The Time of Angels
This is the first two parter of Moffat's inaugural season of Doctor Who and he's gone back to the well of, perhaps the best story he penned in Davis's era, 'Blink'. This is both a follow up to that story and also another of Moffat's stories “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead”. It not only sees the return of Blink's Weeping Angel but also 'Libraries'' "River Song". She being, a companion of the Doctor who we, and the Doctor, have yet to meet properly. They keep “running into each other out of order” as the Doctor says. Blink was quite an accomplishment, and well liked, so it's risky to revisit it here and possibly trample all over an, almost iconic, yet simple 'monster'.
It's starts off with us meeting the Doctor and Amy after they've turned up in the future at a museum. The Doctor is checking out the objects searching for evidence of himself “to keep score”. He finds a futuristic version of a 'black box recorder' (called a “Home Box”) from an old space ship. It has caught his attention because it's covered with Gallifreyan writing that weirdly reads “hello sweetie”. He plugs the Home Box into the Tardis dashboard (which must have a socket everything) and we then cut to the Space Liner (called the Byzantium) twelve thousand years ago. The writing was put on the box specifically to catch the Doctor's attention. It etched in a hurry by none other than River Song. Back in the past (via CCTV recordings)/now she calls out her coordinates out to where she expect shte Doctor is listening and says her goodbyes to the people who are chasing her. Then she ejects herself out of the airlock in a bid to escape. As she explodes out of the ship, the Doctor pumps the coordinates into the Dash and the Tardis arrives just in time to catch her. They then head off to chase give chase after the Byzantium. Yay for 4th dimensional story telling!
Much to the Doctor's consternation, this woman on his Tardis knows how to fly it better than he does. She even lands it silently and reveals that it makes the iconic “huuuuuuurrrr...huuuuurrrrr” noise because the Doctor leaves the brake on. That solves that mystery, not that anyone wanted an answer to it really. Amy is enjoying this little ride and seems positively glee-full to see the Doctor getting taken down a peg or two by an older woman. The three exchange some top class banter and River exits the Tardis to check out the crashed ship which is now outside. At this point, the Doctor moves to start the Tardis up and leave River there, she is of course part of his future and it's best he doesn't stick around and find out anything which he shouldn't. But Amy isn't having any of that and convinces him to stay, so they head off to see what's happening outside.
After last week's dire affair this was a great opening some fine pace and action to it. Moffat has already made his stamp with some well thought out whibbly whobbly timey whimey goings on. The way River contacts the Doctor, via museum, is also a great way to contact a time traveller without having to resort to ringing him on a 'space' phone which happened last week and RTD did far too often. The very point of a time travel story, the Weeping Angels personify this, is that time can be as easy a thing to get lost in as space. By giving your characters phones they can use to call each across time, you remove a huge potential plot device. It's effectively like having some one exploring a desert and giving them a teleporter so they can get home any time they should they fall into trouble or get a little thirsty, it takes the tension out. Okay I'll stop having a go at RTD, just saying it's nice that Moffat works out these most basic of story telling rules. The opening is a positive sign that he is going to make his stamp on this episode and provide a nice follow up to “Blink”. And we haven't even seen a weeping angel yet.
The Tardis has arrived on the beach of a planet belonging to two headed race called the "Aplans", they died out 400 years ago and the Byzantium has smashed, nose first, into their old temple called the 'Metraxis'. River calls in some assistance from some the military Clergy and they set about trying to get into the temple. As it turns out, River is calling in the cavalry for good reason, what she's after is a 'Weeping Angel', it was residing in the vault of the ship before it crashed. The Doctor looks worried at this development. So he spearheads the plan for taking this mother out. That plan involved going through the catacombs beneath the Temple called the “Maze of the Dead” (nice) and then working their way through these and up into the ship, there they will be able to find and destroy the Angel. But they must do it before radiation from the ship melts all their faces off. Simples.
“The eyes are not the windows to the soul they are the doors, beware what may enter there”
River has a video clip she captured of the Angel when it was in the Byzantium's vault. It's just four seconds long and shows an Angel with it's back to the camera. The Doctor and River leave Amy alone playing with the video while they search for clues about the Angels in some books River recovered from a mad man. The door to the capsule Amy is in mysteriously closes and as she keeps looking away from the 'recording' of an Angel it starts to moving. “The image of an Angel itself becomes an Angel” Now trapped Amy is stuck in a small space with the Angel and she has to keep her eyes open while the Doctor and River try and get in. Moving closer and closer to her she stares into it's eyes, the Doctor warns against this and just when it seems she is done for, Amy finds a way out, pausing the video on the frame where there is a blip on the tape. Well done Amy. This was a great little tense scene which put a twist on the rules we are already familiar with about these monsters.
“I have no intention of going back to prison”
They all enter the pitch black, “labyrinth with dead people in the walls”, so the Doctor boots a 'gravity globe' up to the top of the cave so as to give them some light. Naturally they all split up for no reason. Father Octavian, leader of the Army-Clergy, takes River aside and warns her of letting the Doctor find out 'who she is' she replies that she won't be doing that as she doesn't want to go back to prison. Then Amy takes River to one side and decides this is also a good point to question River over the Doctor's future and whether she is actually married to him. She nicely dodges the question and they both have a dig at the Doctor for listening in on the conversation.
With everyone still split up, the Angel takes this opportunity to start to take out a few “red coat's” in the Army-Clergy. They quickly discover that they've been 'thick' (there's no convenient 'perception filter' in this episode) and ALL the statues in the catacombs, and there are a lot of them, are Angel's, seemingly in a state of decay. Now the s has hit the f. They are in trouble and surround by, slower, but still dangerous Angels. 'Sacred Bob', one of the Clerics is left out on his own, gets picked off by an Angel. Then, via some quantum such and such, his voice is taken over and Angels can now it to communicated on the radio. This is a plot device which was used in much the same manner in “Silence in the Library” only there is called "Ghost Data". So the Angels can now talk to, and taunt, the Doctor without completely compromising their menacing quantum stillness.
Now everyone is in full on 'run mode', but there is a problem which further ups the tension, Amy is stuck. When she looked into the Angel's eyes it messed with her head. She believes she is turning to stone. With the lights going out, the Doctor bites her to make her jump and to get her moving again. Now with everyone surrounded the Angels come on the radio to tell them they are going to die and they are trapped. This is a big mistake.. the Doctor responds.
“There's one thing you never put in a trap if you're smart, if you value you continued existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow, there is one thing you never ever put in a trap”
“and what would that be, sir?”
“Me!” replies the Doctor. The gravity globe (light) above is flickering out and the Doctor shoots it. Cliffhanger!
Compared to last week this episode flew by. Less than half the episode passes before they even get into the catacombs but that second half still seemed a lot shorter than the first. This is what you want for the first of a two parter. We haven't seen the second half, so it's too early to call yet, but it seems as if, aside from having some “rules” added to their nature, the Weeping Angels' haven't been over-explained or had their previous continuity messed with. This is great news, like all the scariest things in this world, the less you know about them the better. We don't want to be worrying about their children as the Doctor heads towards them in a steam roller, if you pardon the Austin Powers reference. This story is definitely 'Aliens' to Blink's 'Alien'. Throw some more monsters in, crank up the action and have some Soldiers as fodder. Nothing wrong with that though. As long as we don't get “Weeping Angels vs Cybermen” somewhere down the line.
On the subject of the dialogue, it's good to have Moffat back with his quippy back and forth banter. However the dynamic has changed slightly, Gillan and Kingston get the meat of this banter with Smith left to play the Doctor's much more serious side. This is a good thing, he's on the back foot here with a foe he can't reason with. It's nice that he's not playing around and feels the appropriate stress of situation.
Next week's conclusion can't come along soon enough, then a proper verdict can be passed on this story. However based on the pace and balance of part one, I'm optimistic that it'll close to a worthy conclusion. Even without an ending it's better than last week's 'Victory of the Daleks' so it's already an up-turn to the season.
But there's one little thing which could have made the episode better. You see that excellent dialogue I've transcribed above from the very end of the episode? Well, that really was a great way to end the episode; it's tension was well earned after a careful built up that went on for maybe a good ten minutes. It's just a shame this was ruined by a stupid animation of Graham Norton walking on the front of your TV screen. He was there to helpfully inform you that “Over the Rainbow” is on next. Very useful information, thanks “BBC department for ruining the ending of your own shows”. I can only imagine the expense that went into crafting and lighting that shot. Then the work Matt Smith put in to try and get his line reading correct. All that effort by all those people, only to have an animated character from another BBC department walk on the Doctor's face. Well done BBC. You do know that everyone hates American style overlay adverts right? They are certainly not something to aspire to.