Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 5 review: The Angels Take Manhattan

Posted: 24 December 2012 in entertainment, television
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Doctor Who - The Angels Take Manhattan wallpaper

As the Last Days of the Ponds arrive and The Angels Take Manhattan time can’t be rewritten to save Amy and Rory as they bid farewell to their daughter and their Raggedy Man.

Chapter 1 The Dying Detective

Quite often Doctor Who works best when evoking the spirit of other genres and giving it a special twist to make it something extra special. For example,The Crusades from the William Hartnell era was David Whitaker’s spin on Shakespeare (with lines quoted as belonging to Love’s Labour Won used in The Shakespeare Code decades later); the entire 7th season (Jon Pertwee’s first) called upon the classic Quatermass serials of the 1950s; and the central plot element of Soylent Green in which corpses are recycled as food for humanity was at the heart of Eric Saward’s Revelation of the Daleks.

With the air of a 1930s pulp novel with a dash of film noir thrown in The Angels Take Manhattan commenced with detective Sam Garner (Rod David) investigating the building “where the statues live” at the behest of wealthy collector Julius Grayle (Mike McShane) and ended with a great tragedy for the Doctor as he is separated from Amy and Rory forever.

Chapter 2 The Angels Take Manhattan

Originally Steven Moffat intended to feature the Daleks in the Ponds’ grand finale but whilst visiting New York in 2011 the idea of using the Weeping Angels against the backdrop of the Big Apple came to him. Since the transmission of the highly-acclaimed Blink in 2007 fans had regularly postulated that the Statue of Liberty itself was a giant Weeping Angel. No Ghostbusters II-style romp across for New York preceded the statue’s looming appearance at Winter Quay as this time the city’s most famous icon was there to scare. The concept of the temporal battery farm recalled the scene in Blade Trinity where Blade and Abigail discovered a warehouse containing hundreds of humans in chemically-induced comas waiting to act as a food source for the vampires.

With each appearance the tactics of the Weeping Angels evolve. From barely-surviving scavengers on Earth to manipulative hoards on Alfava Metraxis, the continually changing facets of the Weeping Angels are akin to the progression from the atmospheric Alien to the action-orientated Aliens. Thankfully The Angels Take Manhattan doesn’t parallel Alien 3 or Alien Resurrection for controversial missed opportunities or sheer direness respectively.

Chapter 3 Missing in New York

Virtually from the moment of their conception the departure of Amy Pond and Rory Williams had been planned for. Their connection to the mysterious River Song and their undying love that conspired to survive the birth and death of time and space itself proved to be the most emotional and complex character arc ever granted to companions. Take a moment out and appreciate the genius of the Grand Moff, who created Amelia Pond with the explicit intention of linking her to River Song. Thanks to the impact of the intended one-off character from Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead (bought so magnificently to life and death by Alex Kingston) Moffat created two friends for the Eleventh Doctor who will continue to resonate when the series reaches its 50th, 60th, and 70th anniversaries…and beyond…

The presence of the Ponds in the TARDIS (pre- and post-marriage) categorically debunked the long-held view in numerous quarters about the programme’s format working best when the Doctor has a single companion. Some of the best TARDIS crews have featured a male and female duo alongside the Doctor. Jamie McCrimmon and Victoria Waterfield/Zoe Herriot in the Patrick Troughton era; Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan during Tom Baker’s first season; and Tegan Jovanka and Vislor Turlough in the 20th and 21st seasons alongside Peter Davison. The advocacy for the single companion is often made by lazy and unimaginative scriptwriters who can’t create an interesting narrative for more than two regulars.

Chapter 4 Taking the Case

Alongside the return of the Weeping Angels came Moffat’s other popular Doctor Who creation: River Song. The presence of River in the final outing for her parents was pretty inevitable and she’s now been freed from the convoluted timey-wimey continuity that had been established throughout her previous appearances. Now a professor of archaeology River doesn’t have to spend any more days in the Stormcage Containment Facility. After all, how can she be imprisoned for the murder of a man who never existed? As always the chemistry and interaction between Matt Smith and Alex Kingston was a delight to watch. Only in Doctor Who is it possible to become a recurring guest actor after a debut story in which your character dies. It’s a fair bet that River Song will continue to appear as long as Steven Moffat is the show runner and a part in the 50th anniversary series seems to be a given.

Chapter 5 Night in Statue Park

In the 1980s overseas filming came across as more of a perk for the production team rather than as an integral aspect of the unfolding story. Locations in and around Seville added nothing to The Two Doctors that couldn’t have been achieved with filming in the Home Counties, whereas the original proposed setting of New Orleans had been woven into Robert Holmes’ script almost as a character in its own right. Nowadays a Doctor Who story goes abroad for concrete reasons. The Fires of Pompeii, The Vampires of Venice and A Town Called Mercy could not have worked as effectively without the inclusion of appropriate foreign backdrops. The excursion to Dubai for Planet of the Dead was a complete waste of time though as it all looked like an infamous BBC sandpit with a touch of CGI.

Locations in Cardiff and Bristol were superbly used to render locations such as Winter Quay, the lair of the Weeping Angels, whilst three days of intensive filming for Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill in and around Central Park gave the episode a sense of scale, romance and atmosphere it would otherwise have lacked. Rory’s eerie encounter on the lower terrace of Bethesda Terrace and the journey of the Doctor and Amy through Times Square (the latter done in a single take) are highlights of the near guerrilla filmmaking that the BBC undertook. It’s impossible to spot which are the British locations and which are the American ones unless you already know. The meeting of Rory and River was achieved with Arthur Darvill in New York with Central Park as an establishing background and Alex Kingston in Cardiff. The BBC Wales Doctor Who team are certainly at the top of their game seven years in.

Chapter 6 The Gargoyle

As with The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone River’s entry into the narrative came as a result of her investigation into rumours about a mysterious statue in the possession of a wealthy collector. Thankfully this one was chained and damaged and so was unable to run riot. There remains a wealth of backstory to be told about the Lonely Assassins and their presence through time and space. Perhaps a visit to Notre Dame de Paris or the Peace Tower in Ottawa and their respective gargoyles could happen in a future season…

Technically the Weeping Angels seen so far are in fact grotesques, a carved stone figure. A gargoyle contains a water spout through the mouth whereas grotesques don’t. In the Middles Ages, the term babewyn (derived from the Italian word babbuino, meaning babboon) was used to refer to both gargoyles and grotesques. In the November 2001 BBC Books 8th Doctor novel The Adventuress of Henrietta Street by Lawrence Miles (for whom controversial is perhaps the best and politest term) the villain of the piece Sabbath is assisted by savage, demonic apes called babewyns.

Doctor Who can be so damn timey-wimey…

Chapter 7 The Skinny Guy

Rory’s had a rather rough time since meeting the Doctor. Killed and wiped from existence, reborn as an Auton, discovering his daughter was a time-travelling archaeology professor bred to assassinate the Doctor. On any given morning he’s probably trying to remember if he’s human, plastic, or the Last Centurion. No wonder he looks bemused so often…Yet throughout life, death, and rebirth his primary focus remained Amy and her happiness. Time after time he was prepared to give her up as he thought that was the best thing to do – but love always won through. Arthur Darvill will be a much-missed element of Doctor Who and it’s likely to be a while before anyone tries putting another regular male companion aboard the TARDIS.

Chapter 8 Julius Grayle

The characters of detective Sam Garner and the dangerous collector Mr Grayle were just two of many elements that cried out for elaboration but constrained by the single 45 minute episode format. The entire undertaking could easily have become a two parter building upon Rory and River’s investigation of Winter Quay in 1938 running in parallel with the attempts of Amy and the Doctor to land the TARDIS there. Especially noticeable by their absence are new great villains. Where is a new Mavic Chen, Tobias Vaughn, Sutekh, Magnus Greel, Sharaz Jek, Sil or the Master? Mr Finch from School Reunion and Lillith of The Shakespeare Code are the closest the Doctor come to a new worthy humanoid adversary. Far too often 21st century Doctor Who is told at a breakneck speed that barely allows the viewer to take in the happenings in once scene before plunging into another frenetic round of action. At several points in the past 6 1/2 series poorly developed single episodes should have been abandoned early on in favour of expanding a tale crying out for more time. The Wedding of River Song cried out for an additional 45 minutes, and surely no one would have lamented the absence of The God Complex or Closing Time?

Chapter 9 Calling the Doctor

Whilst River’s personal timeline might now be simplified Moffat didn’t completely abandon his trademark approach to the interconnectivity of time in which past events can immediately impact upon the present by becoming a fixed point in time. The Doctor’s reading of Melody Malone: Private Detective in Old New York Town instilled an ominous sense of foreboding as the Time Lord began to realised he was destined to loose his little Amelia Pond and there was nothing he could do to prevent it.

Chapter 10 The Roman in the Cellar

…And now poor old Rory finds himself trapped in a cellar with killer cherubs several decades before popping off to get coffee…

Chapter 11 Death at Winter Quay

Unfortunately after all the planning and hype the conclusion to the saga of the Ponds stumbled at the very last. Amy and Rory’s final scene should have been their Reichenbach Falls-style fall from the roof of Winter Quay as they deliberately sacrificed themselves to destroy the Weeping Angels through the creation of a time paradox. The love and nobility channelled by Gillan and Darvill as they effectively chose suicide, together with the horrified reactions of Smith and Kingston, were as heartbreaking stunning as anything ever seen in Doctor Who. Their disappearance from the Doctor’s timeline during the creation of the paradox and their fate left ambiguous could have been one of the greatest moments in the history of the series. Viewers could have decided their fate in their own minds. And perhaps…just perhaps…the Doctor could have met them again in the labyrinths of time…

Chapter 12 Amelia’s Last Farewell

In terms of companion departures and its emotional resonance Russell T Davies liked to have his cake and eat it. At the time the savage separation of Rose from the Tenth Doctor in Doomsday was without doubt one of the most heartbreaking moments ever in the history of the series (the destruction of K-9 Mark III in School Reunion scores top). David Tennant and Billie Piper had the viewers crying their eyes and hearts out. The two of them forever apart due to the barrier of wall and an impenetrable universe. Yet all that was rendered moot just one series later when Rose got to live happily ever after with the Doctor’s human clone. Being ripped from the presence of a friend or loved one for what is likely to be a very long time, or possibly forever, is one of the most traumatic events that can occur. Rarely in life does there come a moment of permanent separation where all parties have agreed upon the timing and been able to somehow prepare for the subsequent emotional shocks. In Doctor Who the best companion departures have been the emotionally wrenching ones. Amongst the most affecting from the classic series were Jamie and Zoe’s enforced removal by the Time Lords and subsequent memory wipe; Sarah’s eviction from the TARDIS due to the Doctor’s summons to Gallifrey; and Tegan’s sudden decision that she’s had enough due to all the killing that followed in the Doctor’s wake.

Steven Moffat, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill have made it abundantly clear in numerous interviews that The Angels Take Manhattan saw the FINAL appearance of the Ponds in the series, bar flashbacks. All three believed that the emotional impact and suddenness of their finale would be undermined if they simply popped up a few stories later with a cheerful wave to the Doctor. If that was a sly swipe at the Russell T Davies era then good on them.

Whilst the slightly wrong ending may have occurred in the graveyard courtesy of the leftover cherub, there’s no denying the impact of Amy Williams’ farewell to her Raggedy Man via the last page of the Melody Malone book. When watching the scene it’s worth bearing in mind that during that just out of shot is Karen Gillan reading Steven Moffat’s lines to Matt Smith. By the end both actors had tears in their eyes…

Afterword by Amelia Williams: Hello, old friend. And here we are. You and me, on the last page. By the time you read these words, Rory and I will be long gone. So know that we lived well and were very happy. And above all else, know that we will love you always. Sometimes I do worry about you though. I think once we’re gone you won’t be coming back here for awhile. And you might be alone. Which you should never be. Don’t be alone, Doctor. And do one more thing for me. There’s a little girl waiting in a garden. She’s going to wait a long while, so she’s going to need a lot of hope. Go to her. Tell her a story. Tell her that if she’s patient, the days are coming that she’ll never forget. Tell her she’ll go to see and fight pirates. She’ll fall in love with a man who’ll wait two thousand years to keep her safe. Tell her she’ll give hope to the greatest painter who ever lived. And save a whale in outer space. Tell her, this is the story of Amelia Pond. And this is how it ends.

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