DOCTOR WHO SERIES 7: EPISODE 5 - THE ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN
Air Date: Saturday 29 September **
Channel: BBC One (UK), BBC America (US)
Starring: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Alex Kingston, Mike McShane, Rob David
Reviewed by Helen Henderson
Amy and Rory are ready to bid farewell to the Doctor, but is he ready for their last goodbye?
With the departure of the Pond’s being in Steven Moffat’s own hands, all eyes were on the showrunner to bring the story of Rory and Amy to a beautiful and powerful conclusion, and in that respect he did not disappoint. Set against the backdrop of the Big Apple, New York, the city that never sleeps, it was possible that the Manhattan skyline was about to drown out the little story of a man and woman so much in love that they would do anything to be together, that the spectacle would pull focus from the heart. Regardless of the magnitude of the city, tonight it stood in hushed reverence to a hard hitting story that will have had even the hardest Doctor Who fan fighting back the tears. Rory and Amelia Williams bowed out in what can only be described as a heartbreaking finale. Even when it appeared that perhaps the story would be clear cut, Steven Moffat had surprises up his sleeve to ensure that the viewers would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Beginning, as it did, with a comment about New York being the city of a million stories - Angels began with the story of a private detective Sam Garner (Rob David), sent to investigate a strange apartment block by a mysterious collector – Mr Grayle (Mike McShane). On arriving at Winter Quay, Sam Garner was about to get the shock of his life and set the scene for the Pond’s swan song. Back in 2012, with the Doctor’s attention fixed on a novel by ‘Melody Malone’ all seemed calm in modern day New York until Rory’s trip to get coffee led to his disappearance and a revelation about the writer of the book in which the Doctor was so engrossed. With the reappearance of River Song, now the Doctor’s wife after “The Wedding of River Song” in Series 6, the Doctor is forced to take his marriage vows a little more seriously as they race to save Rory and Amy from what seems to be an unavoidable fate. What is the secret of Winter Quay in New York 1938 and why have the Angels returned?
Generally regarded as one of the most frightening and effective of Who creatures, the Weeping Angels were first introduced to the world of the Doctor in the Steven Moffat penned episode “Blink”, a perennial fan favourite from series three with tenth Doctor David Tennant battling the evil foes. Considered to be as ancient as the very universe, the Weeping Angels have terrifyingly sharp teeth but do not dispatch with their victims by killing them or anything as prosaic and predictable as that. Instead, they send their prey back in time, wrenching them from their family and friends and forcing them to live their lives somewhere completely new and alien to them while preventing them from truly saying their farewells to their loved ones, which is why their involvement in Amy and Rory’s swansong was so terrifying. The Angels feed upon energy and perhaps this is why every episode of Series 7 has had a flickering bulb, signalling the end of the Pond’s story. No one knows where they came from, not even the Doctor. The thing that makes them so mind meltingly eerie is that they can only move when they cannot be seen; even the merest blink will allow the Angel to advance and eventually exact its punishment, and in the past even the Doctor has been no match for their gaze, ending up for a time thrown to the past in “Blink”, lost without his beloved TARDIS. In Series 6 the Angels were also seen moving and even killing their victims and communicating by the use of the dead individual’s brain and voice. The Angels Take Manhattan continued to diversify the creatures by playing around with size, from some disturbing ‘baby’ angels in the form of creepy cherubim statues lending extra horror to proceedings through to a considerably larger and more recognisable addition.
In The Angels Take Manhattan we were treated to a deliciously dark and yet hopeful tale with a fantastic look and feel lending a film noir atmosphere. With a traditional gumshoe, towering statues and skyscrapers, sprawling scenery and River Song as the feisty femme fatale the scene was set for a dramatic exit. The Doctor was uncharacteristically tender to River, as in the past he has seemed a little stand offish, whereas here we saw a man apparently welcoming being part of a family unit and heavily invested in keeping it together. As mentioned in previous weeks, this season has seen the Doctor seemingly becoming darker in tone, but this episode saw him grasp desperately and fruitlessly at his life, frustrated and at times enraged at his inability to control it.
Matt Smith’s performance was steely and heart-breakingly authentic, particularly in the powerfully emotional finale. There was a sense of relief and loss all at the same time and just as the story seemed to be reaching a climax, Steven Moffat managed to pull yet another tear-jerking emotion-soaked reaction from the viewer without it threatening to become overwrought or over-done, and in many ways this was the true triumph of The Angels in Manhattan. The core story and adventure may have been nothing exceptional (not to mention at times a little fleetingly explained), but that was never the point of this episode. Whether or not the Pond’s received a happy ending is something you will need to discover for yourself but rest assured that their departure was handled perfectly. The characters have been given some great material and are sure to be remembered in the history of Who - the girl who waited and the man who watched over his beloved for 2000 years, Karen Gillan’s feisty portrayal of the Scottish beauty and Arthur Darvill’s dedication and numerous death scenes. It was in many ways an unconventional but exciting move to have the doctors’ two companions bow out in a stand-alone episode as opposed to a multi-part season finale as per previous seasons and helped craft an urgent, emotional and at-times breathtaking mid-series finale with a touching goodbye to old friends.
With Christmas set to bring a new friend for the Doctor, hopefully we will have had time to recover from this poignant encounter by then!
(A)MUSINGS RATING - 10 out of 10
** The Angels take Manhattan is available for repeat viewing on BBC iPlayer