New Who Review: “The Angels Take Manhattan”
The Fall of the Ponds. The Last Page. The Great Weeping. You knew it was coming, The Grand Moff Steven made it clear. Who died, who lived, and who will have a LOT of explaining to do to the parents. Spoilers abound, even more than usual, so here we go…
THE ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN
by Steven Moffat
Directed by Nick Hurran
The episode jumps between 1938 and 2012 Manhattan – in 1938, detective Sam Garner is asked to investigate a mysterious apartment house “where the angels live”, only to meet…himself, years older. In modern day, The Doctor is visiting Central Park with Amy and Rory, when Rory is sent backwards by a weeping angel, into the arms of his daughter River Song. How do you fight an enemy that can suddenly make you go decades into the past? Perhaps the answer in some cases is: you can’t.
The story bears more than a few parallels to the original Angels story, Blink, as it should. In both cases, The Doctor’s actions are linked, even dictated, by a set of notes (here concealed in a book) provided before he begins, but written afterwards by one of the parties involved.
GUEST STAR REPORT
Mike McShane (Grayle), an American actor and comedian, was one of the regulars on the original British version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? He played Friar Tuck in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, the hypnotherapist in Office Space, and (sigh) Professor Keenbean in Richie Rich. He’s also one of a small numbers of actors who got to play another “Doctor” – he provided the voice for recurring and ubiquitous scientist Cid in Final Fantasy X and its sequel, X-2.
MONSTER REPORT – The Weeping Angels made their first appearance only a few years back, in Steven Moffat’s spectacular and Hugo-winning episode Blink. They’re described by the Doctor as “The only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely”. Their preferred method of taking their prey is to send them back in time. They feed on the potential energy of the life the victims were supposed to live in the present. The victim arrives back in time with no real idea how they got there – some may go mad, some may injure themselves, but many simply adapt and live out the remainder of their days there in the past. They are functionally indestructible – when they are seen by anyone, they “Quantum-lock”, or transform into stone. They move impossibly fast when they can, hence The Doctor’s advice, “Don’t blink”. In their second appearance in The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone, the Angels were in a very weakened state, and could not (or chose not to) use their standard attack, sticking to simple acts of violence as they slowly drained power from the crashed spaceship the Byzantium. Here, they’re at full strength again. They also have the power to replicate themselves – it’s explained that any image of a Weeping Angel itself becomes a Weeping Angel (likely because of Quantum), in this episode, it’s suggested they can infect or take over other statues, such as ones in a fountain or park, or even big honkin’ ones out in the harbor.
Something I’ve mentioned before: There’s a short story from 1984 called “Bones” by P.C. Hodgell that features a race of creatures called Vhors, skeletal ratlike creatures who, like the Angels, can only move when they’re not being observed. Surely a case of parallel evolution, but a pointed lesson in how there’s only so many truly original ideas, and how it’s all based on how you use the ideas and tropes we’ve been recycling since Og the caveman first set in stone (literally) the tale of a young boy who was destined to bring down a great kingdom run by an evil monarch.
The Statue of Liberty has had more than a few appearances in science fiction. It was previously animated by Mood Slime and Jackie Wilson in Ghostbusters 2. It was fitted with a honkin’ huge Neuralyzer in Men In Black 2. And of course it was seen as a twisted broken wreck at the end of Planet of the Apes.
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS – Trivia and production details
DARKER AND DARKER – It took me a while to realize the image in the logo this week’s opening credits was the crown of the Statue of Liberty. Also, note that the color is all but gone from the TARDIS’ trip through the time vortex, and the electrical distortions have increased greatly. Does it represent the immediate trouble of the trip to 1938, or a continuing change to the vortex?
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION – This episode was filmed in Manhattan, where it was followed around by hundreds of fans who spread the news of filming location via social media, which meant the crowds grew exponentially over the day. In a recent interview (modesty forbids mentioning the writer), they discussed the excitement of filming in NYC, and the zeal and courtesy of the fans. And one of the wonderful things about the city is there are plenty of buildings that would not look out of place in 1938, allowing for lots of sites to film.
YOU’RE MUCH TOO NICE TO BE A GRUBBY DETECTIVE ALL YOUR LIFE – There’s a lot of references to detective fiction and film noir in this episode. Mike McShane plays Mr. Grayle – the Grayle family was featured in Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely, which was adapted twice to film, once as Murder My Sweet, and again under its original title. Detective “Sam Garner” is clearly in the style of classic dicks Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, the latter of which was once played by…James Garner. “Melody Malone”, while also mirroring “Marlowe”, reminds one of Michael J. Malone, hero of Craig Rice’s (a female author – Craig was her middle name, Georgina her first), one adapted to film with the postcard-ready title Having Wonderful Crime. Mike McShane is clearly playing a character in the Sydney Greenstreet “Fat Man” style.
I READ THE NEWS TODAY, OH BOY – I can write off “The New York Record” as not being allowed to use the masthead of a more…Timesy…paper. But “Detroit Lions win Superbowl”? For one thing, does that mean this episode takes place in February? Or just that the British have no idea when the Superbowl takes place? Or what teams are worth a damn?
ROLLS ROYCE? – The plaque The Doctor does a quick recce in seems to be from the engine of a Supermarine Spitfire, last seen (flying in space, yet) in Victory of the Daleks. There’s two explanations for that. One is by the implication of its jury-rigged appearance that the TARDIS has had many, many post-showroom upgrades with whatever parts could be found, hence its patchwork appearance. But a concept that was to be mentioned in Neil Gaiman’s story The Doctor’s Wife is that a TARDIS’ Chameleon Circuit affects the interior of the ship as well as the outside. The Doctor and Idris look out on a junkyard, and once she reminds him of the fact, he realizes he’s not looking at junk, but the disguised remnants of various TARDISes. So he isn’t building a console from a hairdryer and coat hangers, but from highly technical components that LOOK like a hairdryer and coat hangers.
“Vortex Manipulator – less bulky than a TARDIS…a motorbike through traffic” River’s had the device since the events of The Pandorica Opens, when she bought it off the corpulent blue-skinned trader Dorium. The Vortex Manipulator is standard equipment for the time agency, and one is almost always on the wrist of the rakishly charming Captain Jack Harkness. The Doctor describes using it as “slightly addictive”, but odds are River can handle it.
“Once we know it’s coming, it’s written in stone” – The rules for the immutability of time are…rather mutable. The Doctor rather makes a habit of changing things he knows will happen, though in fairness, they don’t always go well, such as the crushed temporal reality of The Wedding of River Song.
“Are you an archaeologist as well as a detective?” Indeed she is – her Doctorate is is Archaeology, mainly so she can go about searching for events related to The Doctor.
“Oh, I know how they work” / “And it’s Professor Song Now” These two quotes allow us to place where this adventure happens in River’s timeline. It’s after the events of Angels / Stone, and even a bit later in her life after that, as she’s earned her Professorship. She was surprised to hear she would become a Professor in the Angels adventure, but she’d she gained it in her “first/last” adventure, Silence in the Library. So this is interesting, in that it’s the first of her appearances that have happened “out of order”. To date, each of her appearances have been happening in reverse order – the first time we meet her, she’s known The Doctor for years, and it’s her last adventure, as she “dies”. Each adventure after that, she’s come from a point further back in her time line. She knew about “the crash of the Byzantium” in Silence in the Library, but during the crash (in Angels/Stone), she didn’t know she’d be a professor. Similarly, she mentions that she’ll see The Doctor again “When The Pandorica Opens“, another event that had yet to occur to him, and so on. Basically, we’ve been following a specific story arc for River – now that it’s done and her big secret is revealed, it’s okay to pick and choose her time of appearances again.
“Oh I was pardoned ages ago…turns out the person I killed never existed in the first place” More evidence of The Doctor doing all he can to fade away, continuing the job that Oswin started for him in Asylum of the Daleks. He didn’t show up in Solomon’s database in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship either. Of course, there’s a faction who suggests that he’s not the one doing it, and that someone else is assisting him, possibly even without his knowledge…
“He’s been moved in space, but not in time” – This is a change from the stated abilities of the Angels – until now, they’ve been only able to displace in time. If they could do both, why didn’t Rory appear in front of Winter Quay when he first arrived, since that was their intended target? Perhaps they can only do one or the other, so they get their targets back to when they need them, then worry about the where? There’s also the possibility of a scene missing where he simply escaped from the basement and went looking for help, which would rather make more sense.
“That was a stupid waste of regeneration energy” It’s only paying back a favor – River, conceived in the TARDIS and possessing Time Lord DNA, could regenerate, and has, at least twice. She gave up all the rest of her regenerations to restore The Doctor to life and health in Let’s Kill Hitler. Likely that’s not a trick he could perform with any other person, which deftly explains why he’s never done it before. Unless you count giving the fuel cells of the TARDIS a jump start by giving it about ten years of his life in Rise of the Cybermen.
“I can’t ever take the TARDIS back there, the timelines are too scrambled” – Lucky all the times he’s already been there have already happened, then. Christmas of 1938 is when the events of The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe take place. It’s also when they landed in Hitler’s meeting room in Let’s Kill Hitler.
“I will never be able to see you again” I don’t see why. They spend many decades in Manhattan (presuming they don’t go traveling), and the time distortion is only centered around 1938, so there’s no reason he can’t pop by a year or two later, or even decades later. Besides, River is already making plans to go see them, to drop off the book she’s now got to go write.
The seeming finality of the separation may be be partly based on the wishes of Karen Gillan. In the aforementioned interview, she said, “I’ve always said that when I go, I want it to be for good. Because I want that final scene to have that same impact, maybe ten years on. I want people to be able to revisit it and still have the same emotion. That’s really important for me, so for that reason, I think I’m going to rule out any returns.” However, when I quietly complimented her on her ability to lie, she replied, “I learned it from the best!”
I expect at the very least we’ll see a rasher of fanfic of Amy and Rory’s life in New York, the evils they fought and the lives they saved. We already know (based on River’s plan) that Amy will be involved in publishing in the years after her re-arrival in this pre-war period and beyond. So clearly they CAN be contacted. One can only assume they’ll use their foreknowledge of history to make a few successful investments to keep themselves off the streets as well.
Let’s do a bit of math. Amy was born in 1989, so when she met The Doctor (for the second time) in 2008, she was about 19. Last week, she surmises it’s been ten years of her personal timeline, so she’s now 29. 74 years pass between being popped back to 1938 and seeing their gravestone in 2012, where she’s listed as having died at 87. So unless she REALLY lied about her age, she and Rory are not only dead here, but died at least a couple of years, maybe decades back. Also, it’s not made clear, but it’s implied that Amy and Rory do not necessarily die at the same time – she’s five years older than him, and her name appears under his.
“This is the story of Amelia Pond, and this is how it ends” Back in her first episode, young Amelia Pond is sitting waiting for The Doctor to return – he doesn’t, not to another fourteen years, but she hears the wheezing engines of the TARDIS in the sky, so at least she know she hadn’t dreamt it. A nice callback to that first episode, and a good end to the story.
BIG BAD REPORT / CLEVER THEORY DEPARTMENT –
“You think you’ll just come back to life again?” “When DON’T I?” There’s been two recurring themes to Amy and Rory’s life with The Doctor – death (usually of Rory) and waiting. Amy waited 14 years for The Doctor to return in The Eleventh Hour. Rory guarded the Pandorica for millennia between that and The Big Bang. And in The Girl Who Waited, Amy was lost for decades in a parallel timeline, and her opinion of The Doctor…somewhat soured. Rory’s made a habit of dying, something that’s become a bit of a running joke with both the show and the fans. So it’s quite fitting that in this episode, both themes are referenced. The Old Rory of 1938 is clearly overjoyed to see his Amy again, quite the difference between her reaction to him in The Girl Who Waited. In both cases, the timelines vanished, with only the memories remaining.
Similarly, Rory dies. A lot. Sometimes winked entirely out of existence, sometimes just long enough for be revived after drowning, but it gets to the point where here, he’s betting on his past performance to guarantee future results.
“Does the bulb on top need changing?” “I just changed it” He did too, in Pond Life. But it’s another appearance of a recurring theme that a few folks have mentioned – flickering and dead lightbulbs. They flickered whenever a Dalek Puppet activated in Asylum of the Daleks, Brian was trying to help with one in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, they flickered and sparked all over the place in A Town Called Mercy, power went out a couple times in The Power of Three, and they kept going out all over the place in this episode. Just a common symptom of teleportation or alien power use, or a further suggestion of something else?
NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO – Always a fun and tantalizing question to ask when the next episode isn’t for several months; in this case, Christmas. We know a few things for sure:
Jenna-Louse Coleman will make her premiere as The Doctor’s new Companion. Though after her surprise appearance as Oswin Oswald in Asylum of the Daleks, all expectations are off. It has been rumored, based on overheard lines during location shoots, that her character’s name is Clara. Steven Moffat has said in interviews that one of the things interesting about her is where The Doctor meets her. Now, that could mean any number of things – it could refer to the fact that they “met” in Asylum, but I had a Clever Theory of my own back when I heard that. The most surprising place for The Doctor to meet someone would be in the TARDIS itself.
In this interview on the BBC YouTube channel, a young person asks about why/how Jenna (as Oswin) appears in Asylum. The Moff’s answer is telling and maddening – “All of that will be explained in the future … that’s the question I want you asking”. So clearly he does have something insidious planned. He also was adamant that her character was “as yet un-named”, blockading the overheard dialogue.
Richard E. Grant and Tom Ward makes guest appearances in the episode. Richard Grant has played The Doctor TWICE before – once in the oft-referenced Comic Relief special, and once in the animated episode Scream of the Shalka.
Vastra and Jenny (Neve Macintosh and Catrin Stewart) will be back from A Good Man Goes to War, but so will Strax (Dan Starkey), the Sontaran sentenced to serve as a nurse. One wonders if this adventure will take place before or after the events of Good Man.
We’ll see you again then. If you’ve got any requests for Doctor Who articles to keep my busy till then, do let me know.
- Eight Weeping Angels caught on Instagram (geeknative.com)