DOCTOR WHO: THE ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN Because They Can

“THE ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN” – Series 7, Episode 5, Story 230 – Written by Steven Moffat; Directed by Nick Hurran – It’s time to say goodbye to the Ponds as Amy and Rory take their final adventure inside the TARDIS. We’ve known all along this day was coming, but the question remained about how the deed would be done: death to Amy, death to Rory, sealed off behind an invisible plot wall … yup, yup, and yup. Let’s blame it all on New York. Because At The End, The Ponds Become The Williamses, and Live Out Their Days Away From The Doctor Behind An Invisible Plot Wall In The Big Apple.

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The first half of Series 7 has been a highly enjoyable run of “movies of the week,” and it culminates with the final ride of the Ponds inside the TARDIS. Last week, I said that THE POWER OF THREE was an episode nostalgic for the Russell T. Davies era, and it’s RTD, again, who provides the blueprint for THE ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN, an episode that is one part Moffat ingenuity, and one part RTD emotion play. The result is an ending for the Ponds that is both tragic and uplifting all at once, heartbreaking in what it is, but heartwarming in what it imagines.

ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN is not one of Steven Moffat’s better scripts, but few of his scripts since he’s taken over the showrunning duties are among his best; I’ve talked about this before but I think that speaks more to the differing roles of showrunner and screenwriter. I think we can view Moffat’s entire era as a guy who’s still trying to figure out how to showrun a program like DOCTOR WHO; as brilliant as his scripts were during the RTD era, I don’t think those episodes could sustain a season. I think they work as well as they do, in part, because of how they stand in contrast to everything else. RTD’s preferred method was to go for the emotional truth at the expense of the narrative truth, where Moffat’s episodes during the relaunch’s first four seasons balanced that off a bit, succeeding at least as much because of their narrative cleverness than their emotions.

Not that emotions were absent, of course, but Moffat was able to give us a happy ending in THE DOCTOR DANCES at a time when it didn’t seem like the Ninth Doctor could have a happy ending. Just when Rose’s lovesick attitude was going into overdrive, Moffat delivered THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE, giving us a grown-up woman for the Doctor to fall in love with in Reinette. BLINK introduced the Weeping Angels, and is as clever as any script in WHO history, while the SILENCE IN THE LIBRARY / FOREST OF THE DEAD two-parter gave us River Song and probably comes closest to modeling what a Moffat-run program would look like if David Tennant had stuck around for Series 5.

In ANGELS, Moffat’s script gets a bit clunky. There’s some of his beloved timey wimey style at play here, but there’s also a clear attempt to give the audience what they want at the expense of giving the story what it really needs, and when the ending for the Ponds come, it feels rushed and compacted instead of stretched and savored.

The script resonates with some of Moffat’s RTD-era cleverness. It is a bit odd, I think, that for the fall of Amy and Rory he’s gone back to the Weeping Angels instead of using the Silence, but this is yet another instance of the feeling I’ve gotten during large chunks of this season that Moffat is really trying to make the audience happy. At times, I think he’s tried to do this a bit too much and turned his back a bit too sharply on Series 6, which while disappointing was not awful. When I think of the Angels, I think of them in connection with River more than the Ponds the way I think of the Silence as connected to Amy. This would have been the perfect time to bring the Silence back for a bit of revenge for last season, but I can’t say that using the Angels is a bad narrative choice, as Moffat uses the Angels’ killing method of sending people back in time so they can feed off their time energy to bring Amy and Rory’s time in the TARDIS to an end.

The Angels have infested Manhattan, finding “the city that never sleeps” a perfect feeding ground. They’ve built a building where they time-place their victims, trapping them in the building at moment X, then sending them thirty or forty years into the past, so when Moment X arrives, it signals both a person’s entrapment and the end of their life as they are confronted with their future self at the moment of their death.

I like it. Moffat gives us a private investigator going through that process to establish what’s going on at the Angels’ feeding nest, and it sets a nice, sinister tone. The Angels will never be as menacing as they were in their original appearance in BLINK, but they are menacing here, as we can see them shepherding their victims where the Angels want them to go.

We also get some tiny new cherub angels this time around, and they work really well, giggling in the dark as they stalk Rory both in the present and the past.

The timey wimey method also creates the vehicle for Amy and Rory’s ending. The question of who dies is 1) answered, 2) then confused, 3) then answered, 4) unanswered, 5) then answered differently, 6) then confused, and 7) finally confirmed. So, if you’re scoring at home: 1) Old Rory (the victim of the Angels’ time trick) dies, 2) then regular Rory decides to kill himself by jumping off the roof of the to create a time paradox that might kill all the angels, but Amy won’t let him kill himself if he doesn’t let her kill herself, too, so 3) Rory and Amy commit suicide by jumping off the roof, 4) which leads to Rory and Amy awaking in a New York cemetery back in the present, 5) but then an Angel shows up and sends Rory back in time anyway, 6) which makes Amy weepy enough to decide she wants to sacrifice herself by letting the angel touch her so she can (maybe) be sent back to Rory, but the Doctor isn’t cool with this, but 7) tough cookie for him because Amy lets the Angel touch her, and she goes back in time to live out her life with Rory as food for the Weeping Angels.

The Doctor is prevented from going back and saving them because Moffat constructs an Invisible Plot Wall that says the TARDIS cannot ever visit New York again or he’ll blow it up.

I don’t know why the Doctor can’t TARDIS back to 1938 Philadelphia and take the train up to the Apple but I guess we’re not supposed to think about that, just as we’re not supposed to think about how ridiculous it is that an angel has taken over the Statue of Liberty and routinely walks away from Liberty Island to come to the city and eat people on the roof of the Angels’ feeding facility.

Narratively, then, despite a definite shadow of Moffat’s cleverness, there’s plenty of plot holes or contrivances in ANGELS if you want to look for them.

I really don’t, though. More properly, I’m not going to let them ruin my enjoyment of this episode, because Moffat has decided to go after the emotional truth instead of the logical one, and if that means I have to accept that no one notices the Statue of Liberty’s Stay Puft Marshmallow Man-esque rumble through the city even though everyone can hear it, so be it. Would it make the episode better if these holes weren’t there? Of course, but these moments don’t wreck the narrative for me because they exist to get us to the emotional core of the episode, which works beautifully.

Rory is, yet again, confronted with death, and Moffat makes all of Rory’s previous deaths pay off here, as Rory is quite convinced he’s going to come back to life, because he always comes back to life. Amy is not willing to let him take that risk, so she decides to kill herself, too, because that’s what marriage is. (Is that what marriage is, married people?) Off the roof they jump, and Rory is proved right as they awaken back in the present. I like that Moffat acknowledges all of those previous deaths in Rory’s forced cavalier attitude towards his own death, and I like that it really puts the Rory/Amy death question into play, again. When they were standing on that roof, ready to test Rory’s plan, I thought the twist was going to be that Rory would wake up but Amy wouldn’t.

They both do wake up, however, and everyone is happy and ready to jump in the TARDIS and go off on more wacky adventures, but Rory pauses to look at a gravestone that says he still dies. He calls Amy to come take a look, and out of nowhere, a Weeping Angel touches him and sends him back to the past. Amy wants to join him, but the Doctor implores her not to go, to come back into the TARDIS where they can work on a plan to get around Moffat’s Invisible Plot Wall. The Doctor is right, of course, because there’s always a way around Invisible Plot Walls (like taking the train from Philadelphia), but Amy is not interested in waiting and gives her body over to the angel. We see on the gravestone that she dies, too, as an elderly woman alongside her husband.

I found all of this, as compressed as it was, to be thoroughly engaging. I was genuinely moved by Amy’s sacrifice, and the idea that Amy and Rory get an ending that, while not ideal, offers them the happiness of a lifetime together while at the same time giving the Doctor a sad ending all kinds of perfect. There’s something incredibly powerful about Rory and Amy living out their entire life together, unseen by the Doctor or the BBC’s cameras, that really affected me, and I thought it was a fitting and moving conclusion to their time with the Doctor.

I appreciated, too, how Moffat let Rory and Amy be the focus of the episode. I know the program is entitled DOCTOR WHO and not THE TIME TRAVELING PONDS, but it’s their final bow, so let them have the spotlight. It renders the Doctor reactive, rather than active, and the old man needs that sometimes to remind him that he can’t do everything. River is back, but her presence is muted; other than the fact that she wrote a book about all of this that the Doctor reads at the start of the episode, she doesn’t have much of a presence here. Still, I think it’s fitting she’s here to see her parents off. It is a shame that Rory’s dad wasn’t around, and if there was anything I would have liked to see done differently, it’s that Rory’s dad should have been in ANGELS to offer Amy and Rory a blessing instead of last episode.

THE ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN is a fitting goodbye to Amy Pond and Rory Williams as it reminds me (as has most of Series 7) that I really like these characters. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill have provided us with lots of entertainment over the past three years, and I hope they each go on to have wildly successful careers. They’re both appealing actors who played really solid characters. I suspect it will be Rory who is remembered most fondly as the years pass, but for now, I am happy that the Ponds received a definitive, satisfying end to their time in the TARDIS.

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One thought on “DOCTOR WHO: THE ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN Because They Can

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who Review: THE SNOWMEN | Earth Station One

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