(Intended to post this last week, but then they went ahead and announced a new Doctor Who. Call it a mid-season break.)
Whatever you do, don’t Blink. That could be Steven Moffat’s mantra to himself whenever he sits down and writes another story featuring the Weeping Angels. There’s a devious simplicity to Blink that to some extent, I’d thought at the time, rendered the Angels a one-trick pony. Statues of limitations, if you will. Quite a challenge to repeat their initial success, not least because the last thing you want to do is repeat. If you want to keep bringing those ponies back, you need to get them performing new tricks.
So far, Moffat’s done a pretty good job with his creatures. He’s had to tweak their rules each time and Flesh And Stone/Time OfAngels showed a few cracks, but remains a stand-out story of its year for my money. In The Angels Take Manhattan he’s modded their operandi again, but the result is a tale that feels at once new and familiar, which is the best of both worlds.
The Angels don’t really take Manhattan. Nor do they need to, because they feel perfectly at home. Like they belong. New York plus Angels is a great marriage. Lace it with 30s noir detective ingredients and Manhattan is a perfect cocktail.
Of course, ‘perfect’ would be overstating it somewhat. This is Doctor Who which, like even the most mature cheeses, can be full of holes.
Luckily, this isn’t riddled with them. Indeed, the only one that rankled (a bit) for me was how the Statue Of Liberty could move at all in ‘the city that never sleeps’. Surely someone somewhere would be looking at it ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time and how far could it reasonably move in the remaining point one percent? And yet the lady seems pretty nifty here. For no good reason, as far as I can see, other than the spectacle of having her loom menacingly over the apartment building where her fellow Angels feed. But I guess once you have NYC as your location and the Angels are involved, well, the temptation of having Liberty move and bare her fangs must have been irresistible.
It’s a forgivable indulgence and I’m sure if Moffat hadn’t given into it there would have been people wondering why he hadn’t made Liberty an Angel too.
It’s another of those stories where you get the sense Moffat is inspired and going where that inspiration takes him. His hallmark temporal weaving meshes well with the idea of the pulp detective novel underpinning and informing events.
There’s a tiny glitch with that when Amy has the inspired idea of looking at chapter titles in the book, then the Doctor uses a device to track the missing Rory to a mysterious place named Winter Quay. Completely overlooking the chapter heading there in black and white on the contents page: Death At Winter Quay. D’oh! Still, it’s a nice concept and hangs together pretty neatly for the most part, bringing into play questions of fate and foreknowledge. And not once does anyone utter the phrase ‘wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey’. Nicely played.
River Song slips readily into the Melody Malone detective role as easily as slipping into something more stereotypical of the genre. The dialogue and emotional interplay between Doctor and River, Doctor and Amy, Amy and Rory etc is electric.(Before we even get to discussing the ending, I should mention how much I love the scene where River pretends to have broken free of the Angel without breaking her wrist. Of course there was no way she was going to conceal that from the Doctor but there’s something affecting in the fact that she tries.) It tingles and it stings in all the right places.
It’s perhaps a minor shame the tale doesn’t make more of its hard-boiled pulp fiction overtones and Garner, the private dick in the prologue, is wet enough to need that mac of his. Against him though we have Michael McShane as a collector named Grayle who’s insane enough to want to keep deadly time-eating statuary in his collection – including some especially creepy cherubim in his cellar. It’s only ever going to end badly for him, but that’s the nature of femme fatales – even when they’re made of stone.
Talking of ending badly...
Well, this doesn’t. I mean, it does. Rory and Amy both die. But it’s beautiful. And horrible. And sad. And exquisite. And – okay, okay, I cried, all right. Is that what you want to hear? Second time around there were no actual tears but still a lump in the old throat and a moistening in the eyes.
Amy Pond is/was one of the best elements in 21st century Who, so naturally I was bound to be sad to see her go. There was a lot riding on getting her departure right. And Moffat – and Karen Gillan and all others concerned – do that. It’s as close to note perfect as Doctor Who gets. (And as fond as I am of the Pond I can only hope and trust that when she says to the Doctor ‘you’ll never be able to see me again’ the series holds to that.) Moffat even cleverly arranges things with his mastery of time – and a deft touch involving a last page torn from the book – so that we end on a beginning and the young Amy looks up on hearing the TARDIS in a freeze-frame that harks back to Sarah Jane’s departure in TheHand Of Fear.
This story almost entirely makes up for Daleks In Manhattan. Personally, I’d longed to write a 30s noir DW set in Manhattan for some years and that abysmal effort was enough to make angels weep. This, while not exploiting its period setting much beyond atmosphere and aesthetics, excels with a healthy measure of that same devious simplicity that characterised Blink.
So, yes, whatever you do, don’t blink. But you may want to wipe that tear from your eye.