Ten Things About Who: The Angels Take Manhattan

This post has been edited, tidied up and expanded to form part of my new ebook, TEN THINGS ABOUT WHO, available on Kindle. Buy it now for £1.99More details

And so it’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for. Oh, no, wait, that was another Doctor Who moment. Anyway, here are my weekly ten points about the last of this current batch of Doctor Who episodes.

1. Blink twice

Conceptually, this episode felt far more of a sequel to Blink than The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone did. It’s the third in a trilogy that, in essence, returns to the roots of the first: scary statues that send their victims back in time, rather than snapping their necks and speaking through them (cf. “Bob” in Time of Angels).

Which reminded me of this speech from Scream 3:

Because true trilogies are all about going back to the beginning and discovering something that wasn’t true from the get go. Godfather, Jedi, all revealed something that we thought was true that wasn’t true.

So if it is a trilogy you are dealing with, here are some super trilogy rules: 1. You got a killer who’s going to be super human. Stabbing him won’t work. Shooting him won’t work. Basically in the third one you gotta cryogenically freeze his head, decapitate him, or blow him up. 2. Anyone including the main character can die. This means you Syd. I’m sorry. It’s the final chapter. It could be fucking ‘Reservoir Dogs’ by the time this thing is through. Number 3. The past will come back to bite you in the ass. Whatever you think you know about the past, forget it.

2. Again, with the opening narration

Of the five episodes in this run, four have featured a voiceover either before or just after the opening credits (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship being an exception). It’s almost like it was planned. I suspect it’s more because it’s a convenient way to get some exposition out of the way – something that these “epic” stories just don’t have time for when crammed into a 45-minute running time.

I don’t mind it too much here, as it’s both a pastiche of the detective movie genre, and also a sign that the Doctor is reading aloud.

3. Those chapter titles in full

  1. THE DYING DETECTIVE
  2. THE ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN
  3. MISSING IN NEW YORK
  4. TAKING THE CASE
  5. NIGHT IN THE STATUE PARK
  6. THE GARGOYLE
  7. THE SKINNY GUY
  8. JULIUS GRAYLE
  9. CALLING THE DOCTOR
  10. THE ROMAN IN THE CELLAR
  11. DEATH AT WINTER QUAY
  12. AMELIA’S LAST FAREWELL

Are episode titles always spoiler-free? The inclusion of number 12, and the Doctor’s reaction to it, suggests not. But in the same way as we’ve all known for ages that the Ponds will be leaving, the exact nature of their departure was a secret: knowing that they will leave – in effect, knowing that title of the chapter – doesn’t give away too much.

The biggest Doctor Who production team-imposed spoiler coincided with the series’ last sojourn in the Big Apple, when the Radio Times used the Dalek-human hybrid Sec from Daleks in Manhattan on it front cover. At the time, I thought that a reveal as big as that meant there was even more surprise to come, but no – the episode cliffhanger involved the reveal of a creature who had been on newsagents’ shelves for the best part of a week previously.

4. Location, location, location

The addition of some Manhattan exteriors really helps sell the physical location of this story – but despite some excellent set dressing, some set reuse is noticeable: I’m sure the staircase in Grayle’s house has been extensively used in Doctor Who and many other TV shows, while the Winter Quay lobby with its distinctive elevator is looks rather more splendid here than when it was the site for LINDA’s meets in Love & Monsters.

5. Central perk

It’s not a phenomenon unique to Doctor Who, but the presence of TV or film cameras in locations of outstanding beauty can do weird things to local geography. For instance, the Doctor, Amy and Rory start out on rocks near what looks like Central Park’s south east corner – an area dominated by, appropriately enough, “The Pond”.

And yet as Rory starts to return with the coffees, he walks by the Bethesda Fountain, a not insubstantial distance away. Now, from a visual (and, indeed, dramatic) point of view, the inclusion of that fountain is a no-brainer, especially it has Emma Stebbins’ beautiful representation of an angel, and the cherubs at its base feed into the extension of the Weeping Angel mythos that continues into the statues being kept in Grayle’s basement.

But really. One of the reasons New York is the city that never sleeps is because Manhattan is powered by caffeine. Were there really no coffee shops closer? Or is Rory so BBC-friendly that he walked all over New York looking for the one outlet that would use generic, brand-free cups?

6. Impatient Liberty, unseen by the city

The sight of the Statue of Liberty as a weeping angel in an intriguing concept, and a striking image. But seriously, how can one of the most recognisable pieces of public art move from a pedestal on an island to a tower block in the middle of Manhattan without being seen by anyone?

Indeed, if the Weeping Angels were going to set up base somewhere, why choose a metropolitan city that doesn’t sleep? Wouldn’t it make more sense to select a base where they are less likely to be seen by someone at all times?

7. Beautiful suicide

The shots of Amy and Rory falling, determined to be together as they fall and only partly sure that they’ll destroy the angels in the process looked stunning and gorgeous.

This must be the first time two above-the-title stars of a family drama effectively go through with a suicide pact at teatime, and such an event is celebrated.

Mind you, did you notice how, when they were falling (and, indeed, when they finally left), the Doctor frequently called after Amy but not once ever did the same for Rory? After two kisses in the last four weeks? Men!

8. Blinovitch who?

The Blinovitch Limitation Effect was created as a throwaway line in Day of the Daleks – one of the original series’ few attempts to look at the consequences of manipulating history through time travel – as an attempt to defer conversation about some of the more egregious “But why…?” moments that time travel in storytelling inevitably raises. The “effect” returned in Mawdryn Undead, where it formed a central part of the story’s resolution, as two versions of the Brigadier met, releasing a huge amount of temporal energy. In Father’s Day, Rose coming into contact with her younger self causes further damage to a universe already reeling from her saving of her father’s life.

Here, the Angels create energy by sending people back in time – and, in the case of the Winter Quay farm, by doing so repeatedly. And yet, a younger detective can meet his dying, older self without any side effects.

The effects of crossing time streams, and the rules around such events within the universe of Doctor Who, is not consistent across the decades, then. So let us not get too hung up on which of the Doctor’s previous stories the time travel in this one is more consistent with.

Because, just as Roger Rabbit could slip out of handcuffs “only when it was funny”, Doctor Who’s sole rule around time travel is simple: Time works in whatever way will create the most dramatic story at the time it’s being told.

9. Never again? Really?

Similarly, I get why the Doctor won’t be able to return to Manhattan in the TARDIS if there are still temporal fractures caused by the Angels. But surely, if he wanted to visit Amy and Rory in the past, couldn’t he land further away and travel in?

10. And so they go

I had a theory about how Amy and Rory would go. As it turns out, I was only half-right. I had thought that the pair would have been sent back in time by the Angels, but may have ended up in late 60’s Manhattan – where a confused and scared Melody Pond was seen starting her first regeneration at the end of Day of the Moon.

My guess was that they would have chosen to stay, to look after the baby that Melody regenerates into: the couple finally getting a chance to rear the daughter they already know as a grown woman.

But that approach, while dramatically satisfying, would deny the opportunity to see Matt Smith as heartbroken as he is with Moffat’s chosen approach.

And now Doctor Who takes a break until Christmas. In the meantime, there’s Merlin on Saturday nights, while the team behind The Sarah Jane Adventures brings Wizards vs Aliens to CBBC, where Wolfblood and the counts-as-fantasy-if-you-squint-and-if-they-keep-including-that-bloody-BMX Leonardo are already running. All of which are incredibly enjoyable, and a sign that family drama is in a purple patch at the moment.

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Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.

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