Sunday, September 30, 2012

On Angels In Manhattan

So, Doctor Who mid-season finale. Without spoiling anything, I enjoyed the episode and I'm looking forward to seeing where the series goes from here. Now I'm going to do a slightly more detailed review, and talk about some of the narrative challenges I think Steven Moffat had to face while writing it. So stop reading now if you haven't seen the episode yet.

As an episode The Angels Take Manhattan was pretty good; not the best Weeping Angel episode, no, but still one of the best so far this season. Some highlights for me:

- It was fun to see River and the Doctor interacting as equals. For now, at least, everything is out in the open with them, and they play off one another well. You can understand why they don't spend any significant length of time together: they'd probably drive each other mad very quickly.

- The Statue of Liberty as a Weeping Angel. Not as impressive as the Cyberking, since it was just a set piece really, but still terrifying as a surprise.

- Just the implications behind what we've learned about the Weeping Angels. They aren't actually the statues, they just possess them somehow, or take the forms? It makes sense, given we've seen a wide variety of Angels in the past, and it stretches credibility that they'd look like human angels by default. It also seems that they can communicate without being heard, that they grow as with any other life form... it's hard to tell if Moffat's making it up as he goes or has a plan in place, but so far I haven't seen anything to contradict previously established information. And the damn things are still scary.

But for all the episode was a good one, everyone's going to be talking about nothing except Amy and Rory. So let's get to it.

I think the Ponds' departure was handled about as well as it could have been. One of the themes underlying Amy's relationship between Rory and the Doctor has been who, in the end, would she choose? Early on the Doctor seemed to hold the advantage, but through the past two seasons it's become clearer that Rory's the one who really holds Amy's heart, even though Amy herself has rarely shown it. In this episode she finally does, making the irrevocable choice of Rory over the Doctor. It's heartbreaking, for the Doctor and the audience, but we're comforted knowing that the two of them live long, happy lives in the past.

Another "win" is that the episode successfully lets Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill leave the show, and gives Amy and Rory a relatively happy ending. This is not an easy feat to accomplish, so let's look at what Moffat had to do.

The easiest way to get Amy and Rory out of the picture would be to kill both of them, and it's what I'd expect on any other show. The problem is that this is a blunt solution that would piss off a significant portion of the fan base and rule out any further appearances by the actors - which is fine if they're jerks, but by all accounts Karen and Arthur are well-liked. Books are easier in this regard, since your fictional characters won't take (much) offense, and you've got pretty free rein to kill whoever you like without angering too many people (unless you're writing a successful long-term series, but then you won't need help here, will you?).

So death is a bad option. The second choice is to have Amy and Rory get fed up with the Doctor and cut ties with him, which is how Martha Jones departed the show. It might have worked here, too, if the Doctor's ties to Amy didn't run so deep. As it stood, severing Amy and the Doctor's relationship would mean writing off River as well, to do the job properly, and would be a massive shift for a character who's been devoted to the Doctor since childhood. It could be done, but it wouldn't be satisfying.

So we come to the tried-and-tested solution: make Amy and Rory inaccessible to the Doctor without unacceptable consequences. It's been done before, with Rose Tyler and Donna Noble, and it works for the Ponds as well. The benefit is that the companions can get a happy ending, from their point of view, while the Doctor can fly off being as miserable as if they really had died. And if the actors want to come back for another appearance, it can happen without raising the dead.

The trick, of course, is that you're dealing with the Doctor, a man who can and does go literally anywhere, anytime, so the wall between him and the Ponds had to be pretty extreme. I think Moffat pulled this off: even though the Doctor could work around the restrictions placed on the TARDIS (taking the "long way" to Amy and Rory's time, if nothing else), the risk of a universe-shattering paradox is so great that he'll never do it. In effect it's his own sense of responsibility that keeps him from seeing Amy and Rory again, not some law of time and space. It makes the whole situation more satisfying, since the characters are, to an extent, dictating their separation.

With all that said, I'm afraid the show is going to have to kill a companion off again, sooner or later, just to keep the audience on its toes. Though for all I know it has already. EGGS...

P.S. Yes, my crackpot theory about Rory has been blown out of the water. Not that it's not still possible, but there would have to be a very long buildup and an excellent payoff for it to be satisfying. For now, though, I'll be looking elsewhere for an evil Time Lord resurgence.

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