• 1st May 2010 • Review by John Hoare •
The Time of Angels, then. The first two-part blockbuster episode of Moffat’s era, and also Moffat’s take on Red Dwarf‘s Emohawk, or The Next Generation‘s Manhunt. Which is to say, an episode which is multiple-sequels-in-one – the return of the Weeping Angels, and River Song – rather than The Doctor fighting Polymorphs or fucking around with the wife of Gene Roddenberry. (Although if anyone can figure out Moffat’s change of heart on returning monsters, let me know. He never seemed keen, and yet we’ve already had two so far this series…)
Despite its reputation, Doctor Who rarely scares me. I find it exciting, thrilling, sure – but rarely scary. There’s the odd exception, of course; this moment in Pyramids of Mars fucks me right up (partly due to it infiltrating the sanctity of the TARDIS, and partly due to it being a SHIT-SCARY FACE), and whilst I don’t find Daleks scary at all (you heard), I must admit that the Dalek control room noise I find intensely disturbing.
But the biggest exception is Blink. I find it impossible to categorise New Who in terms of my favourite episode, but purely in terms of visceral reaction, nothing has got me quite like that episode. Screaming, looking away from the telly, anything apart from actually getting up and hiding behind that fucking sofa, the works. But I must admit, I was worried about a sequel; even Blink I found far less scary on a rematch.
I needn’t have worried. Whilst Moffat is careful here to portray the Angels in Blink as “scavengers, barely surviving”, which beautifully ups the stakes, the key scene in this episode was if anything sparer than Blink‘s climax – a woman, and a TV screen. And it worked brilliantly. Amy’s escape – pausing just as the video interference starts – is one of the cleverest ideas I’ve ever seen in Who – and is beautiful because it’s set up from the very moment we first see the video footage. It’s planted it there for all to see – if YOU were clever enough, you could have thought of that too. But you aren’t. She did, and that’s why she’s better than you.
Meanwhile, the moment with Amy and her eye leaking sand I found some of the most disturbing body horror in New Who to date – only the more graphic transforming Ood beats it. (And frankly, if you’re going to put peeling skin on at 7pm on a Saturday night, you’re not playing by the rules.) I certainly found it more disturbing than the later hand-turned-to-stone malarky; yet again, it’s the simplest ideas that cause some of the worst shudders.
Speaking of our main cast, this episode was the first of the new series to be shot, and Matt Smith shows no signs of struggling with the role. I mourn the days I spent pondering trailers, stroking my chin thoughtfully, and stating to anyone who would listen that I wasn’t getting him. Moffat was never going to miscast the role, Smith is brilliant, and I’m a bloody idiot. (I don’t think The Doctor has ever been miscast.) As for Amy – she is sweetly pretty, and I want to protect her. Mind you, as I’m currently rewatching Press Gang, I find it hard to see Amy and The Doctor as anything other than Linda and Spike. It’s not even like the characterisation fits – although maybe if you squint, you can see a bit of Spike’s bolshiness in Amy, phnarr – it’s just that trademark Moffat banter. (Also: I know it’s done to set up the Doctor’s motivation to stay later on, but Amy’s cry of “Can we go to a planet now?” reminds me of fan reaction to RTD’s early episodes…)
The other bit in the episode with the most impact for me was Miss Evagelista – sorry, Bob – speaking from the dead. Which was brilliant. But here we come to my slight concern about Moffat Who – his ‘themes’ often seem to run slightly too close to simply ‘reusing ideas’. It’s perhaps churlish to complain when the ideas and execution are so great, but it still feels odd at times. In a crime drama, you know the genre limits you to a certain extent, and ideas are inevitably reused. But with Who, where the format allows you to go anywhere and do anything – even if it never actually does – reuse becomes a lot more noticeable. To be fair, however, when a scene is written so chillingly, it’s easy to ignore.
In the spirit of this nit-picking, how about the joke about the brakes of the TARDIS? It’s one of the funniest moments in the show – with Smith doing a particularly excellent rendition of the landing noise – but it’s hard to disagree with this fellow about the slightly uncomfortable vibe it gives after the fact. You always have to be careful when joking about the iconography of a show – it’s one of the many things which separates Red Dwarf – which is hilarious, but generally treats the situation of the show with respect – with Hyperdrive, which doesn’t. When all I can think of after laughing an awful lot is trying to convince myself of reasons why River is mistaken, there’s a slight problem, as much as that makes me sound like a humourless fuck.
As for animated Graham Norton’s unexpected cameo during the cliffhanger, it’s easiest just to point you in this direction. It’s not really this isolated incident that rankles for me; it’s the entire lack of respect channels are increasingly showing to their programmes. That doesn’t just include fiction – hell, I get emotionally involved during game shows, and I don’t want crap plastered over my screen during any of it. My love for the paraphernalia surrounding television – idents, trails, presentation as a whole – is only matched by my hatred when it intrudes on the programmes themselves. Even the BBC HD showing shrunk the credits down to promote other programmes. I work in the broadcast industry, and if anything will force me to make a career change, it’s the fact that I’m involved in doing this kind of thing myself. It makes me sad, more than anything else, that any channel could care so little about their output.
But enough moaning. A great episode – and in a world where UK television isn’t always doing the kind of thing I fall in love with, it’s fantastic to have a show which does. You will never find me slagging off RTD’s era as a whole – hell, I still think Rose beats The Eleventh Hour as a series opener – but if last year’s specials proved anything, it’s that his era had pretty much run its course. Even if there is an argument that Moffat has yet to beat the highs he achieved under RTD’s reign.
Oh, and River Song? He’s her pimp.