Review: Doctor Who – The Angels Take Manhattan
Doctor Who – The Angels Take Manhattan Review
Oh sadness. Oh creeping sadness. This episode is as scary as it is tragic. We bid farewell to the Pond’s in this, their last episode.
The cold open sets up our conflict for the episode, independent from the Doctor and his companions. The Angels have set up shop in New York and it’s an all you can eat energy buffet. For those of you playing along at home, you’ll recognize the antique dealer as actor Michael McShane, the hypnotherapist from Office Space. His wager regarding the Angels drove every detective brave or foolish enough to take the case into an endless time loop. By the end of the cold open we see more angels than we’ve ever seen on Earth, maybe even more than we saw in the cavern in series 5 “The Time of the Angels.” Our American detective gives us our first “Come on!” moment of the episode, when he turns around and comes face to face with statue of liberty sized weeping angel. Apparently, this didn’t cause a citywide panic like the movie Ghostbusters would have us believe.
When the Angels strand people in time, it puts a time lock on the era that the TARDIS can’t break through. When Amy and the Doctor try traveling back to 1938 they bounce off a timey-wimey barrier, shunting them back to a cemetery. By traveling further back and leaving a small vase as a beacon, River is able to use the Vortex manipulator to send a signal back, and create a temporal link between the two objects. As we learn later, it’s the strength of the Vortex manipulator’s signal that makes this possible at all. The Doctor and Amy are able to break through the time barrier to rescue Rory and River. Rory, seeing instant translation on the vase appear before him, was one of those unbelievable plot convenient moments. The TARDIS translator somehow sticks around for an unspecified period of time, we are told by River. The collector who hired River (at gunpoint to investigate the Angels managed to capture one. How was he able to get the drop on it? Should he have been the one sent back in time initially? Is all the angel related chaos in New York just fall out from his lucky escape? Rory gets left in the basement with the very creepy cherubs, who we find out are only powerful enough to displace their victims in space, not time.
River and the Doctor’s meeting is really wonderful in this episode. The Doctor even fixes his appearance to make sure he looks good for her. Having River is in this episode is fitting, making it more of a family affair. River tells us that she received a pardon for her murder, since there is no record of the man she killed ever existing. Whatever Oswin did to remove the Doctor from various systems spread throughout space and time. He is now an enigma to all those except who he has met in person. River also tells us she’s Professor Song now, meaning the end of her story is coming soon. We know the Doctor hates goodbyes, which makes their relationship so unique. The Doctor will have to say goodbye to her one day, but the first time they met (in his 10th incarnation) was the day River died. The Doctor has already experienced the loss of River, and gone through a regeneration since. The worst part of the goodbye is over, and River won’t know she’s about to die until she actually reaches the library in the Doctor’s past.
The Doctor also makes plot specific notes about temporal observation. The Doctor knows River will have to break the angel or her own hand because Amy observed it in the book, which has already been written. It’s something like Schrödinger’s timeline; once you know it will happen in your future you collapse all other possibilities and then it must happen. We see the Doctor noticeably loses his composure when he sees the last chapter title, “Amelia’s last farewell.” River is so hardcore that she breaks her own wrist to escape the angel, then carries on like it was nothing. She gives no indication it happened until the Doctor reaches for her hand. For the first time in the series, we see the Doctor is able to project his regeneration energy to heal the break, an act similar to when River healed the Doctor after he was poisoned.
Rory’s displacement lands him at the dilapidated hotel the angels have commandeered. Even when the rest of the gang arrives, they all find themselves trapped by the angels in the hotel. Rory, Amy, The Doctor, and River all witness one possible timeline’s occurrence of Rory dying of old age. Determined to keep this from happening, Rory and Amy decide to run for it. Rory and Amy have been through temporal hell for each other, whether they remember all of it or not. Rory gets erased from time, then returned as the centurion, waiting for thousands of years protecting Amy. There were the ship corridors where time flowed differently, and another version of Rory was left for decades, then erased. A version of Amy was left in a medical facility for nearly 40 years, before Rory and The Doctor could return in, “The Girl Who Waited.” Rory knows the sacrifice he must make and tearfully admonishes that he’d do it for Amy. The two jump together, in a risky move that could save them, or kill them. Their gambit pays off, creating a paradox which sends them back to the cemetery from earlier.
At this point, we are dangerously close to a happy ending. Just when it seems like the Pond’s beat time and made it work, Rory observes his own grave. If he’d just kept walking, he could have stayed on an alternate path. By observing the grave, it now has to happen. An angel grabs Rory from behind and he disappears right in front of Amy. Amy is distraught, making the only choice she feels she can, and let’s the angel take her and to 1938 with Rory. It had to end like this. This is one of the most tense, tragic moments in Matt Smith’s tenure as the Doctor. The Doctor would never have let them go if he could have helped it. Without a vortex manipulator as a beacon there is a strong risk of breaking the TARDIS through the time lock and destroying New York. It’s lucky Amy dropped into the same year as Rory. Though they no doubt had hard lives (1938 being on the cusp of the second world war) they were together in the end and lived long full lives. All the best companions, the Doctor is never able to see again. Rose stayed in another dimension, Donna’s brain would fry if she saw the Doctor again, and now the Pond’s, trapped in their fixed point in time until the end of their natural lives.
It was an incredibly sad ending of a wonderful run. These two unassuming young people, forever altering time and causing ripples that will last for thousands of years (they were parents to the only human/time lord hybrid we know of.) Without them, the show will be missing something. Sure, we’ll still have River, and new companion Oswin rescued in time for Christmas, but this is the end of the Pond era. While not a happy ending for The Doctor or the audience, for Rory and Amy it was happily ever after, after all.
Test your Dr. Who knowledge with The Game of Rassilon: The Angels Take Manhattan