Now, this…this is what I’m talking about! After a shaky two episodes following the brilliant Series Five opener, Doctor Who is back in top form with this recent two-part Weeping Angels story, written by Steven Moffat.
In “The Time of Angels,” River Song comes flying back into The Doctor’s life 12,000 years after some mysterious goings-on aboard a ship called the Byzantium involving a gun and her getting to wear some really great shoes. (Seriously, I’m not even into shoes—but did you see those shoes?!) Once again, The Doctor has come when she’s called, and together they land where the Byzantium has crashed on the planet Alfava Metraxis with some deadly cargo—a Weeping Angel—and they, along with Amy and a company of soldier-priests must defeat the Angel in order to protect a human colony on the planet. The only problem? The Angels are stronger now than ever before. It isn’t long before the one Angel becomes many, Amy is compromised, and The Doctor and Co. are backed into a corner, or rather, into a cave.
“Flesh and Stone” (how great a title is that?! Apparently, we have Moffat’s son to thank for it!) begins with The Doctor getting himself and everyone else out of the cave and onto the Byzantium. The team suffers casualties, and eventually defeats the Angels in a harrowing, suspenseful sequence of events that had this reviewer curled up and rocking back and forth in the fetal position on the couch. As it turns out, the Angels are feeding off the time energy from a mysterious crack in space-time, the same crack that was in Amy’s bedroom as a girl and that’s been appearing everywhere else. There’s a huge time event going on. Event with a capital E. Something much worse than Weeping Angels…
These episodes soared primarily because every single character was allowed to be his or her best. The Doctor, who’d seemingly become ineffectual in the past two episodes is completely in charge and in control here, and it was nice to have that Doctor back. We really had a chance to admire the amazing work that Matt Smith has been putting in as The Doctor as he effortlessly went from funny and flirty, to tender and fatherly, to powerful, to terrified. His work in his scenes with Amy were particularly noteworthy, and solidified their relationship for me. This was also the strongest work we’ve seen from Karen Gillan as Amy. Her terror throughout her ordeal was heartbreaking, and yet she was always intelligent and always brave. I’ve been a fan of Gillan’s from the start, but her performance during this story was stunning, particularly in “Flesh and Stone.”
For the most part, Alex Kingston was a bit too “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” as River Song this time around, calling attention to how mysterious her character is rather than just being so. However, the character remains intriguing, and we learn more about her here. For example, she’s been in prison for killing a man; a man who was a “hero to many.” The Doctor, perhaps? The Doctor is also told that he doesn’t “know who or what [River] is.” Interesting word choice, getting referred to as a what. River Song remains as fun a puzzle as ever.
And then there was the wonderful Father Octavian, played brilliantly by Iain Glen. I was fascinated by the idea of a Church that has become an army in the distant future, and Octavian was a terrific balance of hard military discipline and warm, complete faith in God. I felt The Doctor’s sorrow at the end as he had to leave Father Octavian to die at the hands of a Weeping Angel, and the line “I’d like to think that you’ve met me at my best” killed me. This was a fascinating character of whom I would love to see more. And hey, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, right? Perhaps we still can.
These episodes look at faith in a couple of very interesting ways. The most obvious way was, of course, through The Doctor’s interactions with Father Octavian. At first, Octavian seems like a priest in name only as his military capacity is emphasized. He’s also made to seem like your standard high-ranking buffoon as he’s taken down a peg by The Doctor when addressing Sacred Bob’s fears. Even then, though, when The Doctor indirectly calls him a moron, he takes The Doctor’s point and seems to have learned something. It becomes clear in “Flesh and Stone,” however, that Octavian is no pushover. When The Doctor, in talking about the two-headed Aplans, criticizes the laws they had against self-marriage saying “Well, that’s the Church for you,” he attempts to soften his statement by saying “No offense, Bishop.” To which Octavian replies, “Quite a lot taken if that’s all right, Doctor.” And suddenly, he is a man of the cloth again, not a soldier. What’s more, he’s a man of the cloth who isn’t afraid to stand up and count himself as such. Throughout the story, Octavian puts his trust in The Doctor, but he always put his faith in God. At the end, he died content, and his impending death prompts nothing but gratitude to God for allowing him his courage, and his last thoughts are with The Doctor, blessing him on his way. It is always interesting to see someone who is genuinely faithful in science fiction, showing that the religious and the secular don’t have to be as separate as all that.
It often seems that, despite all of her flirting and joking, River Song has deified The Doctor. She follows him blindly, and always asserts how much she trusts him. She always believes that he will have the answer, or the way out. However, toward the end of “Flesh and Stone” we see that belief, that faith, shaken. As the transporter gives her trouble, and The Doctor tries to lead Amy blindly via communicator through a forest full of angels, River says, “That’ll never work.” The seriousness of that moment is different from all the other times she’s shown him up by knowing his future and using that knowledge to do things like fly the TARDIS or use a sonic screwdriver. She genuinely doesn’t think that he’s going to be able to help Amy. While Octavian’s faith was with him even as he was about to die, River’s deserted her at the moment of greatest danger. It was a moment that struck a chord primarily because it came on the heels of Octavian’s demonstration of complete faith.
It’s amazing to see such sexually confident women on a show that has historically had women pining silently or cloyingly for The Doctor, or alternately, not having very much of a sex drive at all. River Song has been sexually confident from the beginning, as her banter with The Doctor and her remarks about “spoilers” and “handcuffs” clearly demonstrate. She is no different here as The Doctor says “River Song, I could kiss you!” and she teases, “Maybe when you’re older.” And then there’s Amy; brilliant, beautiful, confident Amy. So confident, in fact, that she attempts to seduce The Doctor in a bulky, figure-hiding red sweater and Converse sneakers! She wants what she wants, and she’s determined to get it! It’s wonderful to see women on Doctor Who, as opposed to “girls.”
There was one moment in the story that may or may not have been foreshadowing: when The Doctor leaves Amy in the care of the clerics in the forest, he kisses her head and walks away. Then, there’s a strange beat when we’re looking at her hands, and suddenly he’s back, reminding her of something he said to her when she was seven and telling her she needs to trust him. At first, it seemed like a bad edit to me, but when I watched it again, I noticed that he has his tweed jacket on again—you know, the one that was torn off by that Weeping Angel? Could it have been a continuity error? Possibly. But that moment seemed too purposely strange and out of sync to be an accident. Perhaps, for some reason having to do with the Major Time Event, he time traveled back to that moment with her in the forest to help her through it? It’s an interesting thought. It’s also foreshadowed that The Doctor and River will meet again “when the Pandorica opens.” Incidentally, the twelfth episode of this series is titled, “The Pandorica Opens.” And apparently, Amy’s wedding day—June 26th, 2010—is also the day that the huge Time Event happens. It’s also the airdate for the final episode of this series, “The Big Bang.” In the UK. So, it seems, only the British will be able to appreciate the episode in its intended synchronicity! However, as long as the rest of the upcoming episodes maintain the quality of “The Time of Angels” and “Flesh and Stone,” I won’t mind that the timing here in the States will be a bit out of joint. Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey.
Teresa Jusino was born on the same day that Skylab fell. Coincidence? She doesn’t think so. She is a contributor to PinkRaygun.com, a webzine examining geekery from a feminine perspective. Her work has also been seen on PopMatters.com, on the sadly-defunct literary site CentralBooking.com, edited by Kevin Smokler, and in the Elmont Life community newspaper. She is currently writing a web series for Pareidolia Films called The Pack, which is set to debut Fall 2010! Get Twitterpated with Teresa, Follow The Pack or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.