jason stives looks at the fall finale of dr. who and the departure (we think) of the ponds…
…And just as quickly as they arrived they have left our screen. The real struggle of watching your favorite television show is that it starts and then the episode is over in the blink of an eye. Even worse is when you have a show like Doctor Who where major cast members depart on a regular basis every few seasons. For some uber fans, the departure of Amy and Rory Pond (err Williams) in tonight’s mid-series finale “The Angels Take Manhattan,” couldn’t have come any sooner. Unlike the Russell T. Davies-era of the show which emphasized character development and back-story, the Steven Moffat-era emphasizes storylines around the characters although there is more than enough room for character growth. Amy Pond is a polarizing companion that is cunning and inspiring and at times greatly frustrating depending on who is writing for her that week. Her treatment of Rory over 2.5 seasons has been very bi-polar at best but through it all Karen Gillian has worked with what she has given and put a lot of raw emotion behind it even if she comes off very unlikable at times. Regardless, their exit tonight was a memorable one that despite having a gut wrenching impact was sullied a bit by a rushed story but a very good one none the less.
Let’s focus on the story at hand: The Weeping Angels are back and they have taken over every statue in Manhattan and have used it as a hub for the time travel energy they feed off of so much. Smack dab in the middle of this are The Doctor and Amy who are led on a wild goose chase into 1938 New York where they are aided by a book of revelations, a detective novel written by one Melody Malone, otherwise known as River Song. Beyond finding out what the Angels are up to they must search for Rory who has been zapped into the past by The Angels. This time though, there will be tears before bedtime and not everyone will be getting out alive. Well, that’s not true they technically all do but our dearest Ponds don’t make it back to the present with their beloved Doctor and their daughter.
Okay, so let’s discuss the story before I get even more sidetrack and let my emotions run wild. This story is a bit all over the place but it’s not hard to understand, merely, it just needed more time to be explained and developed. While having no two-parters this season meant more stand alone stories a story like “Angels Take Manhattan” really could’ve benefited from a second part or at least another 15 minutes because there is a lot of fun and suspense here. Despite losing the edge of being truly terrifying anymore, the presence of the Weeping Angels is still strong and the fact that they have overtaken the gothic setting of the Big Apple, where statues abound on every street, really gives an added edge of creepiness. It was also great that one of their signature ways of death, the ability to send people back in time, was reintroduced and it was done very effectively and for the stories climax made perfect sense and was utilized well even if it was instantaneous. Oh, and for the record, those little cherub statues? Creepy as hell! Adding that child laughter underneath their movement made them far more horrific than I expected. If there is one complaint and its minor because it makes sense, I could’ve done without the Statue of Liberty being a weeping angel although I would’ve been shorted the classic dean pan line of Rory’s about always wanting to visit her but she just couldn’t wait.
The 1938 setting was great although it was only utilized so much since it was basically just a plot device more than a world to explore. This is really about the 4 main characters and despite a stereotypical detective in the cold opening and an antique collecting mob boss this was a get out alive story more than a problem solver. The sets look great and both the creepy angel hotel and the mob boss’ home were designed beautifully and kept right in line with a hard boil detective story. (*Mini fan note* Can we please have Alex Kingston wear more detective garb? Very sexy, and apologize to the female readers, I’ll stop.) Speaking of Alex Kingston, River was remarkably mature here compared to her last appearance on screen and it made for some great interactions with The Doctor. She now knows The Doctor far too well and seeing her handle everything with a sense of business was perfect but for me it was the egging on of her mother at episodes end that really felt so genuine and encouraging. This story without having to throw it out in front was all about Amy and Rory and the choices made by the two in this episode tugged really hard on the heart strings. Rory above all has become such a strong male companion and here when it seems he is thinking irrationally it just showed how much he loves Amy. Amelia wasn’t short on quick decisions either and if anyone had to question what she wanted more, The Doctor’s company or her husbands, it was obvious even before her final decisions where her heart lied and it was truly rewarding to see.
Let’s talk about The Doctor because I feel there is much to be said here in regards to the Timelords broken hearts. For me The Doctor’s love life has become too much of a burden and focusing on it greatly tangles up the character development. I think in a way this is why Amy and Rory’s relationship seems so scatterbrained because the focus always falls back on The Doctors relationship with Amy. This sudden fear of loneliness that has popped up this season really bothered me when it came time for Amy and Rory’s sudden departure in particular when The Doctor was trying to level with Amy when she chose to let the Weeping Angel send her back in time. It’s an understandable fear of loneliness but it also seems irrational for him to think she wouldn’t do that considering that they both jumped off a building together to break the angels fixed timeline. That doesn’t mean the hurt wasn’t felt watching The Doctor witness the sudden loss of two of his best friends and to say it didn’t make me misty eyed when he read Amy’s afterward in River’s book is an understatement. It is those little speeches that have made the Moffat-era so magical at times and the afterward speech truly felt like something our emotions needed. It was beautiful by all means and despite any feelings about a rushed plot and inconsistencies in the treatment of my emotional expectations, it summed up a truly special episode.
The exit of the Ponds for a portion of the fan population will be a relief but in the 2.5 seasons that Amy and Rory have been present in the 11th Doctors life we have been treated to a plethora of emotions good and bad and have bared witness to another heavy aspect of our favorite Timelord in his need to have someone along for the ride to prevent him from going too far over the edge. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, it has been showcased before but that was just in spades where as now we have consistently seen this theme brought up. The mystery of The Doctor should no doubt if it hasn’t already be the focus of the rest of this season but for now we grieve as fans over a devastating lost to our dear Doctor. “The Angels Take Manhattan” may not be a perfect episode of Doctor Who but based on look, thrills, and the overall emotional punch of its conclusion it is a memorable story and one whose finals minutes will remained engrained on fans minds for months to come. Sure, there are tons of things to discuss within this story that may not make sense and maybe I’m a being a bit thickheaded about discussing them but the root of this episode was never going to be the science or the plausibility but the heart and how watching fictional characters can tug at our hearts in ways that only can be compared by the real thing. Your favorite TV show will always be something that frustrates you or excites you or even hurts you at times because it’s a world you have come to know in your eyes and heart just as well as the people who made it. The connection you feel is indescribable at best and Doctor Who for me is indescribable to those who don’t watch it not by premise but by how it has taken my Saturday nights for the past seven years and filled my head with beautiful visions, thrilling adventures, and characters that change with you as the years go by for good and for worse.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Excellent)
JASON STIVES WILL RETURN AT CHRISTMAS IN: THE UNTITLED DOCTOR WHO CHRISTMAS SPECIAL REVIEW