THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE AFTER "THE FORGOTTEN ARMY"
NOVEL AND DIRECTLY
PRIOR TO THE TV EPISODE "FLESH
'THE COMPLETE FIFTH SERIES' LIMITED EDITION STEELBOOK BLU-RAY DVD
(BBCBD0130) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2010.
The Doctor AND AMY ARE recruited by Father Octavian to track the last of
the WEEPING Angels through the Maze Of The Dead. Meanwhile, the mysterious River Song re-enters the Doctor's life – but
can he trust her?
24TH APRIL 2010
(45-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 1 OF 2)
2007’s Blink may be the most highly regarded of all Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who scripts – no small feat given that he could only use as much of the Doctor and the season’s budget as were absolutely essential. Yet that episode’s Weeping Angels were an instant hit with viewers; so much so that fans have been clamouring for their return ever since. Well now they’re back, and this time Moffat’s the one calling the shots, which means that he doesn’t have to be sparing with either the budget or his lead man...
The Time of Angels starts as it means to go on with a lengthy and lavish pre-title sequence that practically screams James Bond at the viewer. The returning River Song might not be the one wearing the tuxedo, but make no mistake – she’s Bond, right down to the tidy firearm and the self-satisfied swagger. And in one of the most gloriously cinematic scenes that the new series has attempted to date, River is blown out of the starship Byzantium’s airlock, across space and into the TARDIS’ console room without so much as an explosive decompression… at least, not a physical one. Whilst The Time of Angels’ big selling point is the terrifying race of the title, around half of this episode’s running time is dedicated to the explosive expansion of the relationship between River and the Doctor; to their banter and their games.
River has summoned the Doctor as she needs him to help her hunt what she believes to be the last of the Weeping Angels, which was aboard the Byzantium when it crashed into the ruins of Alfava Metraxis, shortly after she bailed out. This is a very different River to the woman that we met in Silence in the Library, however. By some quirk of temporal providence, in that story the Doctor was meeting River for the first time, yet she was meeting him for the last. This time around though, the Doctor has met River at least once, and she is much younger than she was when we last saw her. Though clearly the same, devilish woman, this River is much edgier; not a professor, but a convict.
The banter between the Doctor and River is every bit as lively and mischievous as it was in The Library, if not a little more so; the chemistry between Matt Smith and Alex Kingston is almost as electrifying as that between him and Karen Gillian. As Amy very astutely observes, the Doctor and River behave like an old married couple, constantly bickering and point-scoring. And as River has the advantage, temporally speaking, she is able to take great delight in trouncing the Doctor at just about everything, including, most amusingly, silently landing the TARDIS (“You leave the breaks on!”).
“She’s Mrs Doctor from the future, isn’t she? Is she gonna be your wife one day?”
And Moffat’s script is every bit as teasing as its lead guest star. Silence in the Library inevitably precipitated a flood of fan speculation about the role that River will play in the Doctor’s personal future, and rather than pussyfoot around such musings, Moffat simply has Amy storm straight in and ask the burning question: will River eventually be the Doctor’s wife? As one would expect, Amy doesn’t get a “spoiler”, though River does point out that with the Doctor, nothing is that simple, and I suspect that the truth is far murkier and more intricate than any of us could possibly deduce.
Turning to the Weeping Angels themselves, in this week’s Do-ctor Who Confidential actress Karen Gillan goes so far as to call them “the scariest monsters on Doctor Who ever,” and I’m tempted to agree with her, particularly given how Moffat succesfully expands upon the solid foundations laid in Blink in the second half of this episode.
“There’s one survivor. There’s a thing in the belly of that ship that can’t ever die.”
The suitably forbidding Maze of the Dead allows the writer to really showcase the full ghastliness of his new and improved monsters, whilst still pushing the episode’s rich, blockbuster movie feel. Indeed, some of director Andrew Smith’s shots here put me very much in mind of the Mines of Moria in Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring, which of course had a lot more money behind it.
The Lonely Assassins themselves maintain all their most alarming attributes from Blink, but – quite appropriately – here the volume is turned up to eleven. You can forget about all this they’ll send you back in time and “kill you nicely” rubbish; the Weeping Angels of this adventure are brutal, neck-breaking bastards, and malicious, manipulative ones at that. Their attempts to rile the Doctor at the end of the episode as they speak through the mind of a dead cleric betrays a calculating intelligence that I hadn’t previously ascribed to them, but that they really needed if they were to effectively carry a two-part adventure such as this one.
“The eyes are not the window to the soul, they are the doors. Beware what may enter there.”
What’s more, the reveal that an Angel can enter some-one’s soul through their eyes and wreak havoc with their mind is a (literally) petrifying development, as portrayed so effectively through the scene where Amy believes that her arm has turned to stone, forcing the Doctor to bite her, just to prove that it hasn’t.
However, my favourite sequence in the episode reveals the Angel’s most unsettling new feature – “that which holds the image of an Angel, becomes itself an Angel.” That’s right: the Angels can jump straight out of your television screen or your picture book and kill you where you stand, if only you blink. I can’t even begin to imagine the level of dread that this will inspire in the nation’s children. There’ll be no sleeping tonight for most of them – they’ll just be staring horror-struck at the Doctor Who books and DVDs on their bookshelves, too scared to risk closing their eyes, lest an Angel appear. It’s probably a good job that this episode isn’t in 3D…
“Doctor, it’s coming out of the television!”
On a penultimate note, as we’ve all come to expect from Moffat, the whole script is saturated with dexterous little touches that give his world real substance. Making River’s allies Christian clerics as opposed to your bog-standard stormtroopers, for instance, complements the quasi-religious imagery of the Angels beautifully, and raises some interesting questions that I’m sure next week’s Flesh and Stone will address.
The last word, however, must go to Matt Smith. Although (or, perhaps, because) River has his character knocked so far off-kilter throughout this episode, his performance is even stronger than it was last week. From his gawky pre-title “scorekeeping” in the museum to the deliber-ately disconcerting image of his last-minute discharge of a weapon, once again Smith dominates the proceedings with consummate ease - not bad at all to say that this was the first of his episodes to go before the cameras. His final, lyrical (albeit Graham Norton-marred) speech is delivered with such gusto that I was actually scared for the Angels, not our heroes. Next week they’re really gonna have something to weep about.
“If you’re smart, if you value your continued existence, if you have any plans about
seeing tomorrow there’s one thing you never, ever put in a trap: me.”
Well-paced, suspenseful and subversive, The Time of Angels is probably the series’ most disturbing episode since The Satan Pit. But, unlike Matt Jones’ unremittingly ominous outing for the Devil, this episode has one spoonful of fun for every two of fear, and if Flesh and Stone can maintain this delicate balance next week then we’re going to be in for one hell of a captivating conclusion.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Wowza! That was intense.
The only thing that could possibly get me more excited than Churchill and the Daleks was River Song and the Weeping Angels, and whilst last week’s episode was a lot of fun, it is this sort of story that people remember.
One criticism that I would make of the opening episodes of this series would be that Steven Moffat is such a masterful storyteller that he cannot cram an entire narrative of his usual high standard into just forty-five minutes, and as a result the complicated story of The Beast Below felt rushed. I could make the same observation about Mark Gatiss’ Victory of the Daleks too. The Eleventh Hour, on the other hand, was extended to allow the story time to breathe and The Time of Angels has the fortunate position of being a double episode spectacular. Now this story really does have time to breathe, to introduce us slowly to the threat and then trap us alone in the dark with it…
“Her past, my future. Time travel. We keep meeting in the wrong order.”
Moffat’s imagination is firing on all cylinders here as he crams all manner of inventive touches into the episode. The story opens with vivid, hypnotic imagery that sees one of my least favourite singers stood in a sunny field with screaming birds and lipstick smeared on his face and this gave me the heads up that this episode was going to be something a bit different and special. The museum that the Doctor visits to “keep score” is a throwaway idea worthy of an episode in itself. You’ve got an army that carries guns and shoots to kill, a very different Church to that we recognise today. Two headed aliens that can self-marry (which, as Amy comments, could end in very messy divorce!) The maze is described as being on six levels to explore the ascent of the soul. Moffat is like a painter who knows he has already painted a masterpiece, but adds lots of little touches just to make it that bit more memorable.
I really enjoyed the extended teaser; I’m used to the pre-titles sequences being little tasters with a mini-cliffhanger, but the five minutes sequence here tells a little story of its own. Think Alias but replace Jennifer Garner with a femme fatale in the shape of River Song from Silence in the Library. She looks awesome walking through the corridors of the Byzantium in a party frock and sunglasses, opening an airlock and flying into the TARDIS. It’s pacy, exciting, visually arresting and gloriously imagined. It sucked me into the story with far more aplomb than the push of model Dalek over a war map.
“It’s a long story and I don’t know most of it. She’s the future; my future.”
Each week I feel we are moving away from the feel of the Russell T Davies years and back into familiar classic series territory. There was something wonderfully retro about the Doctor and Amy legging it back to the TARDIS in the museum and the fun interplay in the TARDIS console room (“They’re blue boringers!”) It could have been cut from any number of stories where the writing has been witty enough. I could easily imagine the fourth Doctor and Romana having great fun with this dialogue.
What’s more, how delightful to have a story where the characters run about in darkened caves (Doctor Who and the Silurians, Revenge of the Cybermen, Earthshock) and are menaced by terr-ifying nasties. What I really like about all this is how far from the mundane we have travelled; every single Davies season capitalised on a trip back to modern day Earth with politics and the various companions’ family taking prominence, but I hardly think that a trip to Dalek-infested Blitz counts! The Doctor and Amy are having a series of adventures with no ties (as of yet) back to Earth. That just feels nice. The fact that we know so little about Amy still leads me to believe she is no ordinary companion. I think there are secrets to come…
And what a location! Adam Smith once again proves why he got the gig with some truly magnificent direction. The shot of the Byzantium sticking from the top of an Aplan Temple is gloriously cinematic and complimented by some fine location filming. The Maze of the Dead sounds frightening before we have even set foot beneath the surface of the planet, but that stylish shot of the Doctor kicking the gravity globe and lighting up the chasm full of dark tunnels and creepy statues took my breath away. The water drips from statues, the caves are oppressive and full of shadows for the Angel to stalk you in, and the scale of the maze is enormous. How do you search out a murdering statue in a maze full of statues? The director cuts the scenes in the maze with rapid shots of the Angel springing out of the viewer, talons raised, fangs drawn, shitting up the audience magnificently. I am pleased that I waited until it was dark before I watched this episode…
Even when you know exactly what to expect, the Angels are still the creepiest monsters in Doctor Who. Ever. The Doctor describes th-em as being “patient, not dormant” which sent a chill down my spine before we even saw one. The sequence with Amy trapped with the looping image of the Angel changing is the scariest thing we have seen since the show came back. The sudden shock of seeing the Angels blank eyes peering out of the screen was scary enough but when it decides to go all The Ring on us and burst from the screen right in front of Amy I have to admit I was sheltering behind a cushion! The direction is pure horror movie, the cuts between Amy and the Angel are razor sharp and the shocks of the Angels movement are highlight by the music which tears right through your bravery! In Blink the Angels weren’t treated as intelligent creatures but reactive killers, however here they have a plan. One solitary Angel is trapped in the hold of a spaceship which it leads it to its destruction in order to trap a number of victims in the maze, where the dying numbers of its race wait, ready to stalk these victims until they have eaten up all their potential energy and freed themselves to hunt again.
“That which holds the image of an Angel becomes itself an Angel.”
Another moment that made my palms go sweaty was River and the Doctor realising that the statues don’t have two heads, which means that they are lost and surrounded by an entire army of decaying Angels! The half-melted, disfigured statues loom out of the darkness and Steven Moffat provides another chilling image when the Doctor quickly switches his torch on and off and they have all moved! Argh! The one crouching around the corner was the scariest… there was something very human about that pose that kept it in my mind. The Angels prove themselves to be the very worst of the creatures that the Doctor has encountered because although they want to kill you painfully, they want to hurt you too. Bob turning up on the intercom with his normal voice and personality is disturbing enough but his admission that “The Angel killed me too. I died in fear. I died afraid and in pain and alone. The Angels were very keen for you to know that” proves just what insidious bastards they are. Before they kill you, these monsters want to scare you as well.
Poor Amy Pond; all she wants to is to travel and see the wonders of the universe before heading back and marrying the man of her dreams. It’s the childhood she should have had before her wedding day. It thrills me to see Moffat refusing to seed any jealousy between Amy and River - Amy just gently mocks and admires how forward Ms Song is with the Doctor. The real nightmare of this story is the thought of being turned into one of these stone killers. It is very subtly done with moments like the dust weeping from the eyes and I think poor Amy is going to be in for a rough ride next week as this mental hold takes over.
“Ooh Doctor, you sonicked her!”
And just look at how assured Matt Smith is in his very first performance as the Doctor. “Come along, Pond” he exclaims like the nutty professor as he performs his environmental checks by sticking his head out of the door. He quietly admits that he can run away from whatever he likes, but there is something about River that makes him follow. I laughed when he pretended not to overhear River and Amy talking about him… what an ego this guy has! His ingenious method of pulling Amy out of her stony problem is to bite her hand (leading to her hilarious reaction: “Have you got space teeth?”). And the cliffhanger is beautifully constructed around the new Doctor, a crescendo of tension which leads to him doing the unthinkable – firing a gun and putting everybody’s life in jeopardy - but it ends on a really positive note too. Now that is not an easy feat to pull off… filling us full of hope whilst wondering how the hell they are going to get out of this one. It is easily one of the best written cliffhangers in the shows history, Graham Norton or not.
Last week I asked for more meat after three fantasy stories and boy did they deliver - after I had finished this episode I had worked my way through a 32 ounce steak, a suckling pig and a lamb joint! Like Silence in the Library, this opening episode is well-paced, packed with invention, scares, laughs and buckets of character. This would have been the two- parter Moffat would have written had Davies stayed on another year, and as such it feels like something very special indeed.
Copyright © Joe Ford 2010
Joe Ford has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
In Silence in the Library, “the crash of the Byzantium” was mentioned by River Song as being one of her earliest adventures with the Doctor (from his perspective) .
For the Doctor, this story takes place after the events of Silence of the Library and Forest of the Dead, in which River Song perished. In that two-part adventure, River was able to recognise the Doctor’s tenth incarnation instantly, presumably from the pictures that she claims to have of all the Doctor’s faces. However, it did seem to take a while for River to realise that it was their first meeting from the Doctor’s perspective, which is odd given that The Time of Angels implies that she knows the order of the Doctor’s incarnations as well as what they look like. This suggests that the Doctor might have encountered River again after Forest of the Dead but prior to The End of Time, while he still looked uncannily like David Tennant.
For River Song, this story takes place well ahead of Silence of the Library and Forest of the Dead, and her cryptic remarks here suggest that she has encountered at least one other future incarnation of the Doctor in her subjective past.
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