Doctor Who reviews: The Angels Take Manhattan

In last night’s Doctor Who episode “The Angels Take Manhattan,” Amy Pond and Rory Williams, after years of traveling through time & space with the Doctor, bid farewell to the man in the Police Box.

The news that actors Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill would be leaving Doctor Who in this episode had been circulating for several months now, leading to much speculation as to how exactly Amy and Rory would be written out of the series.  I was personally wondering if they would be given a dignified exit that didn’t feel silly or nonsensical, because, to be honest, I always found the two characters to be inconsistently written over their two and a half year period on the show.

At times Amy could be very likable, one of the best companions the Doctor had; at other times she was just plain annoying.  My feelings ran hot & cold for her from episode to episode.  Rory, likewise, was great as the unassuming everyman who became a heroic figure, the immortal Last Centurion who guarded over Amy for two millennia while she was in suspended animation in the Pandorica.  I wasn’t quite as enamored with Rory when certain writers cast him as a bumbling fifth wheel whose presence felt extraneous to the friendship between Amy and the Doctor.  So it was actually very fortunate that writer Steven Moffat brought his A-game to “The Angels Take Manhattan,” giving both Amy and Rory a very good script to exit on, one that really highlighted their strengths as characters.

Another character whom I’ve have fluctuating feelings towards is Amy and Rory’s half-human, half-Time Lord daughter, the time traveling archeologist River Song, portrayed by Alex Kingston.  Part of the reason why I think the character has been so variable is because the Doctor is always meeting her chronologically out-of-order.  And when she is a younger individual, River is just, well, annoyingly smug and ridiculously impulsive.  I like her better during her appearances from later on in her personal timeline, when she’s mellowed out and become less bat$#!+ crazy.  Given that “The Angels Take Manhattan” is the last appearance of her parents on the series, it makes sense for River to pop up in this episode.  Fortunately, we mostly see her in a more low-key, introspective state here.

The Weeping Angels

This episode also sees the return of the Weeping Angels.  Their 2007 debut story “Blink” is probably the all time scariest Doctor Who episode ever made.  I was underwhelmed by their return to the series in the 2010 “Time of the Angels” / “Flesh and Stone” two-part story, though, and subsequently wondered if they should have been a one-off villain.  But “The Angels Take Manhattan” definitely restored the Weeping Angels to the status of one of the Doctor’s most terrifying foes.

In “The Angels Take Manhattan,” the Weeping Angels have infested New York City.  This time, though, instead of simply sending people back in time decades and feeding off the energy of their lost lifetimes, the Angels are also imprisoning their victims in an apartment building near Battery Park, keeping them trapped there for the rest of their lives, using them as living batteries.  It takes an already horrible fate and makes it infinitely worse.

The Doctor is completely unaware of all this, of course, when he lands the TARDIS in NYC in 2012.  Relaxing in Central Park, having a picnic lunch with Amy and Rory, the Doctor is reading a mystery novel he happened to find in his jacket pocket.  Then Rory disappears on the way back to the Park from a coffee run, and the Doctor realizes that he is reading no ordinary book.  It’s actually penned by River Song, and it tells him that Rory has been sent by the Weeping Angels back to the 1930s.  Taking the TARDIS back in time, the Doctor and Amy meet up with River and track Rory to the apartment block in downtown Manhattan, where they hope to rescue him from a lifetime of imprisonment by the Angels.

The quality of “The Angels Take Manhattan” that meant the most to me is that it finally, after two and a half years of episodes, cemented Amy and Rory’s relationship.  For all the time Rory has been with Amy, he has been plagued by doubts that Amy really loved him as much as he loved her, that she would rather be with the Doctor than with him.  As a viewer, I have often wondered which relationship is supposed to be the closer, stronger one, Amy and Rory’s marriage, or Amy and the Doctor’s friendship.  It really is a very moving scene when Rory, to escape being trapped by the Angels, is willing to take his own life, thereby creating a temporal paradox which will wipe out their presence in New York City, and Amy decides to join him.  We see that she would rather die with him than live without him.  Moffat’s writing, buoyed by Darvill and Gillan’s acting, movingly demonstrates Rory’s very human bravery and Amy’s strong, passionate love & commitment to him.

Rory and Amy’s goodbye kiss

If there was a weakness in the story, it would be that I find it difficult to wrap my head around the idea of the Doctor and River Song being married.  River more than once refers to the Doctor as her husband, and it feels odd.  The best scene between the two was their final one, where it is the Doctor and River in the TARDIS by themselves.  I realized then that when Moffat really needs to do is write at least one episode with just the Doctor and River traveling together, to really give Matt Smith and Alex Kingston an opportunity to explore the rapport that is supposed to exist between their two characters.  There is a lot of potential there, especially the fact that the Doctor knows how River is eventually going to die, knowledge he cannot share with her, and with that an awareness that any time he has with her is limited.  “The Angels Take Manhattan” makes the point that the Doctor hates endings, hates to say goodbye.  So how must he feel about River, having already seen her demise?  There is a lot to explore here, but I feel Moffat really needs to do it in a story without any other companions taking up the spotlight.

As an American fan of Doctor Who, I do appreciate the fact that the new series now had the budget and technology to either make the occasional trip abroad to film a story here in the States, or at least make it appear to be set somewhere here.  It was definitely cool to watch the characters walking about Central Park and the streets of Manhattan, actual places that I see in my daily life.  It definitely makes a pleasant change from having all the Earth-bound episodes set in Great Britain.

Actually, this reminds me a bit of Doctor Who in the 1960s, when often the production teams’ reach may have exceeded their grasp, and they strove to recreate all manner of geographical & historical settings in a tiny studio with a shoestring budget.  The creators of those early episodes may have been overambitious, but they were not afraid to try and achieve the impossible.  There’s a lot of that same quality to the present-day series.

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One thought on “Doctor Who reviews: The Angels Take Manhattan

  1. I enjoyed this write-up, particularly the last paragraph which I think is a lovely way to sum up those early years of Who. The current production team definitely are going after those big, ambitious ideas in the same way the first production team did and I love that there’s always something unexpected.

    In this episode it was that lovely noirish intro that was such a stylish and atmospheric opening to this story.

    I do think River probably wasn’t necessary to the story but I do think it was important for her to be there, just to have that farewell with her parents. I do agree too that we need an Eleventh Doctor/River story at some point where they are on their own. There’s never enough time to really dig into their relationship if you have other companions to handle too…

    Like

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