With A Whimper – Review Of Doctor Who: The Angels Take Manhattanon September 30, 2012 at 9:00 pm
Well, I’ll give last night’s episode of Doctor Who this much: it made me queue up the Weeping Angels origin episode “Blink” on streaming Netflix to help me put my finger on what went wrong with “The Angels Take Manhattan”. The short answer? Almost everything.
“The Angels Take Manhattan” was intended to be an emotional send off for the Doctor’s most recent companions, Amy and Rory Pond. Here’s a spoiler up front: the Ponds are sent away into the past to a fixed point in time where, apparently, the Doctor can never see them again. Given that it’s been established that the Doctor needs to be around others on a near constant basis in order to remain somewhat centered, if not completely sane, the ending of this episode should have competed with Old Yeller for tear jerker of the millennium. However, convoluted story telling, hype, and lack of attachment to Amy Pond as a character worth caring about, as compared to other Companions, served to kill this episode in its crib.
More spoilery disappointment, after the jump.
The episode opens in present day New York City. Amy, Rory, and The Doctor are having a picnic in Central Park. The Doctor is reading aloud from a book and complaining that Amy has started to develop wrinkles around her eyes. Rory, instead of defending Amy in the dispute by demanding Companion medical benefits that include on demand Botox, avoids getting drawn into the awkwardness by offering to go for coffee. While Rory is gone, the Doctor and Amy discover that the events of the book that the Doctor is reading are coinciding with the events in the story that are happening around them. Most notably, Rory is thrown back in time to 1938 by Radio Times 2012 winner for scariest Doctor Who monster, the Weeping Angels.
Say, weren’t all the Weeping Angels thrown into a giant crack in time and space sometime during season five, which wiped them out of memory and was the Macguffin that saved Amy Pond from turning into one of them in the process? The very same episode in which the Doctor discovered that time could be rewritten? What’s that, you say? Don’t think about giant holes in continuity that get in the way of telling the story? If only it were that simple.
It’s not as though the show hasn’t resurrected villains thought to have been long dead before. Daleks and Cybermen are the Energizer Bunnies of the Doctor Who universe. Kill them dead in an all out war with the Time Lords, they’ll just pop up like cockroaches somewhere else via a temporal shift or some other convenient story device. Hell, even other Time Lords can’t stay dead. After mooning on for quite some time about how he, the Doctor, is the last of the Time Lords, he encounters his ancient nemesis, The Master, at the end of season three. But, I find that there is a difference between stories involving those old school Big Bads and the Weeping Angels. What made the Angels effective in their debut was their nebulous nature – they hid in plain sight. There was nothing more that the viewer needed to know about them other than “don’t blink”. With each subsequent use in a Doctor Who storyline, their backstory became more convoluted. New powers, new things they could do. Suddenly, you couldn’t look directly at one or record its image or you’d generate a new one. Based on that, Sally and Larry should have been dead several times over in “Blink”. The Angels are at their most creepy effectiveness when used sparingly.
By contrast, in “The Angels Take Manhattan”, every single statue the characters encounter in New York is some variation of a Weeping Angel. Steven Moffat even goes out of his way to create a whole new subset of the species, the cherubim – baby angels who can be heard padding around in the dark and giggling. So much for his quiet threat from the shadows. Even the Statue Of Liberty, a 305 foot hollow copper behemoth, is some variant of a Weeping Angel – which, by the way, utilizes some of the most stilted special effects the show has seen in some time. I don’t know if they went with a painted back drop or some type of CGI, but whatever it was, it completely pulled me out of the story as I mentally started considering height comparisons of the statue to the buildings supposedly surrounding it. Are we to believe now, in yet another twist on the Angels’ backstory, that they are entities that can inhabit any statute? When they were introduced, they were merely supposed to turn to stone and take on a statue-like appearance as a defense mechanism when gazed upon. Allowing them to possess pre-existing national landmarks, makes me draw unflattering comparisons to plot points in the already unfortunate Ghostbusters II. Make up your mind, Moffat: mo’ angels does not equal mo’ better.
In the end, just when the characters think they’re safe, a lone, rogue angel manages to find the Ponds. Rory is zapped off into the past. Amy, in what is probably the most effective scene in this episode, chooses to join Rory in the past, rather than stay with the Doctor in the present. For those that have been keeping track of Amy’s character development, there is a neat bit of symmetry here. In series five’s “Flesh And Stone”, Amy reluctantly returns from her adventure to the night before her wedding to Rory. She is so unsure of whether she should follow through with the wedding that she tries to bed the Doctor. Likewise, “Flesh And Stone” is one of the Doctor’s initial meetings with River Song, his wife-to-be. He describes himself to Amy as “running away” from his future. By “The Angels Take Manhattan”, Amy is willing, eager even, to set her life with the Doctor aside so that she can be with Rory. The Doctor is now also more eager to please River and, at times, even affectionate with her. This is an interesting development. However, the episode is marred overall by a reliance in exposition through the dialogue of the characters. “Don’t let him see you get old”, River tells Amy. “Don’t let him see the damage. He hates endings.” Show us these things, Moffat. Don’t tell us.
Doctor Who will pick up again in December with the annual Christmas episode. This one will reintroduce Jenna Louise Coleman, last seen as the doomed human Dalek creation from season premiere, in a new role. One wonders what Steven Moffat will want to tell us this time around. Frankly, I wish he’s tell us less and show us more.