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Wednesday, 30 of September of 2020

Doctor Who – “The Angels Take Manhattan”

“I hate endings.”

Companions tend to divide audiences like no other aspect of Who. There’s a lot of love-hate to go around with companions, and the Ponds are definitely no exception.

My journey to loving Amy and Rory was a bumpy one. I’ve gone from loving one and being ambivalent about the other to liking them both, to disliking one and liking the other, to loving one and hating the other, to finally loving them both as individuals and a couple. I like Amy. I like Rory. I like the Ponds. And I like the Ponds with the Doctor. So here, coming into their last few episodes, I wanted desperately for them to have the kind of satisfying and completing end such long-time companions deserved.

I’m not entirely sure this is what I was looking for.

The potential in this episode’s premise was astronomical – the Doctor in New York, weeping angels, film noir – just the kind of ingredients I like. The weeping angels are my favorite recurring Who villain, so I was excited to see them around again. The noir-esque opening of the episode just added to my anticipation. Were we going to get a highly stylized and atmospheric creeper of an episode with a happy goodbye for the Ponds?

Well, sort of.

This episode is wonderfully atmospheric, both with the 1930s detective novel-esque setting and the classic horror tropes courtesy of the angels. The opening sequence, with the P.I., is delightful. The man being led by mysterious forces into an apartment to find his own wallet – aged and faded – on the hall table and himself – aged and faded – in the bed. And the angels being everywhere, watching and waiting for the right moment. It’s a wonderful opener, creepy and sad and cool, that uses elements of both genres to their maximum.

Long hallways and flickering lights, dark rooms and moving shadows – these are all classic horror maneuvers, old and well-used. But they’re classic because they work so damn well. The use of noises created by things unseen, camera angles to both hide and reveal, shadow and light make the angels themselves very effective horror movie-type villains, and also work really well with the noir vibe of the episode.

This aspect of the episode – angel horror, as I’d label it – is very good. Rory being alone in the cellar illustrates the best of the angels. He’s in a dark room with weeping angel babies, y’all. It’s a simply ploy, the use of a small source of light, intermittent darkness, and distinctive noises to convey a terrible danger. And the last little bit before the commercial break, where Rory lights a match and looks ‘round to see a little cherub posed with puckered lips, blowing out his match? Perfection.

(And let’s not even talk about the fact that the idea of weeping angels being giggling little cherub statues is TERRIFYING BEYOND BELIEF. I may never sleep again.)

That’s what the episode did really well. Now let’s focus on what was a bit more wobbly.

There were a lot (A LOT) of parallels drawn between the Doctor/River and Amy/Rory in this episode. Because it annoyed me the most, let’s get the first pair out of the way, well, first.

In this episode, I went from loving their banter to disliking it – in back-to-back scenes. The bit surrounding the Doctor’s arrival in 1938 was pretty cute: “Just you wait ‘til my husband gets home.” Then the Doctor checking his hair, his breath, and his bowtie before his exits the TARDIS. “Sorry I’m late, honey. Traffic was hell.” It was cute, okay? It was cute. And I enjoyed their scene together wherein the Doctor explains about breaking River’s wrist because he’d already read about it (her breaking it herself defies his logic, but that’s a whole different can of physics) and then reads the chapter titles and gets into quite a tizzy (he really doesn’t like being backed in into a corner by anything, but most especially not by the laws of time, has anyone else noticed that?).

Then the Doctor heals River’s wrist (And since when has he had the healing power of touch? Did I miss something?) and she berates him heavily for “choosing to have the face of a 12-year-old” and wasting regeneration power on her (which, considering that the prod team has already agreed the Doctor has unlimited regenerations, is a moot point).  It’s difficult for me to pinpoint exactly what it was that bothered me about this scene. The dialogue felt unnatural and awkward, something I have never felt with the Doctor and River stuff before. It felt… forced? Honestly, their entire interaction in the entryway after River gets herself free only annoyed me. A lot. It was just… off.

Now: Amy and Rory.

The emotion of their story in this episode is almost overdone, y’all. I kind of want to watch the episode again before forming a final opinion, but it felt as if the show took a great set-up and turned it into overly dramatic mush for the sole purpose of injecting as much drama as possible into the Pond’s exit. It felt like an over-convoluted reason to have Amy and Rory commit drama. And don’t get me wrong – the story they were trying to tell here had a lot of drama to it.

Rory choosing to sacrifice himself. Amy choosing to join him because either everything will reset or it won’t, either way she can’t live without him. Them believing themselves to be free only for Rory to be snatched away with no way for them to get back to him. Amy choosing to join him because, once again, she doesn’t want to live without him. (Oh, the parallels all the way back to the quintessential Amy/Rory episode, “Amy’s Choice”. It all comes together, you guys.) This meaning that she’ll lose her daughter and her Doctor forever. It’s pretty three-hanky stuff already. But the way it was told wasn’t quite so effective.

I think my main problem was with the music. Music can be a force for good or evil within a show; it’s all in how you use it. Here it was heavy-handed and overly dramatic at times when the acting needed only a subtle back-up singer instead of being half of a double-bill headline act. It completely brought me out of what could have and should have been a very emotional moment (or two, really). You know what it reminded me of? “Voyage of the Damned” and its damned melodrama of an ending. At least we know Who is consistent.

I don’t – the problem with having companions like Amy and Rory (and Rose and Donna and pretty much every companion who would travel with the Doctor in the first place (except Martha, but exception that proves the rule, yadda yadda)) is that they won’t leave. It would not be in their natures to leave. So for them to exit the show, there have to be extenuating circumstances to keep them from seeing the Doctor again. You have to suck them into a parallel universe or wipe their memories. Or you can kill them. There’s a part of me that wished Who had gone that route with the Ponds and made the melodrama of the episode – the many foreshadowings and grave sightings – seem a bit more earned. But the other part of me, the part that loves the Ponds and just wanted them to have a happy ending, dammit, is glad they got to live on somewhere together.

How does this ending fit with the season’s episodes? To be honest, it really doesn’t matter. Had the show gone the route of the Ponds choosing to step away from the Doctor, or of them dying, the continuous build-up between episodes would have been much more important. If they had purposefully said goodbye, the adventures they had in the previous episodes would be important steps in that goodbye process and therefore would require significant emotional continuity. If they had died, the same would be true. Were their final adventures satisfying enough to sustain the emotional arc of a death? But since their goodbye is just one of accessibility and not one of finality, that connection isn’t entirely necessary.

That being said, I do think that there is some continuity. From the end of last season and all through this one, the show has been building on the idea of the Ponds having a life outside the Doctor, that they are able and willing to have a “real life.” Well, being separated from him for the rest of their lives certainly counts as a life outside the Doctor, wouldn’t you say? And – even larger in scope – there is the Pond series-long arc of Amy and Rory choosing each other time and time again, of always wanting to be together, of always waiting. Whether any of this continuity was intentional – that I can’t say.

Bottom line: I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it. It was a hot mess, but there were some great parts, too. I’m going to miss Amy and Rory. I hope the show knows what it’s doing now that this Doctor is going to have a new companion.

 

Extras:

  • Actual thought during the episode: “DID THEY JUST TURN THE STATUE OF LIBERTY INTO A MUDDAFUQQUIN WEEPING ANGEL, OH HELL.”
  • STING SINGING ABOUT BEING AN ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK. I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE.
  • I love the Who that jumps through time and makes arrangements for things that line up across centuries. Like writing a message on an ancient Chinese vase (when it wasn’t ancient) for River to see (when it was). That’s the wacky fun time-travel stuff we want from Who, you know?
  • “I always wanted to visit the Statue of Liberty. I guess she got impatient.” Oh, Rory. I’m going to miss you most of all. <3
  • “Changing the future. It’s called marriage.” THAT IS QUITE POSSIBLY THE LAMEST LINE TO COME OUT OF ANYONE’S MOUTH ON WHO. EVER. TWICE.
  • “It would be like poisoning the well! It would kill them all!” Welp, there goes another species.
  • “You think you’ll just come back to life?” “When don’t I?” THAT’S WHAT I’M SAYING. DYING IS RORY’S M.O.
  • “Raggedy Man. Goodbye.” Okay, yeah. That one got me.
  • Why won’t River travel with the Doctor? I mean, I prefer her as a pop-in, pop-out character myself, but her “one psychopath per TARDIS” reasoning seems a little weaksauce. Though, truth be told, River and the Doctor probably would drive each other completely mad were they to spend every waking minute together. (We won’t even get into her being pardoned yet being in prison because thinking about it makes my head hurt. But the Doctor deleted himself from every database in the universe because HELLO, OSWIN. Doctor who.)
  • Oswin in period garb in a period… place. Just how the hell does she wind up there? Is it Christmas yet? I’m ready for that clean slate.

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