You don’t believe that statues can move. And you’re right – they don’t... when you’re looking.From the moment that you hear these words you know you’re dealing with the Weeping Angels, and thus you’re in for something that could go either way. Will it be an all time classic like Blink or will it be an extremely mixed bag like Flesh & Stone?
I’d say The Angels Take Manhattan ranks closer to the Blink end of the spectrum, and while it’s easy to give full credit to Steven Moffat for that I think we should also turn attention to the director Nick Hurran. From that pre-credits sequence as we follow a detective through Manhattan to a mysterious hotel, to that ending as Matt Smith runs down the pathway to grab the final page blowing in the wind, Hurran finds something intuitive to do with it. He crafts a brilliant mix of film noir, detective drama and claustrophobic horror that comes together in a neat package which pushes the series mythos forward in style. His work here coupled with earlier in the season for Asylum of the Daleks proves that he knows how to send the audience scrambling for room behind the sofa.
It helps that the visuals are so brilliantly realised here. Set almost entirely at nighttime this episode is not just dark tonally. Allowing for a flash of lightening so that you can see where a statue is and then another flash to reveal it’s moved. The sets like the top of the Winter Quay with its big neon sign lighting up the Statue of Liberty’s fangs. That moment when the TARDIS is initially unable to land in the right year and gets blue static surrounding it. WHEN YOU SEE RORY’S NAME ON THE GRAVE AND REALISE IT’S YOUR FAULT IT’S A FIXED POINT BECAUSE YOU SAW IT. As brilliant as Steven Moffat is for coming up with it, we must be thankful to have it realised so well. In the hands of either a lesser production crew or a lesser writer this episode simply would not work.
The Angels Take Manhattan has one huge thing in its favour in the form of the book. A unique plot device as the characters learn that the events of a book we see the Doctor reading are actually taking place for them with themselves as the characters. It opens the door to a fascinating and unique way to tell a story leading to some classic Moffatty “timey-wimey” with the use of chapter titles as spoiler-free hints of what’s to come… Amy read it in a book so now I have no choice. Incorporating something like that into the story in such a way that it doesn’t feel like a forced gimmick is a clever move on Moffat’s part and the way the book is such an intrinsic and fundamental element to that plot is something to be praised.
Now allow me to contradict myself because a big presence in this story that it doesn’t need is the person whose book this is: Melody Malone, a pen name for River Song. I’ve mentioned a lot in the past that I always enjoy it when River shows up and I love the way Alex Kingston plays the part. The trouble is that until now she’s always had a reason to be in the story, this time she doesn’t. The story role that she fills could be filled instead by literally anyone so there’s absolutely no reason to have her there. This doesn’t add to her character arc like everything so far with her in it, and in a fairly overstuffed story like this one there’s no need to add to it any more than what’s absolutely necessary, so River didn’t need to be included.
Not to mention that seeing her at the story’s end encouraging her mother to effectively commit suicide is somewhat unsettling.
I love River Song and always will, but there’s just no reason to have her here.
Another issue I take with this story is one you can probably see coming: the Statue of Liberty is a Weeping Angel. Having one of the most iconic landmarks in the world come to life and walk around New York probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but in practise it’s a plot-hole. How did it move there in the first place? This is one of the most iconic landmarks in the entire world so how can there ever be a moment when no-one can see it? It looks great in the episode with its huge fangs and evil look, a fantastic bit of design work, but I can only suspend disbelief so far. If you’re going to rip-off Ghostbusters then use the original, don’t go to the sequel for inspiration!!!
It’s a shame because the Angels are otherwise at their best. Flesh & Stone had them as a gang of murderous psychos, this is a nice return to form and more in the same vein as Blink but with a twist in that now they’re running a battery farm. The victims are moved through space first to the Winter Quay hotel and then sent back in time continually without leaving the building so as to be used for time energy over and over again. Manhattan, the human jungle, is the perfect place for them to feed so it makes perfect sense. In fact I’d say that the way the Angels are presented here actually outdoes what we saw in Blink even if the story as a whole doesn’t quite manage it.
There are some who think that the Weeping Angels are overused – nonsense of course, excluding cameos they’ve only had three stories – or shouldn’t have returned after Blink. I disagree and the brilliant way they manage to be scarier than ever in this story is proof of that.
The Angels Take Manhattan is of course about so much more than just bringing back the Weeping Angels. It’s about killing off Amy and Rory. In this story Rory dies twice and Amy once before both die one more time, and this time it’s permanent.
In this day and age when spoilers are sure to show up online it annoys me that endings like this can’t be surprises any more. Nobody watching Earthshock the first time around expected Adric to die, that’s what made it so shocking when he did and why it can still make even the most hardened of viewers cry to this day (though whether the tears were of sadness or joy is another matter). You don’t get that here because it had been announced almost a full year in advance.
As well as that, why is their story still going? It should have ended back in The God Complex when the Doctor dropped them off at home, with Closing Time and The Wedding of River Song serving as an extended farewell. But instead we had them come back for the first half of series seven. I’ll admit that the way the story finishes with them facing the end together side-by-side after the touch of an Angel, as well as the epilogue that Amy leaves for the Doctor to reassure him, is a brilliant way to do it and will tug at your heartstrings but it feels like it could all have been avoided if Moffat hadn’t insisted on stringing them along for longer than necessary.
And then there’s the supposedly nonsensical ending: since the Doctor can’t go back for them in New York why doesn’t he rescue them somewhere else? A favourite one for those who like to pick holes, I couldn’t write about this story without picking up on it. It is however an extremely easy question to answer because their graves are in New York. He could rescue them anywhere at any time but he saw their graves in New York so a paradox would still be there. If you’re going to pick holes in something at least check if an explanation is offered in the show before you start!
What we have then with The Angels Take Manhattan is a story to bring the end of an era in an exciting and emotional way. Watch it today and be moved by how close the Ponds got to escaping and how devastating it is to have one of the greatest ever TARDIS crews pulled apart. This is not Doctor Who for newbies but for the fans, and we, as fans, should be pleased that the end to the Ponds’s story, late though it is, is so well handled by all involved. Moffat, Smith, Gillan, Darvill, Kingston and Hurran all give it their best and it pays off.
This is the story of Amelia Pond and this is where it ends.
When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.