As I mentioned last week, it’s difficult to judge a two part story on a show like Doctor Who until you’ve seen the second part. This is in part because nu-Who tends to use the second episode to shift gears and drive the narrative in a different direction and in part because some of the ‘second parts’ have been pretty disappointing (“Daleks in Manhattan” anyone?).
I did feel quite confident that “Flesh and Stone” would be handled well; Moffat does seem to have a strong handle on the various tropes that work together well in order to produce a solid and enjoyable tale. “Flesh and Stone” continues this trend, delivering an episode that closes up “The Time of Angels” well and expands the storyline for the season by bringing certain key facts into focus for both the characters in the show and the audience.
First up, I guess that my concerns about ‘the cracks in time and space’ turning out to be a weakly designed plot device in the vein of the Russell T. Davies era have turned out to be unfounded. I’m a huge fan of shows doing something unexpected, and Doctor Who has delivered by having the crack become a major part of “Flesh and Stone”, both by bringing the Doctor more aware of their nature and by involving the crack in the resolution of the episode in quite a natural fashion.
I still feel that the break between the two episodes wasn’t handled quite right, there’s no real sense of danger between last week’s and this weeks. The pre-2000 Doctor Who series would have had everyone standing, huddled together and panicking about their fate - with only the Doctor looking calm and measured. I do miss that week of anticipation, it was far more tantalising than the ‘next week on Doctor Who’ teasers we’re getting now.
That said, the start of “Flesh and Stone” was superb, providing a believable (in the context of the show’s history) escape, some fun moments and a change in the feel of the story. Gone was the claustrophobic feel of the surrounding Angels in a cave and instead we’re treated to a classic ‘flight from the gribbly monsters’ scenario that then opens up into a two-fold story. The first of these continuing to deal with the Weeping Angels and the second with the crack in time and space and its relationship with Amy Pond - a story that has opened up the rest of the season and started to set the future, but also gave us some exceptionally subtle moments that will pay off later on.
That said, the episode was also a little uneven, there’s an awful lot going on in the story. You have the Angels, the clerics, River, Amy, The Doctor and the crack in the wall and they’re all competing with each other for time on screen. I know I’ve said it before quite a few times, but I really believe that Doctor Who would be better off moving back to a half hour show format with longer stories. Despite being involved in a two part story “Flesh and Stone” was very much it’s own narrative and it did suffer because some of the story elements had to be either drawn back from the forefront or underdeveloped.
The clerics were one of the things left mostly undeveloped, there wasn’t much to tie them in as clerics really - they were mostly generic soldiers who existed to be killed off (or written out of existence). Now in my opinion that was a real missed opportunity - one of the things that made Aliens such a success is the shear accessibility of the marines. True this was achieved by creating stereotyped personalities that were loud and instantly identifiable, but doing this gave us some big characters that confidently walked into a fall - it made the situation where the brown stuff hit the fan stronger because we felt like we knew these people and had always known them. The clerics on the other hand were little more than the usual Doctor Who soldiers, they could have been members of UNIT, or any British armed forces for all the personality they had outside of the bishop. I did like the symbolism of the clerics (and later Angels) “going into the light”, but that’s not enough - bumping off nameless mooks is just not as potent as killing a character that people have had time to identify with. The bishop’s end at the hands of an Angel did work, but it also felt like he had extra characterisation that ended up on the cutting room floor.
The Angels also became victims of this ‘overstuffed’ effect, they turned from a terrifying threat into the secondary minor threat and finally they ended up something that (if I’m honest) evoked pity. I think it was the combination of giving them a voice (through Angel Bob) and as such having them essentially plead with the Doctor, asking him to throw himself into the crack in order to save them. It had the effect of humanising them and then lowering their status from something that was alien and terrifying into something to be pitied. As great as the Angels falling into the light was to see, it wasn’t worth the price they paid as villains. I think that Moffat has made a decision to not use the Weeping Angels again in the future and that’s why he did this.
I’m also not sure about actually seeing the Angels move, I think I preferred it when they just suddenly changed poses when the camera wasn’t looking at them. That made the Angels seem more threatening to the viewer because the camera was functioning as an eye itself. Once we could see them move we were divorced from the situation and the perceived threat the Angels posed to the audience was almost removed - in fact I’ve read more than a few people’s comments elsewhere expressing a feeling of pity for the Angels by the end of the episode - not sure about that, I preferred the Angels as an object of terror.
I do have to congratulate Moffat on the method he used when dealing with the Doctor defeating the Angels mind you. It was a completely natural and understandable moment that did feel made sense and most importantly did not feel forced at all. We knew that the Angels were feeding off the ship’s power source, we knew that everyone was standing on a vertical plane thanks to the artificial gravity - so when it failed and the Angels plummeted into the bright light (bright light!), it all just worked.
Last of all we have the aftermath to look at - the bit that’s going to have the romance seekers (and those terrible slash fiction writers) dribbling all over the upholstery in excitement. I am of course referring to Amy’s reaction towards the Doctor and the addressing of the inevitable sexual tension (on her part at least) between them. It was, frankly, hilarious. Matt Smith is able to play the role of an uncomfortable man fending off advances exceptionally well, and Karen’s delivery of her lines ensured that the sauciest scene in Doctor Who’s history didn’t get too far away from ‘child friendly’. It was something that played well for laughs, provided plot advancement and wasn’t so overtly sexual that it could cause offence (it was like one of the tamer Carry On films). It gave us a great end to the episode and more importantly an early introduction towards the construction of the series finale.
(Even if it does mean that some people are going to interpret the ending as being ‘The Doctor and Amy doing it in the TARDIS.)