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Doctor Who, Series 7, Episode 5: “The Angels Take Manhattan”
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Nick Hurran
Airs Saturdays at 9pm (ET) on BBC America
This week, on Doctor Who: River’s a pulp heroine, Amy and Rory are an old married couple, and the Doctor’s, once again, alone
The Weeping Angels are one of the best creations of post-2005 Doctor Who. Introduced in one of the series’ best stories, “Blink”, these villains operate on one simple principle, the same that makes zombies such effective genre antagonists- they’re easy to defend against as long as you can persist, but they never stop. Slip up for one moment, even blink, and you’re dead. After the success of “Blink”, Steven Moffat brought them back in series 5’s “The Time of Angels”/”Flesh and Stone” and managed to pull off an Alien/Aliens, switching up genres and crafting a worthy successor. With “The Angels Take Manhattan”, Moffat brings them back for the third time but, unfortunately, it’s not a charm.
The main trouble with this fall finale is that it tries to do too many different things; it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. It’s a standalone noir, it’s the Angels’ return, it’s a discussion of marriage, it’s an examination of the Doctor’s feelings about aging, and most importantly, it’s the farewell episode for the Ponds. At least, that’s what should be most important, but with so much going on, no one element is particularly well, or thoroughly, executed. The beginning of the episode is a successful, pulpy setup for a fun period detective story, but this intro centers on a character we don’t see again. Afterwards, the TARDIS crew is quickly fractured- we don’t see our four leads share a scene until a solid five minutes past the halfway point.
Once River enters the picture, with style, as ever, the theme of marriage and compromise starts being hammered home, but for a final adventure with the Ponds, we spend remarkably little time with Amy and, particularly, Rory. Rather than their relationship, which apparently hasn’t hit a snag since their out-of-the-blue divorce in “The Asylum of the Daleks”, we focus on the Doctor and his somewhat meta grumpiness about (character) endings. Moffat does some necessary legwork both establishing that River won’t work as a permanent Companion and, once again, that the Doctor needs someone to travel with, but besides these, the character beats we get with the Doctor are nothing new.
It’s frustrating that Amy and Rory don’t have much to do this week, but we did get a big dose of Pond in last week’s character-centric “The Power of Three”. Perhaps that’s why the most disappointing element is the use of the Angels. They’ve been altered significantly for this episode. Now instead of having a specific form that they regenerate to, they possess statues. Instead of covering their faces and being susceptible to each other’s line of sight, they’re happy to move around in groups, looking at each other. There’s also a retcon about the Doctor’s healing regeneration energy that doesn’t make sense, but the manipulation of a once firmly-established, simple, and effective villain for what feels like little reason, besides a desire to see the Statue of Liberty Angel-ed out, is annoying.
The actual final moments with the Ponds may be somewhat unsatisfying, and they’re the result of an absolute deus ex machine, but the immediacy and lack of resolution of this actually makes a lot of sense and gives us the most abrupt end of a Companion’s run since Sara Kingdom or Dodo, who both traveled with the First Doctor, or Peri, who traveled with the Fifth and Sixth Doctors. The Companions on Doctor Who only seem to leave after tremendous build up and fanfare- for people living as dangerous and unpredictable a lifestyle as they, it’s unrealistic for them all to go out in spectacular fashion.
While there are a lot of issues or less than stellar moments in this episode, as a Whovian, this reviewer still enjoyed the ride. It’s an absolute testament to Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, and Alex Kingston that this story works as well as it does. The interactions between them are fantastic and give the smaller moments the familiarity and ease of life-long friendship. For only the second or third time, we get honest conversation between Melody and her parents. It’s been astonishing, the way the series has ignored Amy and Rory’s connection to River since it was revealed. If this is truly their last time together on the show, it’s good that Moffat set aside at least a little time for that relationship.
Fans of the series, and of the Ponds, will probably like this episode. It has style and flair and, had it been spread over a two-parter, perhaps there would have been time for scares, heart, and character, executed to the level this show is capable of. This fall portion of series seven has had its ups and downs, but whatever else it’s been, it’s been fun. We’ve seen the Doctor grow tremendously thanks to his relationship with Amy and Rory, two of the most interesting and dynamic of the Doctor’s Companions, particularly in the post-2005 era, and Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan have matured greatly in these roles over the course of their tenure. We’ve already gotten an enticing taste of the next chapter for the Eleventh Doctor, and Amy and Rory may not have gone out on their best episode, but their time in the TARDIS has been a blast to watch, full of excitement, humor, and pathos. Best of luck to Gillan and Darvill in their post-Who careers- Jenna Louise Coleman has some mighty big, mighty cute shoes to fill, and this Whovian, for one, can’t wait to see what’s next.
What did you think of the episode and the Ponds’ tenure as a whole? How would you rank the three Angels stories? What did you think of the Ponds’ actual moment of departure? Post your thoughts below!