Saturday, 29 September 2012
TV: Doctor Who Series 7 - The Angels Take Manhattan
So, only five weeks later, this latest batch of Who comes to a close. Not only that, but this episode writes out Amy and Rory Pond, the Doctor's companions who have been with the Doctor since his regeneration. With a extensive location shoot in New York and the return of popular and scary monsters The Weeping Angels, this episode promised much, but did it live up to the hype and did Amy, 'The Girl Who Waited', get a fitting send off?
Well to be honest - no. While there was much to enjoy in tonight's episode of Doctor Who it wasn't a classic. Yes it had some great moments but the emotional pull it so wanted the audience to experience just felt too rushed and manipulative (well to this reviewer anyway). Things started well, with a private detective hired by rich collector Grayle (Mike McShane) to investigate the building of the statues, Winter Quay. Once there he finds his own elderly self and is zapped by the Statue of Liberty, itself an angel. The episode also zings in its modern New York scenes, with our happy TARDIS trio reading and joking in Central Park before Rory gets himself banished to 1938 by a weeping cherub, an original new addition to the statue army. Soon Rory is with daughter River Song, posing as detective Melody Malone, while the Doctor and Amy head back to rescue him.
What follows is a frantic runaround but with no real plot - and this is the trouble. There's some explanation that the Angels have set up a farm in a hotel, in 'the City that never sleeps,' where they zap back visitors and then feed off their lives until they die, but the Angels really were a one hit wonder - fantastic in Blink but a real case of diminishing returns. They weren't really scary this week and the more stories they have the sillier they seem. The Statue of Liberty was a nice gag but one that obviously makes no actual sense - in the city that never sleeps the creature would never make it an inch, as it's one of the most observed and photographed statues in the world.
Out TARDIS crew find Rory in the hotel but also his elderly self. Rory sees himself die and the Doctor seems resigned to things. Why exactly? Didn't he burn off a supernova to send a love hologram to Rose? Doesn't this Eleventh Doctor rewrite history to suit him, having himself erased from memory? He's only this resigned to things because it suits the plot. If you think about it for too long it's just obvious that the Doctor would rescue them, and the Web of Time be damned. That's the kind of Doctor this one is. What follows is a rather overwrought finale where Rory goes to kill himself to create a paradox that will save the rest. I'm sorry but for all Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillen's great acting I just didn't feel the moment - it felt too contived and more than a bit daft. Every week the Doctor saves the day just by waving his little sonic about - and he probably could have done so here as well.
That Amy decided to jump with Rory was a nice touch and the image of them falling together was rather poetic and should have been it, but then Moffat completely ruined things by having that dreadful tacked on 'shock' ending where the pair actually survive and celebrate only for Rory to get zapped again. Amy decides to join him and Matt Smith gets to emote his heart out but I still didn't feel it. The thing is, though I'm critical by nature, I'm not made of stone - I welled up when Rose went and fell in love with Amy in The Eleventh Hour, but Moffat has once again undercut the drama by being too clever by half. The decision to make each episode standalone this year was also a mistake: spread over two episodes with a bit more plot and some space to breathe between all the sacrifices and deaths, this could have been a classic - as it is, it stands as another could have been.
So, it's goodbye to the Ponds and to a story that Moffat has written over three years of adventures. In terms of the characters' arc, the pair have gone through the wringer that makes the perils of Rose seem like small potatoes. Even more so than his presecessor, Moffat has tried to base stories around the companions and has had many successes but also failures. While the Series 5 thread of Amy having to choose between the Doctor and Rory was resolved well, ending in their wedding and with a married couple aboard the TARDIS, the ongoing plot of Series 6 was just too ambitious, what with Amy being a Ganger and then having a baby, which then turns out to be River Song, who then turns out to be their childhood friend whoe then ends up killing the Doctor and then marrying him, making the pair the Doctor's in-laws. Phew. While this is clever in a 'look how clever I am' way, it is not clever emotionally; having lost their baby, the Ponds just seem to quietly accept this and are back laughing and joking in the TARDIS. To anyone who is a parent (and Moffat is), this just isn't right. The Doctor is prepared to fiddle with Karzak's childhood timeline in A Christmas Carol yet not change things so his best friends can raise their child? This indifference to the situation undermines any of the drama and it was a problem with tonight's too.
This season has also been a bit of a mixed bag for the Ponds. While used well in Asylum of the Daleks, they were criminally sidelined in both Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and A Town Called Mercy, seemingly both on board purely because Moffat wants to save the new companion's proper arrival until Christmas. never had the pair been so generic. The Power of Three was much better, giving us a view of their changing lives and the dramatic they share with the Doctor. In many ways, the pair saying to the Doctor that they'd had enough and wanted to stop, effectively cutting him out of their lives, would have been as emotionally effective as all this malarky with the Angels.
However, let's give credit where it's due; Moffat may have fumbled their exit but the Ponds have been, on the while, a great pair of companions in Doctor Who. Even the bits where they've irritated or haven't worked is more to do with Moffat's insistance on constantly bringing back River Song, at the Ponds' expense. While we're talking about River, let's just say she was less annoying this time but still well past her sell by date. That Moffat failed here is more to do with how high he's set the bar and it must be remembered that it's his writing that has made Amy and Rory such beloved characters. It's nice to know that they had their lives together, wherever they ended up, and lived well into their 80s. There's no real tragedy in that, is there?
So, no Who until Christmas, the Ponds gone and Jemma Louise-Coleman waiting in the wings. We'll bid farewel to the Doc now, which is just as well because our favourite wizard is back next week!
GK Rating: ***