Saturday, September 29, 2012

Doctor Who - The Angels Take Manhattan - A Review

The finale of the first part of Doctor Who’s seventh series just finished and I think I’m in a bit of a state of shock. It was an episode written by a writer I don’t particularly like, bidding farewell to a companion I don’t particularly like. By all accounts, I was prepared not to like The Angels Take Manhattan. And yet for forty five minutes I sat in front of my TV, laughing one minute and almost close to tears the next. It was absolutely fantastic.

The Doctor and Amy in Times Square, in Doctor Who's breathtaking Series 7 finale.

The Angels Take Manhattan being Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill’s last episode, it’s both unsurprising and fitting that Amy and Rory were the highlight of it. What made Amy in particular so great in this episode was that she was portrayed in the way that she should have been portrayed all along: with emotion. It’s as though, in her final hour on the show, Steven Moffat finally got her right. For a long time I never really felt she deserved Rory (his assertion in Asylum of the Daleks that he loved her more than she loved him hit the nail bang on the head, I thought), but in this episode she proved that she did, and she also proved that she is no longer the cold, emotionless being she started out as. The scene on the roof of Winter Quay perfectly illustrates that point. I thought that all the emotion in that scene would stem from whether or not Amy would be able to bring herself to push Rory to his death; and, in fairness, that in itself would have been an incredibly moving scene. What I didn’t see coming, however, was Amy climbing up to jump with him. That moment was her admission that she wouldn’t be able to live without him, and it’s moments like that that showcase Doctor Who at its best.

Echoes of that scene atop Winter Quay were definitely present in Amy and Rory’s final scene in the graveyard, too. In it, Rory makes the mistake of going to look at his own grave, and then ends up being zapped back in time by a rogue survivor Angel. That final scene works wonderfully well because not only do you have that heartbreaking admission from Amy that a Life Without Rory is a Life Not Worth Living, but you also have a kind of wonderful, neat symmetry that brings Amy’s journey full circle. The motif of Amy’s Choice – choosing between Rory and the Doctor – is one that has been brewing for three series now; in last week’s blog I talked about how rewarding it was for Amy to have chosen Rory, but at the same time I really got the feeling that that choice would have repercussions for her, and that it would definitely play some sort of role in her departure. And I guess I was right. In those moments where Amy stares at the Angel that took husband, she is confronted by the choice she has been faced with all along for the final time – except this time it’s much, much more extreme. Whereas before she could bring Rory along during her life with the Doctor, and could have the Doctor drop in from time to time during her life with Rory, this time she has no choice but to choose one over the other. And the fact that she chooses Rory in an instant, without even blinking (haha), without even a guarantee that she’ll be able to find him if the Angel takes her, proves how much she loves him, and shows the side to Amy that was missing all along.

"Raggedy Man, goodbye." Amy bids farewell to the Doctor.

Making that scene even more heartbreaking than it already is, though, is the Doctor and River’s presence (brought to life by the always-fabulous Matt Smith and Alex Kingston). As Amy prepares to let the Angel take her, she calls out to River and says,

“Melody… You look after him. And you be a good girl and you look after him.”

I don’t even know how I held it together at that point! Because there we see Amy talking to River as a mother would talk to her daughter, and we’re reminded of how dangerous travelling with the Doctor can be; it is, after all, because of him that Amy never got the chance to be a proper mother to her child. And so, in that line, we see one of the only moments in her life where she really gets to be River’s mother – and then we realise that it’s the moment she says goodbye to her. Furthermore, it’s very interesting (and, of course, sad) to look at what the Doctor says, and in particular this line:

“You are creating a fixed time. I will never be able to see you again.”

Hmm. “I will never be able to see you again.” When you think about it, it’s a bit of a selfish thing to say. He doesn’t want her to stay for her own sake, he wants her to stay for his. But of course, we don’t think any less of him for that. On the contrary, we can’t help but feel for him there. It’s a very real thing to say, and it makes perfect sense after his admission in The Power of Three about how much she means to him. In fact, what makes the scene so incredibly sad is not just Amy’s goodbye, but seeing what the goodbye is doing to the Doctor. We see him cry and even break down, and we see him plead with her and beg her not to go.

“Amy, please, just come back into the TARDIS. Come on, Pond, please.”

If you have a heart, that scene is tough to watch. And to top it all off, there’s a great big orchestral rendition of an evolved Amy’s Theme, too, representing how as a character she has grown and moved on. At risk of repeating myself, it’s simply heartbreaking – there’s no other word for it.

The Doctor and River make a sad scene even sadder.
But it’s not all doom and gloom – in fact, for most of the episode I was smiling like a goon. River Song has been my favourite minor character pretty much since Silence in the Library, so obviously I was delighted at having her back. Steven Moffat noted in an interview before the episode went out that this was not an episode about her, it was merely an episode that featured her. And frankly, as much as I love River, that’s the way it should stay. The price you pay for having a character with such a complex timeline is having storylines that are overly complicated; unfortunately last year, where the series arc basically revolved around her, the stories got bogged down in timey-wimey complications and it just wasn’t very good at all. River works best as a recurring guest; that’s what she was in The Angels Take Manhattan, and that’s why her appearance was so good. As always, her interactions with the Doctor were pure gold. As much as I loved the Doctor slicking his hair and checking his breath was okay before seeing her, the moment that really got me “aww”ing was the one where he gave up some of his regenerative energy just to heal her broken wrist. I’ve got to admit, the shallow Doctor/River fangirl part of me died a little bit at that. (And then she slapped him! How fantastic!) I’m just glad that her final scene hinted strongly at her return in future episodes, though. Of all the characters he writes, Moffat writes River best - she’s just a joy to watch.

The grief of a Time Lord.

Overall, the episode had a lot going for it. The use of the Melody Malone book to frame the whole thing was particularly effective, and tied in nicely to the theme of spoilers and not peeking ahead that is synonymous with River’s character. (The fact that Rory got zapped by the Angel at the end is perhaps the strongest proof that you shouldn’t peek ahead – after all, if he hadn’t looked at his own grave (even though he didn’t know it was his own grave) he wouldn’t have been zapped in the first place. So there you go!) And of course, having New York as a backdrop gave the episode a real epic feel. Filming in Central Park gave it an ambiance that a soggy park in Cardiff would never have been able to give, and, as ever, Times Square never fails to look visually stunning. My only complaint is that there weren’t quite enough shots of New York to whet my appetite; as stunning as Times Square is, it will never be done justice if its total screen time amounts to just a few seconds. But even that is just a minor complaint. The only other real gripe I have is that the Weeping Angels have still never quite been used as effectively as they were in Blink, although I suppose cheapening them slightly is worth having the Statue of Liberty as an angel. Yeah, I can live with that.

Central Park gives The Angels Take Manhattan that unmistakeable New York feel.
It’s almost hard to believe that there’ll be no more Doctor Who now until Christmas. Five episodes is not enough, and I really, really disagree with this whole idea of splitting the series into two – it just doesn’t work. That being said, though, because Series 7 was much stronger than Series 6, it just about got away with it. I still wouldn’t call myself a Moffat fan by any stretch of the word, but I’ve got to admit that he knocked the ball out of the park tonight. If every episode in this era of the show could be as strong as The Angels Take Manhattan, I’d be a very, very happy Doctor Who fan indeed.

But the real question is, what did you think of the episode? Let me know!

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