“The Angels Take Manhattan” – Doctor Who

“This is the story of Amelia Pond. And this is how it ends.”

He stuck the landing! Sure, there were some logical inconsistencies – a subject I talk about a lot – but the thematic resonance stood and the departure of Amy and Rory was suitably sad, but hopeful, and entertaining along the way (and more detailed than explained in the episode, but I’ll get to that in Free Radicals).

Steven Moffat has been a favourite of mine stretching back into his days with sitcom Coupling –  a show which came as close to timey-wimey plot lines as a Friends-like show can, and in many ways is a precursor to the much more successful but similarly creative How I Met Your Mother. He’s a writer with a fondness for his characters, yes, but also with a fondness for television as a medium. A place not of thematic or network constraints, but where freedom is abundant in the ability to put the same people you love in different situations every week. He has an eye for logic, too, and a desire to make all the cogs that start turning at the beginning of an episode come to natural fruition by the end.

This trifecta of character, dialogue and puzzle is not one that all writers have to contend with – Mad Men may be a great show (though I have my own thoughts on that), but Matthew Weiner isn’t famed for keeping all his plates spinning in a logical manner. He’s more of a “Oh, that plate? Yeah, forget about that plate – that plate’s not coming back, even though it didn’t fall or smash or anything” kind of guy.

Not pictured: Donald Draper.

But prior to becoming showrunner Moffat was relied on for the brief but blazing glimpses of this trifecta that showed up in his predecessor’s run. The highlights of Russell T Davies’ era were, by and large, Moffat-penned episodes like “The Empty Child”, “The Girl In The Fireplace” and “Silence In The Library”.

And, of course, “Blink”.

While the first time we saw the Lonely Assassins was when Who was contributing to Carey Mulligan’s acting career, as Moffat’s great contribution to the Whovian monster universe it seemed fitting that they should show up in the Ponds’ last episode.

As a quick recap, “The Angels Take Manhattan” saw the Doctor, Amy and Rory (and a returning River) transported to 1930s New York, where a wealthy collector is determined to find out everything he can about the “statues that moved in the dark”. From there they discover an ominous hotel where the Angels keep victims using their chosen form of attack – zapping them into the past – to keep them perpetually under their care, until they die.

Sidebar: creepy as fuck.

That said, the question of what would become of the Ponds was what this episode was always going to be designed around. Even if the BBC advertising department hadn’t been touting it from the rooftops for months, it’s still pretty hard to avoid Doctor Who casting spoilers these days (though “Asylum Of The Daleks” did a nice bait-and-switch). There’s no perfect way that Moffat could have concluded this story, but he did a strong job in two of the three trifecta elements, and that’s enough for me.

The presence of River – though no doubt she has her haters – was the first good decision. While it may have been nice to have the whole episode focus on Rory and Amy, it’s important to remember that she is their daughter, and as such a goodbye episode without a goodbye to her would be disrespectful to the established relationships. It also gave the pace and levity that River’s dialogue and Alex Kingston’s delivery (as well as Matt Smith’s horny teenager bit) always provide, a counterpoint to the ominous end awaiting Rory and Amy.

Amateur sky-diving, for one.

The early stages in future New York (did you notice those new buildings in the background?) also allowed the Doctor, Rory and Amy to trade barbs over Mrs. Pond’s wrinkles and Mr. Pond’s time as a centurion. It even gave us a chance to see River in print as the Doctor reads “The Angel’s Kiss: A Melody Malone Mystery”, complete with “a cleavage that could fell an ox at twenty feet” and a book cover that would make the cast of Showgirls blush. Good to know River thinks so highly of herself.

As the episode progressed there were also nice attempts to move the evolution of the Angels forward, from the “hotel as food source” to the Cherubs (a nice addition to their repertoire) to the inevitable appearance of the Statue Of Liberty.

On this point, I do have to pause for some logical hobbling of Moffat’s writing. I’m not the first to point out that short of a blackout it would be impossible for an Angel of that size to move in such a populated city. There’s also the logic of River having a timey-wimey wristband that she never chooses to use towards the end, or Rory – for the love of God why Rory – going into Winter Quay and up the elevator for no good reason. Throughout the story the Angels were somewhat sluggish, and if you compare Carey Mulligan’s “don’t. even. blink.” assassins with these ones there’s clearly something in the New York water.

Something ADORABLE.

But I’m willing to overlook these problems because the dialogue throughout shone, the character interactions were by and large logical, and the ending was fitting.

There were teases of this ending throughout, from Amy and the Doctor appearing in the graveyard, to Rory being locked in the basement with the Cherubs, to his death in the lonely hotel room at Winter Quay. Even Amy and Rory leap off a twenty-storey building wasn’t enough to kill them, though, and as they all appeared in that graveyard once more it seemed as if all might be okay. Except, of course, we knew it wouldn’t be as this episode was definitely their last.

A lone Angel sneaks up on Rory and zaps him back in time, leaving Amy faced with the prospect of living without her husband now or living with him in the distant past. It was a no-brainer, of course, but Gillan, Kingston and Smith sold the sadness of such inevitability beautifully. Amy tells her daughter to be good, she tells the Raggedy Man goodbye, and then she allows herself to be taken by the Angel.

Karen Gillan owning it.

The Doctor weeps. River consoles him. Things move on.

The story of Amelia Pond has been many things over the past three years. It has been the story of a young woman learning to fall in love with the man she wants, not the man she dreams of. It has been the story of a mother learning to love a child that is both out of order and out of her life. It has been a story of dreaming, of waiting, and of having a soul beyond body or time or rebooted universes.

But most of all it has been a story about growing up. And as we got to see little Amelia Pond waiting on that suitcase one more time – just after her wise, brave, glasses-wearing future self has given up everything for the man she loves – it’s hard to argue that Steven Moffat has given us anything less.

Free Radicals

– “There’s a little girl waiting in a garden. She’s going to wait a long while, so she’s going to need a lot of hope. Go to her. Tell her a story. Tell her that if she’s patient, the days are coming that she’ll never forget. Tell her she’ll go to sea and fight pirates. She’ll fall in love with a man who’ll wait two thousand years to keep her safe. Tell her she’ll give hope to the greatest painter that’ll ever live. And save a whale in outer space. Tell her this is the story of Amelia Pond and this is how it ends.”

– Before you do anything else, watch this unfilmed excerpt that deals with the future (or past) of Amy and Rory after they got zapped back to the fifties.

– Also (and because of course), the Melody Malone book is available on the BBC book store.

– You can also apparently read Amelia Williams’ obituary here.

– Great lines throughout, but clincher is: “When one’s in love with an ageless God who insists on the face of a twelve year old, one does one’s best to hide the damage.”

– “What are you doing?” / “Oh, you know, texting a boy.”

– “Didn’t you used to be somebody?” / “Weren’t you the woman who killed the Doctor?” / “Doctor who?”

– “Never let him see the damage. And never, ever let him see you age. He doesn’t like endings.”

– Francesco Francavilla does absolutely fantastic poster designs for episodes of Doctor Who. Here’s the one for this episode and a link to his previous work.

– Lovely ending with River and the Doctor travelling together. Was the kind of episode that needed to end without the Doctor being on his own.

– It might be time to retire the Angels. A little bit of Silence, anyone?

– “I hate endings.”

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About alfla

Playwright, screenwriter, sometime improv enthusiast and full-time television lover. You know, in THAT way.
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One Response to “The Angels Take Manhattan” – Doctor Who

  1. Pingback: “The Bells Of Saint John” – Doctor Who | [ par·al·lel·e·vi·sion ]

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