Oh my god, they killed Rory.
There’s a lot to like about The Angels Take Manhattan. It looks fantastic, with director Nick Hurran making excellent use of the opportunity to go on location in the USA. The regulars are all on sparkling form – it’s a pleasure just to watch the three of them sitting in Central Park and teasing each other. The opening hard-boiled narration is atmospheric and captures the spirit of the novels and movies it’s referencing without being smug, and the story as a whole acts as a fine finale for the era of the Ponds and Amy in particular, with enough references to key episodes from the past two-and-a-half seasons to engage the regular viewer’s sentimentality without being key to understanding the episode.
That brings up what for me is the key point though – who is this really aimed at? On the one hand, clearly the regular viewer. The character of River Song blithely referring to the Doctor as her husband and Amy as her mother would be baffling for any casual or new watcher, and the emphasis of the whole story is very clearly on the departure of Amy and Rory – even to the point of just letting an Angel keep roaming around free, the Doctor is apparently entirely unbothered by the thought that the paradox they have created may not have been entirely successful in eradicating them. So clearly, this was made for the regular viewer then.
One the other hand, only a casual viewer would fail to spot that we’ve seen all of this before. The Weeping Angels first return in The Time of Angels brilliantly added to their powers and qualities while preserving their original Grandmother’s Footsteps appeal. This simply reprises scenes from Blink, when it isn’t ignoring established Angel lore altogether (like having Rory transmitted only in space for no reason at all except that it makes the plot work). Likewise the relationship between River and the Doctor is never explored in any new way at all, it’s just minor variations on themes played again and again by Steven Moffat in previous scripts – the Ming vase is simply a lesser version of the “Hello Sweetie” message in The Pandorica Opens, and the novel is just River Song’s diary rehashed for example.
There’s also a tendency in the episode for things to be true only because someone, usually the Doctor, says they are, rather than because they flow naturally from other story elements, or because they fit with things already established. Once you read something it becomes true. Really? Okay, I guess. The Doctor has healing hands now? Uh-huh. New York is messed up with time… things… so it’s hard to land a TARDIS there. Really? Didn’t seem to be an issue in The Chase, but I suppose. If you voluntarily go back in time, I can never come and visit you again. Huh?
When I overcome the aching familiarity of it all, then it does kind-of work – at least up to the moment of old Rory’s death. Honestly, has any character in fiction other than South Park’s Kenny McCormick died more frequently and less permanently? It’s impossible to take the sight of an emaciated Arthur Darvill seriously, given that he’s already been aged to death in a previous episode (as well as shot, turned into an Auton, desiccated to death, erased from history etc), and even Rory commenting on his propensity for resurrection can’t overcome the feeling of “here we go again”. Amy and Rory chucking themselves off the ledge is nicely done and is moving for as long as you ignore how fast-and-loose the show is now playing with the rules of the Angels (they basically obediently wait for you to finish being noble now, whether you blink or not) but tarnished slightly by the fact that we then get the same damned scene again in the graveyard. Only Rory Williams could exit the series dying three times in the same episode.
And yet, and yet, and yet… there is energy and power and pace to this episode. Moffat’s use of structure is as elegant as ever – “break mine” is if not a fresh melody then at least a nimble variation and Amy’s “afterword” is both a nifty idea and a nice bit of writing. And, following-on from the Doctor’s erasing of himself from history, maybe a bit more of a clean break with the past is what’s needed. The Ponds living a quiet life as a media couple in New York makes sense, and is a fitting departure for them –clearly the Doctor was never going to leave them alone. But what on Earth is the Doctor going to say to Brian…?
So, now I suppose I have to give this episode a star rating, which I find almost impossible. If I’d never seen Blink or the various other episodes plundered for ideas, I think I would have loved it. If I judge it on the basis that every episode this year is supposed to be a completely original “mini-movie” then clearly it falls very far short. If I didn’t truly believe that the Ponds were gone for good, I would have found the abandoning of the evil-Angels plot maddening, but equally if I hadn’t mourned Rory a dozen times already I would feel the loss of him and Amy more keenly.
It’s generally been quite a strong half-season, although nothing has absolutely hit it out of the park so far. We began with the impressive and vibrant but rather uneven Asylum of the Daleks followed by the rather clunky Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, redeemed by the thoughtful if not perfectly-realised A Town Called Mercy and the excellent, save for the hasty ending, The Power of Three. I think ultimately The Angels Take Manhattan is far more successful than Dinosaurs, but far too flawed to get the four-star treatment meted out to Asylum and so I think three-and-a-half stars is fair. But I want to watch it again, and I shall be interested to see what commenters make of this one. I’ve a feeling it may divide opinion.
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