Swerving away from all the teasers and hints we’d seen across this half-series so far, The Angels Take Manhattan was a surprisingly twisting episode which left the rules of time travel just vague enough to keep things suspenseful. We’d already been told that this was the last trip through time for Amy and Rory, but what hadn’t been revealed was the method which took them away from The Doctor. The hints so far had been that The Doctor’s errant time travel would whisk him forward in time too often, so he’d jump too far into Amy’s future and be unable to go back. But instead, we had the Weeping Angels, and a new rule written into the laws of time travel.
Doctor Who treats time travel in a very interesting way, in that the show never states something as a definite unless it has to. Unlike the other classic exploration of time travel Bill & Ted, yes seriously, Doctor Who has always seemed a bit scared to play with time travel. While Steven Moffat is keen to use time as an untrusting narrative, he’s less keen to set down the rules and tell us what is possible and what isn’t possible. As a result, the Doctor under his tenure has been less assured and more of a chancer than previously, pretending to have things under control even when he’s winging things. The use of paradox in this episode was an interesting turn of events as a result, with Moffat breaking his own rules in order to create the rules.
The episode saw Amy, Rory and The Doctor dealing with the Weeping Angels once more – perhaps the most successful of the new Doctor Who villains introduced this era – as they set up a ‘farm’ in New York. The creatures feed off time energy by sending people back in time, so by sending people back in a continual loop until they die, the angels could enjoy a continued meal for decades at a time. We first had this explained to us in a slick cold open which once again showed off the series’ love for genre, as a gumshoe detective fell prey to the angels’ plans. It’s a smart premise for the creatures, and strangely enough seems to be following exactly the development of the alien films. The first appearance was claustrophobic and tense, the second was a war film, and the third appearance playing around with location and atmosphere. Presumably the fourth appearance will clone Amy and feature Ron Perlman (which, yes please!)
The episode could’ve used some streamlining. In this case, the extraneous part of the episode? River Song. While it’s always fun to see Alex Kingston show up for an episode, her appearance in the episode ate up far too much air time and didn’t add anything to the episode. It made things feel too crammed and busy, when the angels have always worked best when things are pared down. Rory got the short end of the stick as a result, working as a final reminder that he was never the full companion that Amy was. Here he was distanced from the others for a very long time indeed, as The Doctor dealt with hammy Mike McShane. More focus on Rory and his fate would’ve made the episode far more emotionally satisfying, as it felt like he got pushed to one side here. He didn’t even get the goodbye that Amy got.
Which, let’s discuss that final sequence. We’d been shown so often this series that The Doctor was worried about watching Amy age in front of him – it was a major theme this episode – which meant that the final twist felt both arbitrary and crushing. That I’m calling it arbitrary isn’t a slam. It was smart, unfair television, which is what gave the final scene the power that it had. After preparing ourselves to see Amy age and die, we instead saw her simply vanish from sight, sent to an unknown fate and future which the Doctor would never be able to see. Rather than face his fear, he was instead forced to never see his fear – all the more terrifying and horrible a prospect, as was clearly etched all over Matt Smith’s unendingly expressive face. Amy’s arc had been set up to end a certain way, yet ended in an unexpected U-Turn which gave her a memorable farewell… although one which was mainly upsetting for being so cruel.
It came about as a result of the new time paradox rule Moffat has bolted onto the show. When I mentioned Bill & Ted earlier, it wasn’t a joke – that film had time travel figured out. You would never see the Doctor able to play the paradox game, for example. He can’t say “I survive this adventure so I get the TARDIS and bring it to this room, so I can survive this adventure and get the TARDIS”, for example. The rules have always been left vague and, well, ignored. That way Moffat can play around more and keep viewers guessing. Seeing Rory figure out the rules to his own game and prepare to kill himself in order to stop the Angels was a powerful moment, made all the stronger for the fact that Rory has always been a bit of an idiot, really.
That sequence was easily the strongest of the episode, with Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill bringing an open honesty to the scene which has been perhaps missing over the rest of this series so far. And let’s be fair – their fate is totally up for debate now. Anything could have happened to them. Due to the paradox, we have no idea where the final angel sent them (and incidentally, I was upset to not have the angry loner Doctor come out with a sledgehammer at the end and take that stone-faced git apart). I’d be all for an Amy and Rory series now, set in the past as they come to terms with their new timeline and lives without the Doctor. I’d watch the hell out of that show.
Doctor Who wraps up a massively inconsistent and heartbroken series with a decent episode. I’ll see you again at Christmas, with Richard E. Grant and Jenna-Louise Coleman! Matt Smith has three more episodes now until he overtakes David Tennant’s run. Let’s see how he’ll handle the post-Amy era — and, more to the point, how WE’LL handle it. See you then!
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet’s 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. He’s on Team X-Men, you guys.