Doctor Who series 7 episode 5: The Angels Take Manhattan
Don't look now.
Air date: UK: 29 September, 2012, BBC One
There is a certain point when you're watching a Doctor Who story that you realise it's going to be a stone-cold classic. Examples are, of course, numerous – the TARDIS shattering into a surreal black void in The Mind Robber; Harrison Chase's sardonic "What do you do for an encore, Doctor?", countered by the Time Lord's wolfish grin of "I win!" and, more recently, the moment when the reconstituted Master turns to reveal his dead-eyed stare to the audience in Utopia. It's a testament to the greatness of The Angels Take Manhattan, then, that from the first scene the whole story was a parade of iconic moments.
Each episode this year has brought something new to the Doctor Who party: a wish fulfilling Dalek blockbuster, a live action comic strip with dinosaurs, sci-fi Sergio Leone and an alien incursion amusingly woven around Amy and Rory's domestic life. The Angels Take Manhattan really felt that this was where the first four episodes had been heading since the Ponds were kidnapped by Dalek agents. It delivered a heart rending finale to their voyages in the TARDIS in a nightmarish, quirky fantasy that only Doctor Who can do well.
If this story conclusively proved anything, it's that Steven Moffat's natural forte is the macabre. The Weeping Angels are the closest monsters the series has ever had to evil spirits, and to project their menace effectively a writer has to build the unease and tension steadily. Like Blink before it, Angels was a master class in how to maintain suspense, and Nick Hurran's edgy direction and the film noir cinematography were totally on side with the bleak intentions of the script.
The ever so slightly off-key giggling of the Baby Angels and the patter of their tiny stone feet was Stephen King-level creepy, and the moment where one demonic cherub blew out Rory's match… well, it was just fantastic. And this would be a VERY long review if I listed all the stand out moments. Let's just say that if the guru of Gothic Robert Holmes was still with us, he'd be turning cartwheels over this story.
The shocking departure of the Ponds showed that when it comes to the exit of leading characters, Moffat arguably has more artistic courage than any other producer of Doctor Who. Amy and Rory loved each other, and to preserve that love they committed suicide. Yes, this DID happen in a family show on a Saturday night between the froth of All New Total Wipeout and The National Lottery Live. I don't think British TV's been so daring since Sam Tyler jumped off a roof at the end of Life on Mars (also in slow motion, coincidentally). Unlike that brave denouement, there wasn't a sigh-of-relief happy ending to follow. Amy and Rory were both killed 'nicely'. It wasn't really as simple as that either, illustrating once more how sophisticated this script was.
Karen Gillan's assured performance had me instantly revising my former opinion of her emotional range and Arthur Darvill, although again frustratingly limited in the screen time he was given, demonstrated that he has a bright acting future ahead of him. After last year's grandstanding, Alex Kingston was subdued and subtle, and River's remark to the Doctor that "one psychopath per TARDIS" was enough was all the more dramatic because you weren't sure if she was joking or not. As for the main man, here Matt Smith reached a compelling, world weary maturity in the role that belies the fact that he's still not yet thirty.
Approaching fifty years old, Doctor Who has never been in better health, nearing the eve of its landmark anniversary year with a story that celebrated the importance of storytelling and memory through words and actions. However, I have to deduct one zillionth of a point for the use of Sting – STING!!! – on the soundtrack. Did we fight the punk wars for nothing?
Otherwise – superlative.
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