The Angels Take Manhattan
|Production Code||Series 7, Episode 5|
|Dates||September 29, 2012|
With Matt Smith,
Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill
Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Nick Hurran
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Caroline Skinner.
|Synopsis: The Angels have invaded 1930s Manhattan.|
He Doesn't Like Endings by Jason A. Miller 9/2/13
I hate endings. But I was prepared to make an exception for The Angels Take Manhattan.
I'm in love with my co-worker. We'll call her Liz (as in "Sladen"). Not the romantic, New Series "love", but the desperately platonic Classic Series sense where you just want to have wacky co-ed adventures all day.
I've known "Liz" for four years. I trained her when she joined my old law firm, and then, when she left to take a much better job, she took me with her. She was the Sarah Jane to my Fourth Doctor, the Amy Pond to my Eleventh.
Then she announced that she'd been transferred to a different city. I couldn't go with her. First thing I did when I got home, the day I heard the news, was put on The Hand of Fear Part Four - where the Fourth Doctor and Sarah finally part company - and, predictably, didn't quite make it through the prolonged departure scene.
The night after her last day at work, The Angels Take Manhattan aired. Amy and Rory were leaving the TARDIS, never to come back. Another Steven Moffat epic - grand sweeps of emotion, with lightning-quick action scenes and enormous but airtight plot sweeps. Grand, epic, legend. The ending, we were told, would be "heartbreaking". I needed that catharsis.
Amy and Rory had become to my TV-watching habits what Liz is to my career. I had serious lustful thoughts about Karen Gillan somewhere in the middle of that slow pan up her legs in The Eleventh Hour (i.e. about three seconds after I met her), but within weeks, she was my (desperately) platonic TV girlfriend. When Rory came on board, I was jealous, but loved him anyway. I wanted to be Matt Smith in that TV love triangle. I was no more interested in a TV series without Amy and Rory than I was in a workplace without Liz.
And The Angels Take Manhattan was filmed in my city. Picnic in Central Park, TARDIS parked under the Brooklyn Bridge and a scene that appeared written for Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery, with its jaw-dropping views of the Manhattan Skyline. I live a short walk away, on Greenwood Avenue. Until I found out those scenes were shot in Wales, I thought the TARDIS had landed on my block.
So The Angels Take Manhattan was destined to my personal Doctor Who episode: shot in my city, possibly on my block, written by Moffat, and giving closure to the two other edges of my triangle. I wanted to take those lessons and get over the ache of losing Liz, my own work companion.
I watched in enraptured silence. By the end, I was in tears, along with the rest of fandom.
Then, I sat down to write my review. And it fell apart. The episode, which should have had the brilliant plotting of every other Steven Moffat script ever, became something far less: a weird mix of Timelash and Fear Her, illogical and poorly plotted.
I'm a New York native and live in Brooklyn (Greenwood Avenue). Geographical errors set my teeth on edge. Detective Garner announces that he's going to an apartment near Battery Park (Manhattan's southernmost tip)... superimposed over a glamor shot of the Chrysler Building (on East 42nd Street). You can imagine the furore if I announced that, for the episode "Jason Takes London", I was visiting a flat in Brixton... over a shot of Big Ben.
And I feel bad bringing up the Statue of Liberty thing, because it's such an obvious target. But you don't come into my town and mess with my landmark like that. Forget about it.
The Angels work because the idea is creepy and the rules are simple - monsters that only move when you're not looking. But in this episode it was decided that Lady Liberty was also an Angel. And could, somehow, walk on water from Bedloe's Island to Battery Park. The Statue of Liberty may be the most continuously observed object on planet Earth, not counting Donald Trump's Twitter feed or Karen Gillan's legs. Under the Angels' rules, the Statue should never be able to move. What's that you say? The Angel walked in the middle of the night? Well, they call New York "the city that never sleeps"... What part of "quantum locked" does Steven Moffat not understand? It's not like he invented the term or anything... oh. Wait. He did.
The notion of Winter Quay is also, at first blush, creepy. The Angels keep a farm of humans, from whom they derive a never-ending source of temporal energy. Anyone living in the building must stay there until they die, and can never, ever leave. But... how do these people eat? What happens to the grocery store delivery boys? Who pays the taxes? What happens to census takers every 10 years? You're not making any sense...
Yes, the emotional beats are gorgeous. Darvill sells with calm desperation the scene where Rory attempts suicide by jumping off the roof of Winter Quay. He convinces Amy to join him, and the time paradox works; the Angels no longer can claim Rory, who had died an old man in Winter Quay. But then the Angels come back for him anyway. When Amy decides to allow the Angel to zap her back in time so she can join Rory in the past, never to return, and tearfully calls the Doctor her "Raggedy Man", that's when I lost it the first time, as did you....
…until the director framed the shot in such a way that it appears the Angel zapped Amy with some combination of Amy, the Doctor and/or River staring right at it.
The following TARDIS scene shows a dejected Doctor weakly asking River to travel with him; an obvious consolation prize. River refuses, with the T-shirt-ready observation: "One psychopath per TARDIS, don't you think?" That's facile writing. Better for Alex Kingston to have stared down the camera lens, and said, "Sorry, you can't afford me 13 episodes a year. Sweetie."
At the end, it's suggested that the TARDIS pays a visit to Amelia, the girl who waited, to give her hope for the future. The final freeze-frame of Caitlin Blackwood looking hopefully toward the sound of the TARDIS is another lump-in-the-throat moment... until you realize that it creates another paradox with The Eleventh Hour. Amelia/Amy turns from "The Girl Who Waited" to "The Girl Who Kept A Previously Scheduled Appointment".
So we're left with a story with some grand emotional beats, and true moments of heartbreak. The triangle is broken, and the Doctor's all alone at the office... except River, for as many episodes a year as Moffat can afford.
To be truly epic, the episode needed more than just emotion. It needed Moffat's wrapped-like-a-mummy tight plotting; no plot holes, no timey-wimey hand-waving. This was supposed to be the Doctor Who episode written exclusively for my own grief. Instead, it delivered a short-term high with a bitter, chalky aftertaste, as if someone swapped out my jelly babies for jelly Cherubs...
Emotional rollercoaster by Clement Tang 25/2/13
I rarely cry for anything, and if I do, it's because something was so gut-wrenching. And I did for this. We all knew that Amy and Rory would leave the Doctor in the end, but how they left was so sad. All the great acting in this episode just solidified it for me. And the Angels are still as creepy as ever, even as cherubim.
Trailers had already mentioned every statue in New York is an Angel, so nothing new there. But now you get the feeling that eyes are following the characters everywhere and a sense of fear comes in. And the book the Doctor was reading in the teaser? I thought it meant nothing. Then I find out it's the telling of this very story from someone's perspective. (If you can guess from the name Melody, props to you.)
It was an emotional rollercoaster, like the title of the review says. I felt scared in the presence of the Angels, angry at how the Angels kept doing what they were doing in New York, sad when I saw the Ponds jumping off, happy when they came back, then the ending was just plain cruel. Moffat made me feel so much. I can't believe it.
There are two things that I didn't like about the story. The first is the length. Once again, 45 minutes isn't enough. Everything rushes too much. Sure, it's not as bad as older stories with excessive padding like The Sensorites and The Web Planet, but it makes the story a bit hard to completely comprehend.
The second is regarding the Angels. I understand Moffat is the creator of this story, but he didn't explain how the Angels could move even after seeing each other? There are statues everywhere in New York yet most of them can still move. Does that mean they evolved or did the original Weeping Angels make them even more superior than them? We'll never know. Still, this was a great story.
"The Mechanical Bull" by Thomas Cookson 12/5/14
And so at last we reach the end of Amy and Rory's journey. But this story feels written more out of obligation than anything. And overall I'm wondering if Amy and Rory really should have just left in Asylum of the Daleks. Not that I hate them being here, but they've been barely going through the motions since, reverting instead to Series 6 autopilot mode. The Power of Three was a good showing for them, but the rest of the story was so moronic and contrived that I'd gladly lose it.
Moffat left most of the slack of Amy and Rory's last run in Chibnall's incapable hands. Actually no. Chibnall didn't do too badly, but he's not the writer you call on for an important 'event' phase of the show, because he has a talent for turning it all into childish, histrionic absurdity. His stories at best exist in the moment, rather than making you think about the past or future of things.
So did Moffat just grow weary of Amy and Rory during Series 6, or indeed the show as a whole? Well certainly Moffat poured so many unwieldy ideas into Series 6 that unfortunately he was left on something of a creative burnout afterwards. The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe is the most uninspired and nonsensical thing he's ever written. The only Moffat story that could honestly be described as predictable. And I'm not convinced Moffat has recovered from that post-series creative slump, even after seven months. Asylum of the Daleks was good, but I can't help feel it took the safest route by revisiting the Daleks, and the divorce sub-plot is pulled out the air and comes off as desperate.
Angels Take Manhattan unfortunately just confirms a sense that Moffat is just recycling old ideas (including riffing on Mawdryn Undead again), and very clumsily so. Back in The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone I said that they may never pull off another Weeping Angels episode this good again, and that it'd be a good note to rest them whilst still on top. Now, if anyone should have proved me wrong, it's Moffat. And instead he proves me absolutely right.
It kind of makes perfect sense that the Angels be used for the Ponds' sad farewell, as the Angels were always a metaphor for lost souls and the tyranny of passing years. But coupled with River's presence, the story ends up as the most cliched, trademarked Moffat story of all, and all packed into a 45-minute story. And so the Ponds are actually overwhelmed, turned into pawns in another twisty plot game, and their goodbye almost feels tacked on.
I didn't despise River's presence here as much as I expected to, although I cross my fingers that this really is the last we ever have to see of her. But the problem is, River ends up becoming by default the focus of any story she's in. Her presence here should be appropriate, being Amy and Rory's daughter who should be there to say goodbye to them, but there's still no sense that they're in any way related, beyond the dialogue occasionally mentioning it. Rewatching the final scene from A Good Man Goes To War, it actually hit me. The revelation was supposed to be clever because it's a word association game, to do with River Song's name. But seriously, blood is supposed to be thicker than ink.
So what's wrong with the Angels here? Well, for the first time ever, they're just not scary. The rooftop scene kind of is, but it's also the scene of the story you're more likely to remember for its absurdity than anything. The problem is, the Angels become ridiculously overexposed. I get the sense Moffat was dabbling in Angel variants to try and make other types of inanimate real life statues scary to kids, including fountain cherubs and Lady Liberty herself. But it takes the focus away from the recognisable iconography of the Angels and goes completely against the creeping, sneaky subtlety that makes the Angels work. This is indulgent overkill.
There are other problems too. The rules are negligibly observed to the point where not a single scene with the Angels seems to respect the integrity of their modus operandi. Angels nab people whilst being seen, or stay frozen whilst no one's looking. Some of this is down to sloppy directing. We don't see a single close up of someone fatally blinking here, and yet the Angels seem to move or be immobile at the service of the scene. For the first time, the Angels feel leashed and puppeteered.
As I said in my Time of Angels review, the story took new liberties with the Angels' powers but not in any way that undermined their predatory threat or unknowability. We can still only guess at what advantages they have over us, their unassuming prey. But in this story I just couldn't believe in them as such.
It also doesn't help that we get the much-criticized scene where River has her hand gripped by a chained Angel during which she is being her usual nonchalant smug self, whilst the Doctor and her keep toing and froing over whether they have to break River's wrist or the Angels' to get her out. It goes on for ages and in the end the Doctor throws a hissy fit and practically leaves her to break herself out in a way that comes off as quite malevolent of him and makes me more sympathetic than usual to the serious claims that Moffat is turning the Doctor into an abusive sociopathic misogynist. I mean, couldn't Moffat see that this is just completely undermining the threat of the Angels? If the Doctor and River don't take their threat seriously, or even their presence in the room up that close seriously, then how can we?
But ultimately the problem is that the Angels are clearly here for only one purpose. To terminate Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill's contracts, by getting Amy and Rory out of the program. They have no other reason to be here and aren't here to do anything else. Beyond that, they are no threat. Which means they're only here to do something predictable. I'm not saying the story was predictable, but the Angels' mechanical role here definitely was.
This is one of Moffat's least-disciplined scripts. There are honestly parts of it that serve no purpose, elements that drop out of the story completely and are never heard from again, such as the mob boss who's an Angel collector. This is a story that casually keeps leaving bits of itself behind. And, at one point, has an Angel teleport Rory to a different location just to change the setting for the sake of it, which feels uncannily like the story is bringing in arbitrary changes and turns just to keep itself from getting boring.
That's the big problem for me, the treatment of Amy and Rory's goodbye as though it's not a big enough story on its own. It has to be turned into an elaborate maze. But an illogical, arbitrary one that says nothing about the kind of personal demons for them to reckon with. Think Revelation of the Daleks with "Kill me Natasha". Now I don't believe that Amy or Rory are ciphers per se, but all too often over the last two seasons, Moffat has treated them as such. And he definitely does so here, reducing them to puppets in a cruel game, who apparently aren't interesting enough to carry the story without being crowded with greater overshadowing support acts, and smoke and mirrors. Maybe that's the problem with Moffat. Maybe he can only deliver large-scale triumphs or large-scale train wrecks because he refuses to just do simple storytelling on principle.
This story's problem is that it's overwritten and is trying too hard to be iconic without ever really attaching the visuals to anything substantial. It's just empty, superficial navelgazing - and, ,worse it's not any navelgazing to do with Amy and Rory's actual lives or time on the show. Well, apart from the tacked-on epilogue.
As for their ending, well I'll just deliver two rebuttals to common complaints. The reason why the Doctor was only shouting Amy's name whilst she was falling was because he had already seen older Rory's fate so he was resigned to what happened to him. Also, the reason Amy in the past has taken Rory's surname as her own might be something to do with the fact that it wasn't the done thing back in the day for a married woman to keep going by her maiden name.
That said, this story is almost the problem of the TV Movie all over again. A story that suffers because no one could decide on a proper ending and so they forced in every kind of ending they could. I did feel a genuine sense of dread when Rory was about to jump to his death, and even more so when Amy jumped with him. In isolation, this should be a beautiful scene. But in a story this contrived and lightweight, it still felt out of kilter and left something of a nasty aftertaste. As if the show had come to hate Amy as much as a certain worrying constituency in fandom long had. It was as if the most moronic and mean-spirited Moffat haters had finally won and the show had appeased them by sacrificing its most innocent. Trapping them, like mice in a maze and then killing them without a chance of escape. Although, that said, it is at least the one scene where Amy and Rory's roles in the plot aren't so utterly passive.
Fortunately, they awake from that nightmare, only to face a new one. And yet, only because Rory stupidly decided to look back curiously to find his own gravestone rather than leaving with everyone else, were they denied a happy ending. That's just bad writing. But the tragedy happens anyway, and it actually is a powerful scene in isolation. The one thing I can't deny about this story is how the actors have really upped their game. Matt Smith has brought an extra dose of desperation to his role here, and his sadness at seeing Amy slip away from him really cuts deep. I don't think I'll ever forget Amy's tear-soaked, distraught goodbye to them before choosing compulsively to break both their hearts.
I'm undecided about it in an overall plot sense though. If the story were more about Amy and Rory's devotion to each other, then the final scene would be more defining. If the story hadn't spent its whole length separating Amy and Rory only to reunite and separate them again, this wouldn't feel so routine. But the supposed finality to it just doesn't make sense. Why can't the Doctor see them again? The whole story was about finding an abducted, displaced Rory, and now they've succeeded, we're supposed to believe they can't do it again? Maybe it'd be better if they'd been displaced separately and the Doctor just didn't know where they ended up anymore.
So it left me disquieted and saddened. But also hollow. It lacked satisfying closure. Amidst the overwritten mess, something felt missing. Like that unfilmed goodbye letter to Brian, or maybe I wanted some patch up to River's story. Like a revelation that the Ponds in the past somehow weren't so absent in River's childhood. But it didn't happen.
I'll just say it. I don't like Moffat's latest approach of excessive-shock-tactic storytelling. In fact, it made Series 6 far more unpleasant than it needed to be (i.e., Amy constantly being tortured). I get the impression that, as a Davison fan, it's all about Moffat trying to deliver the next Earthshock. The next story to numb the viewers into disquiet at what they'd just seen. But that's exactly the same ambition that led classic Who to ruin.
Moffat, you're better than that.
The Great Angel Caper by Robert Smith? 12/10/14
It occurs to me that Steven Moffat must be the sort of person who goes to a fine restaurant and samples the food, saying "Yes, this mushroom tortellini is superb, but wouldn't it be so much better if you added some hummus? And fries? And a glass of red wine? And a cheesecake? All those things are delicious, so just imagine how amazing this meal is going to be with all of them at once!" Here we have a story that seems to have it all: Weeping Angels, River Song, time travel malarkey, emotional moments and a clever meta-narrative. It's like Blink, only with three times as much stuff packed in.
This is the climactic finale to Season 7A (or whatever the numbering is now; has anyone managed to keep track?). Having a season consist of a series of big stories, with schlocky titles, has been an experiment that's paid off really well. Asylum of the Daleks was easily the best of those payoffs, but even fluff like Dinosaurs on a Spaceship worked well. Only A Town Called Mercy didn't really work - and that includes two Chris Chibnall stories! So something must be going right.
This sees the final wrapup of Amy and Rory's story. Which is odd, because their story was wrapped up perfectly well in The God Complex - and nothing that happened since, with the possible exception of the fifth Pond Life mini episode, has in any way changed that. They moved from regulars to nostalgic recurring characters who recurred every episode (even pointlessly, like The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe) simply because they (and their daughter) appear to be the only people the eleventh Doctor actually seems to know.
I'm actually a pretty big fan of Steven Moffat, especially his writing. I liked Season 6 more than most (it was an actual arc, for about the first time in Doctor Who ever, and it hung together pretty well, if you ignore the three-month gap in the middle) and I think some of his individual episodes rival the best that Doctor Who has ever produced. But, at the same time, some of his showrunning decisions seem designed wholly to make you miss Russell T Davies. And having Amy and Rory linger far beyond their use-by date is probably the most obvious example.
The same isn't true of River, even though it should be. Her story is one that was also completely wrapped up in Series 6, but here she appears by virtue of the fact that the Doctor has been erased from the historical record, meaning she gets pardoned. That's a great way of moving the story forward, because it ties in with the ongoing arc and also gives her character room to beathe.
The title is quite amusing. I can't wait for the various sequels that are no doubt going to happen, such as The Great Angel Caper, Angel Treasure Island, It's a Very Angel Christmas Movie and so forth. The Melody Malone book is a clever meta-narrative, setting the scene nicely and also giving us some nice future glimpses of the story (which is particularly potent in the dilemma about breaking River's wrist). Although its chapter titles do seem a bit odd (if the story starts with Melody seeing the skinny guy, why is "The Skinny Guy" the title of Chapter 7 and not, say, Chapter 2?). That said, having Amy realise the chapter titles are a spoiler-free way to glimpse the future is particularly good.
The biggest problem with this story is the Angels themselves. They're a great concept and have a great design, but the trouble is the rules seem to change every time we meet them. And not in a way that adds to their mystique, either. Last time we saw them, their central premise was even absent (sending people back in time), although that's thankfully restored here. But now, rather than looking like statues, it appears they can "take over" statues, which just seemed to have been pulled out of thin air to justify the Statue of Liberty visual.
Speaking of which, it is a great visual, very scary, but it rather defies logic. Even at night, wouldn't someone notice the statue leaving Ellis Island and walking to an apartment block? Among the millions of people in New York - a city we're explicitly told never sleeps - are we really supposed to believe that no one noticed the statue at any stage along its journey and therefore froze it in place while everyone gathered around to gawp? Really?
The Angels also look directly at each other several times, such as in the corridor of the apartment building, and somehow that entirely fails to neutralise the threat, even though we know that was enough to do so in Blink. That wasn't just a throwaway line either; it was the climax of the entire story. One voted up there with the best of Doctor Who ever, so it's not as though nobody noticed.
However, there are some fun moments. Having a battery farm in Battery Park is quite clever, as is the Doctor saying "Once we know it's coming, it's written in stone" followed by a segue to Rory's grave. And having the paradox created by Rory dying twice is an amusing take on the character's biggest flaw. The Chin Dynasty visit is a bit undercooked, though.
The story twists itself into knots trying to find a way to separate the Doctor and Amy forever. Remember how eloquently Russell T Davies did this back in Doomsday? Ah, what nostalgia. Here we have 1938 New York being inaccessible by TARDIS, which is all well and good... so long as Amy and Rory don't take a train to Pennsylvania and meet the Doctor there or anything like that. The Doctor does later say that Amy is creating fixed time, which is a better way of locking them in to their destiny, although it still doesn't preclude him seeing them again.
A better solution might have been to have the Doctor go back with them, spend 65 years living with them, and step out from behind a gavestone in 2012, moments after his younger self left. Then you have a cast-iron reason for the Doctor not being able to go back and see them: because he'd cross his own timeline. Ah well.
That said, the final farewell to Amy and Rory is quite emotional. We've spent a long time with these characters and, fortunately, they've been a lot less annoying this season, which helps a lot. The Afterword in the book is an excellent touch, providing the closure we need with a nice timey-wimey twist.
Although how the final scene works is anyone's guess. Amy tells the Doctor to go visit young Amelia, the night he left and never saw her again for 12 years. Apparently he does so and outlines her entire future to her, something we're told in this very episode is a big no-no. Double you tee eff? Doesn't this contradict just about everything?
My best guess is that we've just come from all manner of paradoxes, so perhaps there's enough paradox energy lying around that the Doctor's able to slide into her timeline and not destroy the universe. Either that or what we see is precisely as much as actually happens: she hears the TARDIS materialisation sound and then the Doctor comes to his senses and decides to leave again, so as not to destroy the universe after all. So thanks Doctor, that was a close one.
The Angels Take Manhattan is a perfectly good mini-season finale. It has so much going on that you'll almost certainly find something to like, although equally there's probably something else that's going to annoy you. It wraps up Amy and Rory's story in an emotionally satisfying way, even if the tortured logic of doing so will have you pulling your hair for days. It opens a new avenue for River, which is quite welcome. And it continues to make a mockery of the best monster created for the New Series. Yep, it's a Steven Moffat script all right.
Come back Russell T Davies, all is forgiven.
Panic and Desperation by Mike Morris 29/9/15
The Angels Take Manhattan is one of those stories that seems to rile people. In spite of getting a good critical reception at the time, three of the four reviews above mine are mixed at best - even while admitting that it's well made, atmospheric and eventful enough to keep anybody's attention. It seems to annoy people because it doesn't treat either its central characters (Amy and Rory) or its main adversaries (the Angels) with enough reverence. Given that I don't have any special regard for either of those two - not that I dislike them, I hasten to add - I'm probably best-placed to argue in its favour. Why the ire? It's a beautifully shot piece of hokum with Angels, replete with good set-pieces and enjoyable gumshoe stereotypes, that sends off Amy and Rory with real sadness.
No. I'm not going to.
The Angels Take Manhattan is by turns confused, irritating and borderline sadistic. It's a mish-mash of cliche, be that the gumshoe shtick which falls into the trap of recycling stereotypes to look clever, the repetitive shots of bared-teeth Angels used to inject lazy drama, or the doom-laden music we get whenever the story dangles the death of Amy and Rory over us with a look-at-me glee that's just... well, just nasty. There's a difference between having bad things happen to characters - that's tragedy - and just gaudily showing off the iconography of death, replete with headstones and crashing chords.
It's maybe telling that the reviews above tend to list "things that don't come off/make sense" rather than talking about the story as a whole. I don't blame my fellow reviewers for this and I'll shortly be doing the same thing, simply because there's hardly any narrative to talk about. The story's effectively about What's Going On At Winter Quay, but, after the pre-title sequence, it takes us forever to get there. All that stuff with the mob-boss-Angel-collector (I can't remember his name, which tells you a lot) ends up contributing nothing to the plot. Amy's intuition about looking at the chapter headings is clever, but that has no real effect on events either. Then there's the present-day opening and closing scenes, which imply the Angels were somehow operating over two time zones - but we're never told how or why, so it's just another layer of confusion.
Cut out the diversions and the story's synopsis is incredibly basic. Get to Winter Quay; find out what we already knew from the pre-title sequence; run away; Amy and Rory on the rooftop. That's it. So with no narrative to speak of, this is 45 minutes of television that relies on three things: Rory and Amy's farewell, the concept of Winter Quay and the aesthetic creepiness of the Angels themselves. Unfortunately, all three of these elements fail, and fail badly.
Let's go through them in reverse order, although much of it will simply just be me pointing at other reviewers and saying "seconded." Robert Smith?'s review nails many of the problems with the Angels. In summary, they don't even come close to following their own rules any more. We're also told they take over statues, which is new, as if Moffat is trying to take that end-of-episode montage in Blink and apply it to a whole story. It's not that surprising - the Weeping Angels were clearly intended as a one-story villain, and Moffat has tinkered with them since then to make them more sustainable as returning foes - but whereas The Time of Angels was an interesting attempt to give them more depth and context, this feels like he's making it up as he goes along.
The big problem with the redefinition here is that it's a good deal less interesting than what we've already been told. The notion that they turn into stone as a defence mechanism, and do so whenever they're seen, has an instinctual creepiness to it. The implication is that we never really see the Angels in their true form - that they're silent and lightning-quick, things of darkness. They're... well, the ghosts living within the statues, if you like. Yet in The Angels Take Manhattan they're just presented as things that look a bit like statues and don't move when the camera's looking. Seeing an Angel chained up looks plain wrong. Seeing one blow out a match is even worse. Being able to hear their footsteps goes against the whole "quantum-locked" rationale - the term implies they freeze whenever they're perceived, so hearing them should freeze them as surely as seeing - but also undercuts the "silent assassin" idea. You also have weird scenes where Amy and Rory run away from them on the staircase, even though it should be perfectly possible to keep their eyes open, make their way between them, and exit the building. The same's true of the mob boss when his character meets his end.
Ordinarily, dwelling on this sort of thing would be nitpicking. However in the case of the Angels, it really hobbles the story, because it's their limitations that make them work. We never see them move, so we experience them in the same way as the characters; we're drawn into the story because the rules governing their biology are part of how we see them on-screen. However if the story's characters treat them as if they might come to life at any moment, whether they're looking at them or not, they're seeing them differently to the viewer. It's the rules that make them unsettling; jettison them and you've just got statues with pointy teeth, a threat that feels stagey and artificial. You're left with the mental image of the Statue of Liberty walking, which is a bit like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters and every bit as daft. Particularly since we never see Lady Liberty actually do anything except snarl.
As for Winter Quay, it's another example of something that looks nice but on a conceptual level doesn't really fly. Jason A. Miller runs through a number of the points that don't make sense about the idea; the one that struck me while I was watching being the question of how on earth these people get food and water. Then I started to imagine Angels carrying trays.
The bigger problem for me, though, was this idea of a "battery farm": the idea that the Angels keep these people in their rooms and repeatedly zap them back in time. Now, we were introduced to this idea in Blink. It's scientifically nuts - surely sending people back in time uses up energy? - but it's framed in a way that makes aesthetic sense, so this doesn't really matter. The people we meet in Blink don't live (much) past the point at which they were sent back, suggesting that their future really has been stolen. You can make it work by talking about the Angels feeding off the disturbance to space-time, but the bottom line is that "they live off the days you should have had" just instinctively seems reasonable.
Not if the future they're stealing is just someone lying in a bed, though. Setting aside the question of time paradoxes - wouldn't the people meet each other over and over again? - it just seems like the send-them-back-in-time idea should be a one-shot only kind of deal. "Stretches credibility" is the phrase I'm looking for here. Having people who can be repeatedly zapped back to the same specific place, yielding energy each time, is the Angels' equivalent of perpetual motion and it's instinctively absurd.
And finally, we have the farewell to the characters.
Thomas Cookson's on the money with his analysis of the characters here: Amy and Rory bobbing on a string to toy with our emotions, River never once feeling like their daughter, the torturing of them that feels gratuitous and even slightly sadistic. They're not the only thing that's tortured, though; the logic of their final parting is bonkers. A lone surviving Angel just happens to find Rory in a city of millions of people, decades after the event, beside Rory's own grave at the precise moment he looks at it; an Angel zaps Amy and Rory backwards even though someone was looking at it both times; and it doesn't seem to occur to anyone that they can just take the TARDIS to Newark and get the train. Amy rejecting the Doctor and following Rory into the unknown should be wonderful. Instead it's unpleasant emotional manipulation by ludicrous plot contrivance, New Who's equivalent of the murder of Oscar Botcherby.
However, I'd like to dwell - with heavy heart - on the treatment of the Doctor. Thomas has highlighted the appalling scene with River's broken wrist, but that's just a nadir in a characterisation that's irritating and/or plain unpleasant throughout. It's hard to tell where the blame falls between the script, Matt Smith's performance or Nick Hurran's direction - which suggests it's a combination of all three. Matt Smith's kiddish quality is usually one of the show's greatest assets, but here he makes some poor choices with oddly scripted scenes and the result is a Doctor who's childish rather than childlike. He gets uptight when he sees women - and note that it's women, not people - age. He throws such a tantrum at the prospect of Amy living her own life without him that he barely notices that River is in mortal peril. He tells Rory his appalling fate like a child having a strop. Personally, I just wanted the Doctor to grow up. I'm sure the whole "he doesn't like endings" bit was meant to seem like a great insight into his alien mindset, but all I could think was "What are you, eight?"
However, thinking of this story from a child viewer's point of view, it's even worse. I saw this with two younger fans and it's an upsetting story, because the two audience identification figures have - to all intents and purposes - died (replete with all those witless "look how nasty this is" gravestone shots). That's fine, but you also want a reliable figure to guide the kids through it, to contextualise what's happening and remind them that the gravestone doesn't mean Rory and Amy haven't had a wonderful life. Instead, you've got the Doctor being a self-absorbed, petulant wanker.
What makes this even worse is that both River and Amy end up modifying their behaviour to please him, rather than - for example - saying "yes I've got lines around my eyes, it's called the ageing process you egocentric dick." This is how people behave around an emotionally abusive tyrant, not a friend. River tries to to hide the fact that she's broken her wrist because "you mustn't let him see the damage", for god's sake. Can people not just be themselves around this man? Yes, he's an alien, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't be an adult.
So it's a story where it's hard to get a cogent take on the whole, because it feels like a series of bits and it's easier to say why each bit doesn't work than it is to look at the whole thing. But let's give it a whirl.
First of all, I honestly think of The Angels Take Manhattan as the absolute low point of Steven Moffat's writing. I don't mean that as an insult; I'm not always Moffat's biggest fan, but here it feels like he was having genuine creative difficulties, and I doubt he likes this story much either. Watch it after Moff's Capaldi stories, or even the charming freshness of The Bells Of Saint John, and it's hard to believe it's the same man. In many ways, it's a Series Six throwback and, while I didn't find it as objectionable as A Good Man Goes To War or Let's Kill Hitler, those stories did at least have a sense of purpose. This feels like a writer lobbing crowd-pleasing elements at the screen in desparation.
The leads give it their all, but not always with precision, and the direction is superficially atmospheric but doesn't treat the Angels or the Doctor at all well. There's lots of shock-drama to give this story a contrived sort of weight, but even so it's a mish-mash and feels terribly, terribly slight. On top of that, you've got the Weeping Angels stripped of any insight, Amy and Rory treated with contempt, a horrible Doctor and River Song having no reason to be there at all. However, it does look stylish, and thankfully feels like nothing more than a false step in what was otherwise a resurgent season. That's not exactly the most positive thing I can say, but it's all I've got.
The more succinct summary? Sorry, but I hate it.
Never let him see the damage by Evan Weston 5/1/20
Amy Pond and Rory Williams made their debuts in The Eleventh Hour, one of the Moffat era's finest episodes. Since their introduction, the series has gone through some serious highs (most of Series 5, the terrific standalones of Series 6) and some serious lows (the Silence arc of Series 6, anything involving pirates). It's fitting, then, that The Angels Take Manhattan proves to be one of the Moffat era's better offerings while also making a few characteristic mistakes. Still, it's a nearly excellent episode that sends the Ponds off in style.
The Angels Take Manhattan's best assets are the titular monsters, who have managed to avoid any sort of Dalek-esque decline in their third appearance. It's pretty difficult to muck up a concept as brilliant as the Weeping Angels, but Steven Moffat manages to find new things to do with them while keeping them just as scary as they'd always been. If it's not Blink-level scares, it's close: the pre-titles sequence is a real hide behind-the-sofa moment, and the smiling Angel in the episode's climax always gives me a jump. The baby Angels are also quite creepy, and never once do they fail to snatch Rory (who gets zapped three times in this episode). Even better, Moffat and director Nick Hurran make sure the Angels are everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Not a minute goes by without an Angel at least appearing in the background of a shot, and their presence overwhelms the story, putting the viewer in perpetual fear of their next move.
The story is also a terrific spin on film noir, this week's chosen genre. You'd think the Angels would be selected for a haunted-house story or maybe a gothic horror, but since Blink already nailed those down, Moffat puts them in something utterly atypical, and it's terrific. Alien 3 this is not. The plot device of Melody Malone's book is so well integrated into the story that I can forgive Moffat using it to further the plot a few times. It's one of the best devices Moffat has ever used, in fact, bringing forward difficult emotions for the Doctor and River. This is how to use a McGuffin, people: make it matter not just for plot, but for character. It's also a lovely bit of spin on the "detective narrator" aspect of a noir, and the timey-wimeyness of it fits Doctor Who quite nicely. 1938 Manhattan looks great, and Hurran shoots it with an eye towards the old detective stories of that era. The Weeping Angels work nicely as femme fatales, too, if you really think about it. The Statue of Liberty in Double Indemnity, anyone?
For the first time in Series 7, Doctor Who has also figured out how to perfectly pace a blockbuster standalone story. Even Asylum of the Daleks, which is a better episode than The Angels Take Manhattan, manages to cram a bit too much into its running time. This story feels like it's accelerating the entire time, and it reaches a climax that feels perfectly in line with the rising action. I felt myself moving to the edge of my seat throughout the episode, as the Angels grew more and more dangerous and the stakes rose higher and higher. The reveal of older Rory dying in the Winter Quay is the perfect launch into the final act, and the Ponds' ultimate sacrifice at the end has real meaning and passion behind it. If Asylum of the Daleks is a more complicated and ultimately richer story, The Angels Take Manhattan is at least more technically sound. And that's not to say it's weak, either; this is a ripping story that engages right from the get-go.
It also benefits from two excellent final performances from the companions. Karen Gillan gets a lot to do in her last adventure, and she's fittingly paired with the Doctor for the majority of the running time. But, in the end, Amy has to be with Rory, and Gillan's scenes with Arthur Darvill crackle with the chemistry we've seen from them from the very beginning. For the life of me, by the way, I can't think of a time Darvill has been better. He saved the best for last, with his scene on the rooftop the highlight of the episode. His character's growth is so clearly on display, and Darvill sells it with everything he can muster. It's sad that Moffat sort of whisked him away in the graveyard in the final scene, but that's the Weeping Angels for you.
Matt Smith's Doctor is the one left behind to deal with the fallout, and his emotional wreckage is heartbreaking. We've seen the Eleventh Doctor upset before, but never like this. Smith's rage often feels like a child throwing a temper tantrum, but he unlocks something deeper for the Ponds' farewell, throwing himself into a state of first denial, then anger, then utter sadness. It's a lovely performance, though lovely isn't quite the word for something so emotionally dark. He's balanced well by Alex Kingston as River Song, who threatens to distract from the Ponds but ends up being absolutely vital, both for the plot and for the Doctor. For the first time in the whole series, four and a half years after her first appearance alongside David Tennant in Silence of the Library/Forest of the Dead, she feels like the Doctor's wife. Her arc has been a bit bumpy at times, but Moffat finally brings her character full circle, and Kingston brings a touching, gentle presence to the proceedings. As for the week's lone important guest, Michael McShane is fine as secondary villain Grayle, but, while this story had to have some sort of gangster in it, he's a bit underused.
The Angels Take Manhattan is really quite terrific for the first 35 minutes, as it brilliantly rolls through its plot while keeping the audience into it the whole way. But once Amy and Rory drop off the hotel and everything is okay, cracks start to show a little bit. The main issue here is that, due to the nature of the internet, anyone watching this knows the Ponds aren't making it out alive. While their death in the graveyard is intended to surprise, it doesn't even come close. This leaves the impression that Amy and Rory have been killed off not because it was time for them to go, but because Gillan and Darvill were moving onto other projects. Series 7 tried a little to introduce a thematic reasoning for the Ponds' departure - nothing but cruel fate could separate them from the Doctor, which was necessary for them to be truly happy - but this isn't shown nearly enough, unlike Series 5's intricate development of their relationship. Series 5 managed to be subtle and at the forefront simultaneously, while The Angels Take Manhattan and Series 7 in general don't do enough to show this theme. I'm merely extrapolating it from the events of the show; nothing is ever said by anyone to that effect.
The death of the Ponds is also excruciatingly cruel, ripping them away from everything they've built for themselves. We don't get to see them at all in their new life, other than the afterword that Amy wrote in Melody Malone's book (the last page thing, by the way, is wonderful, and there should have been more character development like that). This is all a bit too dark, and it's hard not to come away feeling that the Ponds' exit wasn't all that graceful. The scene in the graveyard itself is played up for way too much drama way too suddenly, and Gillan's "raggedy man...GOOD BYE!" certainly isn't my idea of a great last line. In addition, Moffat has to include no fewer than four throwaway lines at different times to explain why the Doctor can't go back to see the Ponds, and none of them serve as a satisfying explanation. While that's obviously not the point, my complaint is that the Ponds' deserved a less sloppy end.
The Ponds' final story, though, still manages to be a real winner, combining a terrific tribute to film noir with the terror and brilliance of the Weeping Angels, for my money still Doctor Who's best monster by a mile. It was a safe choice for Moffat in an episode this big, and his conservatism manages to pay off in spades. As for the actors themselves, Arthur Darvill deserves all the plaudits he can get, and it's great to see him now succeeding on Broadway. His Rory Williams was an essential piece of the puzzle as both a male companion and a husband, and the last Centurion goes down as one of Doctor Who's best and riskiest characters. Karen Gillan, though, was the real symbol of the Moffat era, and the girl who waited will be sorely missed. Gillan brought sex appeal, spunk and real depth to Amy Pond, who slots in as my second-favorite companion of all time, right behind Billie Piper's Rose Tyler. Gillan also clocked the most time out of any new Doctor Who companion ever - her 33 episodes just top Piper's 32, though Billie is up to 35 if you include her non-speaking appearances throughout Series 4 - and her effort and dedication to the show rivals any non-Doctor actor in its history. I'll send out a prayer to Santa Claus for her return.