Review: Doctor Who – The Angels Take Manhattan


The Angels Take Manhattan

In Brief:

Detective Noir? Check. Pond Farewell? Check. Emotional? Very much check.

In Depth:

Beware: spoilers within.

At the close of David Tennant’s last episode of nuWho, the trailer for series 5 promised us that “The end is only the beginning” and before long we had Eleven, Amelia Pond, Rory Williams, space whales, Daleks, Weeping Angels, River Song, vampire fish, Dreamlords, Sontarans, River Song (again!), Romans and the list goes on…

And here we are again, at another ending, for now the end of the Ponds’ is nigh…

This is a beautiful episode in terms of setting, look, theme and atmosphere; this is very nicely assisted some more high quality musical scores from Murray Gold, and some brilliant work by returning director Nick Hurran; the production team also made a large portion of the filming for this episode over in New York, and this extra expense really helps to sell the episode as a genuine experience for a heartfelt piece. This is not an episode that uses a handful of establishing shots to say “Look at me! I’m in New York city”; instead the action shot in the real New York is woven gently into the narrative of the story and very nicely bookending (once we are past the opening credits) the episode, you could say.

It helps make the transition into the production team created world of 1930’s New York that much more believable; speaking of which, what a glorious pre-opening credits teaser for the episode. We follow a detective in 1930’s New York as he investigates, for a local gangster, an apartment block inhabited by statues that can move when you’re not looking… The Weeping Angels are most definitely back, and they have regained some of their “Blink” scare tactics, as the episode feels a lot more claustrophobic as Team TARDIS are trapped by fate as it were, and they also get a new twist as Moffat has introduced Weeping Angel Cherubs, who, unlike their silent counterparts, giggle creepily when they cannot be seen…

The Angels have also returned to their original method of murder – transporting their victims back through time and/or space, and feeding off the subsequent temporal energy of the life that would have been lived… and the opening teaser shows us this trait so powerfully, you can’t help but worry for the fate of the Ponds, and when the secret of the apartment block is revealed, oh it’s good…

Launching fresh off the back of last weeks “The Power of Three” was a good move because this episode, for Team TARDIS at least, starts off so warmly; Eleven and the Ponds, picnicking in Central Park with some good natured banter. Rory leaves for coffee, while Eleven reads a story to Amy, from a book he found in his jacket, the adventures of a private detective in 1938 New York, Melody Malone…

As Rory walks back with the coffees, a Cherub is shown to be following him, and as the Doctor reads from his book, he suddenly becomes aware that what he is reading is exactly what is happening to Rory, himself, Amy and now River Song (yes, she’s back but this episode is not about her, it’s about the relationship of the Ponds) at that moment. That story book, then becomes what the rest of the plot builds itself upon; for the more that Eleven and Amy read ahead, the more set in stone (pun not intended) Rory’s fate becomes… it’s another time-twisting, head scratching tale from Steven Moffat (his favourite, I’m sure) as he examines how much time can really be rewritten, and what makes a fixed point in time, fixed.

Actually more than  a few people who have watched this episode have commented on how powerless and almost useless Eleven becomes when he realises what is happening is unavoidable; there’s two scenes in particular that stand out in my mind more than others. First when Eleven tells Amy to stop reading ahead in the Melody Malone book, it might help them find Rory, but what if she reads that Rory dies – once it’s written, once Eleven knows it will happen, he believes it will be unavoidable. The second scene is more powerful, and focuses on Eleven and River Song – trying to get spoilers without reading the full book, Amy suggests the chapter titles; her suggestion saves Rory, but Eleven spies one titled “Amelia’s Final Farewell” – this moment breaks Eleven; and he becomes a creature of impotent rage, powerless, angry, hurting. River serves a gentle counterpoint at this moment…

“I know that face. Doctor, tell me what’s wrong!” 

And the reason is, he is powerless. He knows that sooner or later, all his companions will leave him; the only questions have ever been how and when. But seeing it written down, the Timelord, the ageless God, is out of control of the situation. Well played, Matt Smith.

Let’s talk about River for a moment; this is a delightful return to some of her more flirty roots. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed last seasons story about Melody Pond/River Song, but I’m very glad to see a return to the in and out and companion, that flirts and brings out a new side to the man she loves (I did enjoy the Doctor’s final checks as he goes to meet his wife). She’s not here though for more on her story though; this as much as her saying goodbye to her parents as it is for Eleven saying goodbye to his best friends.

But it’s also the revelations she brings about; she’s now Professor Song (the Library comes ever closer) and she’s also been pardoned, a long time ago, for the murder of the best man she ever knew, because apparently, he never existed. We’ve had some hints of this so far this season (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship) but here it is confirmed that Eleven has been going around and deleting knowledge about himself from databases… 

“You told me I got too big…”

And now let’s talk about the Ponds; oh little Amelia Pond, how you’ve grown. You were a little girl two and a half years ago, then you ran away with a strange Raggedy Man on the eve before your  wedding to the man you love. You saw opportunity and adventure and you took it, and then when you apparently lost the man you love (Amy’s Choice) you chose to risk death because a life without him, without Rory Williams, was too much to bear 

I suppose, thinking about it, the way this story is set up, your choice was always going to be unavoidable.

Rory Williams, from the moment he’s touched by an Angel and thrown back in time, you worry about his fate. When we’re in the apartment block, and Team TARDIS, sees another version of Rory, old and dying in bed, coupled with Eleven turning away from the scene, not wanting to watch even though he’s seen too much already, his fate seems certain. And then Amy Pond, sorry, Williams, steps in – there’s a chance, a slim, near impossible chance, that if Rory can escape this fate, it would create a paradox, which would wipe the apartment block, the Weeping Angels from existence and stop the whole chain of events from ever occurring in the first place.

Like grabbing the hand of the man she loves, she takes this chance and Rory embraces it with her and they escape to the roof (enter the Statue of Liberty as a giant sized Weeping Angel; it’s cute but don’t think about it too much…) and then we get a touching, emotional scene between the lovers… Rory knows they cannot escape, at least not together, the Angels want him, but if he dies now, jumping off the edge of the building, causality is cheated, the paradox is created, and he might live again.

“For you, I can do anything.”

Amy chooses, of course, to fall with him; there are no guarantees, only hope, and she will not live a life without the man she loves 

“Together. Or not at all.”

Success! The paradox is created, everything resets and we find ourselves back in 2012, the whole of Team TARDIS together again. Naturally.

And then divided forever. Naturally.

A lone Weeping Angel has survived the paradox. It has found the team and once again Rory is thrown back in time; no big goodbye, just here and then gone. Eleven cannot follow in the TARDIS. Too many time distortions, a paradox that shouldn’t exist. He is so sorry, Amelia will have to live without her Centurion. But she won’t. She can’t, and much as before, she chooses to follow her man over the edge into the past through an Angels touch where they can live out their lives together…

That scene on the rooftop is really Rory, and by extension Arthur Darvill’s, goodbye scene. He plays it very confidently; he is funny, charming, brave and loving – Rory has always been capable of the greatest feats for his one true love, and his willingness to sacrifice himself for her has always been his best trait. It’s a damn shame we are robbed of a tender/emotional farewell for his character with Eleven and it’s not something I would have call a necessary move either. 

But then we don’t always get what we want, and I think that lack of satisfaction can be a good thing in some ways – always leave us wanting more.

And then there’s Amy’s goodbye; she gets two really.

There’s the moment before she chooses to follow Rory into the past, without Eleven or River, is a powerful one and Karen pulls at all the right heartstrings. It’s very quick, it’s very sudden; she holds her hand out to her daughter, and tells her to look after her husband, she has no time for heartfelt speeches. There’s just a reaction in the heat of the moment – it’s very Amy Pond, and it’s also very right given everything that has come before.

And then there’s her epilogue, her afterword of sorts. It’s very sweet; it’s not a particular long one but it carries long after she’s finished speaking. It’s the last page of the Melody Malone novel (early on the Doctor makes point of ripping out the last page, he doesn’t like endings you see), so Eleven reads it to himself, back in Central Park (bookends, get it?) as she tells him they were happy, and gives him the words he needs to move on, and then we get a very nice call back to the start of little Amelia Ponds journey – another story at an end.

“Hello old friend. And here we are. You and me, on the last page.”

I suppose thinking about it, the fact that this is a story, and this episodes hinges around a book that tells their fate, is what Steven Moffat’s been writing about all along; Eleven was always Amy’s Raggedy Man, he came back to life after rebooting the universe through telling Amy his story as a fairytale that she would remember on her wedding day; and here it is again, in black and white. The last page of this story, of Amelia Ponds story.

And that’s that – it’s not an all out, universe saving, explosion filled affair; it’s a much more emotional and personal story; I loved Eleven’s selfishness at full force as Amy chooses to go back with her husband at the end of the story, he almost begs her to stay with him, and it brings a real sense of irony to their lovely banter at the start of the episode where she jokingly suggests that she needs to get a babysitter for him.

Am I entirely happy with their exit? I know it came at the right time and I’m definitely looking forward to a new companion, and the new story just waiting to be told… Personally I don’t think it thematically fits with what came before; Amy and Rory struggling to adapt to a life half in and half out of the TARDIS… but I suppose there’s some irony in having that choice taken away from them…

For this reviewer, I would have been far more satisfied, if after this last adventure, after surviving against all the odds once more, Amy chooses to leave the TARDIS life to never have to face the chance of losing her husband again. Her sacrifice for him if you like.

It also makes some thematic sense given that, given that we’ve had a few references to how Amy is unable to have any more children due to the events of “A Good Man Goes to War” I thought we might be heading into territory where she becomes miraculously pregnant and chooses not to potentially have another incident where her baby is taken from her… or given that the episode is set in New York and the newly regenerated Melody Pond/River Song from the end of “Day of the Moon” would end up there in the 60’s, perhaps both Amy and Rory would end up in a  timey-wimey shenanigan where they DO end up raising her as a young girl, in the 60s, and are also responsible for bringing her over to England to live in Leadworth with their younger selves! Phew!

Complicated? Yes! But I really thought that’s where we were heading…!

This ending though did give us some beautiful moments; all the aforementioned, but particularly the powerless Eleven scene as he rages against his inability to avoid their fate, and some very quiet but personally affecting scenes as River reveals how badly the Doctor deals with the aging of his friends (did he really not notice her glasses, or was he pretending not to notice to not show how uncomfortable it made him?), and his distaste for endings…

At the end of the day, their ending is now written. I have questions (how does the Melody Malone book get into Eleven’s pocket?!), I have quibbles (why can’t he just go and look them up in New York in 1940?!) but I can also use my own reasoning; perhaps Eleven chooses not to go looking for them, he’s left them behind once for their own good (The God Complex), why can’t he do so again?

What I do know is that I was moved by this episode; it told a very different story to the best episode of this series so far, Asylum of the Daleks, but it was no less powerful, or affecting, if anything it was more so; and I will miss both Rory and Amy, Arthur and Karen.

And I think that’s all I need – bravo Mr Moffat, congratulations Arthur and Karen.

4 and a half last pages sitting in picnic hampers out of 5.

Next Time

Christmas. The Doctor. Jenna-Louise Coleman. How many weeks is that?!


Do you agree with me? Do you disagree? Let us know, we love a good discussion here at Sci-Fi Heaven!


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