Given the “problem” that some vocal fans have had with Amy Pond, it was a bit of a risk for Steven Moffat to end The Angels Take Manhattan with a moment that echoed the departure of Sarah Jane Smith in 1976′s The Hand of Fear. But do you know what? It flipping works, doesn’t it?
I’ve often alluded on Kasterborous over the years of the difficulty in translating a script to screen. The writer and the director have to share a certain vision, something that can be tricky. There is absolutely no way, for instance, that Matthew Graham set out to write an unpopular episode with Fear Her. Rather, the story falls flat for a number of production reasons, none of which can be attributed solely to the writer. However it is easy for writers to take all of the credit, particularly on television, when a show or movie turns out looking amazing. So back off Steven “The Grand Moff” Moffat – The Angels Take Manhattan owes as much (of not more) to Nick Hurran, whose combination of grand vistas, film noir, the conceit of having everything that occurs playing out in a book and the necessary claustrophobia of a “base under siege” scenario will surely see him moving away from television in the coming years to some successful cinematic features.
But this episode – combining with success the return of River Song, Weeping Angels with a Blink-style modus operandi (rather than the murderous gang of Flesh and Stone) and the long-anticipated departure of Amy and Rory – is about more than just visuals, scripts and performances (more on those later).
Like Amy and Rory’s deaths-in-the-past and the Winter Quay hotel, the nexus of a nefarious plan by the Weeping Angels to use New York as a giant source of time energy for food – I’d prefer to describe The Angels Take Manhattan as a fixed point in time. It’s one of those episodes that has an immense effect on the Doctor Who fictional universe, in contrast to something such as A Town Called Mercy. While the western episode had a cyborg marshall, it did little to impact the shape of series’ ongoing narrative, much like Fear Her.
In contrast, The Angels Take Manhattan brings a whole new aspect to so many things. There’s River Song, for instance, appearing much earlier than expected in the description of her fictional alter-ego Melody Malone and displaying some worry signs of being close to the Library – she’s aging, and she’s a Professor. She’s also been pardoned.
Then there are the Weeping Angels, appearing much subtler like their Blink appearance but with a clever plan, more like the Doctor’s last encounter, and even adding some new recruits such as the giggling Cherubs and the Statue of Liberty itself. On the matter of liberty: a few reviews have questioned how the statue could get around without being spotted, not to mention the fact that it was cast from bronze. The obvious answer is that has “become” an Angel – see The Time of Angels for a detailed explanation of how this is possible. As for moving about, well, those stomps quite spaced so it seems that the Angels wasn’t walking but “landing” or manifesting. And in a city that never sleeps, who is going to believe a story about a major landmark appearing five miles away from its home?
Amy and Rory’s departure from the TARDIS is similar to that of Rose Tyler. While the latter had the benefit of “merely” being separated from the Doctor by the walls of two parallel universes, the Williams are prevented thanks to the fact that they are trapped in a fixed past, the Doctor unable to reach them thanks to the Angel-bred time distortion in New York. Has this had wider effects in Doctor Who, though? Did the Tenth Doctor take Rose to New New York because he couldn’t land in the original? For that matter, do the Angels recognize the TARDIS in 1938 and determine to steal it in 2007 as revenge?
Back in 2010 when we first met Amy and Rory, we also met the Eleventh Doctor. At the time, in the review for The Eleventh Hour, I wrote that the new Doctor was “bloody bonkers… the new Doctor (wonderfully known to the Leadworth locals as “The Raggedy Doctor”) stumbles and collides with scenery, furniture and structures, and looks as though he hasn’t the faintest idea if what he’s doing is going to work.” What wasn’t apparent at the time was how much Matt Smith would grow into the role, taking the Time Lord from a fairly youthful 27 to a being who looks like he’s in his forties. There is something in Smith’s performance, something that has been growing since those first episodes, a developing authority and – dare I say it – gravitas that comes down hard when he easily switches from light to dark, much like two of his most illustrious forebears, Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker. I’m a Fourth Doctor man myself, despite soft spots for eight, nine and ten, but if Smith carries on like this, I’ll really have to give it all a big rethink.
He really is quite magnificent.
In the end, of course, despite the thrilling return of the Weeping Angels and the compelling performances of Matt Smith, The Angels Take Manhattan is Amy and Rory’s story, and the pair of actors responsible for bringing these two to life since 2010 are on top of their game. Sure, there’s a slightly difficult moment when Rory “goes ahead”, denying us and the Doctor the opportunity to say goodbye and shed a well-wrung tear for the old plastic Roman, but then again, he’s died so many times it would be gratuitous.
Instead, the focus is rightly on Amy Pond. Karen Gillan and her cousin Caitlin Blackwood’s Girl Who Waited are the main focus of the final moments of the episode, tying everything up with the last page in the book with the little girl whose name sounds like something out of a fairytale.
It could be argued that the majority of Series 7a has been a largely flat affair, constrained by a lack of two parters and its self-imposed “movie theme”, aping its ITV competitor The X Factor. The forthcoming, much publicised departure of the Ponds can also be partially blamed for this. Whether these episodes will stand up on their own two feet when rewatched with the benefit of our departure anticipation overcome is yet to be seen; by rights, they should be able to step out of the shadow of The Angels Take Manhattan and breathe alone.
Either way, topped and tailed by two excellent episodes, Series 7a will forever be remembered as the one in which the Weeping Angels took Amy and Rory. For Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill to be remembered with such a powerful departure is fantastic. They’ve been great from day one, with Darvill being consistent throughout and Gillan being outstanding whenever the script required it. As nuWho’s longest companions they will be missed; around longer than Rose Tyler, Amy Pond is a heroine to little girls and boys across the UK. Let’s not overlook this.
Curiously, The Angels Take Manhattan didn’t make me cry. It almost squeezed a tear out, when the full gravity of the danger was realised, but by then, of course, it was too late. What the episode did do, however, was remind me why the Ponds and the Doctor worked so well together. The Power of Three has ended – it’s time to look to the future, and the Power of the Oswins…