29/9/12 “The Angels Take Manhattan”
“Only you could fancy someone in a book.” –Amy Pond
Circumstances have caused me to write this review almost a week after broadcast—better late than never, I guess. For moments during this episode, everything seemed so right . . . but afterwards I could see where it had all gone so wrong. Not terrible, by any means, and further evidence of a good, but not mind-blowing, season (in my opinion).
To be frank, the episode seemed schizophrenic and either too long or too short. What do I mean? Well, I sort of wish it had been a two-parter, because then at least perhaps we would have gotten a bit more continuity on the Detective Garner aspect. Because, again, to be frank, I somewhat preferred that angle than I did the Doctor/Amy/Rory/River angle. It’s a bit of a case of what could have been “Doctor-lite” (and indeed, in my opinion, was leaning in that direction) compressed to a five-minute montage. “Here are some exciting, ‘Blink’-esque toys, I give them to you, then I take them away. Muhahaha.” To me, it felt like old times (“The Doctor Dances”/ “Blink”) for about ten minutes. I wasn’t thrilled, I must tell you, that the TARDIS gang was going to New York City again (while I’m glad to see more of the US in Doctor Who, cynically I wonder if it’s just pandering to the fact that Doctor Who has become popular in the US whereas, until about 3 years ago, it was still considered cult). And back to New York City in what, it became apparent to me, was within the same decade as “Daleks in Manhattan.” Still, I was prepared to overlook this when we were introduced to the Raymond Chandler-esque gumshoe called out to investigate “living statues that moved in the dark.” For “$25 a day plus expenses,” it wasn’t a case Mr Garner was prepared to turn down. Garner goes to “an apartment block near Battery Park.” “Grayle was the scariest guy I knew”; if this gangster was scared of the Angels, Garner is intrigued.
One thing I can say about this episode: it is an unqualified success cinematically. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any TV show from any country look as nice as this episode did, both in 1938 Manhattan and 2012 New York City. The mysterious apartment block has inherited its ornate lift from “Ghost Light” and its dark mystery from “Blink.” It’s beautifully filmed as Garner finds his wizened self in room 702. “They’re gonna take you back . . . I’m you.” Thus begins a lot of running to tops of skyscrapers—Winter Quay—and a giant Angel/Statue of Liberty. This is more embarrassing than the Cyber-King in “The Next Doctor.” ‘Nuff said.
Certainly I was intrigued at this point and enjoyed the strains of Sting’s “Englishman in New York.” (The Doctor is certainly a “legal alien,” though whether he qualifies as an Englishman . . . let’s assume they were referring to Rory.) Rather than sampling the specific attractions of New York, the Doctor and Amy are reading / chilling out in Central Park. The Doctor is reading aloud (which annoys Amy). The Doctor dons glasses and decides “that is much better.” He’s reading the adventures of Melody Malone; a clever ploy, one I actually like very much—it’s Moffat-ish and would make a great addendum to my Doctor Who and libraries essay. Besides, of all her guises, I like the idea of River as a tough-as-nails private detective dame. In light of the ending, though, I really wish the Doctor ripping out the last page of a book and saying “I hate endings” had been introduced earlier. It feels a bit tacked on here.
Rory has gone to get coffee—more beautiful cinematography—and, without knowing it, an Angel zaps him back in time, fortunately to the same era that Garner’s just come from, and the same one where River is. “Hello, Dad,” she says, sounding an awful lot like Jenny in “The Doctor’s Daughter”! Meanwhile, the Doctor and Amy have realized that the book has been written by River and that Rory is already gone. River has gotten there by Vortex Manipulator. The Doctor realized the book just appeared in his pocket. “How did it get there?” “How did anything get in my pocket?” NYC is full of “time distortions,” making it well-nigh impossible for the Doctor to land the TARDIS (though he seemed to manage it, no problem, in Invaders from Mars.
My UNIT timing controversy sense goes ping! because they announce they’ve come from 2012, whereas I thought they were a few years into our future. Who knows? River explains to Rory that the Angels’ “preferred form of attack” is sending people back in time . . . rather than causing them to cease to exist altogether, despite what we saw in “Time of the Angels.” Whatever. The Doctor cautions Amy not to read ahead. “Time can be rewritten!” “Not once you’ve read it!” River has by this time gotten some archaeology under her belt; I have to imagine in her timeline she must be nearing “Silence in the Library”? Or is that overhasty?
I get a bit annoyed, as I said in the previous story, when history serves as a one-scene gag or jaunt, which it does here, when the Doctor uses China, 221 BC to “text” River. The gangster from the first montage, Grayle, has taken River because she is rumored to know what to do with Angels, and Rory because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rory gets thrown down into the admirably-creepy-rather-“The Impossible Astronaut”-cellar. Again, we have the potential for something quite frightening, which is the introduction of these baby Angels, who actually remind me of the sinister cherub children from The Haunting. I would have preferred more of a plot with them than the bleedin’ Statue of Liberty.
Grayle is killed by a heart attack, River gets grabbed by an Angel, and the Doctor comes to the rescue. She tells the Doctor she has long since been pardoned, as apparently there is no record of the man she killed. (For awhile I was asking myself, who did she kill again? I was hoping it was someone other than the Doctor, but then I remembered “Let’s Kill Hitler.”) “Didn’t you used to be someone?” she asks. I’m glad that at least, in theory, the Doctor is going to go back to being the unknown wanderer in the fourth dimension so that he will stop having god complexes (though being in them is okay). The Doctor and Amy have been navigating by River’s chapter titles, so Amy knows that “The Roman is in the Cellar.” Amy goes to rescue him, while the Doctor and River conclude that the fact that Rory’s been moved in space, not time, “there is displacement but no temporal markers.” The Doctor is crushed when it is revealed River broke her wrist to get out of the Angel’s grasp and didn’t tell the Doctor. THEN the ultimate insult to all of us who railed against “Doctor Christ” in “Last of the Time Lords”: the Doctor heals River by touch. I’m especially annoyed because, for one of the first times, I actually like the interaction between the Doctor and River. I actually believe in their love rather than a constant stream of snarky flirtations. The Doctor is starting to sound like an ageist, sexist bounder! “Never let him see you age,” River tells Amy (her own mother!?!). I know we were headed in this direction with “School Reunion,” but it seemed much easier to excuse there.
Now, at first I quite liked the intrigue of the Angels’ “battery farm” where they live on their victims’ time energy multiple times, but thinking about it, I’m not sure it makes much sense. And besides, do the Angels go to all that trouble to type out name cards for each person’s door? Nevertheless, Rory is determined not to die in this future. River agrees that “paradox poisons the well.” Rory goes to run and escape, gets as far as the roof, and decides to jump off! “If you love me, trust me and push,” he tells Amy. Now, quite surprisingly, we have Amy and Rory acting like Juliet and Romeo! I could not have predicted this, to be honest, though I guess if I had any kind of brain I would have. It’s a surprise to me that we have a Doctor Who episode where the companions are advocating double-suicide! (Somehow, I’m less opposed to it than I was to Adelaide’s in “The Waters of Mars.”) Still, at the time, I couldn’t help thinking that they would never be allowed to die like this—it’s the BBC after all, and millions of children are watching! I wish they’d gone a little easy on the long, musical descent (like “Vincent and the Doctor” without Van Gogh).
Nevertheless, I did feel a “shake fist at Moffat” moment (the good kind) when Rory was taken by surprise by an Angel in that evocative graveyard. The Doctor’s panic at Amy going felt more or less deserved, though a part of me can’t help grumble that he’s never before shown that much emotion for a companion. I did genuinely believe in this scene that Amy loved Rory, which was good, though I did wonder that she didn’t express some distress about her mum and little dad and Brian Williams! I expect we will get some mileage out of the Doctor having to face up to this. Anyway, it isn’t the end of the world—wherever Rory and Amy have been zoomed back to, surely the Doctor will come across them at some point? In a world where he can go back and say goodbye to every single companion before regenerating, YES HE CAN! Anyway, the best part is that we will definitely get some great fan fiction out of their story even if they’re out of Doctor Who proper.
River, on the other hand, deserves her heartbreak because it seems much more likely she’ll never see her parents again. When the Doctor asks her to travel with him, she says, “One psychopath per TARDIS, don’t you think?”