Development of the Weeping Angels

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Guest contributor Stuart McClelland looks at the growth of the lonely assassins.

When Doctor Who returned under the pen of Russell T. Davies in 2005, no one expected any iconic monsters that could stand alongside the Daleks and the Cybermen to be introduced. Until The Weeping Angels proved us all wrong, that is. A brilliantly simple concept that scared us all to death, The Weeping Angels were an instant success, inspiring merchandise and topping polls. And this weekend, the Angels look to make another massive impact in Doctor Who history, possibly causing the departure of the Ponds in ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’. So let’s take a look back at the growth of the lonely assassins that had us keeping our eyes open ever since their debut.

Impact of the Angels

Picture this ‐ it’s a dark Saturday evening once again. The kind where you just know that something remarkable is going to happen. The kind where you just have a feeling that the 45 minutes of television you are about to watch will change your life forever. The kind of evening that could only occur when you are about to see ‘Blink’ for the first time. Minutes after the episode was first broadcast, it exploded into the minds of Whovians all across the globe. It instantly struck a chord with fans universally in a way that may not happen again for a while. It reminded us all why we love Doctor Who so much, yet the Doctor didn’t even feature very much at all. It made us laugh, it made us cry and it forced us to get a fresh pair of underpants at least twice. But most of all, it fascinated us regarding this mysterious monster we knew almost nothing about. Who are they? Why are they the way they are? Were they once people? Could they have once been Time Lords? Who knows! But that’s what made them so terrible. The concept that they could be a part of something bigger, more dangerous, more frightening, more mysterious than you could possibly understand. Creatures of time that evolution itself is afraid of. That is surely worthy of standing alongside the Daleks and the Cybermen.

How are the Angels used to make them so frightening?

The use of the Angels in ‘Blink’ regarding the direction and the concepts that came with a creature that can’t move were shockingly effective. Note that there are several times where an Angel that is in shot is not being seen at all by any of the characters, yet it doesn’t move, but I feel that this is intentional, because the shots are framed in a way that whenever you, the viewer is looking at an Angel, the Angel can’t move, even if none of the on screen characters are looking at it. This provides a real life connection between you and the monster, and it makes you more frightened to know that when you are not looking at them, that’s when they attack. Another thing that enhances the tension around the story is the motivations behind the Angels within the actual narrative.

They want the TARDIS if it’s the last thing they do, and it could have dire consequences for the characters you’ve come to love throughout the whole series. (The Doctor and Martha.) This makes the possibility of the Angels being victorious even scarier, because the TARDIS is a familiar item that you’ve grown to love, and the idea of a psychopathic second party enslaving it is extremely unnerving. And the plot being viewed through the eyes of an ordinary person makes the odds of survival so much grimmer, and really ties the story together. But the thing that absolutely made the story a masterpiece was that ending. David Tennant’s narration over Murray Gold’s heart-­pounding score and the images of all the statues in everyday places was possibly the greatest sequence in Doctor Who history, and easily the highlight of Steven Moffat’s career. Unfortunately, this is what makes the Angel story following this so disappointing in my eyes.

The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone

Now before I begin this section, I want to clarify that I don’t necessarily hate this story. The acting, the visuals, the River Song plot, and the cracks in time were all great -­ but this section is focusing on how the Weeping Angels were utilised in these episodes, which was in my opinion, one of the very few disappointments of Series 5. So let’s begin, shall we?

My anticipation for this story was through the roof at the beginning of Series 5. The big blockbuster set piece of the entire series, Steven Moffat’s return to the dark writing he does so well, and of course, ­the Weeping Angels. But upon the ending of the first part, I just felt… empty. Like there was a hole in my heart that was never filled – ­just an unsatisfactory void where my terror and excitement should be. There are many reasons why the Angels were far less effective in this story, and I’m going to try to go through them one by one.

The first big distraction is the setting. The Weeping Angels are at their best when they’re in an ordinary, contemporary Earth location. It just makes them so much more unnerving. But when they’re on an alien planet, hundreds of years in the future, a lot of the terror and mystique is just lost. In ‘Blink’, you believed they were statues. They didn’t look like monsters, they were just statues. But in a sci-­fi setting like this, you don’t believe they’re statues. Now, they’re just aliens to you. And that makes them less frightening.

One concept that did have a lot of potential was the Angel moving on the screen, but the way it was executed failed to impress me, and it had no point at all in the whole story. Not much is really done with the Weeping Angels here. The fact that they can only move when they are unseen is just an afterthought in this story; it’s barely even used in the plot. It’s like the Angels only exist in these episodes to keep the characters moving to the next hint towards River’s identity, or a huge revelation to the crack in time, or a big Doctor/Amy snog. The only technique to earn a real scare from the Weeping Angels is done three times! It gets old really fast. Soldier goes to look around. Angel pulls a scary face. Soldier dies. Possessed soldier tells other soldier to look around. Scary face. Soldier dies. It’s terribly routine, and it gets extremely dull. There are also many, many plot holes around the Angels in this story, but they don’t intentionally serve the plot like in ‘Blink’.

The scene in ‘Flesh and Stone’ where The Doctor is surrounded by Angels on both sides and one grabs his jacket doesn’t make a lick of sense, and don’t forget the scene where out of nowhere, the Weeping Angels forget about their biology, and their defining attribute, and Moffat apparently forgets about the most basic thing that makes the Angels scary and decides to make them move on screen! That is probably one of the worst creative choices I’ve ever heard of! It manages to not make sense and not be scary all at the same time!

In conclusion, I do love the Weeping Angels to death despite how they were handled in ‘The Time of Angels’/’Flesh and Stone’, and I am extremely excited about ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’. It looks to be a true return to form for the Lonely Assassins that they desperately needed. Good luck Ponds, and remember -­ don’t blink. Blink and you’re dead. They are fast, faster than you can believe. Don’t blink, don’t turn your back, don’t look away and don’t blink. Good luck.