (featuring location shooting that, forgivably, called attention to itself), unbeknownst the Weeping Angels have taken over every statue in the city (do they actually replace the existing statues or subsume them?) It wasn't long before The Doctor sprung into action when Rory finds himself thrown stranded in 1938 and reacquainted with his time-travelling daughter River and a collector of antiquities (Mike McShane) who can't refuse adding some Angels to his collection. He already has a basement full of giggling, scampering baby cherubs. Throw in a strange hotel staffed by Angels, which it's revealed they've built in order to cage the people they zap back in time and feed off their energy for longer, and there were plenty of thrilling dangers for the TARDIS crew to tackle. Even if there were a worrying number of moments when the Angels would remain as statues without moving, despite the fact nobody had eyes on them.

But this episode was less about the visceral thrill of the Angels' return, and quite rightly about ensuring the Ponds were given a fitting goodbye. I loved the foreshadowing of their departure here—particularly with The Doctor revealing he always tears the last page out of books he reads because he doesn't like endings, and River's warning to the ageing Amy (well, she needs reading glasses) that it's best to never let The Doctor notice you're getting old.

You can't write about this episode without focusing on the manner in which Amy and Rory left the show, which I thought was handled perfectly. The false ending of them both committing suicide by jumping off the Angels' hotel roof, to cause a paradox that will result in its erasure, would probably have worked as a courageously bleak ending. But I'm glad that wasn't the end. Once it became clear Amy and Rory's desperate plan had worked and they were restored to life in an altered timeline, I was glad Moffat didn't chicken-out with a cheap happy ending. Instead, Rory was catapulted back in time by a surviving graveyard Angel and Amy resolved to follow her husband—to live together in a time and place The Doctor can never hope to visit. The ensuing Back to the Future Part II-style ending, with the last page of the Melody Malone novel being an afterword from Amy, and The Doctor's final visit to Amy as a little girl in her garden (still awaiting her first adventure with the "raggedy doctor") was also an inspired way to close the circle on Amy's character. A character that was the best companion nu-Who's given us, although I disliked the way she was often used as a plot-device—never quite remaining the quirky, feisty, intelligent, opinionated, confident young woman I think Moffat originally intended.

Point a camera anywhere in NYC and you tend to get a brilliant movie-quality visual, so this episode undoubtedly benefited from actually filming in and around Central Park. We've come a long way from the Russell T. Davies era, when travelling to New York for static shots of the city to stick on a greenscreen was seen as a novelty. This episode actually made me lament the fact Doctor Who isn't able to film around the world as a regular weekly thing, instead of make excuses for why most of the action takes place in the UK or on generic spaceships.

Overall, "The Angels Take Manhattan" did exactly what it was required to do. Amy and Rory were given an emotional, startling and poignant valediction that probably had quite a few people as choked up as The Doctor by the speed and finality of their loss. I think it's an episodes that will reward a few repeat viewings, because I'm not sure I understood some of its finer points, but thankfully this episode kept things more coherent than some of Moffat's crazier time-travel plots from series 6. By sticking to rules about how the Angels operate and having a clear goal for this episode to achieve (bid adieu to the companions), it felt like the script was kept on-track and didn't lose sight of what it had to achieve.

Thrilling, emotive, inventive and satisfying; "The Angels Take Manhattan" was the best episode of Doctor Who we've had since "The Girl Who Waited", and there's still plenty to look forward to in the Christmas Special (which will formally introduce Jenna-Louise Coleman as the next companion), which will lead into the show's 50th anniversary year of treats: two scripts from Neil Cross (Luther) and Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), more celebrity guest-stars (Dame Diana Rigg, Dougray Scott, Liam Cunningham, David Warner), a new story from Neil Gaiman ("The Doctor's Wife"), and all kinds of unsubstantiated rumours. A Cyberman revamp? The Ice Warriors' return? An appearance of the Eye of Harmony? A regeneration of The Doctor?

Amy and Rory appear to have left just when things are really starting to get interesting...


  • I didn't understand how River Song will apparently have no trouble going back in time to get Amy to write an afterword in her novel, if The Doctor can't make a similar trip in his TARDIS.
  • Given the character's sudden prominence in series 7, I was surprised there was no appearance for Rory's dad Brian. I hope the Christmas Special will perhaps include a brief moment with him, if only so we can be assured The Doctor has explained his son's loss.
  • Bad news if you're a New Yorker: given the events of this episode, The Doctor's made it clear he'll never be able to return to New York again because of all the temporal damage in the area. The good news is the city's theoretically protected from time-travelling villains like The Daleks now and Captain Jack making a trip to Studio 54.
  • Having the Statue of Liberty become an Angel was one of those damned obvious ideas everyone should have predicted would happen when this episode was announced (perhaps it was in certain fan circles), but I must admit it didn't occur to me. I was somehow more tolerant of Lady Liberty coming to life here than I was for Ghostbusters II.
  • You may or may not recognise Canadian actor Mike McShane as collector Grayle, because the former-Whose Line Is It Anyway? performer has lost a lot of weight since the '90s.
  • Here's any idea for the trapped Rory and Amy: why not wait a few years, then drive outside of New York and send The Doctor a beacon to get picked up? You'd be in a different time and place, so why wouldn't that work?
  • The theories about eggs, Christmas and lightbulbs (recurring motifs this series) didn't have any pay-off in this mid-series finale, but I guess they could still be a factor going forward. One interesting idea I've heard is that these episodes have all be shown out of chronological order from The Doctor's perspective. Considering the subtle ways the opening titles have been changing, I'm wondering if they're a clue as to what the correct order should be...
written by Steven Moffat / directed by Nick Hurran / 29 September 2012 / BBC1

This Christmas...