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Wednesday, 22 of September of 2021

Doctor Who – “The Time of Angels”

There’s just something in my eye.”

After watching the premiere episode of this series, I told a colleague that I hoped the focus on ocularity (yes, I just made that word up) would continue as the episodes progressed. For instance, Prisoner Zero was only visible out of the corner of one’s eye, just out sight but still present. Indeed, selling this idea of presence just out of sight has been the show’s excellent use of deep focus photography (go back to “The Eleventh Hour” as they shoot the door in the hall or in “Victory of the Daleks” during the Doctor’s discussion with Churchill after finding out about the Daleks — some great deep focus work going on here), showing everything in pristine clarity, even if the characters can’t see that everything (the HD shooting is contributing to this as well).

Knowing that the Weeping Angels were coming back only enhanced my desire for the show to continue to play with lines of sight. Their entire threat rests not making eye contact, on not looking away, on not even blinking. But also playing into this is River Song. When you’re a Time Lord, history itself becomes a line of sight, and River Song is the Doctor’s blind spot, a woman who knows all about him but about whom the Doctor knows very little.

All of this makes for a very exciting and engaging episode, one that truly tests (and will no doubt test more next week in the conclusion) the mettle of the new Doctor and his companions.

Like any number of good horror stories, “The Time of Angels” utilizes our knowledge about what the Monster is and can do. A viewer aware of the Weeping Angels from back in Series 3 would be fully armed, knowing how crafty and dangerous these statues are. At the same time, knowing how something operates does take away a bit of its power from the comfy distance of the couch. Which is why, as in all good sequels, the Monster gets an upgrade of sorts, a new danger for the protagonists. It’s a way to keep a viewer scared. And oooh boy does Who upgrade the Angels.

Very quickly the episode establishes the Angels from “Blink” as scavengers, which forces us to wonder what a non-scavenger Angel is capable of. It turns out that they’re capable of projecting themselves through images, making the image become an Angel. It’s a clever and wonderfully fun additional to their abilities. Going off on an idea in my previous paragraph, the comfy distance is what allows us to be scared but not to run out on the movie or television program we’re watching: it’s mediated through technology so it can’t possibly, truly, hurt us: it’ll just scare us, gives us goosebumps, make us white-knuckled from grasping an arm, be it the couch’s, ours, or our date’s, but it can’t hurt us. And it can’t hurt us because we have a safe distance from which to look at it from (that couch). But an Angel, it turns out, doesn’t care about safe distance or mediated points of view. It just needs you not to look.

Except the Angel doesn’t care if you look at it in its eyes. It is able to creep in there and alter a person’s perception. It makes Amy think that dust is is spewing from her eye and then that her hand has turned to stone. It’s an odd ability for a creature so fast to have, but it plays into the idea of the Angels knowing the difference between being dormant and being patient (though, with that kind of an ability, one also wonders why it would always hide its face). And stone, like water, is patient (and we’ll see if stone always win, too).

Much like the Doctor, I can’t say much about River (is it too soon to declare that Moffat may have a water thing about names?). This River Song, however, is a significantly saucier minx than her later (but earlier in terms of episode airing) self, winking and strutting around like she owns the place (plus being in prison?). As Myles points out, River represents a great point of continuity for the show, and if they work out the timey wimey stuff, it’ll be a source of fun to see this relationship develop out of order. Piecing together their narrative is like slowly backing up from one of those mosaic pictures, enjoying the little bits that make it up in an effort to see the whole.

Finally, from a strictly structural point, I can’t tell you how great it is that this is the first time in forever that it feel like a 2-parter matters. As Jeremy points out in that tweet, serialization has made the two-parter non-existent: a season is a 13, 22, or 24-parter (or, in the case of Lost, a 121-parter). And this part of the reason why I adore Doctor Who. It’s an episodic show, new each week, and when they do a joined-up story like this, they pull out all the stops and make it worth the investment. Sure, the serialized element of the Smile/Crack is following the Doctor and Amy around, and it’ll become more important, but for the time being, let me enjoy the full-bodied flavor of a well done 2-parter.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • I didn’t talk about acting, but everyone was just on in this episode. And everyone had excellent bits of business to do. Check out Myles’ review I linked to above as his discussion about Amy in this episode is wholly ditto’d by me.
  • I’m going to find a way to work in that trailer sequence as a wonderful example of cross-cutting. Also consider how the cross-cutting works as a line of sight, allowing us a chance to get away from the Angel but still be scared of it, still worry about Amy. Terrific stuff.
  • Finally, because you just need to memorize this crowning moment of awesome: “A big, big mistake. Really huge. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that there’s one thing you never put in a trap if you’re smart. If you value your continued existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow, there’s one thing you never, ever put in a trap: me.”


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