Monday, May 10, 2010

The Time of the Angels

29/4/10 “The Time of Angels
Time is not the boss of me.” –The Doctor

I recall not being very pleased that the Weeping Angels were coming back. I know if anyone can write them, it’s Steven Moffat, their creator, but I still wondered how anyone could improve upon “Blink.” Now having seen this two-parter, I’m not convinced it can be done, for all the Vast Toffee has said about sequels needing to be a complete rewrite of the original. An ambitious attempt to throw a lot into the mix, including River Song, but I wasn’t overawed.

First there was a man being attacked by what we learn is River Song’s “hallucinogenic lipstick” (shades of Sarah Jane Smith’s sonic lipstick, I thought) while peacocks from hell squawk in the background. When River Song appears, classy and Bond-ian in an evening gown with a derringer-like gun (and red slippers; Dorothy?) I could only think of Benny Summerfield, now that I have some concept of who she is. Not sure if that perception is entirely called for, but that was my thought. As she breaks in to steal something, the Doctor and Amy are in a museum (that looks like a Welsh cathedral, possibly) 12,000 years later. Rather like Donna in the Library, Amy snaps boredly, “What do you need museums for?” She determines that it’s like “keeping score” for the Doctor, which he confirms by traipsing through the museum nodding at objects with which he’s been acquainted. Including a black box (only metaphorically) with script in “Old High Gallifreyan” (“Five Doctors”?). He determines that it says “sweetie” and gives coordinates.

All other reservations aside, I must say this two-parter had some stunning set pieces and visual moments, like the one as River Song uses the Doctor’s quick reaction (well, in relative terms!) to her coordinates to beam her out and save her life, all the while looking cool as she zooms out into space in an “air corridor.” Now that’s an exit. Amy is perplexed by River Song but ultimately finds her rather cool. As the Doctor struggles to control the TARDIS, River tells him to use “the blue stabilizers.” “They’re blue boring-ers!” the Doctor replies. As they materialize, the Doctor is annoyed that the TARDIS has not made its wheezing VWORP VWORP noise. “It’s not supposed to make the noise,” says River. (Thus strengthening the case behind Jamie’s theory that River may be who the Doctor becomes—who knows?) “She’s from the future,” the Doctor says, rather wearied, and we are quickly brought up to speed: this River has met the Doctor before but it’s obviously before, in her time stream, “Silence in the Library.” She is surprised and gratified to learn she will become a professor someday; right now she’s just Dr. River Song. “We keep meeting in the wrong order.”

The Byzantium, the spaceship from which River escaped, has crash-landed on a planet (that looks like Southerndown Beach; I remember when the South Wales Evening Post published photos of this episode being filmed). There River, the Doctor, and Amy meet Father Octavian (Iain Glen a bit underused in this two-parter, but never mind) and his soldiers of the Church. They look like they could be combat-ready for Iraq, but the Doctor assures us, “It’s the 51st century—the Church has moved on.” We’ve had plenty of human military operations in Doctor Who’s past, present, and future, whether they are offshoots of UNIT or something else entirely (think “The Doctor’s Daughter”) and this is a rather low-key but interesting twist. River strikes fear into the Doctor (and the audience) as she announces that what also crash-landed on the ship was a Weeping Angel.

In the soldiers’ base camp, River shows Amy and the Doctor a recording of the Weeping Angel—a looped recording with the same grainy scariness of The Ring. My initial impression in this direction was proved right. In any case, Amy stays behind to watch the recording while the Doctor and River muse over a book “written by a madman.” “Anybody need me?” asks Amy, and to be sure, she has a point. Whenever River has strode into an episode thus far, she has tended to displace the other characters around her. In the case of “Forest of the Dead,” this still allowed room for Donna’s personality to do a lot of developing. Thus, it isn’t surprising that Amy’s development is also shifted slightly in favor of the second part, but like her, by this point I was wondering what she was there for. Certainly to increase the audience’s dread, as we are told the image of a Weeping Angel is equivalent in power to the Angel itself (this could drive an interesting essay—my topic was about Doctor Who and the written word, but there’s certainly a lot to be said for Doctor Who and images, in episodes such as “Fear Her” and “The Satan Pit,” for starters). In the case of the episode itself, with its emphasis on the Church, it makes me think about the forbidden nature of graven images (the way the illustrations of Angels from the book have been burnt out) and fallen angels in general (perhaps too much Milton on the brain). Interestingly, as the Doctor and River banter, she notes that “I’ve got pictures of all your faces” (recall the discussion I had in my review of “Timelash,” where Peri must have seen a picture of Jo Grant at some point).

While they’re bantering, it leaves Amy open to attack by the Angel—apparently now by looking in its eyes, you can let them into your soul. This doesn’t quite jive with “Blink” (even ignoring what Jamie brought up, ie that Sally Sparrow took lots of photos of the Angels and, as far as we know, had no further consequences from that). Amy is saved for the moment, and the soldiers, the Doctor, Amy, and River go into “the Maze of the Dead” (a necropolis for the planet’s native Atraxan population). I will say that the Maze was my favorite part of this episode—it was beautifully realized, a good blend of CGI and real FX. The statues of the “dead buried in the walls” are appreciably modeled on Greek kouroi (though those are male statues, and these were female, the postures seemed reminiscent to me). It was quite beautiful in a way, like Victorian graveyards with their, er, weeping angels can be.

Amy is alarmed at the fact sand is coming out of her eye, but not as alarmed as the Doctor when he realizes that they are not looking for one Angel; all of the statues are actually Angels in a certain state of incompletion or decay ( I wasn’t sure which) because the Atraxans had two heads. The Doctor could remember when the Maze was built—a sure reminder, I thought, of the Doctor in “Curse of the Fatal Death” bribing the architect.) Before the Doctor can reach this conclusion, however, several of the soldiers’ necks are snapped, which I’m sure we all recall is not how the Angels in “Blink” operated. The explanation for this is that the Angels in “Blink” were scavengers, or something like that—basically it is bending the narrative rules to meet the current needs of the writer, which is all fine and dandy I suppose. All but four of the soldiers are killed, and one named Bob is being used to communicate with the Doctor et al through their walkie talkies.

Data ghosting without data ghosting? I thought at first this might be a good explanation as to how River knew about data ghosting in “Silence in the Library,” but the specific term was never mentioned, and that isn’t exactly what happened. I know I did express some worries that tonally the Vast Toffee’s series would be a recycling of the brilliant stories he had done before, but a recycling nonetheless. It’s hard to say where theme and motif ends and where recycling begins. It just seemed to have lost the shocking punchiness that it inspired in us in “Silence in the Library.” (In fact I found Angel Bob to be quite annoying in the second part, but I digress.)

In any case, the remaining soldiers, Octavian, the Doctor, Amy, and River must escape from the army of Angels, but they are hampered by fizzling torches and overhead lights, as well as the fact Amy think she’s being turned to stone. A clever fake out for those of us who thought Amy was going to quickly and quite literally turn into a Weeping Angel. She is not, actually, turning to stone, only made to think so to slow her down. The Doctor manages to convince her—it reminded me a bit of Sarah in the tunnel in “The Ark in Space” or the Doctor talking to his feet in “Image of the Fendahl.” Having cornered the heroes in the big chamber of the necropolis with the Byzantium crashed above them, the Angels (through Bob; though I realize Vast Toffee had a time of it, trying to get voiceless villains to communicate, frightening by the very fact they are silent) try to anger the Doctor by highlighting his failure to save Bob and the other soldiers. “You let me down.” However, it only makes the Doctor more determined. All of us who were awed by the footage of the Doctor with a gun in the trailer at least see the object of his malevolence: a gravity globe! A good cliffhanger, but I don’t especially like the Doctor endlessly moralizing. Anyway—onwards and upwards, quite literally!

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