Doctor Who #906: The Angels Take Manhattan

"I always rip out the last page of a book. Then it doesn't have to end. I hate endings."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.29 2012.

IN THIS ONE... The Weeping Angels trap Amy and Rory in 1930s New York. Forever.

REVIEW: As I've said previously, I was quite happy with the ending the Ponds got in The God Complex, but if they need another and more epic farewell episode, they could have done worse than The Angels Take Manhattan. It's got one of those clever Steven Moffat ideas, where Rory goes for coffee and shows up in the book the Doctor's reading. It's basically as if the Doctor could rely on River's diary, but dare not look at the spoilers lest it make history impossible to rewrite. How time works in Moffat's Doctor Who couched in a comfortable and easy to understand metaphor. The Doctor ripping out the last page because he hates endings will obviously tie into the Ponds' departure, but it's also a good strategy when it comes to time travel. Always leave things open-ended so you can go back if you need to. So the Ponds needed a definite ending and got it (or did they? see Theories).

While the Weeping Angels are definitely required for this particular plot, the only way to make creepy statues interesting, absent any actual personality, is to keep adding to their canon. Where in Blink they were this perfect "puzzle", with rules you could easily follow and which would "solve" that puzzle, now they're just a big mess. They're back to taking people back in time to eat their potential, though somehow they can keep those people alive (or is their room service in that hotel? why don't the young versions of the people trapped there just get out and live their lives?). They've got creepy cherub "children", but would Angels really have that kind of life cycle? Their "take-over" of statues all over New York would seem to contradict that, but it's essentially used for image-making. The production just couldn't resist having the Statue of Liberty as an Angel, and though memorable, it's all a little silly, isn't it? It got across the harbor while no one, in the whole of New York, was looking? Is that it? At the same time, the requirements of the plot make Moffat miss an obvious addition to the Angel mythos: When Amy and Rory fall to their deaths, one should have swooped in to save them. They have wings after all. (Obviously, the Doctor and River were looking, but they probably shouldn't have because it caused fixed time.)

Anyway, there's never going to be a good Weeping Angel story except for Blink, but they can be kind of rubbish in someone else's good story. So is this a good Amy and Rory farewell? I have to say it is. Not only are we reassured they've had a long life both with and without the Doctor, and that they never break up, AND it partners them one last time with their daughter River Song, but it also ties into the characters' personal themes. Rory has been dying over and over again since Amy's Choice, and has always woken up fine. That had to pay off, and it does in his confidence that he can beat the Angels. He dies no fewer than three times in this episode alone. Speaking of Amy's Choice, it resonates very strongly, because Amy chooses death with her husband as a chance at a second life in this story too. And then does it again. There's the jump off the building, but also the cemetery scene. Amy will always choose Rory over the Doctor in the end, which is a fitting, romantic ending for the TARDIS' only married companions. The coda is a bit precious, but it's sweet to see young Amelia again, and that shot that used to be a dream turning into another strand of Amy's impossible, paradoxical life.

THEORIES: So is it true the Doctor can never meet Amy and Rory again? In story terms, he can't. Within the rules of the show, of course he can. Firstly, he can visit them before these events occur. He goes in and out of their lives so much, how would they know he was a much older Doctor? Secondly, they live another 50-60 years after being Angel-napped. Are they saying New York is a temporal hot zone from 1938 all the way to 2012? The 30s are knotted up, but since the Angels were unmade, the following decades should be pretty clear. Can't the Doctor pick Amy and Rory up from the late 40s or so? Or since he'll likely continue to travel in the 20th century, what if he landed in the UK, then took a plane to the US? Or vice-versa? Wouldn't they be able to find each other so long as they kept the TARDIS out of New York? In fact, all that's "fixed" is the tombstone. He could rescue his companions as soon as it's possible, then plant the stone at the proper place. This Doctor has been able to perform tricks like this for a while now, and that's what happens when you go full "Bill & Ted", isn't it? The rules you set up makes it too easy for your hero to get out of "impossible" situations. So I suppose we have to accept one of two things. Either the Ponds' time stream is so twisted up, their entire lives in NYC are impossible to get to with a TARDIS (and are toxic to the Doctor's), or the Doctor really doesn't like to see you age, so a 40-year-old Amelia is out of bounds for personal reasons.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: A scene was planned for the DVD but never shot, called "P.S.", in which Brian Williams is hand-delivered a letter by his 60-year-old grandson. In the letter, Rory explains that he and Amy were stranded in the past, that they had a good life, and eventually adopted.

- The companions' departure is potent and a great tribute to their time aboard the TARDIS, but the Weeping Angels really need to be given a rest.


Jayunderscorezero said...

I remember watching all of seasons five and six, then just kind of switching off for season seven and not really thinking about why until I went back for this episode and the reason became incredibly obvious: without realising it, I was actually much more into Doctor Who for the sake of Amy's story and actually didn't much care to follow the show without her. It's certainly not something I consciously was aware of at the time.

PS I love the alt-text on Karen's character sheet

Siskoid said...

I imagine some people tuned off after Rose left as well. With Clara comes a lot of one-off stories, as opposed to arc-heavy stuff, and I seem to remember liking that a lot. We'll see how it all holds up as I get into the last two weeks of Doctor Who daily reviews.

Jayunderscorezero said...

Last two weeks! :O

Siskoid said...

And then 26 days of Australian K9 and then it's over until new Who starts showing up on TV.

Been a good 2½ years!

Brian said...

It upsets me that every reference to this episode just says "1930s" rather than a specific year, as I have an odd desire to see how closely the events here fall to those of "Daleks in Manhattan"...

As the rare non-Amy Pond fan, I was oddly non-touched by the ending of this episode (if anything, my concern was for Brian Williams -- now THERE was a cool guy!). Although I actually really enjoyed this as a River Song episode, given how she got into the time period/genre -- I always lament how the Doctor and his companions (much less the characters native to the era) never act like they're in the actual past time frame, so River's exaggerated 1930's schtick was really fun to watch.

Despite not being an Amy fan, I *am* a Clara fan, so I look forward to seeing your rewatch of the Soufflé Girl era starting up...

Siskoid said...

The year is explicitly 1938, 8 years after Daleks in Manhattan.

Peder said...

I hated this episode. Or at least I felt severely let down. The Weeping Angels no longer make any sense, nor does the explanation for why Amy & Rory are forever separated from the Doctor. Seems like cheap emotional manipulation.
Now, I don't need everything to be airtight. Your previous points about magic = technobabble are well taken. But these plots holes are simply too big.

Anonymous said...

Okay, the Weeping Angel Statue of Liberty... wasn't there a poster in the elevator? Anything that holds an image of a Weeping Angel can become the Angel, right? I assumed the Statue of Liberty came from the poster, not the actual statue.

It doesn't make it less silly, though.

This episode... I liked a lot of it but the Doctor being unable to get the Ponds back is ridiculous. My personal theory? The TARDIS won't let him because she knows they have a bizarre but happy ending while further adventures with the Doctor could end in death. Dopey, but it makes more sense than "he just CAN'T."

- Mike Loughlin

F. Douglas Wall said...

I personally think that Amy and Rory would have gotten a better farewell if they had been swallowed by the paradox they created. It was a beautiful moment, and it would have put them somewhere that the Doctor really couldn't get at them.

As to why the Doctor can't just rescue them from whatever time they landed in? This goes back to my theory that "fixed points in time" require time travelers (and no, I don't really have a good answer for Waters of Mars yet). By observing the gravestones for Amy and Rory, the Doctor fixed those objects to the timestream and all of the information on them, including date of death. So while he could theroetically visit them, he couldn't take them in the TARDIS because he would a) be exposing them to danger and possible premature death, invalidating the date or b) risk getting timey-wimey with their lifespan (If you're gone for 6 months time-travelling, you've still aged 6 months, even if you return moments after you left.)

LiamKav said...

My problems with this episode don't come from here. They come from the past. I know that you and I disagree on how much "A Christmas Carol" breaks the shows rules, but the feeling I was getting was that the Doctor was getting better at amnipulating time. The old idea that one he'd turned up in the TARDIS he was stuck until the story was resolved had gone. If things were time travel related, the Doctor could do whatever he wanted. Time could be re-written.

Except here.

I think that's the problem. I'm all for giving the audience a bit of credit, but this episode asks too much of us. We have to come up with a reason why Amy and Rory couldn't just jump on a train to Canada and have the Doctor pick them up from there. We have to accept that there's no way he could fake their deaths (say, by turning up at a fire and casually telling the newspaper reporter that two of the unidentified bodies were a Rory and Amy Williams), which is especially hard considering what had happened just a single season before! That involved coming up with a way to fake a death that we literally saw on screen, with regeneration energy and everything! After that, surely a couple of tombstones would be a piece of cake.

Also, I felt this episode was too short. I have a similar feeling with the final Matt Smith episode... it may be cheap, but extending an episode is a really good way of making it seem a bit more "epic". RTD did it all the time, and even "The Eleventh Hour" benefitted from being a full hour long (and oh my god I just got that that could be a double pun). For this episode, it felt like they were always going to get out of it right up until the point they apparently couldn't anymore because reasons.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

This is, to me, the finest episode New Who has produced. I will admit to some weakness in the Angels plot and logic, but to me, that wasn't what the epsode was about. The relationship between River and the Doctor was great, the use of the book as a narrative device that can fix points in time... and particularly the ending.

I never liked Amy. I thought she was selfish, shallow, and above all, I hated how she treated Rory. And then this episode came along... and suddenly I got it. That was the point. Everything- from Amy's Choice all the way up to Assylum of the Daleks, was all leading up to this moment. To her change. To choosing Rory over the Doctor forever- being utterly selfless in love to the man she's promised her life to (and he to her) instead of her continual self-serving nature. It tied her story, and their romance, together in such a beautiful way- finally, she became the person that devoted, heroic, sacrificial Rory deserved- someone who returned that devotion and bravery and sacrifice 100%. And for that, it was beautiful- the most beautiful companion departure, for my money, that's been filmed in color. (And tied with Ian and Barbara for my favorite of all time). The brilliant You-thought-I-forgot-about-that-didn't-you bookending with little Amelia from Eleventh Hour only made it more poigniant.

For that- for finally making it clear what the Amy and Rory arc was about- him growing into a man, a hero in his own right, and her growing into a woman that truly loved him as he loved her- I can overlook a few angel-related flaws. :-)

The only thing missing is the deleted scene released online with Brian later- that it wasn't at least filmed and released as a short (made canon, as it were), is a true crime. It was a wonderful, poigniant scene that deals with his reaction to their loss- and completes their story, showing that they finally were able to have and raise the children that they'd wanted; it completed their arc in a way that the current story doesn't quite- with a bow on top. The lack of that bow doesn't diminish the story... but its inclusion would have enhanced it.

Regardless, this was brilliant- and some truly creepy angel moments did still fit in among the silliness. A great soundtrack, chills-inducing moments in BOTH Ponds' sacrifices...

...Plus, the TARDIS spinning in flight. I am a sucker for that. :-)

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Of course, this is another nail in the clumsy retcon that was Time of the Doctor's coffin; I guess the Doctor just didn't have a full incarnation's worth of regenerative energy- only a few dregs left? It seems to me that it's presence indicates that he was clearly meant to have regnerations left at this stage in the game (which, behind the scenes, he was).

I would try to retcon (if I was in any way inclined to be generous toward this screw-up) and say something like 'regenerative energy is renewed continually, but the cells can only take going through the process so many times' or something- but since New Who ahs made it all about the energy (10 using it used up a regneration, River giving it up took her regenerative ability, 11 can 'waste' it, implying a finite amount), it just makes this appearence of it difficult to reconcile with Time of the Doctor, whose sudden I'm-the-last-incarnation plotline (if retroactively justified via the War doc and the Journey's End nonsense) was as artificially and inelegantly grafted on as End of Time's farewell scenes.

But, hey- don't want to end a comment on Time of the Angels on a negative note- so I will just reitterate that, though I in some ways wish God Complex had been the Ponds' ending (it would be nice to show a companion *can* just walk away from the Doctor without deep trauma ripping them away, which fan-running-the-shows RTD and Moffat have put the Doctor so high on a pedestal as to preclude in the New Series), this endcap on their characters completes them in a way that narrative ending never could've, and I'm glad- because it makes the difference for me between remembering them fondly and saying "Ugh, thank goodness that's over with." And that, to me, is a major service. Yes, the 'never being able to see the ponds again' is a bit contrived and doesn't make much sense- but even if it could be circumvented, Amy making her choice *believing* that it can't is what gives the story its meaning, so once again, this doesn't step on anything for me.

Not a perfect episode logically- but for me, at least, a perfect episode emotionally. This was my 'Doomsday.'

(Yes, I did go on so long I had to split it into two comments. :-) )

Siskoid said...

Yes, it is rather like Doomsday, isn't it?

Except Rose was always quite selfish and that didn't change by the end of her run. Amy grew into something. You're absolutely right.

Emotionally, yes. Character-wise, definitely. I just wish the plot that surrounded it was stronger.


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