Sunday, September 30, 2012
Doctor Who: Series 7, Episode 5, The Angels Take Manhattan
After watching the mid-series finale of DOCTOR WHO (THE ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN) I find myself wanting to be congratulatory and kind to Steven Moffat’s written swan song for the Ponds, but I’m just too conflicted. So I’m going to lay out what I liked and what I didn’t like and why, and hopefully you can make up your own minds.
The story on the outside is pretty simple. The Doctor, Amy, and Rory visit New York City, and while sitting in Central Park and Rory goes off to get some drinks, the Doctor discovers that Amy is reading a pulpy detective novel that all of the sudden features Rory in the 1930’s and River Song. The novel ends up being a kind of future history of the events that will follow and the Doctor quickly scolds Amy for reading ahead as she’s technically creating “fixed” points in time by doing so. He tells her not to read ahead...but chapter titles might be okay. It’s not long before they sort out that Rory has been touched by the nefarious Weeping Angels and sent back in time. After sorting that out and establishing that going back to save him is too tough because New York of 1938 is so time-addled that they can’t get back there. Luckily River Song is there to establish a homing beacon to follow back to 1938 with the TARDIS. What follows is a progression of events that lead to the heroes finding out that a tenement building called “Winters Quay” is being used as a sort of battery farm for the Weeping Angels to send people back in time from to drink their energy, including the metal (not stone) Statue Of Liberty.
It all SEEMS very cool from the outside but if you dig at all into the narrative the thing falls apart like a house of cards. My immediate issue is what exactly is River Song doing there? It’s never explained, and it seems totally out of nowhere...and worse none of the characters questions her presence! Aside from the Doctor’s teasing “Shouldn’t you be in prison?” no one says boo about why River is there. One might argue that she knew of her parents’ need of her in that time and place, but I’d wonder where she got the info. (NOTE: I've been duly informed by a friend that it's set out that River is studying the Angels and that's why she's summoned there by the collector. I find that beyond convenient, but whatever, I'm willing to concede that point.) Anyways, lets gloss over that her presence makes no sense and move on. So Rory sees older Rory (who was sent back in time) there in a room showing that in this timeline he gets caught and stays in Winters Quay till his eventual death. His way of escape? Jumping from the roof, killing younger Rory, therefore depriving the Angels of their battery source and breaking their hold on the building. How, you ask? Don’t ask. Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey. I fail to see how Rory’s escape (one amongst however many folk have been imprisoned there to be sent back in time to create the energy) breaks their hold. But nevermind. Oh and The Statue of Liberty is there, fangs out as an Angel on top of the building. While menacing, two things immediately jump into your head. One: no one in New York in the vicinity sees that Lady Liberty is missing, nor Two: the huge statue standing in the street and menacing the roof of a tenement building? Okay, I’m going to dismiss this as having Liberty as an Angel is endlessly cool. How about the fact that she’s made of metal and not stone (as the Angels are described)? Ssshhhh. Nevermind. There is some offhanded remark about the Angel’s possessing statues...thus kind of changing them from being villains who turn to rock, into some sort of spiritual form that actually possesses statues instead. What? Did Steven Moffat just screw with his own invented creature’s origin? Ugh. Nevermind? So Amy and Rory create their paradox by jumping from the building and this wipes out that whole timeline, freeing Winter’s Quay from the hold of the Angels and they end up back in the graveyard they were in when this started. Again, I’m not sure how Rory’s specific sacrifice removes this whole bit of timeline, but I’m willing to hand wave it because here we go...here is the ending of the Ponds. Here is the (aforementioned) last day of the Doctor and the Ponds. Break out the Kleenex! Even though I have been very vocal about not caring much for the Ponds, I’m still sad to see the Doctor so distraught. So what happens? Ready for spoilers? One Angel is still in the graveyard (convenient that location!) and touches Rory sending him back to an indeterminate moment in time. So Amy freaks out and tells the Doctor to go back and help him, and the Doctor refuses saying that it would rip New York apart to try to do so. Hmmm. So Amy makes a sacrifice and decides to go back as well. The Doctor gets upset and tells her he will never see her again! It’s poignant and sad and I’ll freely admit made me emotional. It’s not emotional because of the Ponds, it’s emotional because of the Doctor. In essence Amy is 11’s Rose. In that vein he wants to do everything to save her, to stay with her and to keep traveling with her. His best friend. On that front it’s absolutely heart-jarringly sad. At least it was, until I thought about it for more than a moment. Wait. So the Doctor can’t go back to her time because it would rip New York apart. Okay, so if the episode is to be believed, it’s the constant time flux in NY causing this fact that he can’t take the TARDIS back there. Add that River says she can freely go back with her stolen (from Jack Harkness) vortex manipulator and it doesn’t cause the same issues that the TARDIS does, thus allowing her to give the book to Amy to publish in the past and create her epilogue for the Doctor to read and you have the makings of a plot hole. Then if you really break it down, then Amy and Rory can simply go outside the city to a different place (Buffalo maybe?) where the Doctor CAN travel to....hell they even have a vortex-manipulated Daughter to bring the message to do so. This is not just a plot hole; it’s a giant, fabulously over sighted writing mistake (paraphrased from another viewer). Let’s not just say that though, let’s look at it logically with historical evidence. Rose Tyler got stuck in an alternate universe. The walls closed and the universe was sealed off from ours otherwise it would rip ours to pieces. Doctor can’t go to her. In fact it’s only a need to create further rips in the universe that he DOES see her again, afterwards re-sealing those gaps to make sure things go tickety boo. Donna Noble, part of a Human /Time Lord metacrisis, she took the Doctor’s mind into her head and became the Doctor Donna, had to have her mind wiped and she would never remember any of the great things she did otherwise her mind would burn and she would die. The Doctor could never visit her otherwise he risks her remembering and subsequently dying. Fast forward, the Doctor can’t visit or save Amy and Rory from the 1930’s New York...and instead of finding a way to visit them or save them VIA another place they could travel to or another time a year or so later....he GIVES UP? Wow. That sucked almost all the emotion out of that scene in the graveyard. It smacks of a weak, weak plot device. Moffat seemingly didn’t know how to write them off the show. It’s the only thing I can come up with. Say what you will about RTD and melodrama, but I can’t believe that Moffat wrote a great and emotional end to the Ponds and totally robs it and the thing falls totally apart under the slightest scrutiny. I’m sad because I’m the guy who dismisses that kind of thing when it comes to DOCTOR WHO. The Sontaran Eps in S4 are pretty rough on common sense and plot holes, but they are scads better than this stuff. I WANT to handwavium the bullshit science and plot holes for story. I want to do that, but in this episode it was just so damn blatant.
Was it a good episode? Yes, indeed. Does it require Kleenex as promised? Yes it does. But afterwards when you begin to actually think about the ending you will most likely get annoyed. Especially in comparison with heartbreakers like Rose’s goodbye in DOOMSDAY and Donna’s goodbye in JOURNEY’S END, Amy and Rory’s goodbye is treated almost like a “we have to do this, so here you go. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s sad enough.” And that felt flat to me. It’s got a number of decent ideas and scenes and has some kickass DOCTOR WHO moments, but it never adds up to a solid whole. Again falling victim to Moffat’s trademark cobbling of a narrative AROUND his own clever plot devices instead of writing a half decent story first and then adding in his plot devices after. I’m actually a little pissed off by how this happened.
Nick Hurran’s direction and Murray Gold’s score ought to be lauded as both were spot on in this ep. Hurran’s direction really does hearken to 1930’s noir in a perfect way and Gold’s score as usual these days, was lovingly rendered and presented throughout. The acting was also quite well done throughout with Matt Smith (the Doctor’s) performance standing out most. Karen Gillan (Amy) brings home a solid performance, while Alex Kingston (River) does a decent enough job, but for me she’s never reached the heights she did in her first appearance in the library eps.
Is it a solid mid-series finale? Yeah, if you can handwavium the absolute MYRIAD of things wrong with the notions in it and add the fact that the Angels don’t come across remotely as frightening as they did in S5 (let alone BLINK)...at least the Cherubs were creepy and did a lot with sound only. You will likely enjoy it. I did. It was only after I thought about it that everything really began to leap out at me. Is it a solid ending for Amy and Rory? No. Not remotely. In fact it’s probably one of the weakest “companion(s) leave” episode in relaunched DW. I’ll add the fact that we spent two eps with Rory’s dad Brian and he gets no info on what happened to them? How about Amy’s parents? Their many friends? There is liiterally NO EPILOGUE explaining anything to anyone. This robs the episode of a further set of emotional beats that I think the audience deserved, especially Brian. Why spend two eps with him if he was only going to be left in the dark? Travesty.
So yeah. That’s where I am with it. I enjoyed it on some level, but more of me is upset at how nonsensical it was, how scatterbrained and how I feel that even the emotional moments end up not really being earned. When Rose left I cried. When Donna left I sobbed like an un-consoled kid. Now when Amy and Rory leave I shed a tear or two when during the graveyard scene and the epilogue scene, but felt utterly robbed afterwards.
This just further illustrates to me how much RTD’s era affected me. He knew characters and interaction. He paid attention to story first and plot after. Moffat’s continued failure in that department leaves us with stuff like this. Serviceable DOCTOR WHO, but it’s a far cry from what it was and what it COULD be.