Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Doctor Who: The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone

The Time of Angels

“It’s the 51st century. The Church has moved on.”

Now that’s more like it. Bloody hell.

River Song, in what I’m sure is going to develop into a long-running tradition, gets quite an entrance. Having literally stunned Mike Skinner off of The Streets with some hallucinogenic lipstick, she casually leaves a message in Old High Galifreyan for the Doctor to find twelve thousand years later, and then arranges to for him to be her getaway driver, all in the coolest way possible. All whilst wearing the sort of heels that make me quite pleased to have been born with a y chromosome. Very cool indeed.

The River / Doctor dynamic is great, and this time she’s found entirely new things about the way he flies the TARDIS to annoy him with. Then there’s the whole “spoilers” angle, with which she can annoy him so more. And Matt Smith does annoyed so well. Better still, Amy is added to the mix, teasing him about “’er indoors”. The three of them together are great.

So, we have Amy’s first alien planet, and somewhere on it there are Weeping Angels which actually kill people. We also have a bishop, leading a squad of fighting clerics. Here’s hoping they have Cure Light Wounds memorised. Pity that Turn to Stone isn’t a clerical spell. That was an in-joke for those of us who have played D&D. Thought I’d better point that out for the benefit of the other 100% of you, if I may semi-steal a remark from the Moff himself to the great Neil Gaiman.

We get an excellent spin on an old Moffat meme as some footage of a Weeping Angel turns out to be more than just footage. The scenes with Amy trapped alone with the footage are terrifying, especially as we keep cutting to the Doctor reciting some wonderfully evocative quotes from a book which underline exactly how much trouble Amy is in. This is proper scary. Fortunately, Amy is proper clever.

There are brilliant concepts scattered around like confetti- the gravity globe (which will become important later), the Maze of the Dead- and we get our first inkling of some dark secrets of River’s. Only when they’re deep into the cave do we realise that every single statue is a Weeping Angel. Oh, and Amy is turning to stone. This is even scarier than the earlier scary bit. Moffat is very good at scary, I’ll give him that. Sod it, he’s very good at pretty much everything.

The friction between the Doctor and the clerics and his interaction with Bob before and after his death are great moments. And this adds power to the Miss Evangelista-like use of Bob’s voice, and forelock-tugging personality, as the mouthpiece of the Angels.

This whole thing was planned by the Angel on board the Byzantium, in fact: it crashed the ship to wake up a massive army of Angels. An army which is surrounding the Doctor and co, and draining the energy from their torches. That’s what I call a proper cliffhanger.

Flesh and Stone

“A forest in a bottle in a spaceship in a maze. Have I impressed you yet, Amy Pond?”

If there’s one thing I love more than a proper cliffhanger, it’s a proper resolution. And this is one of the most proper resolutions ever. It doesn’t cheat; it uses elements which were subtly hinted to us earlier; I for one never guessed how they’d get out of that one. Nice one, Moffatt. Again. This sort of thing with shifting gravity on a spaceship is exactly the sort of thing that space opera sci fi really should be doing all the time.

We have intrigue amongst the danger as the bishop threatens to tell the Doctor who River really is, but much more than that is to come. It’s the crack in the wall again, and the arc plot is very much back in play in only the fifth episode of the season. New showrunner, new rules.

Of course, this being Moffat, we get scary, too. Amy’s counting down to her doom, which the Angels are doing purely to terrify her, for “fun”, is but a prelude to the ordeal she’s got coming. She has to spend most of the episode with her eyes closed, surrounded by really scary things. She has to walk through the Angels as though she can see. But she can’t, so we even see them start to move.

But, of course, the crack is a much greater threat than the Angels, whose plans for harnessing its power suddenly don’t seem so clever. The Doctor now realises the potential of a crack that can rewrite time, and it’s been happening around him; a duck pond with no ducks, Amy not remembering the Daleks and, best of all, “The Cyberking. A giant Cyberman walks over all of Victorian London, and no one even remembers.” Ha!

There’s coolness with the characters too, though. This new Doctor can be wonderfully Doctorish (I use tautologies now. Tautologies are cool.), with his seat of the pants spontaneity and his “Respect the thing!” And then there’s that scene with Amy and a jacketed Doctor, which just might possibly be revealed to have been frightfully clever. But there are plenty of revelations for now; the bishop is River’s probation officer. The crack was caused by an explosion on what we find out is the date of Amy’s wedding, 26/06/2010.

The bishop gets a fantastic, dignified death, perfectly scripted and performed, and gets a wonderful last line. He also gets to die with exactly the sort of cryptic revelation I hope to have ready for the time when I duly snuff it: “She killed a man. A good man. A hero to many.” But he has a reason to be satisfied with his death in a way the other clerics don’t. For those who believe in an afterlife, the thought of being erased from history and being irrevocably dead must be truly terrifying, and he at least is spared that thought.

The resolution, with the number of Angels present being just enough to seal the crack, is a little neat. But I think it’s earned. This is a fantastic two-parter. 5/5.

But we’re not done yet. There’s a fascinating conversation between the Doctor and a handcuffed River. “The Pandorica?” scoffs the Doctor, on being told they’ll meet again when it opens. “That’s a fairy tale!” “Oh, Doctor,” River replies. “Aren’t we all?” For a subtext, this fairy tale stuff is being foregrounded rather a lot. Could we eventually find out there’s more to it than we assume?

And yes, there’s the scene in which Amy is quite determined to get inside the Doctor’s pants. Ooh. Controversial. Dare I wade in? Well… I think this is perfectly fine. It arises naturally from the characters and their heightened recent circumstances. Think back to the extreme terror Amy’s being put through, keeping her eyes shut right until just before they say goodbye to River. Plus, women are allowed to be actively sexual, y’know. Yes, she’s getting married soon, and to have actually done it in those circumstances would have been wrong, but she doesn’t. And she clearly isn’t thinking anything close to normally after her last few hours. This is in character and, while Amy is wrong to do what she does, she can legitimately plead temporary insanity, I think. And the consequences (Rory joining them on the TARDIS) are quite proportionate, I think.

Oh, and speaking of consequences, I’ve just seen the second new scene on the DVD. Top stuff!

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