Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone

Since everyone and their mother is making the comparison, I'll do the same. The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone is to Blink as Aliens is to Alien: bigger, longer, more. The weeping angels are back in droves, faced off by an army of priestly soldiers who aren't nearly as equipped as they think. Like Ripley, the Doctor understands the menace better than anyone, though not always quite enough, and he becomes to Amy what Ripley was to Newt. But whereas Cameron's sequel was just that -- Alien on steroids, favoring raw action over insidious terror -- Moffat's balances both splendidly. The result is that The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone, while not quite as good as its predecessor, is nonetheless a crown jewel of the new series, certainly the best so far of season five.

Be prepared, however. The weeping angels have new tricks up their sleeves, and they are something of a bone of contention. In Blink it was established that as quantum creatures they freeze into stone when looked at, and so staring at an angel without blinking is the best defense. That remains true for the most part, but with two modifications. First is the 180-degree spin that if you're unfortunate enough to have been "infected" by an angel, the absolute worst thing you can do is look at other angels, who can then readily invade your consciousness. So when Amy is on the brink of being taken over, she must navigate a horde of angels with her eyes closed, which is of course normally the fatal thing to do, and so must trick the angels into thinking that she can see just fine, by walking confidently among them. This is rubbish. Quantum lock depends on what is actual. If the angels aren't being observed, they wouldn't freeze, period. But never mind even that. Assuming the angels can be fooled this way, they are pretty stupid, and Amy takes a long time to start moving; the Doctor has to keep barking at her to walk and pretend she can see. I suppose the point is that the angels are scared about the time energy and thus confused, which to an extent is understandable -- the energy spilling out of the crack is about to erase every moment of their existence from history -- but it does diminish their status as the "deadliest, most powerful, most malevolent life form evolution has ever produced".

The second development is that being touched by an angel isn't what it used to be. None of the soldiers get displaced in time; they are simply killed. The Doctor is surprised at this, rightly guessing that the creatures need human body parts for something, and in a bone-chilling scene one of the angels explains it through the voice of a dead soldier: "It stripped my cerebral cortex and reanimated a version of my consciousness to communicate with you, sir", the "it", of course, being itself now, the angel invested with the memories and thought patterns of its victim. Which is all fine and well, but once the angels have established communication this way, they don't need human bodies anymore. Why do they continue breaking necks instead of banishing people back in time? That's how they feed, after all -- off the potential time energy of their victims -- and even allowing for their sadistic nature (on which see further), it seems like a fundamental trait is being passed over in favor of graphic thrills. It's hard again to avoid certain parallels between the two alien movies. (Remember how in Cameron's sequel all eggs/facehuggers came from a queen alien, contradicting the truly horrifying process by which any alien, regardless of gender, "laid eggs" by cocooning & transforming captives?) Blink was as much about terrors we couldn't see, while The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone is more about muscle and leaves less to the imagination. Yet I can't deny that I like a lot of what Moffat serves up here. When I saw the Doctor yanked suddenly from behind by a snarling angel, my heart skipped a beat.

Generally speaking, this is an awesome story. The guest stars put in excellent performances, and of course there is River Song. Whether she is the Doctor's future wife, or assassin, or both, remains to be seen, but I love the fact that she's a criminal just out of prison. In terms of suspense, I haven't been kept on the edge of my seat so much since the Ood closed in on the space crew back in season two's Impossible Planet/Satan Pit, and as in that story the body count is high. Then there's the cliffhanger, which is like nothing seen before in Doctor Who. Instead of cutting on the advance of the weeping angels, we get the Doctor taking the first step in striking back, and instead of a reprieve following the resolution in episode two, tension is immediately escalated. And if Moffat painted himself in a corner with Amy's eye infection (click on photo to the above right), as discussed above, the climax to that thread is brilliant: with the time energy wiping the angels out of all existence, there can no longer be anything in Amy's eye, because there was no angel to infect her in the first place.

Matt Smith continues to impress, and the Eleventh Doctor remains unsettling. This is perhaps most evident when he callously tells Amy that she's dying because he can't see any point in lying to her. It's by far my favorite scene: Amy on the forest ground, paralyzed with terror in the knowledge she's about to be taken over by the angels. She cries out in a pitifully broken voice that she's scared, to which the Doctor retorts, "Of course you're scared, you're dying, shut up." This is galaxies away from the all-too-human Tenth Doctor, whose domestication had become close to unbearable in season four. But even this is nothing compared to why the angels are tormenting her so much: for the sheer fun of it. Hearing an angel casually explain this through the mannerisms of Soldier Bob is a horrifying moment (and trust me, there are plenty in this story), and a startling revelation about the weeping angels' nature. They are brutally sadistic.

Now. For the epilogue everyone is talking about: Amy's sexual advances. In contrast to Rose (who gradually fell in love with the Doctor, and he in turn without fully acknowledging it), Martha (who pined after him in Rose's shadow, to no avail), and Donna (who mercifully had no such interests at all), Amy's feelings are astonishingly primal and blatant: to jump in the sack and fuck. Nothing long term -- she seems to have every intention of going through with her marriage to Rory the next day -- just a quick taste of Time Lord cock. This unprecedented display of TARDIS-companion lust is oddly believable, especially given Amy's lifelong obsession with the mystery figure from her childhood, and equally matched by the Doctor's blanket lack of interest in shagging Miss Pond. While you can be sure my reaction would be quite the opposite if a woman like Karen Gillan tried to rape me (rape it wouldn't be), I'm not from Gallifrey. The Doctor is genuinely appalled at the idea of a casual cross-species copulation, and again I can't help but wonder if this is another case of Moffat spitting in the eye of RTD fandom while pretending to pay it homage. For my part, I thought the "human" romantic chemistry between Rose and the Doctor worked well, but it was exceptional and can never be repeated.

The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone isn't better than Blink (the only story of the new series completely beyond criticism), but I wasn't expecting it to be. In fact, for the first time in a long time I got exactly what I expected and wanted out of a Doctor Who story. Moffat took the weeping angels to another level with mighty impressive results. That his reach exceeded his grasp on some points is counterbalanced by the way he transcended himself on others. That being said, he should quit while he's not far behind and let weeping angels lie. Blink 3 we don't need.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5.


Anonymous Doug Chaplin said...

Well, this is one of those rare occasions when we're largely in agreement.

I still think Amy needs a lot more than the five psychiatrists she's already had, and while I still haven't warmed to her, I thought nearly dying was the best thing she's done so far.

I wasn't impressed by her attempts to rape the Doctor, and thought they were oddly heavy-handed in writing and direction after some of the subtleties we'd been getting used to.

Matt Smith seems to have recovered his oomph from the first episode after being a little disappointing in 2 & 3 (yep, I know that bit will have you going) and I think they've started to tweak the script for his Doctor instead of using Tennant leftovers.

Oh, and I also liked the atmosphere of Puzzlewood where they filmed the forest scenes – I was there a few weeks back and it is that good.

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Curious that you describe stories 2 & 3 as "leftovers", because it's really only The Eleventh Hour that feels like a leftover from RTD. But as you know, I think Smith's performance has been flawless in all the stories so far.

I loved Amy's attempt to rape the Doctor. It was shocking in a good way and most importantly believable. The romantic subtleties worked well for Rose and Martha, but it's time for something new. My only problem with the scene is that (on first viewing anyway) the tone contrasts with the menacing horror we've been subjected to for over an hour. But on second viewing I was in love with it.

Anonymous Doug Chaplin said...

I'm not quite sure what it was that felt off about the ending – I can understand the urge to fuck after nearly dying: it's very visceral. But the scene as a whole simply felt out of place, I thought. Maybe if it had been shorter, maybe if Amy had learnt that sometimes "no" means "no" …

As for the "leftovers" comment, I mean that I could imagine Tennant saying most of Smith's dialogue in eps 2 & 3. There's no way I could imagine him telling Amy she was dying, and to shut up so he could think. I thought that was brilliant and very promising for the future.

Blogger Mark Goodacre said...

Pretty much in agreement with you on this one, Loren. An outstanding two-parter, fulfilling the promise of The Eleventh Hour and offering us everything we had hoped for with the new series. Amused by your projections of your own dislike of (some of) RTD onto Moffat. By contrast, I project my love of (much of) RTD onto Moffat -- I think the Moff is his biggest fan, and the epilogue this week did something RTD would have *loved* to have done but never quite dared -- actually showing a companion trying to jump the doctor. Fantastic. Delighted to see that that scene has divided the fans - and that the Moff is not playing safe. Excellent, excellent.


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