Doctor Who: The Time of Angels

Category: , , , , By Rev/Views

Mirrored from my original review over at (here)

The Tenth Doctor episode "Blink" is widely regarded as the high point in the Russell T. Davies era of nu-Who. It's a tightly scripted stand alone story that barely features the Doctor, instead following the experiences of a young lass called Sally Sparrow and her struggles against four of the most terrifying creations to ever grace the screens of British television. The Weeping Angels they were called, statues that would come to life and move when no-one is looking at them.

In addition to tapping into a primal human fear, the episode also played with time in an expert fashion, had fantastic dialog and gave us a lead character who was instantly endearing, so much so that many people (myself included) are hoping to see Sally Sparrow back on our screens sometime.

Fast forward to the final Tenant season – the one before the four specials that brought us the end of the Tenth Doctor – and we have a Moffat two-part story called "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead" that succeeded on two fronts. It was a tense and scary piece that once again reminded viewers that Doctor Who is a show about hiding behind the sofa while the action happens. It also introduced the character River Song, a mysterious woman who knew more about the Doctor than anyone else alive, but the Doctor had never met her before. In fact, as the story passed it became clear that this episode was the Doctor's first meeting with River Song and River's last meeting with the Doctor. This playing with the concept of time was another example of the extra level Moffat's writing brought to the show.

These three episodes are important because they set the background for this two-part story.

Now, before we start looking at the episode itself, it's time to talk about the elephant in the room and deal with the massive crime the BBC committed while the exciting episode cliff hanger was airing.

A picture paints a thousand words, so a short video must paint a million:

Fortunately most people won't have experienced that irritating piece of advertising. For those of you who don't want to spoil the end of the episode what happened was this: right at the tense and exciting end of the episode, an end which leads into the second part of the story, the BBC decided to cover the bottom of the screen with a brightly coloured cartoon Graham Norton. Now don't get me wrong, I rather like Mr Norton, but this piece of advertising ran completely against the mood of the episode and clearly undermines a scene that was quite brilliant.

Hopefully the BBC will learn from this mistake and won't repeat it. But we'll see, as they've been aggressively pushing their voting shows for quite some time now and I guess they want to pull in the Doctor Who demographic as well. Leaves me wondering if the actor playing the twelfth Doctor will be determined with a televised voting show; wouldn't that be an exciting piece of television?

Onto the episode itself...

Wow, just, wow. "Time of Angels" wasn't perfect, but it was pretty damn close, building on two of the best episodes from previous seasons which was quite a risk to take. Screwing it up would taint the other episodes to some extent as they would no longer stand alone. Likewise, bringing back the Weeping Angels was also a considerable chance to take, and I wasn't sure that they were suited for a return to the screen.

Let's go with the one weak point in the episode before we move on: River Song. Now I like the character, I quite like the time concept and I enjoy the coy way River keeps what she knows close to her chest. But I also found her quite irritating. Before, when Alex Kingston was acting opposite David Tenant, there was a bit of chemistry between them. There was something which instantly hinted at a connection between them, before even the plot and dialog took us there. Matt Smith on the other hand has absolutely no chemistry with Alex - this does work on one hand as he comes across as a young school boy afraid of the girl in his class who likes him. On the other hand The Doctor is at least a thousand years old and he does have a granddaughter, so it might just be fear of the future fuelling his actions.

Either way Matt and Alex don't work together on screen and that's a little disingenuous to experience. Still, it's the risk you take when you have one character that's reincarnated into an entirely new personality.

It's either that, or I just don't like Alex Kingston/River Song at all. I'm suspecting a little of both. I know I really disliked her handling of the TARDIS and the removal of the old landing noise. But I did enjoy the Doctor's indignant retort about how he likes that noise.

Onto the good stuff – pretty much the entire remainder of the episode. We have a fun bit that plays with the concept of time by having River leaving a message for the Doctor to find, knowing that eventually in his travels he will run into it. Then we're introduced to the religious military headed by Father Octavian. And we're off on a bug hunt.

The episode reminded me of Aliens, with a group of soldiers heading into a situation that turns out to be far more dangerous than they initially realised. I adore Aliens, it's one of my favourite movies, and The Time of Angels stands up alongside it quite well. It keeps the threat mostly out of sight, but that's the brilliance of the Weeping Angels, that they aren't a threat until they are out of sight.

The best moment in the episode occurs quite far in, when the Doctor is talking about the indigenous (and now extinct) native population of the planet, a pleasant race that all have two heads. The immediate understanding for the viewer comes – none of the statues have two heads – but realisation for the Doctor, Amy, River and the clerics comes slowly. As such, the moment where the Doctor realises that all of the statues are Weeping Angels contains a great deal of potency. Instead of being in there hunting one single Angel they are now trapped inside a mausoleum with hundreds or even thousands of Weeping Angels. That's the moment where everything really began to feel like Aliens "They're coming out of the God dam walls!"

I do feel that the cliff hanger at the end of the episode could have been edited a little better. I would have preferred a cut that ended with the Doctor shouting "Me" and pointing the gun upwards, having him actually fire the gun and seeing the impact on his target has revealed his escape plan already. I would have liked a week to speculate about it rather than be sitting here already able to predict how they'll escape.

Amy had a more prominent role throughout this episode, having time interacting with people other than the Doctor was great and it's now becoming clear that she's as weird as suggested in various interviews. I wasn't seeing it up until now. I still prefer Donna – she's my favourite of the nu-Who companions – but Amy has real potential.

The most important part of this story is the second part, now on one level the two part story has sort of failed. I'm not busy speculating on what's going to happen next week, but that's because the episode didn't end with the Doctor and the others in peril. It ended with them about to escape from peril. But on the other hand I have been begging for more two-part stories in the style of the original show and that's what "The Time of Angels" is. It is classic horror Who with a cast full of disposable characters and a nasty that's as unpleasant as it gets. It was exciting, it was tense, it was fun and it was full of greatness.

Depending on the second part next week this story could be one of the best we've had, it's certainly been set up well. If we were still in the Russell T. Davies era of Who I wouldn't be confident that the second part will be as good as the first. But we're not, and as such I feel confident in predicting that the second part will be even better.

Now we just have to wait for it... Darn.

Other Observations:

  • The initial external shots of the crashed ship were filmed in Southerndown beach - the same place was used in Army of Ghosts, Doomsday and Journey's End. It's one versatile beach!
  • If seeing an Angel and looking into its eyes has such a terrible effect on someone why wasn't Sally Sparrow harmed before? I can guess at the answers, but it's still a little piece of continuity that doesn't quite gel. Fortunately most other plot holes were explained away.

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