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So anyway,
Because what the Net really needs is another person sharing his uninformed views
There must be an angel playing with my heart, yeah 
1st-May-2010 09:11 pm
It's the first two-part story for Matt Smith's Doctor (that's right, I didn't forget to review last week's, I was just waiting to do the whole story together) and Steven Moffat brings back two of his most iconic creations: The Weeping Angels, who've been pretty much universally loved as the new "scariest Doctor Who monster" ever since "Blink," and a lady who's been a bit more love-hate for the fandom:

Although, after that bit, I think Alex Kingston as River Song went up in a lot of people's estimation.

Like most people, I was both excited and nervous about "The Time of Angels." Excited because I agree about how good "Blink" was, nervous because pimping up the Weeping Angels to give them more powers might have backfired, the simplicity of the idea being part of its strength. Fortunately Moffat doesn't really put a foot wrong with what is the scarier of the two installments, the Ring-like scene where we realise the video recording of an angel has come to life being the creepiest section. You know, I'm still undecided on Karen Gillan though; I don't know if her stare, unable to look away from the angel's eyes was nicely conveyed panic or simply a lack of emotion. I think Gillan's better in Amy's funnier moments (more on which, inevitably, later) than she is at the dramatic stuff.

Finally, after five years' worth of Doctor Who scripts, Steven Moffat ends his (rather sweet, really) record for "everybody lives" episodes and one of the angels' new features is them killing people without quite as much kindness as before. Iain Glen's Octavian and some of his men meet their doom, and some of them even meet what the Doctor regards as a fate worse than death. The reason for the angels breaking the soldier/clerics' necks is in part a practical one (recycling their victim's consciousness as a means of communication) but also, we learn in the second part, predominantly for their own amusement. This is an incredibly simple motivation and, as long as it's used sparingly, a very effective one. You need your Daleks and Cybermen to be genetically wired for destruction, the Master to be insane, your space-police to go by the book to the point of genocide and your various aliens of the week to have some special shiny thing they'll kill to get, so that when you bring out a hugely powerful, utterly malevolent creature who wants to crush the universe to their will just as a bit of fun, it's properly sinister.

The idea of the Angels communicating through a dead soldier on the intercom is a bit of recycling from the Library two-parter, but still works effectively; I think partly due to some very good casting, because as Sacred/Scared/Angel Bob, David Atkins' sad, almost monotone Northern voice added an incredibly melancholy note for me. And as this voice is, as far as we know, part of Bob's consciousness, it adds a rather callous touch to the Doctor's jokes about his death in the second part, more callous even, in my view, than his bluntly telling Amy she's dying (which at least does have a practical reason, and Amy being a bit contrary it's not entirely out of the question that she'd open her eyes if she didn't know the reason she shouldn't.) Again, Matt Smith's Doctor has a lot of Peter Davison's abruptness and wild lurches in character. At times it's almost reminiscent of my least favourite Doctor, Colin Baker, but I think the reason Smith can get away with it is partly that he softens his nastier moments in his Troughton-like eccentricity, and partly that unlike Baker this is a facet of his personality that bubbles over sometimes, rather than the predominant feature.

If the first episode is the spookier one, this week's "Flesh and Stone" goes off in a slightly different direction than might be expected, bringing the crack in time and space (which would have been left unexplained until episode 12 during the RTD years) straight to the fore. Not that it's entirely explained yet, but it does all get curiouser and curiouser. And of course as well as the first part having made the angels more powerful for the sake of scares, it also means that here they're built up to the point where they can really show us what kind of peril the crack presents: When the scary thing gets scared, that's when you worry. When the scariest thing gets scared, you're really in trouble.

My first comment on Twitter after "Flesh and Stone" was that this whole series is going to be one big trademark Moffat puzzle-box story. The significance of the apparently throwaway line about a duckpond without ducks was mentioned again, although we still don't have an explanation for it. I think after Episode 13 airs a lot of us will be going right back to "The Eleventh Hour" to watch the whole series with new eyes after cogs and wheels fall into place, much like the way the final frame of "The Girl in the Fireplace" nonchalantly fits the final piece of that story's puzzle. Within the two-parter there's still moments like this, and one of the things I like about Moffat's writing is that when he gives you a clue, there's a decent chance you actually will be able to figure it out, unlike some stories with alleged "twists" that only make sense in hindsight. So in this story there was some fun to be had as it twigged that the Doctor was talking about this alien race with two heads, but all the statues were humanoid; and the fact that Amy's number-tourettes was a countdown (I got it after "9" so I'm choosing to believe the Doctor spotted it early as well, but was just mulling it over until it was actually of any use to say it out loud.)

The only real thing that seemed clunky was the fact that clearly all those statues weren't in the "weeping" pose, and with the amount of them in those caves surely they'd have spotted each other all the time - after all it was established in "Blink" that their at-rest stance is a survival technique, and getting them out of it was how the Doctor defeated them that time. But it's not enough to spoil things, and the statues that I saw described somewhere as "leper-angels" were another good way to make them scarier to kids: After all we know what the dangerous statues look like, but if they can lose their iconic form then the idea of all statues being potentially deadly works again.

In terms of ongoing plot arcs the River Song story gets more interesting as it goes along, and although unlike some people I liked Kingston's performance the first time round, this incarnation of her as a sort of master criminal/James Bond action heroine does make her occasional tendency to smugness work better, and a lot of the haterz seem to have been turned around on her by this story. And how can you not want to know more when by the time she goes we've got a new hint about what her relationship to the Doctor is - could she be his murderer? After all, the implication in Series 4 that he would reveal his name when he married her could instead be suggesting that he'd say his real name before he dies (the scene itself was repeated on Confidential afterwards and in my opinion you could read it that way.) But like all things Moffat and River Song-related, there's probably a dozen other misdirects to come our way before we learn the truth, if we ever do. And one little thing I nearly forgot, a special effect I absolutely loved: River's final teleport to the prison ship, the swirling, magical-looking dust melting upwards was a completely different way of doing that than the usual beam-me-up-Scotty effect you get in SciFi, and another real touch of the running theme we'd just been reminded of in that great piece of dialogue between the Doctor and River ("That's a fairytale." "Aren't we all?") And speaking of fairytales, I can't be the only one who hears "When the Pandorica opens" and thinks of Pandora's box?

The memory-loss element to the crack in time, which explains where Amy's memories of the Daleks went, is a useful way of hitting the reset button on some of the RTD years' excesses, without actually feeling as cheesy as reset buttons usually do (turning it into a dangerous problem means it doesn't really have that "oh, well that was convenient" feel to it.) And as with certain moments in the first episode, at times it does feel like a dig at Moffat's predecessor (I mean, why would you mention the giant cyberman stomping over London and nobody really remembering it, if it wasn't a dig.)

Well I'd better finish this up - writing about two episodes at once does take up some time, but of course I have to talk about the ending, and horny Amy. So far I haven't seen any uproar about it but it's probably out there somewhere. If even the internet has grown up enough to accept the Doctor as a sexual being, I'm sure the Daily Mail won't have. I do love the misdirect from Moffat in interviews, about not going for the unrequited love storyline with the companion again, when in fact he was going to spring unrequited lust on us instead. The blatantness of the scene even took me unawares the first time, but how can you not love it for the inevitable but brilliant moment when the Doctor says he needs to sort Amy out. And once again we get a mini-cliffhanger at the end of the episode, harking back to the very first few years of the series. Next week we get Toby Whithouse and vampires, a subject matter he apparently feels he hasn't written enough about yet. It looks like a standalone so with the revelation that Amy, and the date of her wedding, are behind the crack in time, my theory about it is that taking Amy and Rory off on an adventure is the Doctor's way of distracting them while he tries to figure out what to do.
2nd-May-2010 01:42 pm (UTC)
Excellent review Nick.
2nd-May-2010 06:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks. And yet, after a week of wondering how come nobody seemed to be mentioning Mike Skinner's cameo appearance, I then also managed not to mention it.
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