Thoughts on: The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone

Steven Moffat absolutely revels in his penchant for scary in this mesmerising symphony of sci-fi drama. There are so many creepy moments in this amazing two-parter that it’s obvious he’s enjoying it. The Weeping Angels are back more menacing and scarier than ever before. Not only that, there’s a great bleeding crack in the wall that’s eating people up and extinguishing them from time. It’s the base-under-siege format like it’s never been done before, one of Doctor Who’s most time-honoured formulas seized by Moffat and redefined in gripping style. Not only does this story successfully mark the impressive return of Steven Moffat’s most acclaimed creations, the Weeping Angels, it provides tantalising development of Series 5’s story arc involving the cracks in time and the opening of the Pandorica, giving us a glimpse of the intricate ideas and long term narrative-building that bubble around in Moffat’s head.

The Angels are back, a deadlier and more sinister foe than when we saw them last in Blink. You thought the stony buggers were scary before, but this story just turned their fear factor up to 11. “The image of an Angel becomes an Angel.” Was anyone else glued, wide-eyed, heart-pounding, to the screen when Amy was trapped in the trailer and the Angel was materialising in front of her? Skin-crawling stuff. So was Amy’s creepy counting-down as an Angel was becoming corporeal in her mind. I think it’s a fair criticism to make, as some do, that the “image of an Angel becomes an Angel” thing was a superfluous and confusing “improvement” to an already very menacing monster—their conceptual genius was their simplicity, after all—but somehow it works. The power of the Angels are their image; the stone is just stone, so it makes sense that the Angels will manifest wherever their image exists. I also thought those corroded Angels in the Maze were very gruesome. I imagine being pursued by them would feel eerily like being pursued by the undead.

And then there was the scene in which Amy was blind in the forest surrounded by Angels. What an adrenaline-filled couple of minutes. It’s like Steven Moffat sat down and sadistically tried to come up with the scariest thing he could do with the Angels. “I know, I’ll put Amy in a forest, alone, blind, and surrounded by Angels! That’ll have ’em going.” You evil, evil man. We knew Amy was, somehow, going to make it out alive, but that didn’t stop your heart pounding frenziedly as you willed her on to safety with all your might, nor letting out a frighted gasp as Amy tripped over, and as the Angel began to freakily move its head, and stretched out its hand… nor from feeling sweet relief wash over you when Amy was suddenly teleported to safety by River. “River Song, I could bloody kiss you.” My sentiments precisely. That was an exhilarating, exceptionally produced scene that surely stands out as one of the most memorable scenes ever in this show. Everyone knew what it felt like when they first watched it, and the only disappointment is that we can’t unwatch it and watch it again for the first time.

In the second half of the story, the threat moved from the Angels to the sudden appearance of a great, yawning crack in the wall. If anything, things got even scarier. The creepy disappearance of the soldiers, one after another, from each other’s memories as they each went to investigate the crack was seriously chilling. The cracks in time arc up until now was a marginally curious motif, but as it became eerily apparent that those who fall through the cracks disappear from time altogether, it’s all become totally enthralling. The Doctor’s fascination with the crack and “time running out” makes it pretty clear that this is srs bsns. Congratulations to Moffat for setting up an utterly captivating series arc. Another enticing mystery is the ever-enigmatic River Song, who made her first return to Doctor Who since her first and last meeting with the Doctor in Silence in the Library. She’s a dazzling character, and the mystery of how she knows the Doctor so well (and how she can fly the TARDIS better than him!) is intriguing, but I somewhat feel that the ongoing question of who she is, although not necessarily uninteresting, was a bit laboured and not as interesting as Moffat evidently thought it was. Or perhaps that’s just because I’m looking back on all this with the benefit of already knowing the answer to the mystery… Don’t get me wrong though, I love River Song’s character, and I thought she was excellent in this story.

I love how Amy was written in this story. So soon into her time as the Doctor’s companion, and she already feels like a thoroughly fleshed-out and developed character. I particularly loved how she was written in the initial stages of this story: she was adorable, seeming as though she thought tagging along with the Doctor as he sorted out an extremely dangerous situation was a total laugh and as though she wasn’t taking it at all seriously. “Ooh, you are all Mister Grumpy Face today!” I love her for that. She seems like she’d be great fun to travel with. There was also that hilarious but somewhat controversial scene at the end in which Amy not-very-subtly indicated she wanted to hook up with the Doctor. Personally I loved that scene. The Doctor’s clueless bewilderment and Amy’s frustrated efforts to seduce her hopelessly alien companion was the stuff of comical genius. I’m not as bothered or confused by that scene as some others are; it made perfect sense to me: Amy’s a lusty young human girl and she’d just been through a hell of an experience in the Byzantium; adrenaline still coursing through her and her head still spinning with what she’d just been through, she found herself irresistibly attracted to the hot, magnetic, charismatic man who’d been there with her and delivered her out safely, and she felt the overpowering urge to bed him right then and there. If you know what an intimate emotional bond you inevitably feel you form with people you share really memorable, emotionally-charged experiences like that with, you oughtn’t be confused by the scene. I thought it was very realistic.

Some final thoughts. The visuals in this story were really excellent. This was a visually audacious story, transitioning starkly from dim, spooky catacombs to lush, green forest, and it stands as a wonderful aesthetic success. I thought Father Octavian’s death scene was really moving, probably the emotional high point of the story, and it involved superb acting from both Matt Smith and Iain Glen. Glen, or Jorah Mormont, as I know him, was excellent in general throughout this story. Finally, some brilliant dialogue: “That’s a fairytale,” scoffed the Doctor. “Aren’t we all?” River teased enigmatically. Beautiful. I’m reminded of Robin Hood’s parting words to the Twelfth Doctor in Robot of Sherwood. Sterling effort overall.

Rating: 9/10.

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