That ending tho. Never mind whether this episode as a whole was a fitting farewell for the beloved Ponds, their exit itself was torturing. The Ponds’ exit. It had been talked about and heavily foreshadowed since the latter half of Series 6, but I wasn’t prepared for when it finally came. Steven Moffat is often compared unfavourably with his predecessor when it comes to emotion and sentiment, but here he’s really pulled off one of the most gutwrenching character exits ever in the show, even rivalling that of Rose at the end of Series 2. Before they’re even gone for good, Amy and Rory’s slow-motion, emotionally-charged descent has overwhelmed the senses. Moffat toys with your emotions like this, bringing you down, then raising you up again as relief washes over you upon seeing that it had worked and the irrepressible Ponds had lived… and then he swoops in and cruelly wrenches them away again, in the most shocking, stupefying way possible. She’s gone. She’s dead. To make things worse, you see the Doctor overcome with grief, his heart, as yours, ripped in two by Amy’s tearful sacrifice. The only consolation is knowing that Amy and Rory had lived and died happily together.
The entire episode was building up to this moment, and it was really choreographed quite skilfully. The “death” of the Ponds looms over the episode, the foreboding omens nagging cruelly and keenly until the moment finally comes. The episode even teases you when it essentially tells us that Amy’s going to die, i.e. “Amelia’s Last Farewell”, but then indicates that no farewells are necessarily predestined when River apparently pulls herself free without breaking anything… before a yelp of pain from River a few moments later sadistically strikes out that ray of hope. By the time Amy and Rory make that fatal leap together, you’ve been primed for a punchy, dramatic, emotive farewell… which makes their actual farewell so much more effective, because you simply don’t see it coming, and your head is a rush of confused and conflicting emotions. I can confirm that the episode successfully left me an emotional wreck the first few times I saw it; the impact has dulled over repeated rewatches, but it’s still five of the most affecting minutes of Doctor Who since the Doctor said goodbye to his granddaughter ten incarnations ago.
More generally, this episode had a lot to like, apart from the obvious. I don’t want to detract from the excellent The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone at all, but the Weeping Angels were probably the most scary here they’ve been since Blink. The film noir style, and the romantic setting of some grimy, forgotten corner of Manhattan, really suited the Angels, and there were some effective, moody shots of the Angels that really set the hair on end. The concept of the Weeping Angels’ maintaining this battery farm to feed off the same victims perpetually was a stroke of grisly creative genius, adding effectively to the conceptual terror of the Angels. No longer are they the “only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely” — spending the rest of your days in a dirty room under the thrall of the Weeping Angels, only to meet yourself at the point of your death so you can be sent back in time all over again, sounds horrific. Moreover, the cherubic Angels are also a very scary new form of Angel. I haven’t been this creeped out by infants since Child’s Play. The children’s giggling sound effects were a great, chilling touch.
Despite the brilliance of the battery farm concept, I wasn’t so enthralled by the way the story played out. Given, this episode was all about Amy’s and Rory’s exit, and so substantive plot and storytelling was a subordinate consideration, but the story itself was fairly ho-hum and failed to exploit the full potential of its excellent concepts. I suppose I felt that the Ponds deserved a more memorable story for their exit, notwithstanding how memorable their exit itself was. Rose, Martha and Donna’s exit stories were all big, theatrical affairs which gave each of the former companions a fitting sendoff, and it was the scale of those stories, and their sense of event and occasion, that made the companion exits each such emotionally-charged moments. In contrast, I’m not confident that, in ten years, people are going to remember The Angels Take Manhattan for being anything other than “the one where Amy left”. As someone who jumped on the fanwagon during the Matt Smith era, this was my first companion exit, and incidentally the exit of my enduring favourite companion, and generally the episode itself is no more memorable to me than to anyone else.
Perhaps I’m making too much of that, though. One other thing I will say for the episode was that the performances all-round were exceptional. Karen Gillan gave the performance of her career in the last fifteen minutes or so of the episode, evoking exactly the teary, emotionally devastated response from the audience that her character’s dramatic exit justified. Arthur Darvill, too, deftly manipulated the audience’s feelings about his character, particularly during those mesmerising moments as Rory stood on the ledge. Alex Kingston played an understated and sympathetic River Song, portraying compellingly her character’s complex feelings both about her parents and about her husband, especially as this was the first time River has revealed to the Doctor that their relationship hurts her and “damages” her. Matt Smith, of course, was superlative throughout, his outstanding moment being the Doctor’s grief-stricken reaction to Amy’s death, Matt’s powerful acting at that moment evoking much the same reaction in the audience’s, even intensifying what was already a profoundly emotionally affecting moment. Amy’s “afterword” was a touching, uplifting final word to the story of one of the show’s greatest and most beloved companions. That closing shot, with little Amelia looking up hopefully to the sound of the Tardis, was beautiful.