California Literary Review

Doctor Who Recap: ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ (Season 33/Series 7, Episode 5)


September 30th, 2012 at 11:54 am

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Doctor Who: The Angels Take Manhattan


A Pond Farewell

We begin in a 1930s detective novel, following a Sam Spade-a-like through the mean streets of New York on the track of some moving statues. Cue some nice set-up shots of the Statue (hint hint) of Liberty and a spooky building called Winter Quay where everything seems to move by itself. Our gumshoe comes face to face with his older self and then runs for the roof pursued by the Weeping Angels. There he finds… well, let’s just say I felt like somebody should have called the Ghostbusters.

Once again, I found myself reacting very ambivalently towards this episode. I was both sad and pleased to see the Ponds leave – they’ve been great fun, but it was time to move on. I think the angels are wonderful monsters, even now I still jump a bit when someone turns round to find one looming over them; however, someone seems to have got a bit sloppy with the mythology surrounding them. Indeed the plot seemed to be so full of holes it resembled a Swiss cheese, and it was certainly cheesy enough in places.

The main premise was that the Doctor was reading a book he found in his jacket pocket that, when Rory and River turned up in it, was found to be about their own future. He and Amy go rushing off to Manhattan in 1938, via the Qin dynasty because apparently you can hit 1938 and bounce off. Meanwhile Rory the Roman is being thrown to the baby angels, which River doesn’t seem too bothered about. Father issues? Amy has been reading ahead, which causes all sorts of chaos because apparently once you’ve read about the future it’s fixed… ummm, since when? Cue soppy moment between River and the Doctor, everyone getting cross for some unclear reason, and then a mad rush to Winter Quay to save Rory, who’s getting into the same pickle as our erstwhile gumshoe. In order to get out of this fix they have to create a paradox to poison the food source of the angels, temporal energy. Well, whenever I think about paradoxes they give me a headache so they probably would cause chronic indigestion. More soppiness on the roof, along with one of Rory’s best lines yet: ‘I always wanted to see the Statue of Liberty; I guess she got impatient.’ Hurray, we’re all back where we started, except now Rory’s been zapped again and there goes Amy after him, bye bye Ponds.

Now, I have various problems with this, the main one being, why on Earth can’t the Doctor see them again? Alright, he might not be able to get back to 1938, but there are a whole lot of other years. After all, even if the Ponds do have to die back in the past, surely he could just go and fetch them when they were a couple of years older and drop them back in the right place later. Clearly River could get back there because she had Amy publish the Melody Malone book that caused half the problems in the first place. Which leads me to my second question, why would she use the chapter title ‘Amelia’s Last Farewell’ when she’s already seen the state he gets into about it? And who is the gumshoe in relation to her? How did she know about him? What was the point of Grayle sending him to Winter Quay? Why did she write him into her book in the first person when it’s about Melody Malone? What has she been doing hanging around as Melody Malone anyway and if she was back in time playing detective, how did she come to be following Rory in 2012? Also, how likely is it, really, that their picnic basket with the last page of the book in would still be sitting untouched and alone in the middle of Central Park?

How would breaking River’s wrist make it any easier to get her hand out of the angel’s grasp? After all, it doesn’t make her hand any smaller or the angel’s grip any looser. Furthermore, half the time no one seems to be looking at the angels and yet they don’t move. The one holding River, for instance, has no one observing her, but remains stationary. The Statue of Liberty doesn’t move when Rory and Amy blink or look away from it on the rooftop. The ones in the corridor downstairs are looking at each other and yet don’t become quantum-locked as a result. Given that it has been well established in previous episodes what the abilities and weaknesses of the angels are, it seems sloppy not to have worked within this framework.

Despite all these issues I did enjoy most of the episode. I loved the Doctor’s idea of final checks, and am consumed with curiosity as to what in the TARDIS was made by Rolls Royce. The dialogue had a bit more zing to it than it has had in some of the recent episodes, and I always enjoy a bit of River Song. While somewhat unbelievable and inexplicable, it was a good ending to the Ponds’ story: they didn’t just choose to fade back into real life and we know they lived a good long life together, and yet I feel really sorry for Brian Williams sitting waiting for them to come home. For the first time I’m almost glad that they decided to split this series – I feel like no one was quite sure where they were going with this five-episode coda to the Pond sonata. I hope that the change in companion will add a bit more oomph and enable some new storylines, and am I the only one who would love to see Oswin’s mad Dalek bustling about the TARDIS looking for eggs… eggs… terminate?

  • Sarah59

    the angels weren’t looking at each other in the corridors, they were quite clearly either looking towards the wall or down at the floor. Please pay attention Ms Sample.
    The Doctor could see them again, but one emotional goodbye is enough.
    River can’t change the chapter title as it has already been written, hence them not reading the rest of the book. It has become fixed.
    River knew about the detective because she’s been researching him which led to her meeting with Rory.
    And finally, the picnic basket was still there because the Doctor returned to the same time as when he left it although Amy couldn’t be with him as she is now dead, to answer your next question.
    River broke her wrist to compress the bones so her hand could be more easily removed.
    there was always someone looking at the angels either directly or peripherally which also answers your statue of liberty query.
    I’m sure the Doctor has already considered Brian Williams and returned to tell him the story.
    Hope this clears up your confusion. It was quite simple really….

  • Kirsten

    Thanks for your comment, but I have to disagree with a few of your points. There was at least one clear moment when two angels were facing each other in a corridor without covering their eyes with their hands, looking at each other. I did watch it a couple of times. Furthermore, if I accept your point about seeing the angels through peripheral vision then they would definitely have seen each other causing them both to become quantum-locked. I don’t fully accept that there was someone looking at the angels all the time – on the roof there were moments when Rory and Amy were looking at each other exclusively, or Amy was looking at Rory while he looked up at the sky. I accept your point that this could have restricted their movement at other times though.

    Good point about the chapter titles, but it was never clearly explained why someone can’t choose to change the future, given that nothing is physically compelling them to act according to what has been read. If it’s that it would cause a paradox and destroy time and space etc, fair enough, but I’d just like that to have been clarified.

    The Doctor specifically said he couldn’t see them again, as in not possible. If he could see them again it wouldn’t have been such an emotional goodbye in the first place.

    The Doctor would have returned to nearly the same time, but it couldn’t have been exactly the same time or he would have met himself, plus he had to run to it so it’s not like he just dropped down next to it – some time elapsed. Even if the picnic basket hadn’t been nicked or thrown away in that time, it would still have been quite probable that a gust of wind could have blown away one flimsy little page laid on the top.

    Never having been very good at biology, I appreciate your clarification about the wrist, although I’m still at a loss to see how breaking the bones in the wrist makes it easier to compress the bones of the hand. Possibly I’m just showing exactly why I never got on with the subject.

    And yes, I’m sure the Doctor would have gone to tell Brian. Possibly I phrased my sentiment badly – I suppose I meant more that I felt sorry for him waiting for them to come home, then finding out they were never coming back, not being able to tell anybody where they’ve gone or why, never seeing his grandchildren, etc.

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