By William Hohmeister
I’m reviewing two Doctor Who episodes again this week, the two-parter: The Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone, in which the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy (Karen Gillan) run into several old faces.
River Song (Alex Kingston) reappears in The Time of Angels. We last saw her in Forest of the Dead, when she died to save the Tenth Doctor’s life (David Tennant). River and the Doctor meet in the wrong order: River’s past is the Doctor’s future, and vice-versa. River doesn’t know she’s going to die when she meets Ten, and this is only the second time the Doctor has met her at all.
He does know that River is important to his future, however. River leaves a message requesting a rescue on the black box of a space ship, which the Doctor finds 12,000 years later while browsing a museum. He and Amy steal the box and escape to rescue River, who tells them to “follow that ship” as it blasts off.
River and the Doctor fly the Tardis in pursuit until the space ship crashes on a planet. The Doctor asks where River learned to fly, but she only says she was taught by the best – “Shame you [the Doctor] were busy that day”. She lands the Tardis without the traditional braying noise, which she says only occurs because the Doctor “drives with the brakes on”.
River is a nice contrast to the Doctor. She challenges him. She drives the Tardis better than he does, knows more about him than he does about her, and takes absolutely zero crap from him. When the Doctor shows off, she only says to Amy: “He thinks he’s so hot when he does that”.
The ship crashes on a human-colonized planet, where River introduces the Doctor to a group of Clerics, soldiers for the Space Catholic Church, and reveals why they’re here: a Weeping Angel was onboard the crashed ship. The Cleric leader, Father Octavian (Iain Glen), tells River she promised him an army. She replies she promised the equivalent of an army, and turns to the Doctor. I love this, because it shows right away that at least one character understands Eleven well enough to realize that he’s dangerous, deadly, and incredibly useful if pointed in the right direction. River seems just manipulative enough to get the Doctor involved in an interesting story.
River apparently has an interesting future/past as well. Father Octavian warns River not to reveal too much about herself to the Doctor. He claims that the Doctor won’t help them if he finds out what crimes River has committed. I’m more interested in River than any other character we’ve met so far, including the Doctor.
The Clerics, Amy, River, and the Doctor enter a small shuttle to watch a video loop of the Angel trapped in the crashed ship. Later, while the Doctor and River read through a book about the Angels written by a lunatic, the image of the Angel on the screen moves through the screen and threatens Amy. They discover that “whatever holds the image of an Angel, is an Angel”. Amy calls for help, and the Doctor tells her to watch the Angel, but not to look it in the eyes. Amy rescues herself by pausing the video, which freezes the Angel.
The group deduces that the Angel must have descended from the ship into the Maze of the Dead, a necropolis built by the Aplans, the planet’s former native inhabitants. They descend to search for it and kick up a gravity globe to provide light.
Amy Pond doesn’t do anything without the Doctor, and that continues to be her problem. Throughout these episodes the Doctor has to act as her babysitter. When he’s not around, she has no real personality. River brings out a bit of character in her, however. Amy figures out that River and the Doctor must have a romantic past, possibly marriage. River grudgingly admits that Amy is good, but does not confirm or deny it. She and Amy also joke that River knew how to contact the Doctor because he always ends up in museums eventually – it’s how he keeps score. It still centers her character on the Doctor, but it’s better than having no role or point other than being rescued.
The Aplan Maze of the Dead is full of statues, which makes looking for the Angel both impossible and deadly. The Angel slowly picks off several Clerics as the group explores. One Cleric, Bob (it’s a holy name), panics and fires randomly. Octavian chastises him for it, but the Doctor steps in. I think we’re supposed to side with the Doctor, as he confronts mean-old-Mister-Octavian and reassures Bob, but I don’t. The Doctor comes off as needlessly hostile and wastes time in a dangerous situation.
It ends up not mattering anyway. While the Doctor tells Bob that “scared makes you fast” and that “anyone not scared is a moron”, the Angel kills Bob just as the Doctor and River realize their mistake. The Aplans were a two-headed species. The statues have only one head. The statues are all Weeping Angels, starving to death. The ship is a rescue ark for these Angels. I am a bit confused and annoyed. How did the Angels – who look human – infiltrate the Aplan (who don’t look human)? The Angels supposedly exist all throughout the universe, but how can they when they look only like one distinct species?
I empathized with the Angels in Blink. Ten called them the “lonely assassins”. They fed off energy produced by sending people back in time, and could never be seen except as statues. This was awful, but understandable because it was how they had to survive. Rather than feeding on the Clerics, though, the Angels snap their necks, feed off the radiation from the engines of the crashed ship, and taunt the Doctor using Bob’s voice. They turn from necessary predators into cliche villains.
The Doctor shoots the gravity globe, which propels the remaining group onto the crashed ship in the cavern ceiling. They manage to escape into the ship, pursued by the Angels. Eventually they reach a control room, with a door leading to a borg forest. Cyborg trees on board the ship provide air during long spaceflights, and make an awesome setting. The Doctor opens up one to expose the wires and circuits. Another control room lies at the opposite end of the forest.
Amy slows the group down here. She looked into the eyes of the Angel earlier, and is slowly turning into an Angel. She counts down to it without realizing, and the countdown is effective and creepy. The only way to stop the process is to close her eyes. The Angels surround the group in the forest and the Doctor is forced to leave Amy to reach the control room. He takes only River and Octavian with him, and tells the other Clerics to keep Amy safe, or they will answer to him.
What happened to the Doctor between sticking up for Bob and threatening the Clerics if anything happens to Amy? He went very quickly from supporting one Cleric to stating that the other Clerics don’t matter as long as Amy lives. Everyone other than Amy is just a casualty. I think it points to the Doctor’s self-righteousness and self-serving morality. This character can work if it includes repercussions for the Doctor, which I hope to see as the series goes on. So far, the Doctor still gets treated like a regular hero.
The Doctor and River make it through the forest, but Octavian is caught and killed by an Angel. Before he dies, however, he warns the Doctor not to trust River, claiming that she killed “a good man”. The Doctor and River find a new control room and search it for a way to escape, but find only a broken teleporter.
Meanwhile, a new Crack in reality has appeared near Amy and the Clerics. The Angels initially attempt to feed off it, but flee when it consumes some of them. The Crack eats the Clerics one by one, and we learn that the Cracks erase people from existence. This is quite a change from The Eleventh Hour, when a Crack allowed Prisoner Zero to escape through it, and I’m curious about what caused the change.
Amy calls the Doctor, who helps her walk through the forest to him with her eyes still closed. She has to walk through a group of Angels by pretending she can see them, but trips. The Angels slowly turn to look at her. This ruins the remaining mystery of the Angels, as we now know they always look like statues and actually see them move. The Doctor manages to get the teleporter working and saves Amy.
The Angels demand that the Doctor sacrifice himself to close the Crack, which can apparently only be closed by a huge space-time event (though the sonic screwdriver managed it in The Eleventh Hour). Instead, the Doctor turns off the gravity and the Angels fall into and seal the Crack.