The Angels Take Manhattan Review
“I Heart Heart New York”
(Get it? As in “I Love New York”? Only with two hearts? Like the Doctor? Oh, never mind.)
There were so many ways that “The Angels Take Manhattan” capitalized on its potential. Part of Series 7’s string of episodes meant to embody various genres of film, the episode truly captured the essence of a noir in the narration and cinematography of the opening teaser. The repeated meme of the typewriter was a fitting way of tying the episode together, as first Detective Sam Garner, then River, and then Amy all take turns writing the adventure.
The episode looks beautiful, and is the first time Doctor Who has truly captured the look of the United States. The turn-of-the-century architecture, the green of Central Park, the particular hue of twilight’s violet hour on the familiar skyline, the busy glint of Times Square – New York is difficult to replicate via visual effects (as “Daleks in Manhattan” proves), but the location truly adds to the sweeping feel of the story.
However, the episode’s real triumph isn’t in the visuals, but in the script. There is a sense of uneasy terror as characters encounter the Weeping Angels, unaware at how their very presence tempts fate. Thankfully, the Angels have returned to their original premise as silent, persistent stalkers. The menace of being shunted back in time, away from one’s loved ones and from modern conveniences, is unique to the Angels, and much preferred to the Angel’s misguided depiction as mere neck-breakers in “The Time of Angels”/“Flesh and Stone.” I loved River’s comment that the damaged Angel could “scream.”
Speaking of River, “The Angels Take Manhattan” did much to redeem Steven Moffat’s handling of her character:
The Doctor: “How’s prison?”
River Song: “Oh, I was pardoned ages ago, and it’s ‘Professor Song’ to you now.”
The Doctor: “’Pardoned‘?”
River Song: “Turns out the person I killed never existed in the first place. Apparently there’s no record of him. It’s almost as if someone’s gone around deleting himself from every database in the universe.”
The Doctor: “You said I got ‘too big.’”
River Song: “And now, no one’s ever heard of you. Didn’t you used to be somebody?”
The Doctor: “Weren’t you the woman who killed the Doctor?”
River Song: “‘Doctor’ who?”
This is how River should be written – so in adoration of the Doctor that she is upset when the universe suddenly forgets his importance. His reputation isn’t just tarnished like a “mighty warrior,” it’s gone, and that pains her. The playful way that the two argue – even seeing the Doctor malign River with a mention of her “criminal” past – is fascinating to watch, and is my favorite exchange of dialogue in a long time.
Moffat continues examining their relationship, as the Doctor discovers River has concealed her broken wrist:
The Doctor: “Why did you lie to me?”
River Song: “When one’s in love with an ageless god who insists on the face of a twelve-year-old, one does one’s best to hide the damage.”
The Doctor: “It must hurt.”
River Song: “Yes. The wrist is pretty bad too.”
It’s brilliant to see the Doctor realize that, beyond dragging his companions into mortal danger, his very existence is hurtful to those around him. So often, the focus is on how the Doctor is pained to have companions age and leave him – River even admonishes Amy of that very fact, in this episode, a subtle call back to the Doctor’s noticing Amy’s wrinkles at the episode’s beginning. Not sense “School Reunion” has the narrative examined how it affects the companions to be involved with someone who has no mortal limits, who is free to gallivant around time and space because he will never age and never die.
The Doctor’s use of regeneration energy to heal River is an incredibly loving, mature gesture, and is the first time I’ve believed that the Doctor truly loves River as something more than a groupie, a clever verbal sparring partner, or a seductive plaything. Why was River “embarrassed”? Because it revealed her mortality, which she knows the Doctor hates, and because she so adores the Doctor that she would endure the pain of a broken wrist, if it allowed the Doctor an extra life. (And, surely, as angry as she got, she must’ve thought that he’d sacrificed a life, no? Could we now be looking at the penultimate Doctor? Or did he merely pass some of her sacrificed regeneration energy back to her?)
Far from being a childish rant, the Doctor’s stomping his feet in frustration is a perfect end to the scene. He isn’t wrong to heal River, and he can’t understand why River and Amy are angry. Is the Doctor confused because he’s an alien and doesn’t understand humans, or because he’s a man and doesn’t comprehend women? Both play well, and highlight the dual nature of the Doctor.
After this scene, it is easy to decode the allegory in River’s telling Amy to give up her present to follow her husband through time.
Speaking of, it is lovely when Amy tells River to “be a good girl,” just as it is great to hear River refer to Rory as “Dad,” and Amy as “Mother.” I wish we’d had more moments like this in the latter half of Series 6, after the big reveal in “A Good Man Goes to War.” The final Amy/River scene in “The Wedding of River Song” was a great start, but it feels like we should have had one more encounter with River and her parents, between “Let’s Kill Hitler” and “The Angels Take Manhattan.”
While Moffat’s reference back to Amelia’s first garden encounter with the Doctor, in “The Eleventh Hour,” was both sentimental and lackluster, the final reference to Rory’s repeated deaths was inspired. Rory’s plan to commit suicide, thus creating a paradox that will simultaneously destroy the Angels and return him to life, is so amazing and so clever that it turns the in-joke into a narrative pay-off. The act draws Rory’s character arc of bravery and sacrifice to a close, and demonstrates how resourceful he has become as a companion.
Thus, the heartbreak, as Rory begs a reluctant Amy to push him off the Winter Quay roof:
Amy: “Could you? If it was me could you do it?”
Rory: “To save you, I could do anything.”
That’s when my tears started welling up. I’ll admit it. As I watched Amy crawl onto the roof’s ledge with her husband, and I was fervently whispering a plea to myself, “Please work . . . . Please work . . . . Please work . . . .” Steven Moffat wanted a big, heartbreaking, emotional send-off for the Ponds; not only does he get it, but, by tying it to the end of Rory’s character arc, it feel genuinely earned.