Doctor Who season 7 episode 5 review: The Angels Take Manhattan

It's time to say goodbye (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk) It's time to say goodbye (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

** SPOILERS (naturally) **

[Alternatively: So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye.]

Rory is catapulted back in time to 1938 New York by the Weeping Angels, pushing the Doctor, Amy and River Song (Alex Kingston, in the guise of private eye Melody Malone) into one final confrontation with the Angels. Faced – literally – with his own mortality, Rory is forced into making the ultimate decision in a desperate attempt to change a future which has already been written. It’s time for goodbyes.

It’s time to say goodbye (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

The end is just the beginning

I hate endings.

Show-runner and episode writer Steven Moffat promised a five-part series of mini-movies leading up to a heart-breaking farewell for the Ponds and The Angels Take Manhattan delivers on both fronts, in what turns out to be a surprisingly introverted and character-driven episode sprinkled with some startling imagery.

Having already brought us dinosaurs and spaghetti westerns, this episode – including extensive location filming in New York’s iconic Central Park – is played out as an homage to film noir, from the Philip Marlowe-esque gumshoe voiceover at the beginning to the night-time setting and Murray Gold’s faithful score. And, in true Moffat style, the mind-bending plot revolves around a non-linear timeline and a cornucopia of visual and scripted gems. A few personal favourites:

  • The Statue of Liberty as the ultimate Weeping Angel. (Although was I the only one who was immediately reminded of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters, another film whose climax occurs on a New York roof-top?)
  • The post-credit sting from An Englishman in New York: “I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien. I’m an Englishman in New York.” Well, quite.
  • River: “It means, Mr Grayle, just you wait until my husband gets home.”
  • The cherubic ‘baby’ Angel blowing out Rory’s match.
  • River: “Any ideas?” Doctor: “Yeah, the usual. Run.”
  • Rory: “I always wanted to visit the Statue of Liberty. I guess she just got impatient.”
Er, she doesn’t look like that in all the guide books … (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

And, of course, there is Amy’s afterword to the Melody Malone novel, which references a host of stories from her 2½-season run:

Hello, old friend. And here we are: you and me on the last page. By the time you read these words Rory and I will be long gone, so know that we lived well and were very happy. And, above all else, know that we will love you always.

Sometimes I do worry about you, though. I think once we’re gone you won’t be coming back here for a while and you might be alone, which you should never be. Don’t be alone. Doctor.

And do one more thing for me. There’s a little girl waiting in a garden. She’s going to wait a long while, so she’s going to need a lot of hope [The Eleventh Hour]. Go to her. Tell her a story. Tell her that if she’s patient the days are coming that she’ll never forget. Tell her she’ll go to sea and fight pirates [The Curse of the Black Spot]. She’ll fall in love with a man who’ll wait 2,000 years to keep her safe [The Big Bang]. Tell her she’ll give hope to the greatest painter who ever lived [Vincent and the Doctor] and save a whale in outer space [The Beast Below].

Tell her this is the story of Amelia Pond – and this is how it ends.

The Doctor, alone once more (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Is it a fitting farewell to the Pond-Williamses’ adventures in the TARDIS? Yes, in practically every way. The couple go out on a high as Rory makes the hero’s choice and Amy twice makes the decision to stand by her husband’s side, first in jumping off the roof to trigger the paradox which destroys Winter Quay and then in allowing the remaining Angel to send her back to 1938 to rejoin Rory and live out their lives together. It’s a deliberate echo of Amy’s Choice, as she again decides that she is willing to risk her own life for the chance to see Rory again.

And by directing the Doctor back to her younger Eleventh Hour self, she allows him to avoid the ending he so hates. The end of Amy’s adventures becomes the hope which fuelled her stories of her ‘raggedy man’ to begin with. The final chapter becomes the prologue: a full circle with no end. It’s a subtle but immensely satisfying touch.

Tying up the loose ends of Amelia Pond’s story

The episode also provides some other echoes, and ties up a few loose ends. A few that occurred to me:

  • Of course River would adopt a pseudonym which spells out her identity in plain sight even before we have seen her: Melody Malone. The clues are all there in the text too: “My lipstick was combat-ready [a reference to Let’s Kill Hitler] and I was packing cleavage that could fell an ox at 20 feet.” Who else could it possibly be?
  • The Doctor travelling back to the Chinese Qin Dynasty to leave a message for River on a vase – just as she left the message “‘Hello sweetie” for him carved into the Byzantium’s black box in The Time of Angels.
  • Ever since we first met River and her diary in the Silence in the Library two-parter, we have been warned about the danger of spoilers. Here the Doctor finally articulates why in an exchange with Amy: “Once we know what’s coming, it’s fixed. Time can be rewritten. Not once you’ve read it.” (Let’s not get into arguments about temporal causality here. It’s too late in the evening for the inevitable headache which results.)
  • We learn how River came to leave the Stormcage Containment Facility: she was pardoned because the person she killed – the Doctor – never existed, having been erased from every known database. (Although I though Oswin Oswald had only erased all mentions of him from the Dalek collective?)

Moffat is to be congratulated here. Having taken on board the feedback from many fans that his all-encompassing season-long arcs were too convoluted and confusing – personally, I found them rather satisfying – he manages here to create a self-contained finale and farewell which packs a hefty emotional punch and provides satisfying closure. Amy and Rory get to reaffirm their love and say goodbye to each other on the roof before ultimately living out full lives together. Amy herself gets to say goodbye to the Doctor.

The story even addresses some of the niggles which irked fans during the previous four episodes. Amy’s ever-changing jobs gradually reposition her from being a model (as she was during last season’s Closing Time) to being a travel writer in an apparently throwaway line in The Power of Three, which makes it only a short step for her to become a publisher/editor who writes the afterword to Melody’s/River’s novel. And my personal bugbear of the way the Pond-Williamses had been written in the previous four episodes – as mere spectators/commentators rather than active participants in the stories – is turned on its head. Here the Doctor is utterly flummoxed, unable to devise a solution and seemingly boxed in by the laws of Time. It is left to Rory to work out how to initiate the paradox, and to Amy and Rory to give each other the strength to (literally) take the plunge. It’s heroic, it’s heart-breaking and it is carried off with utter conviction by both Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill.

I have some minor niggles with the speed at which the story is finally wrapped up – why, oh why, couldn’t this have been extended to an hour? – and the final explanation as to why the Doctor cannot travel back to rescue Amy and Rory is ropy at best. Yes, he explains that 1938 New York is now so messed up in terms of time distortions that he cannot take the TARDIS there. But why could he not have landed in, say, Washington and travelled to New York by some other means? Or why not at least try River’s vortex manipulator to punch through? It seems most unlike the Doctor and River – the two most resourceful people in the universe – not to at least try to rescue his best friends and her parents. Anyhow, it’s a minor quibble in the context of an unextended episode, and I would rather sacrifice some completeness in the plot and the related science than to have lost, say, Amy’s coda.

Through its previous four episodes, season seven got off to an uneven start. The Angels Take Manhattan, however, is a fine return to form and sets up the Christmas special and the remaining eight episodes beautifully.An ending, yes. But also a new beginning.

Next: The Christmas special, and the return of Jenna-Louise Coleman. Three months to wait. Anyone got a time machine to enable us to jump forward?

Rating: 10/10

Links:

BBC Doctor Who website

7.1 Asylum of the Daleks

7.2 Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

7.3 A Town Called Mercy

7.4 The Power of Three