[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 7 Mid-Series Finale Episode 5, "The Angels Take Manhattan"

Courtesy of the BBC
Having watched this episode, I feel now I can make a definitive statement about Steven Moffat's time as showrunner of Doctor Who. He is an excellent producer, who does a fantastic job constructing the direction of the show, and providing it with an over all tone. However, as the writer of specific episodes, he is falling into the same trap that Russel T. Davies did, in the belief that each episode they pen themselves must be bigger and more complicated then the others. Moffat especially, who made his name with such detailed knowledge and love of the show, and bolstered by such excellent episodes in the early days. I think he must feel that he has to outdo himself each time.

The problem is, Moffat is most successfully when he is working form a simply concept. Don't blink. Prisoner Zero has escaped. Count the shadows. The Pandorica opens. These are simple ideas, that allow for straight forward plots, with lots of characterisation. It's when the ideas get to big, when the timey gets too whimey, that he runs into trouble. Restarting the universe, River kills the Doctor, the Asylum of the Daleks. Things tend to fall apart, collapsing under the weight of plot holes and forced narrative, and obsessions with small details that make him blind to other options.

Add to the later list, The Angels Take Manhattan.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that have lived to death.

So, there are really only two things to talk about when dealing with this episode. The angels, and the deaths of Amy and Rory. And really, I have nothing to say about the angels. They are as they ever are. I will say this, however. The Statue of Liberty was pointless. It didn't do anything, it didn't contribute to the plot, other then to leer at the heroes over the side of the building. And I doubt, in a city the size of New York, even in the 1930's, that there would ever be a moment when no one was looking at it, providing it a moment to move. Which in fact makes New York the worst city for any angel to exist in, as it is "the city that never sleeps". And the angels move silently, not with great Jurassic Park foot steps as Liberty was taking.

I had thought that making Liberty an angel was going to be some great reveal, like it was the original angel who became trapped in constant sight, but that every picture ever taken of it did itself become an angel (as we learned last time), and that was how the angel race began. In fact, any reason would have been better then no reason at all.

Also, continuing my not having anything to say about the angels, did River just reveal something previously unknown about the angel's nature? When the Doctor asks how many there are, and River responds that they've taken nearly every statue in the city. The implication is that the angels don't have the natural form of stone angels, as we've assumed, but rather inhabit stone angels that already exist? Doesn't this run counter to everything we've been told about the angels thus far? And doesn't it open the gate for the angels being able to possess anything previously stationary? Imagine the horror of angel-possessed keep left signs.

But the main event, and what the entire episode was structured around: killing the companions. Except, they didn't die, not really. They lived to death. But in trying to make the 'death' scene as shocking and as twisty as possible, the holes shone through. So, we might as well start. The whole death scene hinges on two errors of logic. The first: that the Doctor cannot retrieve Amy and Rory from the 30's because 1938 is full of temporal instabilities. OK, I'll buy that. So, go to 1939 and retrieve them there. They'll have lived a year in the past, but the Doctor and Martha were trapped in the sixties for six months the first time they encountered the angels. Martha supported them by working in a shop. They have a time machine, and every moment between '39 and the present to retrieve them. Or, why doesn't River use the vortex manipulator? In her very first scene, she explains that unlike the TARDIS, it can avoid the disruptions, like a motorbike through traffic.

The other error is that the tombstone makes their future certain. Except, the very previous scene established that it isn't. That retrieving them from the past would only create a paradox that would starve the last remaining angel (whose survival is handwaved away). And why, exactly, is the Doctor unable to ever see them again? All the tombstone means is that they end up buried in New York, not what happened to them in the mean time. At the very least, it doesn't have to be the last time River sees her parents. In fact, the entire adventure hinges on River at some point sending Amy the manuscript for the book, which seems to violate this reasoning. Living into their 80's leaves plenty of life to live, and much like their time with the Doctor thus far, they can live a lot more life then the calendar counts.

Let me be clear: I'm not saying that Amy and Rory shouldn't have left the show. They definitely should have. Especially after this series, when they played no integral part. The writers were clearly becoming bored with the characters, and they had really gone as far as they could. Personally, I feel they should never have returned after their spectacular exit last series in the God Complex. But Moffat seemed so determined to have their departure be surprising, when he should have just went with effective. Have their plummet off the roof and subsequent paradox creation shunt them through time, to places unknown, leaving the Doctor and River reeling. Or have the angel Liberty scoop them up as they fell, displacing the both of them. Any number of scenarios that would have worked better then forcing a final goodbye.

The rest of the episode was disjointed. The mobster B-plot had no real reason or explanation, and disappeared much the same. River's inclusion wasn't necessary. Aside from the bizarre change I noted concerning the angel's possible nature, nothing was added to the lore of the angels. The book was a lazy way of getting the character where they needed to be, rather then where they were naturally headed. And apparently, River has an eidetic memory, even for dialogue she wasn't present for. The episode tried far too hard to pack in as much as it could, when it should have kept things simple: companions leave. Rather then try to make the act of leaving the story, make the effect of leaving the story. To me, it was as disappointing as Asylum, but I find myself caring less about how disappointing it was.

Finally: angel babies, not particularly creepy to look at, but that chittering noise they made was suitably creepy to hear.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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