Doctor Who – Review – Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone – Spoilers

We’ve heading into uncharted territory now. Historically, I’ve reviewed most new Doctor Who episodes right here on the blog, but now that we’re doing the Fusion Patrol Podcast, I’ve been letting it slip.

The fact is, we’re not really doing reviews at the podcast. I’ve likened to a book club discussion, although, not having attended a book club, how would I know? Basically, we’re just having a discussion about what we think about the episode – so, maybe it is a review. In any case, I’ll try to synthesize some of that down here as my “review.”

Summary

In Time of Angels, the Doctor is re-united with River Song, the archaeologist from the Doctor’s future, first introduced in Silence in the Library. River has cleverly arranged for the Doctor to answer her call and come to her assistance, where she is helping a crack military squad of clerics to neutralize a Weeping Angel: a bizarre quantum-locked alien species that can only move when they’re not being observed. The starliner Byzantium was carrying the angel, but it crashed on a planet, releasing the angel.

As the clerics attempt to work their way through catacombs towards the wrecked ship, Amy is unwittingly infected by one of the angels. The clerics are being killed off one-by-one and only too late does the Doctor realize that all the statues in the catacombs are angels, and they are being brought back to life by the energy from the wrecked starliner. Surrounded, and trapped in a cave just meters below the wrecked ship, things look very bleak indeed.

In Flesh and Stone, the Doctor manages to get the survivors aboard the ship, but the angels are aboard, too. As they make their way through an artificial forest inside the ship, the mysterious crack from Amy’s bedroom wall puts in an appearance, threatening to swallow everything.

Amy must keep her eyes shut to stay alive, and she is left in the care of the cleric, but one-by-one, they are swallowed by the crack and cease to have ever existed. Amy must pretend to be able to see, to fool the angels into leaving her alone, and navigate blindly through the forest to reach the Doctor and River.

Can the Doctor stop the angels and close the crack which threatens to devour the entire universe?

Analysis

From my point of view, this two-parter was an exemplary episode of Doctor Who. While it’s still fresh in my mind, I’d almost say the best episode since the series returned in 2005.

In pacing, it is unlike any new series episode to date. Even though it maintains suspense from end to end, it is slower than most new series episodes. Midpoint during each 45 minute episode, comes an almost perfect “cliffhanger” point – as if this story was written to be four, 22 minute episodes ala the classic series. I much prefer this pacing and really wish Steven Moffat would convert all the stories into two-parters. That said, the resolution to the problem of both the angels and the crack did present itself rather quickly and conveniently right at the end and wasn’t really any of the Doctor’s doing. In effect, his cleverness just kept them alive long enough for them to get lucky. That was probably the most dissatisfying part of the whole story to me.

We (the audience and the Doctor) are meeting River Song for only the second time, but from her timeline, she’s met the Doctor many times before, and knows about his future. Last time, we learned that she was someone very, very important to the Doctor in his future and that he trusted her with enough knowing his real name. This time, which is much earlier in her timeline, we learn that she is a murderer and is being held in prison for that crime. She has only been released so that she can help the expedition, “control” the Doctor and try to earn herself a pardon.

During the first episode, it’s not revealed that she’s a prisoner, but it is revealed that the Doctor might not help her if he knew “…who and what [she is]…” At that point, I began to suspect that a beautiful piece of plot contrivance on the Grand Moff’s part would be to have had River die in the first episode that the Doctor meets (which she did) and for the Doctor to die the first time River meets him. That idea was bolstered in my mind when she stated that she had “pictures of all his incarnations” which is only possible if she’s in a timeline after the Doctor is dead. That she was his killer also fit with the “who and what” comment, in that what she is is his murderer. Logical to assume that he’d not want to help her under those conditions.

I thought I was being particularly clever reasoning that out in the first episode, but then they started beating it over our heads in the second episode. Revealing that she was in prison for murder, they she’d murdered a great man, a hero to many. She herself even tells the Doctor, when confronted, that she killed the greatest man she’s ever known.

In slippery Grand Moff style, though, the crack in time has put the idea in the Doctor’s head that time can be “unwritten” and he seems oddly comforted by that idea. Perhaps he thinks he can unwrite River’s crime, or, on a bigger scale, perhaps he can unwrite the Time War, the rise of Rassilon and the destruction of Gallifrey.

On the other hand, if he tries something that big, perhaps he causes the crack himself?

I would like to point out that, while I don’t really give a toss about season-spanning story arcs, I am pleased that this seasons story arc at least appears to be playing out meaningfully during the season, rather than just being a series of catchphrases badly interjected into the scripts with no bearing on the stories. The Bad Wolf syndrome has a been a great, dead albatross hanging around the nexk of the past four series, and I hope it’s gone forever.

Amy, in this episode, is both playful, brilliant and somewhat useless in equal measures. The later is not really her fault, as she’s blind, about to die, all alone in a forest full of angels and terrified out of her wits. Who wouldn’t be useless under those conditions?

All-in-all, one of the best episodes for a long, long time.

No review of this episode would be complete without discussing the final scene, set in Amy’s bedroom, on the night before her wedding (also the night she left with the Doctor.) In no uncertain terms, Amy, having just been terrified for her life, tries to get a leg over on the Doctor.

Prudish I might be, but the tone and content of the scene just felt wrong to me. It didn’t really have a place in a program aimed (partially) at such a young audience, but this is a criticism I’ve had ever since the series returned in 2005. This was just the single most overt expression of it yet.

While I didn’t like it, it was logical. It’s the logical extension (at least in the TV world) of Amy’s lifelong obsession with the Doctor, her fears about marriage and her very near brush with death. It was a accurate portrayal of humanity.

What I did appreciate, though, was that the Doctor clearly felt the same way: This is a totally inappropriate Doctor/Companion interaction, and he puts a stop to it. My hope is that this is the Grand Moff telling us that, “…we’ve pushed the issue to it’s logical conclusion and there’ll no more of that going on in the TARDIS while I’m at the helm.”

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