‘Doctor Who’ Watch

7.5: "The Angels Take Manhattan"

In which the Statue of Liberty reveals a very different fate for all those huddled masses.

Doctor Who, that genre quick-change artist, caps off the first half of season seven with a horror episode, reviving showrunner Steven Moffat’s Weeping Angels, those alien statues that pounce when no one’s looking – during a blink, in blackouts, et al.

The Weeping Angels aren’t about gore or gruesomeness, and there’s an elegant old-fashionedness to their terror-making. The formula: statue in a long shot; blink to black; in a medium shot, statue seems to have jumped closer to its victim; blink to black; statue suddenly in extreme close-up, fangs bared; liberally sprinkle gasps and eeks! throughout. It’s a remarkable, blood-chilling effect, considering we’re basically talking about a strobe light and some really smart editing choices.

As with "The Power of Three", last week’s episode, “The Angels Take Manhattan” opens and closes with voiceover narration. This time it’s a hard-boiled gumshoe in 1938 doing the talking. He was hired by an eccentric collector (played by Michael McShane, also known as “hey, it’s lush Friar Tuck from Prince of Thieves!”) to investigate the “living statues that move in the dark.” The detective isn’t long for this world – basically his job is to explain the Weeping Angels and establish that their base camp is a scary-Gothic building called the Winter Quay, conveniently located in eyeshot of New York’s biggest, baddest statue, the Lady Liberty. While there, the detective finds a room with his name already stenciled on the doorway and a much-older guy in the room on his deathbed... who turns out to be the detective at an advanced age. Suitably freaked, the detective runs to the building’s roof, statues in hot pursuit, and there meets his end – or rather, the beginning of a very, very long end (more on that later) – at the hands of ... well, you know who.

Cut to New York, 2012 – although you’d be forgiven for wondering if we were in the dirtier, pre-Time Square bleaching era, considering that’s Eighties Sting singing “I’m an alien/ I’m a legal alien/ I’m an Englishman in New York.” (If you wanna get nitpicky, since the Doctor wiped his file from all of time and space’s database, he’s more of an undocumented immigrant.)

The Doctor, Amy, and Rory lounge in Central Park, with the Doctor immersed in a pulpy detective novel. But first he rips out the last page – the anti-Harry Burns – saying if he never knows a book’s conclusion, the story never ends for him. The Doctor doesn’t do goodbyes well, a heartbreaking point of interest throughout the episode and the season in general.

To Amy’s annoyance, he reads aloud to her about the exploits of Melody Malone: “My lipstick was combat-ready, and I was packing cleavage that could fell an ox at 20 feet.” It’s no stretch to imagine those word coming out Alex Kingston’s saucy, always-the-come-on River Song – and turns out, yup, in addition to archaeologist, convicted assassin, and Doctor’s Wife, she also wrote the novel the Doctor now reads. When Rory, who abandoned them to their squabbling and was snatched back in time, suddenly shows up as a character in the novel, the Doctor realizes there’s truth in fiction – and once he reads it, there’s no undoing it. It’s the ultimate book of “spoilers.” Future fact he learns by accident: He will break something ... but what?

When the collector takes Rory and River-as-Melody (looking moll-dashing) as his prisoners in April 1938, the Doctor and Amy hop into the TARDIS to save them. River to the collector: “Just you wait till my husband gets here.” But first, she gets her wrist snared by a vicious angel, handcuffing her in stone, while Rory gets thrown to a bunch of baby angels. (Turns out pint-sized stone cherubs – just as freaky as the big guys.)

It takes some time for Amy and the Doctor to get to them, because Manhattan on April 3, 1938 is emitting some serious energy forcefields that block the TARDIS, but the Doctor figures a way in (of course he figures a way in), and he reunites with his wife. (He pauses first to fix hair, check breath – is this the most overtly romantic we’ve seen the Doctor? It’s pretty charming.) Rory’s gone, though, and here’s a good time to refresh one’s memory about how the Weeping Angels work: In most cases, they’re not out to kill. Instead, an Angel’s touch zaps a victim back to a different time and/or place; it then feeds off of the energy produced by the vanished person’s disrupted timeline. So Rory isn’t dead, but his timeline has been irrevocably altered.

The gang consults Melody’s book for help in finding Rory, but here, the Doctor stumbles on another future fact he’d rather not know: A final chapter heading reading “Amy’s Last Farewell.” Mad as hell, the Doctor tells River she’s going to have to figure away out of the Angel’s cuff without him breaking her wrist or the Angel’s, because he’s determined to not fulfill the book’s prophecies. River breaks her own wrist, and the Doctor uses some of his regeneration juice to fix it. It’s all very sweet, but also tremendously sad. River, on how the Doctor doesn’t do well facing his companions’ mortality: “When one's in love with an ageless god who insists on the face of a 12-year-old, one does one's best to hide the damage."

The gang finds Rory at the same Winter’s Quay of the opening, and Rory goes through the same steps as the unfortunate gumshoe. A room with Rory’s name on it. Future Rory on his deathbed. Amy clutches future Rory’s hand as he dies. Turns out the Winter Quay is a “battery farm,” wherein Angel victims like Rory are trapped in a room to live out their lives in solitude, their energy feeding the Angels. (By the way, a quick Google search of the April 3, 1938 date brings up this headline: “Dupont invents Teflon.” Coincidence? Or a nod to how unsticky time is in this Angel-ruled Manhattan? Am I reaching?)

The Doctor’s pretty convinced there’s no saving Rory from the situation, but they all make a run for it anyway, with Rory and Amy heading up to the roof, reenacting the same awful standoff the detective met. With the Statue of Liberty snarling, poised to attack, Rory climbs on the ledge, figuring if he kills himself now rather than resign himself to decades of solitary confinement, he’ll create a paradox that will kill the Angels and restore order to time.

Amy: “You think you’ll just come back to life?”

Rory: “When don’t I?”
Audience: “Good point.”

It’s the best plan they have. If it doesn’t work, Amy doesn’t want to live without him anyway, so she joins him on the ledge. A tearful clutch. (Pause for audience sniffle here.) They ignore the Doctor’s pleas to get off the ledge. And they jump.

Doctor Who, why you gotta be so cruel? River, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory all wake in Manhattan 2012 – this time at a gravesite. At first it appears the plan worked, and they all head for the TARDIS for a family outing... except an Angel that slipped through the paradox cracks snatches Rory at the last second. More weepy panic. Amy notices a headstone (previously seen by the audience) with Rory’s name on it. The Doctor – surprisingly unhelpful here – basically tells her Rory’s a goner, but Amy deduces if she sacrifices herself, too, then just maybe she’ll wind up in the same place as Rory, wherever and whenever that is. (Presumably back to Manhattan 1938.) The Doctor puts up a good fight, but Amy’s determined – after all, she already made the same decision just minutes before. What’s one more leap of faith? She closes her eyes and lets the Angel take her. And it worked: The gravestone alters to include Amy’s name, too, dead at 87 years old.

But she still has her last farewell for her best friend, the Doctor. He remembers that final page he tore out Melody Malone’s book and goes to retrieve it. In her final voiceover, Amy reassures the Doctor that it all turned out well enough. They were happy. They lived a long life. It was worth it.

Deep sigh goes here. Deep, but satisfied, sigh.

All told, it was a great episode, even if the time-travel business made my head hurt a little. (Why exactly can River visit the Ponds back in time, but the Doctor can’t? If it’s just ‘cause the TARDIS would get scrambled by all the wacky energy, can’t he just park it somewhere and travel with River instead?) “The Angels Take Manhattan” brilliantly meshed horror beats with the season-spanning emotional arc of the Ponds’ struggle over how and when – or if – to sever ties with the Doctor. Amy and the Doctor already had their soulful exchange in “The Power of Three”: This episode was about the bond between Amy and Rory (and, to a lesser degree, that between the Doctor and River) – the primacy of their union, and the sacrifices they’d make (twice, for Amy) to preserve it.

A pretty stupendous exit... and now we enter a three-month wait for the Christmas episode, which will reintroduce some version of Jenna-Louise Coleman, who played Oswin Oswald in season starter “Asylum of the Daleks” and pops in (Victorian garbed!) in the Christmas special teaser.

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