Doctor Who #846: The Time of Angels

"Didn't anyone every tell you 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 is one thing you never, ever put in a trap." "And what would that be, sir?" "Me."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.24 2010.

IN THIS ONE... River Song is back and so are the Weeping Angels.

REVIEW: For Moffat to bring back River Song and the Weeping Angels is a no-brainer, but together? It's all kind of risky, isn't it? Well, good news, it's paying off so far. The Angels were the toughest nut to crack because once you've done Blink, what else can you do but retread the same beats? Moffat's solution is to add all new wrinkles to their abilities without contradicting the past. Somehow, they keep their creep factor and pull off some major quantum tricks (so that's how they reproduce!). Moffat even writes in video clip sequence which harks back to their original episode, and Amy saves herself by trapping the monster in a video blip (the meta stuff Moffat does so well). The best trick is the misdirection going on in the Maze of the Dead, where all the jokes about two-headed couples (and red herrings re: River's identity) are hiding the presence of an army of decomposing Angels. The weakest trick is their snapping necks and borrowing voices, which isn't really worthy of them. It works, but it's an element borrowed from Silence in the Library and a rather cheap solution to Moffat's problem.

As for River's second (or before last appearance), it also revamps the character we previously met. We knew her as an archaeologist, but here she's rogue, a superspy working for the Church to get a prison sentence reduced. The innate chemistry with the Doctor, the flirting and the absolute trust are all there, but otherwise, it's a major change that heightens the sense of fun, though could (and will) feel a little smug over time. Now that her arc is over(?) and we know all her secrets, her episodes take on a strange bent. We know now know what she does in addition to what the Doctor does. We can tell when she lies (the spotter's guide? total rubbish), when she references something that has already happened to her (who she supposedly killed), when she references something that WILL (the crash of the Byzantium was in the diary last time), and when the character is forced to ignore things that weren't yet decided or disclosed to the actress (that Amy is her mother, though obviously, it's not a novelty for her). Since we know her final fate, the trick here was to write new mysteries for her that would be revealed later.

A clever use of the character is how she contacts the Doctor, and it explains how they would meet out of order. Leaving artifacts with Gallifreyan messages for him to find some time in the future is risky (or perhaps the TARDIS tends to home in on such), but her faith makes it inevitable he'll find the message, eventually. Faith is an important component of this story. River and Amy both have it in spades for the Doctor (I love Amy's little smile at the Doctor's line I quote above), and for River at least, it's enough to get her to throw herself out an airlock with a smile on her hallucinatory lips. She works for the 51st-century Church in full Crusade mode, and fights creatures who look like traditional Christian angels. But the Doctor isn't played as a god, merely a figure from myth. That's the purpose of his visit to a museum (with a link to the Headless Monks, I just noticed!) to "look himself up" as it were. His relationship with River Song is epic and mythical because it leaves artifacts. We're being trained to look at Doctor Who in mythical terms, which I find more useful a filter than fairy tales. Victory of the Daleks was a fairy tale, where Pinocchio's love triumphed over evil, and was the weaker for playing by those rules. In The Time of Angels, the way we learn the rules of the game (whether it's how River contacts the Doctor, what the Angels' full powers are, or even why you don't put the Doctor in a trap) through grand pronouncements, some through speech, some through action sequences. And yet, it's also Doctor Who, so humor undermines the big ideas so they don't become pompous. The message across millennia is "Hello sweetie", the Doctor's awkwardness, a cleric with the holy name of Bob. The episode is by turns clever, creepy and amusing, but its true function is to set down a new paradigm for watching the show. Moving away from a traditional action-adventure narrative will have its problems, as we'll discover in later seasons, but for no, it's fresh and exciting.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High
- The exciting return of two of Moffat's greatest hits, but "Moffat's greatest hits" will one day become a dirty phrase.

13 comments:

Toby'c said...

The highlight of this one, for myself and my Dad, was the reveal that the TARDIS's signature noise means that the brakes have been left on.


It was pointed out to me that, at the end of Blink, Sally and Lawrence gave the Doctor photographs of the Angels amongst their files. Do you think that was meant to explain how he and Martha encountered them in the first place (yet another stable time loop)?

CiB said...

This, along with it's second part, are my favorite new-who story. Not as good as the likes of Pyramids of Mars or Ghost Light, but I don't think New Who has been better than this so far.

Anonymous said...

Did not like this use of the Angels; they work best as a very very simple concept ("stop looking and they'll get you") and elaboration does not improve them. Also, too many successful skirmishes with them and they start to lose their edge.

Basically, the Angels are getting Borg'd.

LiamKav said...

The "brakes left on" line is very cute. It's also total nonsense, as Steven Moffat (who wrote the line) pointed out: Does this mean that the Master, the Rani, and every other TARDIS we ever see also has the brakes on? Never mind that when River uses it in the future it makes that noise too...

Moffat mentioned this in a DWM column while talking about inconsistencies in the show, in reference to the fact that they didn't even get one episode in before we had a huge one (Susan came up with the name TARDIS). Which, of course, readers then all wrote in no-prize answers for next month.

Siskoid said...

Toby: I love that theory, though wouldn't the Doctor have noticed the pictures turning into Angels? Maybe he wouldn't have. Or maybe the Blink Angels really were weak versions that didn't have that power.

Anon: My answer in tomorrow's review, I think.

Liam: River is a filthy liar is what it is. Pressed the mute button (the blue mute button) just to show off to mommy. Or perhaps this older River can do thing the Doctor hasn't learned how to do yet, and the TARDIS has "evolved" (regenerated) to include the low-wheeze function which pre-Time War TARDISes never had (or they had stealth capability and never used it).

CiB said...

@ Siskoid or the Doctor just forgot how to land it silently. After all, he landed it silently in the Keys of Marinus...

Siskoid said...

Hartnell was always pushing buttons by mistake.
Maybe some of them were blue.

F. Douglas Wall said...

Good episode, but this was when I started disliking the Weeping Angels. "Blink" was a brilliant puzzle story, and the Weeping Angels were great puzzle monsters.

This story is where they start getting treated like ordinary monsters. Their threat becomes more direct and physical. Their plan is overcome rather than solved.

They get some of it back in Manhattan, but that story has some of its own issues.

Bill Doughty said...

11's reaction when introducing Amy to River in this episode is what has me convinced that there were meetings between Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead and this one. He's not all "Hey, I just watched you die, relatively speaking, and now you're alive!", but annoyed that they meet out of order and she knows more about him than he about her at this point. He's over the shock and perturbed by the puzzle.

Siskoid said...

Which also makes sense of her recognizing Ten before his eyes got old (which is either The Waters of Mars, or in the bit at the very end where he stumbled into everyone's life one last time).

Andrew Gilbertson said...

"but "Moffat's greatest hits" will one day become a dirty phrase."

I am (minus some recent quibbles, I suppose) an unabashed Moffat-supporter... but this one made me laugh. :-) We're in complete lockstep about the Smith era so far...


In terms of the 'brakes on' bit (which, let's face it, was comedy gold even if it didn't hold up to scrutiny), I just read a guide (fan-made, but not sure if its citing a more 'official' source, as it draws from a number of them) that suggests that TARDISes always make that sound outside, but you're not supposed to be able to hear it *inside* the ship- the Doctor only does because he leaves the brakes on. A little weak, maybe, but it allows me to reconcile a favored joke along with actual continuity.

Meanwhile, I was *so* annoyed by everyone insisting someone other than the Doctor taught River to pilot the TARDIS based on what was clearly a joke in this story and not series...

...And even more annoyed when Let's Kill Hitler actually confirmed it to be true. :-) Ah, well... we all have our own little theories that fall by the wayside, don't we?

Siskoid said...

On the brakes issue, I always take what River says as pure trolling. Believe none of it.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Probably. :-)

 

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