"It's a long story. Doctor. It can't be told, it has to be lived. No sneak previews. Well, except for this one. You'll see me again quite soon, when the Pandorica opens." "The Pandorica. Ha! That's a fairy tale." "Doctor, aren't we all?"
IN THIS ONE... Our heroes climb into the Byzantium and use the crack in space-time to gobble up the Weeping Angels.
REVIEW: As a stand-alone episode (or really, the second chapter in a stand-alone 2-parter), Flesh and Stone works fairly well. It's got thrills, new tricks for its monsters, Amy in jeopardy summoning up courage, the Doctor being clever without resorting to cheap techno babble, River being enigmatic and meta, interesting environments, brave sacrifices, and timey-wimey happenings. But it's also a key episode in Moffat's grand tapestry, and a lot of things here take on another meaning when reviewed in that context. It both wins and loses in the exchange.
It wins because it makes the episode eminently rewatchable as you trek back through all the clues, say, in time for the finale (or A finale, given how slow some of these reveals are in coming). It loses because the series becomes a kind of intellectual exercise that engages you intellectually and where theories a more important than what's really happening. Once we learned the definitive answers, the "arc" episodes become far less exciting. So for example, the apparent "mistake" in which the Doctor tells Amy to remember what he told her when she was a child, wearing the jacket we saw him lose to the Angels becomes proof positive that he's running back through time from the finale in that moment. And so it was. I do admire how it seems of a piece with the rest of the episode because after all, the cracks are swallowing up people and the memories of those people. The Doctor needs to make this one time traveler remember him so that he can be quantum-unlocked (see Theories). Angels, River, cracks, Pandorica name-check, the base code of the universe showing Amy's wedding day as some kind of ground zero for the explosion, time being rewritable, an epilogue that ties into the next scene, it's all here. Puzzle pieces of something much bigger, which again, isn't to say what's here isn't pleasant on its own.
The last scene did raise some eyebrows, as it featured Amy throwing herself at the Doctor, not for love as Rose or Martha might have, but just for sex. It's not a great thing for the writer to say about his character that she would do this the night before her wedding (to a man she believes will wed River in a possibly near future, though that's perhaps was made her think he was a sexual being), and one could accuse Moffat of falling back into Coupling mode. In fact, whether or not I want to see Amy vamp her way into the Doctor's awkward pants, the sequence does have lines that make me laugh out loud. The scene is perhaps necessary because it gives the RTD 'shippers what they want while disarming RTD's romantic paradigm. It's the scene that says this Doctor will not be a magnet for kissing, and in the very next episode, he'll set out to make Amy fall back in love with her fiancé.
One word on the Weeping Angels... Someone in yesterday's comments section was saying how bringing them back for return engagements in effect Borged them, by which he or she meant they were better as forces of nature, and that each new story, seeking to add new elements, would devalue them as villains, and make them weaker and weaker as happened (generally) to the Borg in Star Trek. This latest story (only their second) does convert them from forces of nature to "characters", characters that can speak (through Bob) and are cruel (the whole countdown thing, which is admittedly one of the best bits). They do get "Borged" in the sense that they can now grab people and NOT send them to the past. That's not as interesting, but it's also easier for characters to handle. Still, Moffat manages to make them fearsome by turning the "don't blink" into "don't look them in the eye", so you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. Not keen on seeing them move though. That ruins the meta-magic for me.
THEORIES: Let's talk cracks, especially now that we know Gallifrey lies behind it/them. In this episode, when the crack gobbles you up, your existence is unwritten and only time travelers (or at least time sensitives) can remember you ever existed. It's looking more and more like cracks ate the Cyber-King and the Stolen Earth Daleks, unless it can actually "eat" memories from a person's brain, and Amy sleeping next to one had her mind siphoned of such things. We certainly know it gobbled up her parents and in this story, the clerics and the Angels. As we now know, Rory and the Doctor will also be unwritten, though they'll be able to return thanks to Amy remembering them. Because in the Whoniverse, perception and thought have an effect on reality (see Logopolis, School Reunion, The Shakespeare Code, etc.). So it's important for the Doctor to make Amy remember him after he is lost. But for "complex space-time events", does being "unwritten" really mean you cease to exist? After all, if that were true, the "remembered" Doctor would have no memory of what he did before he ever met Amy, right? So being outside the universe, beyond the crack, is still existence, but everything you are including the CONSEQUENCES of your existence are removed from the Web of Time, of History itself. So what does this mean for Gallifrey? Does it follow these rules? It and the Time Lords are remembered as "legends" by higher (time sensitive) beings. In other words, there are those who remember them (and the war) even though they left no real stamp on the universe, and they are those who have heard of them from those who remember (which is why they've turned into legends). That tracks. The Doctor remembers them outright because he's a time traveler. If Amy can remember the Doctor back into the universe, what does the Capaldi Doctor need to remember Gallifrey back? A lot more power (or minds) than he has, surely. In The Time of the Doctor, Gallifrey starts whispering things through the crack, in effect playing the same trick Doc11 played on Amy while time was winding back on his life. Is this how Gallifrey will ultimately return?
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Another installment of Meanwhile in the TARDIS shows what happens immediately after the Doctor pushes Amy back inside. The first part of this isn't very good, just arguing about whether or not the Doctor is a "bloke" and more sexed-up Amy madness, oppressively scored by Murray Gold with that twinkling comedy music, just dumped all over the sequence. Things get better when Amy asks to see the Doctor's other companions and proves they were mostly pretty girls (it's fun just to see all the great ladies from the classic series), and the Doctor explains why he needs a companion. Ten needed someone to "stop him", but Eleven wants to see the universe through their eyes because he's becoming jaded. That's as big a paradigm shift as any, and speaks to wonder Moffat is trying to evoke in contrast to the heaviness RTD had fallen into.
SECOND OPINIONS: My original review, Who Is River Song?, asks that question and tries to answer it. It's still the second most viewed post at Siskoid's Blog of Geekery. Certainly, no other post has more than a 100 comments. It's not such an urgent and fascinating question anymore.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Whether watched in isolation or as part of the Moff's grand design, this story offers plenty of chills and smiles. Of course today, it doesn't have the same sense of mystery it once did.