Doctor Who and the Time of the Angels/Flesh and Stone

Doctor Who and the Time of the Angels/Flesh and Stone
Series 05
Story 04 and 05
24 April, 1 May 2010

“There’s one thing you never want to put in a trap if you’re smart, if you value your continued existence, if you have any plans of seeing tomorrow then there’s one thing that you should never, put in a trap. Me.”

An old friend, an old enemy and more ‘time-wimey’ logic… it’s Steven Moffat at his best. In fact, the Weeping Angels two-parter feels more like a showcase for Moffat than anything else. There are many friends of mine who dropped out of Doctor Who after the second or third series and are giving it a second try now that there is a new Doctor and a new production team in charge. That being the case, they have no point of reference for the Weeping Angels or for River Song. Both are brand new characters to them so the fact that Amy has no point of reference for them as well was as major plus as it forces the program to explain both as new ideas.

In the previous new series two-parters, the first half of the story has been great while the conclusion has been a massive let down. The Time of the Angels/Flesh and Stone is an exception, the first two-parter that has been satisfying since the 2005 series’ Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. Time of the Angels is evenly paced, has an interesting part one cliffhanger/part two resolution and also features a terrific conclusion. Even so, there are problems.

Time of the Angels opens with a mixture of ideas. A man is seen hallucinating due to the effects of drugged lipstick while the Doctor and Amy Pond are visiting a museum in the distant future. I is a clever idea to present the Doctor in a museum, angrily declaring that the archeologists and historians had gotten it all wrong, but the joke is clumsily told, something more fitting to the Graham Williams era, perhaps. Just imagine Tom Baker as the Doctor laughing to himself by each display and you can see what I mean. As the Doctor discovers a ‘homebox’ from a starliner etched with ancient High Gallifreyan, we also see the precocious River Song burning the words into the same device thousands of years in the past. This leads to the Doctor dashing off to the TARDIS in order to catch River as she hurls herself out of an airlock in order to evade her pursuers. The whole scene is told in a fashion similar to a classic Bond opening, but it’s also muddled and somewhat clumsy. Unfortunately, these flaws flow through the entire two-parter which is actually a brilliantly inspired adventure crammed into two parts and hardly thought-out as well as it should have been.

To start with, River Song is hardly the same character as we had last seen and appears to be more like a Mike Meyers character than the slick and smart persona we had last met in Silence in the Library. This is revealed to be down to the fact that the River we are meeting is from a different time and has not matured yet. This isn’t really the best way to introduce an already convoluted character especially because of what comes next with the manipulation of the time stream, etc. The Doctor is at once put off by River which is odd but given that I was annoyed by her as well I didn’t exactly question his motives.

Also, while the plot is interesting, the dialog is still very dire. Why The incessant back and forth glances of realization between the Doctor and River Song (‘Of COURSE!’) are very very annoying. I suppose it is meant to cement the idea that she knows him better than he knows himself but the only trouble is that I find her so unappealing that I cannot imagine the Doctor marrying her so the idea falls flat. The latest in a long line of female Han Solo iterations, River Song has gone from a terribly interesting character to an obnoxious reject from a Carry On film. She’s actually similar in many way to Liz X, only she’s meant to be the Doctor’s wife.

Soon the Doctor is dragged into River’s scheme involving a platoon of camouflage-clad religious types searching the wreckage for a Weeping Angel. Why the soldiers are also members of a Church (which Church??) we are never told which is very sloppy. It’s hardly interesting unless we are given a reason to care. Given the logic of the script, it would have been just as legitimate to make the warrior accountants or plumbers. In any case, the moment that we are introduced to the second callback, the Weeping Angel, things get very interesting indeed.

River proudly shows the Doctor security footage of the Weeping Angel via a video recording. Leaving Amy behind, the Doctor and River try and uncover more of the mystery using arcane clues that soon make it very clear that Amy is in fact in mortal danger from a video image. While the modern monsters are shoddy imitations of the classic series’ monsters, at least Moffat is looking for innovative ways to use them. The Weeping Angels are able to transport their prey through time and remain immortal through the use of a ‘quantum lock.’ Their power, however, is also their curse and they cannot move while anyone is looking directly at them. A kind of carrion monster that feeds off of time, the Weeping Angels are essentially a gimmick monster, but a very good one. Moffat uses the new two-parter two show off some new ways in which the Weeping Angels can use their connection to time and even knit them to the year-long thread running through series five involving the crack in time and space.

The Doctor and the soldier-priests hunt for the Weeping Angel in a sea of similar statues to the sound of whooshing flashlights. The problem here is two-fold. All of the supporting characters are very weak and uninteresting and the incessant ‘whooshing’ sound of the flash lights gets old almost immediately. It seem as if someone watched a movie where it happened once and thought it would be even more riveting if it happened all the time, as if that is the sound light makes when it is nervous.

Also… who are these guys and why should I care about them?? They are as inconsequential as the soldiers in Earthshock back in 1982. Anyway, it’s still directed very well and the meat of the story has nothing to do with the soldier guys at all.

Traditionally, the concluding portion of a two-parter is a massive run-around, but this time it is instead full of drama and suspense as crisis-es mount on top of each other and the Doctor is starting to look like he is in over his head. The Weeping Angels, as it turns out, have lured the Doctor into a very intricate trap, as revenge for the Doctor tricking them on their last encounter. River Song, the soldier-priests and Amy are all doomed just buy association. The ‘angel in Amy’s eye’ idea is absolutely brilliant. After looking into the eyes of a Weeping Angel, Amy has become infected by one, represented by a miniature Angel image in her eye. The only solution is if Amy closes her eyes completely, but then she cannot see what is happening around her… and it is all bad. The very same crack that appeared in Amy’s room in The Eleventh Hour is also on board the starliner Byzantium and the Weeping Angels are suddenly in as much danger as everyone else from this complex anomaly.

This starts to connect a number of weird dots that could spell out a massive change at the end of the series. The crack in time is rewriting history, we are told. The Doctor first encountered the crack in Amy Pond’s bedroom in The Eleventh Hour and it has been following the pair of travelers ever since. Amy has no idea what a Dalek is and even the Doctor muses that it is odd that no one remembered the Cyber King attack from the Next Doctor adventure. Could all of this be pointing toward a massive reboot for Doctor Who? Given that the series is adhering to the 12 lives rule and Matt Smith is portraying Doctor No. 11, it is not that far outside of the realm of possibility and necessity as a way to keep the program going.

an angel lurks in Amy's eye

In any case the resolution is similarly inspired. After five years of running and screaming until the press of a magic big button solved everything, it’s fascinating to see the Doctor use his mind. While Doctor No. 10 ran almost exclusively on bravery, Doctor No. 11 is instead a brilliant tactician (often one that fails to understand his own train of thought). Using the Weeping Angels themselves to close the crack, the Doctor says goodbye (and good riddance) to River Song though they do share an odd exchange of lines about something called The Pandorica which the Doctor insists is a ‘fairy tale’ to which River Song giddily chirps ‘Aren’t we all?’ thus perpetuating the program’s fascination with presenting Doctor Who as a fairy tale.

As I noted when RTD started in one series two of Doctor Who, the program is still very deeply flawed but if the creative team writes toward that end by supporting its flaws with consistency, it can actually work. In RTD’s case it was poor writing and half-thought-out mad ideas supported by a miraculous form of medical science ‘that appeared to be magic’ in New Earth. In Moffat’s case it involves presenting the program as being so wildly fantastic that it can easily be appreciated as a modern fairy tale.

Next time:
Vampires of Venice