Angel Bob here … Terribly sorry sir, but there will be spoilers…
So was it worth the wait?
For those of you who have missed the previous instalments of these reviews, when these two episodes first aired, I was off gallivanting around Florid far from the reach of either the BBC or its iPlayer. And rather than *ahem* acquire them and watch the return of the Weeping Angels on a tiny netbook screen, I opted to wait until I had returned to Blighty.
Now the obvious upside of this plan, was that essentially I had a feature length dose of Doctor Who to come home to. But an unexpected bonus was that I got view a ‘clean’ version of The Time of Angels - that is a version without the climatic speech at the close of the episode destroyed by the appearance of a cartoon dancing ponce…
Now I shall refrain from ranting further on ‘Nortongate’ except to say that it was obviously a travesty of broadcasting. But it was also very heartening to see the flood of complaints from viewers which hopefully will stem the tide of the IIPs (in-program pointers) on British TV. And make no mistake, this kind of trailing and pimping over a program is a cancer - from my recent jaunt to the US, I noticed that since my last visit a couple of years ago, some channels have now become virtually unwatchable with an IIP appearing every five minutes. Finally on this subject, I would direct you to this article over at Den of Geek in which an industry insider comments on the whole affair.
Right, so having interrupted my own review with a Norton intrusion – that’s what we call real irony, class. Are you listening at the back? Yes, Morrisette, I do mean you girl! – let’s get back to the action…
And the downside of this plan? Well, two parters in new Who have had a tendency to deliver a strong first half and then crumble in the second. However the notable exceptions however were The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead which sprang from the pen of one Steven Moffat…
So again, was it worth the wait?
The short answer is a resounding ‘yes’! Moffat said that rather than just rehash the creepiness of Blink, he wanted to do something different with the Lonely Assassins and cited the tonal shift from Alien to Aliens as his template. And by Rassilion, he succeeded, and in fact I’d go as far to say he did a beeter job than James Cameron in moving a scary monster into an action realm. Don’t get me wrong, I love Aliens as much as the next man, but he did turn the xenomorphs into standard goons for the most part, with only the Queen retaining a level of menace equal to the lone creature in Ridley Scott’s film. Whereas Moffat’s returning Angels retain their creep factor and if anything are all the more horrifying with their new decayed features.
Frankly, this story was so good, it’s almost redundant to review it. It’s already been lauded to the high heavens and it would appear that the majority of people are hailing it as the best episodes new Doctor Who has produced thus far, and some even going as far as best story ever.
And while I’m not sure I’d go as far as to be dishing up the bestest ever awards just yet – I’m very wary of making such definitively grandiose claims so soon after the event, as time and perspective tends to make fools of those who do, the sheer quality of these two episodes are severely tempting me to transgress my own critical rules. So warily baring my neck to the wrath of Chronos and Terminus, I’d have to say that The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone wins hands down the Best Two Parter Ever medal from the judges at Hypnogoria.
That said though, and taking as read the heaps of praise for the script, performances and direction, I did have a few very little niggles. First up, are the ‘rules’ governing the angels themselves – I wasn’t entirely clear on how they were avoiding quantum locking each other – we have large numbers of angels in sight of each other here and in their first appearance Blink this was their undoing. Similarly, I wasn’t sure that the business with them not being sure if Amy could see them or not strictly made gelled with the lore either. However both of these quibbles can be easily swept away with the claim that these were ‘restoring’ angels – one could say that as they were not at full strength the rules of the quantum locking are not in full effect.
At the end of the day, they are Moffat’s own creation and hence the rules of their powers are entirely up to him. However I did feel that the addition of a line or two could have negated these niggles. But that said, those lines might still be in the post - the Moff has hinted that scenes in earlier episodes may be revisited later in a time-wimey fashion and in Flesh and Stone there is an instance that suggests this - if you go back to the scenes when the Doctor is leaving Amy alone, you’ll notice that his jacket reappears and his sleeves are rolled up. Obviously this could just be a glaring continuity error but considering the “remember what I told you when you were seven” dialogue and the rumours that Amelia Pond – the child Amy – is going to make another appearance suggests that this is on of the points we are going to revisit in a future story.
And speaking of future stories, I was very pleased by the elaboration of the River Song saga. When we first were introduced to this enigmatic character in Silence In the Library/Forest of the Dead, although I enjoyed the mystery of her future relationship with the Doctor, I did worry that Moffat had set up a loose thread that would flap about in the continuity for all time. However when it was confirmed that he would be taking over the reins from Russell T Davies, pencilling in an area of the Doctor’s future didn’t look like such a continuity hazard all of a sudden. And after the revelations this two parter brought, I now have no doubts that Steven Moffat has thought out the cross-temporal relationship between the Doctor and River Song very, very carefully.
Which neatly brings me to my final point for this review – the quality of the plotting of the series as a whole. When the crack reappeared on the TARDIS screen at the close of The Eleventh Hour and again on the hull of the Starship UK in the Beast Below, a few were groaning that this was yet another reiteration of the pseudo-story arc tactics of RTD i.e. insert a particular reference into every episodes and pass it off as a season wide story thread. And to be honest, I was off the same mind, thinking ‘here we go again’.
So then it was a fantastic surprise to find the cracks fleshed out and elaborated on in episode 5. Coupled with the time-wimey stuff mention above, and other hints that have been surfacing along with the cracks in each episode, it would appear that contrary to all expectations, we actually got a proper story arc being developed, one that is integrated into the plots of the individual episodes at a far deeper level than merely throwing in an signifying catchphrase now and then.
It’s still a bit early to say, but I also suspect that the stories themselves are going to mesh together thematically far more than we have seen previously in new Who. Certainly outside the ins and outs of the narrative concerns, there is a running theme of subverting expectations in this new series, of setting things up in a familiar manner and then turning them on their head. So we aren’t expecting the revelations about the cracks and the silence, and more than we were expecting the Daleks to survive and win, or The Beast Below to turn out to be more about Amy than the Smilers.
Overall this series of Doctor Who is certainly delivering the goods, and continuing to flex its muscles further week by week. And the only real problem with The Time of Angel/Flesh and Stone is that next week’s Vampires in Venice has one hell of a steep hill to climb…
JIM MOON, 9th May2010