2nd Opinion: The Angels Take Manhattan

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John Hussey and Adam James Cuthbert each give their own take on the 5th episode of Series 7.

John’s verdict

It finally arrived, the massive “Mid-Series Finale” which depicts the return of the Weeping Angels in all their glory along with the return of the cheeky River Song. But most importantly, we witness the shocking and emotional turn of events which brings the downfall of the Ponds.

The Weeping Angels returning for the Ponds’ last outing was the right choice for Steven Moffat. They are extremely iconic within the new series and have already demonstrated a sinister connection with Amy back at their first encounter back in 2010’s ‘The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone’. Rory also had a brief encounter with them in the Minotaur’s fear factory hotel in last year’s ‘The God Complex’. Each time we have encountered them, Moffat has made sure they have remained terrifying and given them something new to play with. Last time he added some new and creepy abilities, while this time he went to basics, but with more of them and a few surprises.

The idea that any statue could be an Angel was played upon at the end of their original appearance in ‘Blink’ and now in ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ it has become a firm fact. I found the new Cherub Angels to be quite scary. Apart from their creepy childish laugh, the scene with Rory trapped in the basement was just completely full of tension and left me on the edge of my seat. I really did feel this time round, like in their first appearance, the Angels were made to be tension creators again. They really did leave me guessing. Plus I like how Moffat has used their original ability of time displacement to create such a terrifying plot in which they lure victims in to be used as mere batteries over and over again. Quite dark if you ask me.

River’s return was another of the episode’s highlights, as I do really love her character. It was another wise choice for Moffat to add her to the plot. Melody, of course, had to be there for her parents’ departure, it’s only natural. This time round we see an even older version than her last appearance with the Angels. It would have been nice if this was her first appearance with the lonely assassins, but then again there wasn’t enough time to fit in all the explanations this would require, so the story worked even better the way it ran with her timeline.

This year River was back to her old self and is no longer in her younger immature state of mind, which was an interesting development for her character in last year’s massive arc. Now she has been finally released from the Storm-Cage Facility due to the fact her victim never existed in the first place. This was certainly an interesting development for the Doctor’s character and shows how desperate he was to keep his secret a secret; he wiped all knowledge of himself from the universe and time. Also River is now at Professor status, which shows she is getting quite far into her timeline now; closer and closer to her own demise within the Library…

I loved the whole plot device behind the Melody Malone book, which echoes back to River’s diary. But in this case, it foretells the future and introduces some really sinister time devices; whatever you read from future events becomes fixed. Those parts of the story really haunted me, especially because I knew it would entail something bad for the Ponds. River’s best moment though was definitely the wrist breaking scene. It was so powerful and yet cruel. Because Amy had read the future, it now had to happen. I naturally assumed the Doctor would break a vase or something but nothing as horrible as breaking his wife’s wrist. It created a very dark feeling over the entire episode, which is what the entire thing was – dark.

Now onto the main event; the Pond’s departure. When Moffat warned us all those months ago that it would be an emotional end and not everyone would make it out alive, I really didn’t think it would be this bad. It was truly emotional and throughout most of the episode my lip was shaking and tears were building. It was extremely sad to see them go, especially in such a dark and tragic way. In many ways it was worse than death. The first death scene was bad enough with Rory ready to sacrifice himself by jumping off of a building to end the Angels reign of terror, making sure his dark future, living and dying alone in the Angels sinister hotel, was averted. But of course it was proven in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ that Amy’s love for Rory was as strong as ever. She was willing to give up Rory in order to give him the chance to have children because she couldn’t any more due to Madame Kovarian’s wicked deeds in last year’s ‘A Good Man Goes to War’. So naturally when her husband threatens to commit suicide to save both of them, she obviously votes to join her husband knowing too well she couldn’t live without him. You jump, I jump. Maybe not so much Titanic, but the end results all the same. Two lovers will live together and die together. That’s how strong their love is.

It was an emotional ending, especially seeing a helpless Doctor unable to stop the jump, but of course this was only the penultimate ending for them. The worst was yet to come. They created the paradox and prevented the Angels taking Manhattan, but ultimately that near happy ending was completely destroyed when Rory noticed his grave. As soon as that happened, his fate was fixed. Rory Williams was no more. His end had come. Then an emotional Amy decided to take her chance with touching the Angel and hopefully being sent back to the same point as Rory. It was so sad because the characters were so traumatised, added by the fact you thought they were now safe and then WHAM; unexpected disaster erupted. It was truly sad to see them end like this, displaced in time, but at the same time it was happy because they got to spend the rest of their lives together like they wanted.

And so I wipe my pool of tears of this tragic event and salute Moffat once again for his genius and brilliant writing skills because this time he really has out-done himself and delivered the perfect promise. It is so sad also to see that the Doctor’s influences have caused all three of the Ponds to take a road to disaster and have all ended up trapped in different times and spaces. I bet he feels really bad about himself right now and truly, truly heart-broken.

So I now look towards Doctor Who’s future:

At Christmas we see the arrival of Jenna-Louise Coleman in the complete flesh and get to see how her character develops along with a now more darker and heart-broken Time Lord. Then we have the rest of their adventures to look forward to in the second half of Series 7 followed by the grand-daddy of all Doctor Who stories: The 50th Anniversary. Watch this space kids, because it is going to get rough.

Adam’s verdict

The Angels Take Manhattan had a lot to live up to, specifically the departure of the Williams from the Doctor’s life. I’m of the opinion there was no real reason for their continued stay. The glimpses and insights into the Doctor’s darkening psyche could have been the start of this series instead. The series could have depicted the character travelling alone, most likely accompanied by one-off companions, with emphasis on the Doctor’s agonising sense of self-awareness (following the revelations in The God Complex, and, to an extent, A Good Man Goes to War) that he is a danger to those he loves, and, equally, those who ‘idolise’ him (e.g. Lorna; Amy herself, previously). The decision for the Williams to return, in my experience, has led to a negative effect on the Doctor’s character development: sentimental, arrogant, and foolish he may be, that does not necessitate a childlike characterisation in what I perceive to be Moffat’s attempt to deconstruct the show’s eternal enigma: “Doctor Who?” I find it repugnant for the Doctor to have been reduced to a child spending a picnic with his ‘parents’. While he has not neglected his focus on the Doctor’s darker side, his focus have deviated, and especially bringing the Williams back into the picture, it has served only to reinforce the same outcome could have been achieved earlier.

The noir setting, which forms the backdrop for the story’s drama, could have been fully exploited for all its enriching and beguiling imagery to capitalise on the Doctor’s more tenebrous attributes, highlighting his detective skills (one of my favourite aspects of the Eleventh Doctor’s character), pitted against the benighted underworld of noir New York (be it against the Weeping Angels). Frankly, if you’re making genre films in miniature, there’s no damage in being too indulgent of the tropes and iconography of the genre (the Classic archetype is Robert Holmes).

Nonetheless, noir thematics make for an intensely dramatic and exciting opening sequence, as we are reminded of the omnipresent presence of statues from the beginning. The narration situates us within a sense of immediacy, as if statues were haunting the story’s narrative as well (“The statues, the man said. Living statues that moved in the dark”). Although the noir influence is extended to Melody Malone (a.k.a. Professor River Song), the detective who investigates Angels, it’s a shame the character of Garner wasn’t a supporting player. It could have been an interesting experiment if an older Garner were, say, archiving his thoughts on a typewriter and paper as he, sparingly, narrated his younger self’s encounter with the Doctor and his companions, aiding them against the menace of the Angels. (“The man in the bow-tie beckoned me forward, signalling to stop. He pointed up, and I slowly craned my neck. A shadow darted by, what sounded like the wings of the devil himself, and the patter of tiny feet.”)

Speaking of Melody, there were attempts to add layers of humanity to her character (despite my vehement criticisms against the direction her character was taken, she did display genuine, fascinating potential in her original outing and it upsets me to see an originally intriguing character irreparably damaged). This does not change my overall opinion of the character, however.

One of the story’s biggest flaws is the Statue of Liberty being revealed as an Angel. In short, it’s a glorified gimmick (not to mention the glaring questions it raises). It’s also been brought to my attention that, regardless of Amy and Rory’s fate being ‘fixed in time’, why doesn’t the Doctor just catch a lift on River’s vortex manipulator so he can see them again; after all, how else does River deliver the manuscript to Amy to be published? It wouldn’t create a paradox so long as he only observed them.

With regards to the Williams’ fate, I prefer the suicide-pact. Debatably, this is too dark and unsettling an ending for a younger audience (this coming from a story that features blood seeping from a broken wrist). Personally, I found the suicide to enforce the emotional gravitas lacking within the story itself. Amy’s ‘final’ words (“It’s called marriage”), symbolically indicating her rite of passage into womanhood, finally letting go of the past and her belief in the Doctor, stemming from her childhood, embracing her eternal, impregnable love for Rory, the two together in the end. The bittersweet ending could then have connected to the Doctor’s earlier dark behaviour. Although it’s a lovely gesture, for events to come full-circle, I do prefer the first death.

Karen, Arthur: two wonderful people who will be missed. It’s been fun watching, not only your characters grow and mature, but you as well, in your own performances. I won’t say this was the best ending for your character, but for what it’s worth, it’s been an enjoyable ride. Thank you.

[You can read more of Adam’s thoughts at Cult Fix.]