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Weeping Angels, Artificial Gravity and Why Trees on a Space Ship Aren’t Ridiculous

May 5, 2010

Right, first thing’s first, sorry for the delay on this one but it’s been a busy week. How I’ve gone for so long without giving in and watching the latest Doctor Who is a mystery, especially as the only other thing I’ve got to do is revise. Priorities eh? But onwards into the episode, and what a cracker it was! The build-up in last week’s The Time of Angels left us with high expectations but Flesh and Stone certainly delivered! And it even left us with some delicious tit-bits for episodes to come (I particularly like the idea of Amy’s fiancé in the TARDIS).

In my recent Doctor Who-related web browsing I’ve seen a lot of reference to the Alien films, predominantly in snippets from interviews with Moffat himself. He said that his intention behind this 2-parter was to take the Weeping Angels from Blink – a worthy breed of Doctor Who monster – and put them in an entirely different scenario that was bigger, bolder and made them even more formidable. Now, I haven’t actually seen any of the Alien films but if the Weeping Angel episodes are anything to go by (well, those and the fact that the Alien people won’t stop making sequels and Predator crossovers) then the bigger-and-bolder formula is certainly one that works. Though they’re still relatively new to the show, the Weeping Angels are already well-established as one of the Doctor’s most frightening adversaries and have re-established the old kids-behind-the-sofa theme of a bygone telly-era. Any Doctor Who fan who didn’t nearly wee themselves when they first saw the angels move is either lying or doesn’t have a bladder.

Alex Kingston as River Song was excellent again too. As always she and the Doctor had some terrific dialogue both together and individually, and once again I have very high praise for the show’s writing. My favourite lines are at the bottom of this post but my absolute favourite of River’s lines, because of writing and delivery, was the exchange between her and the bishop when he asked her if she trusted the Doctor. “Do you trust this man?” “I absolutely trust him.” “He’s not some kind of mad-man then?” “…I absolutely trust him.” That she kept a straight face for that line shows how good an actress she is. Someone else delivering it could have made it too silly and comic but her delivery had the perfect balance between humour and not-killing-the-moment. Top notch.

I did have a few niggles though. The main one was Amy and the cardinals in the forest when the Doctor had left them there. The way she kept asking what was happening was understandable – if you lose your sight you’ll need to ask what everyone else is seeing, especially if there’s potential death all over the place – but I did find the repetition of “What’s happening?” start to grate after a few repetitions. Also, I didn’t notice this myself but I’m told by my housemate that the cardinals repeated the “We’ve got angels here“, “Over here as well” exchange 3 times before the Crack opened. They are soldiers and have to keep each other updated and whatnot, but I will agree that exchange there could have been a bit more lively. The other big niggle is that the angels seemed to be able to move when they could see each other, which slightly contradicts the ending of Blink. Maybe they’re very co-ordinated when they’re attacking en mass, or maybe on some level they can control their turning-to-stone defence mechanism. After all, when Amy was walking through them they could turn it on at will, maybe in certain circumstances they can turn it off at will too, like if they know it’s just another angel that’s looking at them and not a threat. It’s not a big niggle, they’re Moffat’s creations and he can fiddle around with how they work if he likes (after all, apparently in the Daleks’ first appearance they couldn’t leave their home city because they got their power supply from the metal floors*), but it is a point to consider.

As to the episode as a whole, I throughly enjoyed it. It had great pace in places and felt very well put together. If it had been done differently then a few of the key elements of that episode could have looked fairly dodgy, and seemed like little more than a rushed plot-forwarding device – simulated gravity that orientates automatically to the floor and an ‘oxygen factory’ electric forest to list some examples. By the same token, the way they were first explained to Amy and to the viewers could have been too simplistic and ended up feeling like a bit of a cop out. However, thanks to the way these things were revealed they didn’t seem over the top or out of place. ‘Of course artificial gravity would work like that’ we think, ‘and of course you’d need an oxygen supply on a long-haul space vessel’. A forest full of electric trees, on a space ship no less, was made to look like the most obvious thing in the world, and was able to be ingeniously simplistic without getting in the way of the storytelling. That, ladies and gents, is science-fiction as it should be.

Besides the latest episode, the thing I like about the whole series so far is the way all of the episodes have been linked together. This holistic approach to the series has made it feel much more like an overall story than simply like a collection of consecutive episodes. I also like the way the Crack plot arc isn’t being unnecessarily drawn out (though clearly it’s now significant enough to have its own capital C). A very obvious sighting of a Crack in every episode could have become annoying if it had continued without being explained. However, using it as a pivotal part of the plot after only 5 episodes changes it from a hint that only the audience sees to something that’s a significant element of the story, morphing the interest that the audience already has and making the same plot arc feel like a new one. It also tied in very well with Amy not remembering the Daleks. I had wondered if Moffat was going to introduce some big complicated way for everyone on Earth to forget about the existence of aliens, maybe in order to reboot the series again in a more low-key way after the spectacle of the Russell T Davies years. It remains to be seen whether Moffat does in fact make everyone forget (and part of me hopes he does), but if he does then so far the explanation looks like it’s going to be a plausible one and not a deux ex machina. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of RTD for bringing the show back and for everything he achieved with it, but he was overly fond of magic button endings.

And now for my best bits. Now, there were a lot so there is a risk of this turning into me gushing about how much I loved the writing and the production and all the rest of it, but I’ll try my best to keep a lid on that.

  • The angel trying to come alive behind Amy’s eyes was clever and very creepy. I did think the Doctor’s line here was good though (“Yes you’re right if we lie to her she’ll get all better”) because it made the danger to Amy more real, for her and for us. It was also the start of him getting properly angry with the situation, culminating in him shouting at River on the flight deck, which I thought demonstrated good acting by Matt Smith, and an angry and desperate side of the Doctor that we rarely get to see.
  • The bishop’s death was very respectful and showed him in a good light, despite him being very soldierly and hard-shelled early on. “I think sir you’ve known me at my best” was a very effective line. It also showed the speed the angels can have when they’re at full power, which reminded us of how deadly they really are.
  • When the angels move. I know I’ve said so already but it was it was properly creepy!
  • Amy snogging the doctor was quite funny and well performed. I liked this bit in particular because it wasn’t anywhere near as irritating as it could have been considering all of the companion-who-fancies-the-Doctor stuff we’ve seen before.
  • What if the gravity fails?” “I’ve thought about that.” “And?” “And we’ll all plunge to our deaths. See, I’ve thought about it.
  • Most of the Doctor’s lines when he was thinking on his feet, especially “it’s a thing in progress, respect the thing”.
  • Handcuffs. Must it always end this way?” Now there’s a poignant piece of dramatic irony!

And as for the preview, well I’ll be honest I have no idea where they’re going with the series but I’m very much looking forward to finding out! Hopefully my review next week won’t be so late either.

*Thanks to Giford from h2g2 for that factoid.

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