Stop Weeping over The Time of Angels
Guest contributor Gregor Smith defends the Series 5 two-parter.
The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone was the first two-parter featuring the Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith and marked the second appearance of the most frightening monsters Doctor Who ever had, the Weeping Angels.
Looking back on the initial response when it was broadcast, it’s hard to think of a reason why anyone would have to make a case for it. The critical reviews were universally great and as far as I’m aware people on Doctor Who forums and sites were really enjoying it.
But since then, and especially since the Angel’s third appearance in “The Angels Take Manhattan”, the general opinion has shifted. Just like Russell T Davies seems to become more popular with every year he’s not showrunning and more and more people claim they always hated Amy and Rory, it has become difficult to find a discussion of the Weeping Angels on the internet without someone claiming that “all the episodes after Blink completely ruined the Weeping Angels”. The Time of Angels may not have gathered a cult hating like The End of Time, nor are people as indifferent towards it as to an episode like The Beast Below. But for some reason, the default opinion seems to view it as a failure now, when in reality, it was one of (yes, one of the many) highlights of series 5.
The main reason so many people seem to take against it now is that the Weeping Angels in The Time of Angels allegedly don’t follow the rules of Blink. Now, I could go into full nerd mode here and try to explain the changes, as other people have already done. But honestly, I don’t care much about that.
What I care about is this: Steven Moffat recently said in an interview that for him the first episode with a certain monster was always the best. And while this is of course an arguable premise, we all know what he means. The Daleks will never be as scary again as they were in their first serial when we just saw the plunger and didn’t know anything about them. And to Moffat’s credit, at least he tried to do something new with the Daleks whenever they appeared in his tenure.
It’s the sense of excitement and uncertainty that makes the monster introductions so great. It’s what made Blink so fantastic. And when writing The Time of Angels, Moffat wanted to make sure he did not step into the Dalek trap. So he did everything to give us the excitement and uncertainty we knew from Blink. He could have simply written “Blink 2″. Same Angels, same rules, same stuff, just with the Doctor this time. This might have satisfied some hard-core fans continuity-wise, but it also would have been extremely boring. So he went the different route. He basically said: You know what? You don’t know anything about the Weeping Angels. Here, let me show you how much you don’t know.”
And from there he went bonkers. But in a good way. An image of an angel becomes itself an angel, the Angels can kill people and use their voices to communicate and of course, an Angel grows inside Amy. It’s all new to us, it may not all make strict narrative sense, but it is incredibly exciting. We’re discovering the Weeping Angels all over again.
Also, from a technical point of view, The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone is one of the most successful Doctor Who stories of all time. It’s wonderfully shot, the locations look genuinely real, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan are already on the top of their game, even the lighting is beautiful. And all this combined with a great story leads along some of the most terrifying television scenes I’ve ever seen. Seriously, when Amy is locked in that trailer and the looped video footage starts to move… I honestly can’t think of another Doctor Who scene that I found this incredibly tense.
And that’s only the beginning. The voice of Bob coming out of the walkie-talkie, enabling the Doctor to practically talk to a Weeping Angel, the realisation that all the statues in the caves are active Angels, Amy’s blind walk through the forest and finally the short scene when we see the Angels move. All that is full-on shivers-down-the-spine material, it’s about as scary as Doctor Who has ever gotten and I’m not surprised if people who complain about these scenes don’t find them as scary as I do, because of course you can’t get immersed in the story if you’re constantly concentrating on the exact hypothetical physical rules of a fictional Doctor Who monster.
For me, Doctor Who has always worked like this: If the Doctor establishes something, than it’s true. Rule number one isn’t “The Doctor lies”, it’s “The Doctor tells the truth”. I couldn’t buy a single episode if it weren’t for that one rule. In The Girl Who Waited, the Doctor can’t rescue Amy himself because there is “a virus that only affects two-hearted life forms”. Although that doesn’t make an atom of sense it works as the setup for a great episode which The Girl Who Waited undoubtedly is. And when the Doctor says “you have to walk like you can see”, then that’s it and if the scene is well-done (which it is), I am automatically on the edge of my seat.
The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone is a 90-minute thrill ride that would stand up well as a feature film. It is full of great ideas, terrifying imagery and amazing acting. It may not be 100% accurate to the portrayal of the Weeping Angels in Blink but I don’t think that should justify the occasional trashing of one of the best two-parters of New Who.