DOCTOR WHO 7.5: “The Angels Take Manhattan”

As the Doctor has noted, Amelia Pond is not just any companion – to get all meta about it, she is the ultimate Steven Moffat character, so her send-off could not be just any old story; it has to be a classic. Rest easy, Amy, because Moffat has penned an absorbing tale of love and loss that will break both of the hearts of DOCTOR WHO fans the world over.

But it’s the good kind of heartbreak. The sort you’re talking about when you say It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. The DOCTOR WHO universe is infinitely richer for having known Amelia Pond, and so are we fans. This send-off was everything I hoped it would be — clever, dramatic, nostalgic, poetic and final. And also totally heartbreaking.

It was only fitting that Amy left the stage battling Moffat’s best monster, the terrifying Weeping Angels — those unstoppable creatures who send you into the past and let you live yourself to death. And the Ponds left together, as they were always destined to be.

The Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) are trying to enjoy a day of leisure in 2012 New York City’s Central Park. The Doctor is engrossed in a pulp detective novel set in 1938 written by “Melody Malone.” When Rory goes to fetch coffee, he suddenly appears in the narrative of the book the Doctor is reading — along with Amy and the Doctor himself! It turns out Melody is River Song (Alex Kingston) and the book she wrote details the future from the TARDIS team’s perspective, so anything they read in the book becomes fixed in history and must happen. The Doctor and Amy try to go to 1938, but there are too many time distortions to land. In the past, River and Rory are brought to Mr. Grayle (Mike McShane) who collects Weeping Angels. He wants Melody, the detective who investigates Weeping Angels, to explain them. Rory, meanwhile, is disposed of (“Give him to the babies” Grayle says) in a cellar filled with Weeping Angel cherubs with only a box of matches to defend himself. The Doctor goes to 221 BC China to send River a message by having it painted on a Chin dynasty vase in the room where Grayle has River. She uses her vortex manipulator to send him a homing beacon, enabling the TARDIS to land in 1938.

The Doctor and Amy find River trapped in the grip of a Grayle’s chained, nearly dead “pet” Angel, but Rory has been zapped to another location by the cherubs: the Winter Quay apartment building. When the Doctor, Amy and River track Rory to one of the rooms, watch as an aged version of Rory dies in a bed. The Doctor realizes that the Angels will zap Rory into the past and store him in this building (along with other victims), feeding off his time-distortion energy like a giant battery farm. The Ponds are determined to avoid that fate, and the Doctor and River realize that if the Angels don’t capture Rory, it will create a paradox that will poison the energy force and kill all the Angels. The Ponds flee to the roof, where they are confronted by the Statue of Liberty, which has become a Weeping Angel and walked to the Financial District. Rory realizes that committing suicide will cause a paradox, and Amy decides to join him. Together, they leap to their deaths from the top of the building — and the resulting time paradox destroys Winter Quay and the Angels.

Amy and Rory awake in a cemetery, alive and safe. But before everyone can leave, Rory notices a tombstone with his name on it. An Angel suddenly appears and dispatches him into the past, causing the grave marker to list his death as “aged 85.” The distraught Amy bids farewell to her daughter and the Raggedy Man, and surrenders to the Angel, hoping to be sent to the same era as Rory. It works, and her name appears on the tombstone underneath Rory’s. (She died aged 87.) The Doctor is completely devastated. River declines to travel with him permanently, and promises to have Amy write an afterward to her book. In that piece, Amy assures the Doctor that she and Rory had a long and happy life together (with her taking the name Amy Williams!). She warned the Doctor not to travel alone, and asked him to stop in on her younger self that morning she waited for him in the garden, and to tell the little girl she is going to live a life of high adventure.

So, Steven Moffat had this all planned out from his very first episode. Clever boy! That scene of little Amelia hearing the TARDIS wheeze is right there in “The Eleventh Hour,” and Moffat has demonstrated patience worthy of the Last Centurion:

“After showing Amelia Pond in the garden as a young girl in ‘The Eleventh Hour,’ [which was] Karen’s first episode, the final shot in Saturday’s ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ is a punch line I have been waiting to tell for two-and-a-half years.”

Something else that Moffat had clearly planned out was a tour-de-force opportunity for Karen Gillan to showcase her considerably acting chops. All the melancholy set-up in the world would be comical if his lead actress were in over her head — but Gillan was in her comfort zone. This was right in her wheelhouse. As she made Amy’s two big speeches about love and selfishness and self-sacrifice while her eyes welled with tears, I was very moved. The way Gillan was willing to ugly-cry while talking herself into risking everything on a slim hope proved beyond any doubt that Gillan is no mere glamour girl (even though she is among the most beautiful actresses on the planet). Moffat tapped Gillan’s inexhaustible wealth of emotions to make the audience share Amy’s choice and her sacrifice. She gave up her Raggedy Man for a chance (just a chance) at finding the man the loves. (And no offense to Darvill and Rory, the Boy Who Waited, but this was Karen and Amy’s story.)

Luckily, Gillan had a wonderful partner in those scenes — Matt Smith matched her stride for stride and emotion for emotion. The Doctor was horrified at the thought of losing Amy, that she would risk throwing her life away on a completely unknown chance. He did not want to lose his best friend. I thought it was sweet last week, when he told her that her faces was imprinted on both of his hearts, and this week we viewers could see those hearts being torn out by anxiety and grief over Amy, thanks to Smith’s performance. There was no “alien” in the Time Lord this week, as his human side dominated and Smith put the Doctor through an emotional wringer. Fans weren’t the only ones left desolate by Amy’s death.

But it was a good death; a brave death. A death born out of love.

Now, let’s talk about the horror of the Weeping Angels, easily the most frightening monsters ever — yes, I said ever — to appear on DOCTOR WHO. The Angels cannot move when you’re looking at them — even a blink counts as an opportunity for them to move — however, the that rule includes the gaze of the TV viewer; the angels are always frozen when we look at them, too (with the exception of one sequence in “Flesh and Stone.”) For proof, there are myriad scenes in which we viewers see an Angel behind a character, and it is quantum-locked despite the character not looking at it. Hence, we count! This gives viewers a sense of participating in the story. It has a wonderful effect of pulling us into the story, giving us a true “you are there” experience. Plus, the Angel stories tend to take place at night and/or underground, settings that have inherent fear and tension of their own.

I didn’t think it was possible to make the Weeping Angels any more terrifying, but Moffat did it by introducing the “babies” – little cherub statues! They are blood-chilling little creatures! The sound of their evil giggles and scampering little feet made my flesh crawl. And knowing they are the offspring of the Angels makes them so much worse! That column of cherubs advancing on Rory between matches made for eye-popping terror. And kudos to Moffat for coming up with idea of using matches to begin with. Since we viewers know each individual match will never last long, we’re anticipating the light going out almost as much as Rory is. And the music! The thumping soundtrack emphasized every time the cherubs and Angels changed position. It really got the heart pumping! I’d say this was the scariest episode of DOCTOR WHO I’ve ever seen.

One cannot understate the value of filming this story on location in the real New York City. Just the setting screamed “EPIC!” and made it so much easier to get into the spirit of the story. There is nothing like the real Central Park and its recognizable landmarks as well as the wide sidewalks of the actual streets of NYC. Almost every shot was framed to include as much NYC skyline and background as possible. I recognized so many of the locations – I pass through Grand Central Terminal twice every day of the week, and my office is a couple of blocks from Battery Park and where Winter Quay used to be.

However, despite the appeal of filming on location, the producers knew absolutely nothing about NYC geography. The Doctor, Amy and Rory started in Central Park, and after Rory disappeared, the Doctor and Amy returned to the TARDIS on the far shore of the East River – in Queens! I hope they took a cab. In the prologue, private investigator Garner says Winter Quay is near Battery Park, however the iconic Chrysler Building is clearly visible behind the building which is impossible, because the Chrysler is on 42nd Street in midtown, and cannot be seen from anywhere near Battery Park. Llater, River’s scanner fixes Winter Quay as approximately where the South Street Seaport is now, so surely Garner would have described the address as closer to the Brooklyn Bridge than to Battery Park, on the other side of the island?

Also, the establishing shot of Manhattan immediately following the opening title sequence is old footage that includes the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, which were destroyed by terrorists in 2001, so when the Doctor mentions they are in 2012… well… that’s just plain wrong. And, unfortunately, this imagery hits New Yorkers like a punch to the gut; it’s a big turn-off, and marks a rare serious misstep for the WHO production team.

I never wanted this episode to come, but having seen it, Moffat and company could not have done a better job sending the away in style. I especially liked that both Amy and Rory were stronger than ever, and the Doctor was about as helpless as he’s ever been. And Moffat didn’t shy away from what had to be done. He ended this story and buried his characters — quite literally. The finality of killing off both Amy and Rory provided this story with the dramatic heft it required.

I end this with one deeply heartfelt plea to the Grand Moff: Let Amy rest in peace. She’s dead now; let her stay that way. Amelia Pond’s story is complete. There’s nothing else that can possibly be said about her, and no good reason to ever bring her back. Ever. Let her stay dead. Like Marilyn Monroe, her legend will only grow in death.

RANDOM OBSERVATIONS:

Moffat totally caught me by surprise with the final Angel getting Rory in the cemetery. I did not see that coming, even though the Angel is clearly visible on the left side of the establishing shot of the cemetery.

Surely the Doctor’s trick of using regeneration energy to heal River’s wrist only works for others with Time Lord DNA, or else he would have done it previously, when other friends were injured.

The Angels had to have replaced the real Statue of Liberty – which is hollow and consists of an iron frame covered by copper plating – with one of their own kind; and they had to do it on the night of the story, otherwise sight-seers wouldn’t be able to walk up inside it. But I still don’t know how it got from Liberty Island to the Lower East Side without people looking at it and thus quantum-locking it. Unless it was never on Liberty Island – the plan was to replace the Statue of Liberty, but the Angels didn’t get the chance to do it before the Doctor showed up.

When the Doctor attempts to land the TARDIS in 1938, he is trying to land in the neighborhood called DUMBO, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. It turns out that is where Mr. Grayle’s home is.

Did the cherubs send Rory to Winter Quay because they cannot send him back in time, or did they just choose to add him to the battery farm?

“Winter Quay” is a rather unlikely name for a building in America, isn’t it?

When Amy and Rory leap off the roof, the Doctor screams Amy’s name, but nor Rory’s.

What happened to the last Angel? Was it actually the last Angel in New York? It’s possible that the paradox at Winter Quay took out only the Angels that were physically at the hotel, leaving the outliers intact.

When Amy is about to let the Angel take her, she is clearly seen blinking, so it must be River’s steady gaze that keeps the Angel quantum-locked.

American tombstones — and Americans in general — don’t use the construction “Aged 85.” If Rory’s age was to be included, his dates of birth and death would be carved into the stone. (Which, in this case, would look like a mistake!)

QUOTES OF THE WEEK:

“I don’t like endings.” – the Doctor

“Beware the ‘Yowza.’ Do not, at this point, ‘Yow.’” — Amy

“You think you’ll just come back to life?”

“When don’t I?” – Rory and Amy

“One psychopath per TARDIS, don’t you think?” – River Song

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