Monday, May 10, 2010

Flesh and Stone

1/5/10 “Flesh and Stone

The Doctor: “That’s a fairy tale.”
River Song: “Aren’t we all?”

Picking up immediately where we left off, Amy performs the companion role to a tee by commanding the Doctor, “Explain!” He does so; by destroying the gravity globe, the natural gravity of the Byzantium kicked in, and by everyone jumping, they landed upside down (or right side up; think of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End) on the outside of the Byzantium. This is indeed impressive, and the production team have worked hard to make the filmic zooms and pans look natural. They climb into the ship—“it’s just a corridor,” the Doctor says nonchalantly. Octavian pulls River aside during the escape; as she is only one who can deal with the Doctor (“he’s not some kind of madman?,” which obviously reminds us that the book in the past episode was written by a madman), Octavian wants some kind of reassurance that they are going to get through this incident, or else he will tell the Doctor what River “really is.” There is another superb suspense/set piece, where the soldiers have to fire into the darkness as the Doctor reroutes the power in the corridor so they can escape but the lights go out.

Amy is rather inexplicably counting down, which the other characters don’t seem to notice, but eagle-eared viewers will not be able to miss. As the group escapes through the ship from the pursuing Weeping Angels, they find what River calls “an oxygen forest,” but what you and I (and indeed, Amy) would call a forest. (It’s actually the Forest of Dean.) I immediately thought of “Nightmare of Eden.” The Doctor calls it an “ecopod” and is quite jazzed up about it; the trees are wired up, it produces its own rain (I wondered if the Trees of Cheem were going to be involved somehow, but they weren’t). Certainly the fairy tale aspect of this is visually played up. Being a 10th Kingdom fan, I couldn’t help thinking of Virginia’s dream as she is being drugged in the Swamp—the little girl getting lost in the forest. This will play out a bit more explicitly, as we will see.

As the heroes escape into the forest, Angel Bob tries to intimidate them. The others succeed in getting away, leaving the Doctor to be surrounded by Angels who even manage to take off his coat. “Never let me talk,” he taunts them, as he escapes. (Troughton-esque?) Unfortunately, as the soldiers and River manage to stave off the Angels, Amy is getting worse as the counting down continues. She collapses as River tries to help her. The Doctor bursts in. “What’s wrong with me?” “Everything! You’re dying!” River chides him for scaring her, but he gives it to her straight. An Angel has indeed invaded her soul and is about to manifest (and take her over, we assume). Her visual relays must be shut off but she can’t be knocked out; the Doctor determines she must close her eyes, which she does. This leaves her terribly vulnerable, as we will see. The Doctor leaves her behind as he, Octavian, and River try to find a way to escape. The last few soldiers are there to watch over her, but it is certainly a case of Amy being asked, again, to do the hardest thing. Whereas the Doctor was very keen to take on martyrdom in “The Beast Below” and Amy came up with the actual solution, the Doctor freely admits later that to leave her on her own was a mistake. “You need to start trusting me,” the Doctor tells her, in what is perhaps Matt Smith’s best acting to date. Amy certainly has reason not to trust the Doctor, which he well knows.

As he goes off, his suspicions about Octavian and River are aroused—“You two engaged or something?” “In a manner of speaking, yes.” Octavian eventually spills the beans that River has been released into his custody so that she can complete this mission and earn a pardon for crimes she committed. Bad things are happening; the Angels are retreating, but from something very bad indeed. It’s the crack that appeared in Amy’s house in “The Eleventh Hour,” a sort of Land of the Lotus Eaters, a Lethe, a “curtain of energy, shifting.” “Time’s running out . . .” The Doctor realizes that time can be rewritten, and that the crack is not only the end of the universe, it’s responsible for the fact Amy can’t remember the Daleks and people can’t remember the CyberKing (ah, Vast Toffee, correcting RTD continuity).

Amy, in her very vulnerable position, has been left with the soldiers, who have observed the crack. She opens her eyes for a second to look at it (why this is necessary to the plot I’m not sure) but eventually all of the soldiers “walk into the light” (or into oblivion; certainly into a land of forgetting). “There won’t be any you if you go back there!” Amy pleads as the last soldier walks off without her. On her own with a walkie talkie, Amy is talking into the darkness (like Miss Evangelista in “Silence in the Library”). The Doctor eventually picks up, and the only way he can get her to safety is to talk her, blind, through the forest and the maze of Angels. If you’ve ever had to do bonding exercises with colleagues, you will probably have had to play a similar trust game, being led blind by voice through a maze of some sort. Certainly the stakes to this are much higher, and Amy must have the greater courage. “Follow the sound.” Returning again to the theme of words, it’s interestingly that many of the Vast Toffee episodes rely on aural stimulation rather than written communication. My Milton-y mind, revved up by these fallen Angels, thinks of the use of music and sound in Paradise Lost and how important that would have been to the blind Milton. I’m sure there’s an essay in here somewhere!

“Do not think, become” was Snow White’s advice to Virginia in The 10th Kingdom, and again Amy’s plight and the forest imagery has reminded me of this. She is Rose Red, or Little Red Riding Hood (she’s wearing a red fleece) lost in the woods. She only has herself to rely on, no woodcutter with an axe to slay the wolf. Perhaps I’m reading too much into the fairy tale theme; perhaps it’s just another super suspense-builder. In that it definitely succeeds. The Doctor notes that the Angels are scared and therefore will assume Amy can see. If she can bluff, they will leave her alone as long as they thing she’s looking at them. “The Angels only kill you,” the Doctor assures her—there are worse things, this loss of remembrance which, incidentally (at least according to the book Library), was a driving force behind the Great Library of Alexandria: being remembered—it certainly was a concern of “Silence in the Library.”

The Doctor has had to leave Octavian behind, after being told by him not to trust River. She killed a man, “a hero to many.” In the previous episode, River told Amy she was the Doctor’s wife—or did she? Here we are led to believe she killed the Doctor. It’s nice that it’s being left ambiguous, but it constantly being mentioned is a bit grating. With River skeptical of the Doctor’s plan to get Amy out, the Doctor snaps, “What else have you got?!” The Doctor occasionally seems to be showing his age with moments of panic and anguish more reminiscent of the Ninth Doctor. The Doctor notes that the crack could possibly be slowed down by throwing a “big complicated time/space event” at it, which makes him prime candidate.

Amy is fortunately snatched from the Angels’ embrace by River’s repair of the transporter. “See? Told you I could get it working.” Angel Bob needs the Doctor to sacrifice himself on behalf of the Angels, who can’t consume and indeed shun the crack. The Doctor has a better idea, though for the life of me I’m not sure what it is; it causes the heroes to escape and the Angels to get sucked into the crack (à la the Daleks getting sucked into the Void). It looks fabulous. Is it wibbly wobbly snotty plotty? I don’t know.

Back on Southerndown Beach, River waits to be taken back to prison to see if her pardon has come through. Amy is distressed that she remembers the Angel in her head at all, even though they seem to have been erased into the Event Horizon/crack thing. In the TARDIS, Amy says, “I wanna go home.” She and the Doctor arrive five minutes after they left in “The Eleventh Hour,” and Amy shows the Doctor her wedding dress. “I’m running too,” she announces. “Why would you need comforting?” the Doctor asks, clueless. On the eve of her wedding, she has to think about “what I want. About who I want?”

I’ve just been alerted more than I was before to Amy’s possible resemblance to Madame de Pompadour, and her next gratuitous attempted seduction of the Doctor (down to removing his braces!) underlines the comparison. However, unlike the Reinette/Doctor thing, which I was never really a fan of, I was rather delightedly surprised by Amy’s seduction. When she explains that she doesn’t see it as a long-term thing, it makes a lot of sense character-wise, so I accepted it. The Doctor’s protests are amusing and similarly delightful. I think the Vast Toffee’s struck just the right tone here, and my amusement carries right on through to the trailer, where the Doctor it seems has tried to bolster Amy and Rory’s relationship with a romantic trip to Venice.

With moments of superbly engineered suspense and some gorgeous visuals, not to mention delving deep into fairy tale imagery, “Time of the Angels”/ “Flesh and Stone” kept the heartbeat racing. But for me personally, it’s proof that you can’t improve on perfection.

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