The Angels Take Manhattan

TV Where do we go from here? More’s to the point where do I go from here? As I type it’s half-eight, about twenty minutes since the episode ended and I’ve little or no idea what to write or at least how to write this. There’s the autopilot version of course and you’ve been subjected to a few of those in the past, but at this point I’m not entirely sure what I thought of the episode and just this once pretty thankful that I’m not writing about it for a professional publication because then it really would be the autopilot version. Or the autowriter. Is that a better word? Is that even a word? As you can see my confidence is shot to pieces. So I’m just going to keep typing and hope that something emerges.

Did you cry? I cried. Of course I cried. More than any other series, more even than classic who, the loss of a companion’s always sad and it’s not happened for a bit. The last time a companion left the series was Donna in 2009 and we all remember what that was like. Well ok technically she was back for The End of the World but she wasn’t the same character really and anyway it for the Tenth Doctor’s moment. But the loss of a character in a franchise you love is like losing a friend if the fiction’s been rendered cleverly enough and the Ponds have been oh so cleverly rendered. Indeed, more than most companions in recent memory, despite everything which has happened to them, they’ve been the most realistic, least larger than life.

We all know an Amy or have done. We all know a Rory or have done. In writing both, too, Moffat rose above his previous tendency to make them glib, a trait he’s surprisingly carried over to Sherlock too. As identification characters go, they were the formula one racing car of companions. Or are. The tenses in this are going to become confusing too. Incidentally also I’ll offer some apologies for any cracked punctuation or missing links. For the first time in ages, I’m just going to write this stream of whatever it is. I hesitate to use the word consciousness since that create too many expectations, but yes, as it stands this is going to be posted as it is. Unless there’s some glaring factual error in which case I’ll just add it in at the end.

Sorry I’m straying off point. Amy and Rory and why we loved or love them and why we care that they’re gone. Of course they were technically gone before at the end of The God Complex. Back then I asked us to imagine if that had been the character’s final moment in the series (even though they were clearly going to be back the following week) and part of me wishes it had been. Functionally, the closing moments of The Angels Take Manhattan simply restate what was said back then and it was just as melancholy in its own way. Part of me wishes this had just been a repeat of that, the Doctor had just dropped them off home one final time without some last minute cruel twist. That happened surprisingly often in the old days.

Part of me also wishes this had been a bit of a Dodo. What if they’d simply not appeared in the next episode or just wandered off in the middle with the flu/VD. Imagine if for episode five he’d just turned up with some other companion, possibly Oswin, and then bravely never explain what happened during his final adventure with Amy and Rory. We’d always wonder. Fan fiction would be written an in thirty years officially license books or audio plays would be written to explain the gap. Big Finish are telling us again the Sixth Doctor’s first adventure with Mel. What if, like the time war, we simply received little breadcrumbs here and there. Hints and allegations. I used to travel with these friends, don’t any more. That sort of thing.

Not necessarily satisfactory for Karen and Arthur of course, both of whom didn’t want to return but it’s not uncommon in series television. Mandy from the first series of The West Wing simply didn’t come back. We don’t even know if she survived the shooting in the season finale and while long forgotten characters turned up for cameos in the final few episodes six years later, Mandy remained the character of which they simply don’t speak. When some of those characters dropped randomly from the series across the years they were affectionately described as going to Mandyland. Mandy never returned from Mandyland. CJ simply took over her duties as if they’d been hers for the whole of the first series, as though a new timeline had been created.

The problem is the loss of any companion isn’t satisfactory. That’s why Doomsday ended up as a rehearsal, Martha had an extensive afterlife beyond Last of the Timelords and Donna’s mind wipe seemed so inexplicably cruel. Structurally too, because of the design of this series with its stand alone stories, there’s not been that much build up to the moment either, no thirteen episodes of portents leading up to the given plus one not dying. You could drop The Angels Take Manhattan directly after Asylum of the Daleks and the emotional beats would be much the same. Hell, you could have put it before Asylum and it would have largely meant much the same, apart from the obvious references to the Ponds aging.

I’ve just remembered the Doctor’s Adric speech in The Power of Three. Well perhaps that adds an extra level of sadness to this. Now Rory’s Dad’s all alone wondering if his son will ever return. Unless Rory wrote him a letter too, just as Kathy did to Sally in Blink, explaining what’s happened and asking him not to grieve. Perhaps there’ll be an episode in the final eight in which the Doctor pops back and passes on the message himself, though of late Eleventh’s seemed less and less thoughtful in that way. He never looks back in that way. He could drop in on any one of his old companions if he wanted to, but he doesn’t. He won’t. That’s what School Reunion’s about. But we’re in danger of forgetting that someone’s writing this. Again.

If The Power of Three was a celebration of the Russell T Davies era, The Angels Take Manhattan was Steven Moffat giving himself a similar service. Rory waiting and dying. Amy waiting. The Weeping Angels. River Song. Time paradoxes. I was talking to a friend earlier about how I wished Moffat would stop doing this, and perhaps he will. But if you’re going to steal from yourself, you might as well steal from the best episode you ever written even if you’ll never quite manage to reach that pinnacle again and you somehow know that. Maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt and wonder if he decided that if he was writing these characters out, he might as well do so in a way that commemorates the narrative they’ve lived in.

The nuts and bolts of it. Well, like I said, I sobbed. The gutsiness of utilising suicide as a plot device again and also in a way which means they must have had some fun with BBC compliance which they must know will draw complaints from a right wing press attempting to deflect attention from the things which matter in the world. Perhaps the BBC’ll point to the fact that it might have worked in theory, but in practice the web of time still had its revenge as it so often does, just as it did in The Waters of Mars. Time can be rewritten but there are always consequences. The mechanics of how they could remember time changing weren’t really explained but it’s wibbly-wobbly isn’t it? Timey-whimey?

Notice how the gravestone didn’t have dates so we’ll always wonder when exactly they made their new home. I suppose the extra tragedy is that Amy lived on for five years after Rory’s death, unless she dropped in five years before him and they died together. Or the fake dates of birth they chose didn’t quite match. Perhaps on reflection I was reading more into that than I need to when it provoked the extra blub. Who makes these choices? Was it in Moffat’s script or the design team? Props? Did they even think of the implications of the date mismatch anyway? Like everything else in this episode, in every episode, such details will be poured over until some production subtitles on a future dvd release reveal the answer.

Sorry, I forgot to talk about the scene on the roof. It paralleled strongly the “I waited 2000 years for you” conversation in Asylum, roundly criticised because in pointing out his sacrifice, Rory tainted it somehow. I didn’t disagree, but this moment certainly redeemed it. The acting’s superb. Every time we assume we’ve seen everything these two can accomplish, they accomplish something else and that achievement’s ever the greater because thanks to the vagaries of episodic television production this forty-five minutes was filmed before The Power of Three. Which reminds my of Tasha Yar’s exit in Star Trek’s The Next Generation in which her rubbish death episode Skin of Evil oozed out before Symbiosis.  I still love that she waved away in the back of her final scene, grinning directly to camera and they left it in.  Unless its been edited out for the blu-ray.  I hear there's some of that happening.

Perhaps this exits a bit Katarina. The Doctor didn’t really get to say goodbye. Neither he or we certainly didn’t get to say goodbye to Rory who popped back in time for the shock value, though he arguably got his big exit scene jumping off the building. Amy did but again, as I’ve said, no great episodal build up, no foreshadowing as such. But they’re not really gone. Like River it seems, who’s older version of herself popped in at the close of The Wedding of River Song after The Time of the Angels in her personal timeline, we can visit the characters still through blu-rays and the pile of spin-off media which most of us won’t have had a chance to catch up on. I’m yet to pick up all but two of the novels.

The autopilot version of this ramble would have talked about New York and it’s important that I still do, I think, because the first five or ten minutes are as blissful as the location shoots for City of Death, these characters in such familiar settings. Painted the image would be extraordinary, yet there they are wandering around the real Central Park. Where once Noughties production team were just pleased to have some plates from Doctor Who Confidential and a wall which looked relatively similar to the one at the base of the Statue of Liberty, this found them crossing the real Time Square. The rationale was apparently that it was just as expensive to shoot there than recreate the thing in Cardiff. Good rationale.

I’m amazed at just how Doctor Who’s penetrated the US psyche in the past few years. Even though its still only watched on average by a million and a half people on BBC America, it’s now become as much a part of the genre discussion as the big US franchises with jokes turning up on sitcoms and most bizarrely in the promo for Sesame Street, Grover and Cookie Monster dressed as the Doctor and Amy menaced by an inflatable Dalek. If they’re being parodied by Sesame Street, they’ve made it. Hundreds apparently turned up for the New York shoot, even more than for some of the Cardiff shooting early on. That’s extraordinary and really sold the idea that the scenes in the past were still in New York.

Perhaps that’s the oddity. For all the preview photographs, much of the episode is set in the late 30s on the eve of World War II. Is that disappointing? Perhaps it is, but understandable since there’s presumably more period buildings around Cardiff for pick-ups, though without Confidential to guide us its difficult to tell exactly what was shot anywhere. But more importantly the Angels fitted in well with the 30s gothica, where such architectural details seem more present rather than hidden amongst the modernist hell of the gleaming glass skyscraper. The Angels battery farm wouldn’t necessarily have been as scary if it had been one of those quasi-hotel residential nightmares which are becoming the luxury norm.

Is this it for the Angels? Have they been “done”. As is often the case with returning monsters, the battery farms is another strategy we’ve been introduced to, as was their emergence in other designs including the statue of liberty, somehow, but arguably, yes they have. To an extent Blink was the final word too. As was Jonathan Morris’s novel Touched by an Angel, with its One Day structure. The potential for living ones self to death is still horrific if done as well as in the teaser for this episode (another 2001 reference this series, a younger man meeting his older self) but it has been done, probably because it’s a more prosaic end than extermination or assimilation. Perhaps as well as the Ponds this’ll be the last hoorah for the Angels.

I’m flagging by the way. It’s ten minutes past ten now. What next? River. She’s a professor now and watch the look in the Doctor’s eyes as he recognises the significance of that (nicely remembered and played by Matt). She lacks some fans, but I love River Song just as much as she loves the Doctor. Partly its because I’ve fancied Alex Kingston since e.r. (and wasn’t she a joy on Who Do You Think You Are The Other Week? “This morning I found my inner Jew, and this afternoon I found my inner whore.”) but mostly because there are few characters on British television who’re both emotionally and narratively complex. Unlike US tv, with shows like Fringe, we tend to choose one or the other.

Some had considered that this might be her final episode too, but that’s too much baggage for forty-five minutes. When and if we reach the moment when the Doctor turns up on her doorstep for a final time (this is where I broke off and wrote the final two paragraphs) (I’m back again now) they’re going to want to have give it the necessary significance and make it count. That she had been given her professorship suggests he is heading towards a resolution, she’s not going to linger about for years like the Brigadier but hopefully not until she’s met Oswin. I’m already salivating over the scenes when she explains her origins or at the very least the Doctor tells her about Donna. We’ve not seen that conversation yet either.

So yes, Mike McShane. The chains around the Angel would seem to indicate his character Grayle is a lo-fi nod to Van Statten in Dalek, as would his testing of the statue to see if it felt pain. He’s another example of what would have been the Olivier effect if JNT had gotten his way, the well respected actor in a tiny role because it needs to be eye catching. He really just exists to be a point of contact for the River and the Doctor, but he is entertaining and he had a decent pratfall and death screen. Having previously appeared in pretty much every major tv show on either side of the Atlantic, it’s nice that he’s finally made it into who even in this small role. Yes, I did run out of things to say here.

Well this is all feeling terribly inadequate and self-indulgent. I should probably be watching The Thick of It instead. I’m glancing at Dan’s review at The Guardian and he’s noticed, presumably because he’s had longer to think about it thanks a preview viewing, River’s timeline’s a bit of a mess and that Amy and Rory could travel to a different city in the past and be picked up. But I’m guessing because New York’s still an epicentre for the time disturbances, the time paradox would still have an effect there. Or something. That’s also about the only Sting track I can stand. I’m afraid Daleks in Manhattan probably still happened too.  It's set earlier.  So the bizarre inclusion of a football goal still stands.  And the pigs can have a life too ending.

There’s probably much to say about the mis-en-scene of the episode, how what are presumably the fingers of River in the future writing the episode are superimposed over everything providing the episode titles. The sepia pallet like the fading pages of one of the pulp novels River’s writing contrasting with the very realistic colour of the contemporary scenes. The production design too is another triumph from Michael Pickwoad who’s become an indispensable asset in the production design department. Oh and Nick Hurran’s direction, utterly understanding the terror inherent in blackness, timing perfectly Rory’s match scene for maximum scares. Oh and Murray, dear Murray, recalling all of his major musical themes.

You know, I think I am going to get this posted and go and watch the Thick of It then regret having run roughshod over this whole process. Expect more paragraphs appended to the bottom tomorrow or whenever I can trust myself to see it again. Perhaps I’ll just watch those blissful opening minutes in Central Park again and again in a loop. They’re a reminder of just how perfect the chemistry between these three actors has become and how much we’ll feel the loss come Christmas, even more so than last Christmas because we know they’re not returning. How will Matt’s performance change? Will we see him, like Tom, change emphasis over the period of his tenure. More sober? More manic? We’ll see.

I’m writing this final paragraph now so I’ll know how I want to end it. Everything between the second River paragraph and here is filling in. Anyway, it’s with little Caitin on her luggage. Oh the discussions we had about that in 2010. When she looks up to the sky and grins, was it a dream sequence, or was she being visited? How did Amy have all those stories about her raggedy man, enough to make toys at least after just that brief visit. Fish fingers and custard? Well now we know. Oh Moffat, you brilliant, brilliant writer. Does that mean Amy knew about her adventures before she had them? Why would she be the girl who waited in the rebooted universe with all the cracks filled in?

Such questions are “unimportant”. The point is Moffat found a way of wrapping up Amy’s story without wrapping up the Doctor’s. We still don’t know how Silence will fall when the question is asked – it can’t be just the Dalek’s reaction it has to be everywhere else. Why are the opening credits getting progressively darker? What about the ducks in the duck pond in Leadworth? Why is the Doctor becoming quite so morally ambiguous and will simply having someone travelling with him solve that? And how will Oswin appear? Who is she? We’re still nine episodes away from the 50th Anniversary. Now I’m going back up a few paragraphs to fill in the gap. I’ve not even talked about Mike McShane yet. I wonder what it will say/will have said.

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