The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone (my review)

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The Tardis lands here on the world of the Weeping Angels. Conveying a sense that this era will be a lot more adventurous and a lot more dangerous.

River Song's airlock escape was spectacular, exhilarating and done with a sense of wonder. It really conveys how this new era is stretching the show's legs at last. It kind of nagged at me that this River feels like a completely different character from the one we saw in Silence in the Library who seemed more caring and professional. This River seems positively sociopathic and reckless. But at the same time River still works here because there's so much we still don't know about her, and she works as a rich enigma because of it. Something that was lost in Series 6. This River feels flexible and slippery, and the banter she has with the Doctor in the Tardis is nicely reminiscent of the Fourth Doctor and Romana, harking back to the days of wit and fun. I still love the joke about leaving the brake on.

The scene where Amy's trapped in the video booth with the image of the Angel is so thrilling because of how it breaks the rules, in a way that makes the story's monsters more powerful. It's playing dirty, struggling to get out and attack. It's seemingly set up as merely a jump scare, but it gets progressively more relentless from there.

Afterwards the pacing does slack a bit, but that's okay because this is a slow-burner set up. Besides I really like the cinematography of the archaeological layers, and the interplay and banter between River, Amy and the Doctor. I love this team. Matt Smith is still finding more new and interesting ways to play this irrepressible character.

As for the plot, I think I'm right in that the Weeping Angel caused the Byzantium to crash but I was thrown by the hints from River herself that the sabotage was her own, which left me questioning why the Doctor is helping her. It's never quite explained what the initial crew of the Byzantium were motivated by in bringing the Weeping Angel home.

But I can appreciate the experience of being trapped on this world within these layers of caverns with no escape in sight, in at the deep end and hemmed in by hundreds of the stone statues. It's like this story is simply a day in the life of this dangerous Moffat Whoniverse. Which is enough for any unexplained backstory to not matter to me. Even little things like Amy's pain at River's injection makes this all feel so tactile and conveys the vivid sensations of this environment. I can't quite dispute that the guest characters here are pretty neglected in terms of character writing or dimension, but I can believe in and care about them enough for the purposes of the survival horror story and the euphoria that comes with it. The Angel kills are rather lightly done with almost clinical restraint, but the implications are horrifying enough. The body horror aspect with Amy, when she rubs her eye only for sediment to fall from her fingers is very effective and unnerving indeed. The Doctor's realisation that the perched, still statues are in actuality, 'chasing' them is a chilling moment.

The final cliffhanger is never going to have the impact it did on first viewing but it's still a great moment.

But something nags at me about part two. When I first saw this story it was immediately my favourite. The curse of RTD had finally been exorcised. Finally I could watch this show and be completely invested and be sure that it would all hold together.

So what's my reasons for not loving it as much now? Well I was thoroughly gripped by the scene in the forest where Amy is walking blind between the Angels, and is nearly pounced upon by them before being teleported away to safety. It still utterly hits the spot. Then minutes later the Doctor unveils his secret plan to flush out all the Angels in one swoop. Which is again a great scene. A clever pay-off. But it's the rather ridiculous premise of the Angels actually coming to the Doctor with a request for him to sacrifice himself. And maybe something's structurally missing between those two predicament moments which would carry the predicament from this incidental to a proper urgent climax.

Maybe it’s just how the portents of River’s future murder of ‘a good man’ actually now take me a bit out of this story and instead put me instead in mind of the Series 6 finale, which frankly I’d rather forget. Maybe stories after have diminished this one.

This is still really exhilarating, thrilling stuff and actually goes far further in the realms of pure dread than any other TV story I can think of since Genesis of the Daleks. It hits on a purely primal level. From the moment the Angels start smashing the bulbs on the outer hull, it doesn’t let up. When the first security seal can only be broken by cutting the power to the lights, I still feel the sense of dread for everyone there.

Amy’s subtle counting down is genuinely discomforting. The idea of the Angel in her mind forcing her to speak against her will, without her awareness. Again it's an incidental moment of threat continuing to haunt the story and have inescapeable consequences. Even the soundtrack is perfect.

Amy's slowly dying and the Doctor having to think on the spot as to how to postpone the countdown is intense stuff. The sense of fear and her mortality hanging by a thread is very palpable. There’s such a fragile delicacy to the scene with all three lead actors, especially Karen Gillan making that moment so believable, so tender and riveting. Rarely has New Who managed to make the Doctor seem this magnificent against such crushing odds.

The actual wired up technological forest grown by starlight is awe inspiring stuff, and harks back to how Silence in the Library suggested a beautiful, enchanting vision of our future being a progressive one where the natural gifts, beauties and comforts of Earth can be taken with us into the stars.

The scene of the Doctor urging Amy to walk blindly through the path of Weeping Angels is thoroughly riveting and directed in such a way that it feels like being with Amy every blind, awkward, perilous step of the way with the presence of death breathing on her throat.

Some complained the scene ruined the Angels intelligence. But the whole point was that fooling the Angels was a desperate gamble that could easily go wrong, and indeed did. The Angels were distracted for a time by the crack but they weren't fooled for long. The suspense of the scene was in no way false.

The story took liberties with the concept of the Weeping Angels, but still maintained their unknowability. The central aspect of them that made them so feared, of having the perfect predatory advantage over humans, and the humans either being only able to guess at their greater deadly powers, or just being perilously unaware of them at all.

Again Karen really gets across that paralysis of fear and the courage of having nothing to lose, making that one moment cathartic in and of itself. The deaths of the surrounding characters have the right kind of impact too, such as Bishop’s declaration that he is content and that the Doctor knew him at his best before embracing his fate. Or the soldiers disappearing into the crack. It’s the unnaturalness of their memory being forgotten by their comrades that makes their very lives, experiences and existences feel vividly real and cruelly robbed.

However what did bug me is the most obvious intrusion on this story. The crack itself. First time viewing it was introduced early enough to be part of the jeapordy, and to still work at neatly wrapping it all up in a way that makes sense. Now its arrival just feels too convenient. There’s a sense of it coming along and sabotaging an excellent Weeping Angels story, in the same way as the Daleks in Doomsday sabotaged a fairly passable Cyberman story. Maybe that’s what held me back from giving this top marks or feeling totally impressed this time. The Crack slowed the Angels down, distracted their attention so the good guys could slip away, and eventually became the means that the Angels were thoroughly vanquished. I can’t help wonder about the other, more thrilling version of this story in which the crack didn’t show up and the Angels’ threat and the overall drama increased rather than dissipated. A version of this story in which the Doctor had to think up another way to defeat the Angels. And it’s frustrating because I feel Moffat could have pulled off such a story. There’s a nagging sense of him taking the easy way out, in a story that seemed to initially promise that there’d be no such thing.

There is something ‘punch the air’ galvanising about the double-meaning line ‘no seriously, get a grip’. And a nice logical neatness to Amy’s cure being brought about by time’s erasure of what she’d seen. I do hope this is the Weeping Angels' final end because I'd like them to retain that sense of being seen only briefly and at their best, rather than to become another overused villain that ends up a mediocre shadow of their former glory. It'd be a fitting final concert for them here, at their best and scariest.

Unfortunately River's compassion over Amy's vulnerability, gives way in her final scene where she comes across as smug in a rather tacky way, given all the deaths so far. And the hints at Series 6 sit wrong with me. If she’s talking about the day she killed the man, or suffered the Silents' brainwashing, why is she being so chirpy and smug about it?

But that could've still been an appropriate wrap-up ending scene. Maybe its the fact it didn’t stop there that perhaps deflated me a little from the impact of the main action, and even downright disconnected me from it. I like Karen Gillan’s spontaneous, forward flirtatious manner. She makes me feel comforted and tantalised, and in safe hands. She seems so in touch with her nature and needs and the nature and needs of others. But something about the seduction scene strikes me as rather too flippant. And I have to say I've always had problems with the way she forces herself on the resisting Doctor, given how sinister that scene would look with the genders reversed. It makes sense that she wants the Doctor in that moment because of her near-death experience.Infact there’s always been that erotic frisson to the show and its traditions of the damsel in distress being saved by the firm hand of her male protector. The sense of jeapordy being an excuse for the leads to experience excitement together and cling onto one another. But the scene here feels too comical and mispaced to quite convey that sense of animal instincts taking over.

Maybe the bedroom scene would have been better taking place in the beginning of the following story, but it had to happen here for the sake of the Doctor’s realisation of the dateline for the crack being Amy’s wedding day. Thus revving us up for the finale.

Overall this must rank with me as the best Moffat story of the Matt Smith era so far (given Moffat's latest worrying track record, that's unlikely to change). There's a somewhat nagging sense of it promising slightly more than it delivers, and unlike Moffat's previous stories under Russell, it's not a story suited for watching in any kind of mood. It's intense and it's a mind puzzle. But I'm glad it was made, and that the show has cast off its populist limitations to now be capable of stories like this.
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This is indeed the best Smith/Moffat story. It's somewhat undermined now by just what drivel the River Song arc descended into, but it's still a terrific, iconic action horror and it saddens me no end that rather than being the template for an exciting new era it stands as a rather sad epitaph for just what might have been.
(Doctor Who) has been hijacked and redefined as a lucrative modern franchise. They've literally taken a square peg and painfully made it fit a round hole by taking enormous liberties with much of its fundamental essence. There's no turning back now.

- ozymandias, The Leisure Hive 2010
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Indeed. It's still to me the last genuinely great Moffat story.

IU think River works here because she still feels like part of the ensemble (and does so again in Pandorica), rather than just being a juggernaut who completely takes over as the show becomes her own bloody star vehicle. The whole S6 River arc... I tried to still like her like I used to, back in Silence, but by the time the season was over, almost against my will I started to just think of her "Please don't come back..."
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It wasn't bad, but it would've been better as a single episode.

:4thDoctor: There's no point in being grown up, if you can't be childish sometimes!
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