This review contains spoilers.
Five episodes in and we’re at an oddly placed finale in the current series of Doctor Who. The Angels Take Manhattan may not seem like a mini season finale from its exterior but viewers on Saturday night will have been lucky to witness and episode of Doctor Who so high in calibre that it would take journeying all the way back to Neil Gaiman’s episode The Doctor’s Wife to find a story to match it.
New York has been crying out for another chance to prove it fertile ground for Doctor Who since the abysmal Daleks in Manhattan two parter from David Tennant’s otherwise solid third series. However even before this New York had been depicted, albeit briefly, in another Dalek story; the comical and kitsch The Chase from 1965. Therefore Angels is well placed to improve on the city’s past uses and does so in fine film noir form.
The story’s opening is instantly of higher quality than just about any opener since the last story the weeping angels graced our presence with (Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone). It’s a slow, gradual build up of private detective taking a job, only to find that at the end of the trail is a “battery farm” for feeding the weeping angels and ends in a stunning reveal that the statue of liberty is in fact also an angel. Full of moody lighting and impressive homage to film noir, it’s a cut above the rest of the openers.
The Doctor, Amy and Rory are holidaying in present day New York. It’s nice to see them relaxing rather than being dragged around from adventure to adventure, especially with the season’s opening stories forcing our characters to come along. The Doctor is reading aloud from a pulpy noir novel, though as Rory disappears while going to get coffee, it becomes clear that the novel is more important than he first thought.
What’s so refreshing about this story is how it uses time or in Moffat terms “timey-wimey”. Over the past two years, the time travel aspect has been used to get out situations big and small, often rendering its effect meaningless. Here we find quite opposite, with time being used as the enemy and fixed points becoming apparent as characters read or see aspects of their own future thanks to the angel’s ability to zap people back in time.
Tracking Rory and also River Song back to the 1930s, The Doctor finds them in the house of a collector who seems to have found a few angels make warming house decorations. However, his collection shows off another exciting element to the story. The angels may appear mainly in their usual form but also appear in all sorts of other types including some extremely creepy cherub angels, normal statues off the street and the aforementioned Statue of Liberty.
When it becomes clear that the pulpy novel was written by River and houses the future which only becomes set in stone if it’s read, it seems too late for Rory as he encounters his older self dying in the building the angels are using to farm people and their old age (they feed off the energy released when someone is sent back through time, effectively killing them by letting them grow old in the past).
This marks the beginning of the end for the Ponds who thwart the angels plan through creating a paradox by jumping off a building together and killing themselves. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill have always been great, despite being ill-served at times by their script and characterisation. However, they both give their best performances here and the double whammy of losing the characters twice is utterly heartbreaking for both The Doctor and the viewer.
When the paradox destroys the angel’s farm and sends everyone back to the graveyard in modern day New York, it seems that everything will turn out all right after all. However, a second heartbreak comes in the form of an unresolved paradox in the graveyard allowing an angel to take Rory back in time again. Amy chooses to let the angel take her too in an extremely emotional scene, made all the more brilliant by the devastation on Matt Smith’s brow.
He can no longer go back for them which is reminiscent of both Rose’s departure and the erasing of Donna Noble’s memories but one final twist means The Doctor does get a final goodbye in the last pages of the pulp novel which was published in the 1930s by a certain Amelia and Rory Williams.
It’s such a neat little story. Blink managed to do a similar trick, sharing similarities with its puzzle like narrative but here this is added with the emotional whack of The Doctor losing is two best friends. The Angels Take Manhattan is Moffat’s best story in an age and if his other yarns are just as good, the second half of this series will be an utter joy.
Images from Digital Spy, SFX and BBC.