Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone

The next great Moff-tacular and possibly the best of them all. From the cool-as-space opening in which River faces off with Simon Dutton ("Oooh, he was James Bond right?") to the coda in Amy's bedroom, this two-parter is gorgeous, full of brain-melting moments and glorious stings. Here are just a few of the many reasons why this story is so good.

1. "You might want to find something to hang on to." What an entrance, and an exit, from the brilliant River Song. Not only fabulously stylish, but (like Ginger Rogers) backwards and in heels.

2. The Smith/Kingston chemistry - perfectly triangulated by Karen Gillan. "Ooh, Doctor, you sonic-ed her!" she purrs, bullseyeing the Doctor's discomfort: he's both intrigued and beguiled by Song, but also incredibly anxious about her foreknowledge. Smith's younger Doctor excels time and again in scenes with older women and the rapport with Alex Kingston is very good indeed.

3. The Angel in the television. Moffat is brilliant at extending the threat to the audience and here he makes the very medium of Doctor Who the danger. Even on a re-watch, the boys were alarmed. "That's impossible, it can't get out!" The resolution, Amy pausing the tape on a split-second of static, is clever too.

4. They're all Angels! Ha ha, another unexpected reversal from Moffat: the problem isn't an Angel hiding in a cave full of statues, it's a cave full of Angels. Suddenly the stakes go through the roof. Which is okay, because that's where the Doctor's off to next.

5. The cliffhanger. The Doctor get's these epic speeches these days. They get repeated a little too often for my liking (the Pandorica one pops up time and again), but in context they are breath-taking. "There's one thing you should never put in a trap..." warns the Doctor, sending chills down the spine of everyone watching, as well as neatly foreshadowing the season finale. The resolution is even better. Without ever being told, we just instinctively know that's how the gravity on spaceships must work. The transition from the cave to the Byzantium's corridor is super cool, funny and so, so, clever.

6. Amy's countdown. 'Ach,' I've heard it said, 'Moffat scripts are all just tricks and gimmicks.' Hell yeah they are: brilliant tricks and incredible gimmicks that effortlessly propel the most impossible stories from one extraordinary moment to the next. This is one of them: Amy begins to randomly insert numbers into conversation - and then we realise she is counting down to something, but what? The tension is raised even further and the audience is clinging on by their knuckles.

7. The Crack - the mysterious crack from Amy's bedroom has been popping up all over time and space. But now it is suddenly big and involved and the Angels aren't the only issue. Everyone was expecting a slow thirteen episode arc for the Crack; when it turns up here, everything has to go up a gear.

8. A forest in a bottle on a spaceship in a maze. Sometimes great writing is just shifting the tone - moving from cave to ship to forest creates the sense of a journey, and allows some spooky outside scenes in an easy-to-find setting. "Have I impressed you yet?" asks the Doctor. Er, yes, yes you have.

9. The puzzle of the Angel in Amy's eye. Another wonderful bit of thinking from the Doctor as he rationalises the problem and deduces a solution. We see his cleverness when we see him think. Also, the forest is full of Angels - but Amy has to keep her eyes shut? That's suddenly blisteringly scary.

10. The Secret Throw-Forward. We didn't know at the time, and we could barely guess, that this was a future version of the Doctor talking to Amy in the Forest, begging her to remember the thing he is about to say when he next sees her seven year old self. It's not really foreshadowing, because there's no way to appreciate until we have watched The Big Bang, but it is a desperately clever bit of writing that rewards the repeat viewing and demonstrates the wonderful complexity of the Doctor's life and his incomparable intelligence: even if we aren't quite following, he instinctively knows what is going on.

11. Iain Glen's Father Octavian. A great performance from Glen is capped by a highly-memorable death scene. Doctor Who is a show that will always (hopefully) side with science over belief, but that doesn't mean that it can't show the better qualities of  people of faith. "I rather think you've seen me at my best," says Octavian and the Doctor, heavy of heart, agrees.

12. Amy's blind walk. She sets off through the forest of Angels, her eyes screwed shut. If the Doctor's explanation doesn't quite convince (the Angels don't attack because they think she's walking like someone who hasn't got their eyes shut?), then never mind because what happens next will drive it from your mind: the Angels move. It's a haunting, almost surreal moment and it looks stunning and magical, like the most perfectly executed effect shot - but the utter brilliance of it is that we have just been dazzled by a dancer in a monster suit slowly moving her arm.

13. The gravity of the situation. It's a great final reversal of fortunes for the Weeping Angels as the ship's gravity gives up and the floor becomes a wall. The cleverness of it lies in having orientated the audience at the top of the episode so that this switcheroo feels instinctively right - but it would be slightly improved if it was the Doctor turning off the gravity rather than it just happening to fail at the right time.

Then it's just spoilers and goodbyes on the beach (with that lovely transmat effect that swirls River away in a little tornado, like a witch) and then - ooh, Amy launches herself at the Doctor. This caused some fan consternation I can tell you, with many voices engaging in some dour moralising and castigating Amy for her behaviour, or Moffat for his sexism in having written a female character that was in charge of her own sexual agency. (The wonderfully erudite Philip Sandifer has written a very good piece on Moffat and sexism here and I urge you to read it.) Well, it didn't ruffle my feathers - if nothing else it's superbly funny although Amy's behaviour does, now, seem a little aberrant. But the reason it seems so odd now is because of what the Doctor does next: he goes and gets Rory. And as we shall see, Rory is lovely and rather wonderful, so hooray.

Most extraordinary of all, this is Matt Smith's first day on the job as the Doctor (apart from the regeneration): these episodes were filmed before any others. From the very first moment it is an astonishing performance and he is absolutely perfect as the Doctor. It's a staggering achievement.


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