Fri
May 21 2010 3:20pm

Doctor Who S5, EPS 4 & 5: “The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone”

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.

24 comments
beket
1. beket
My local PBS station is still a season or so off, and last night's episode was the one in the library where River Song first appeared. I didn't notice this detail until reading your review of "the Time of Angels." In the library episode (sorry, I cannot remember the title), when River gets out her diary to figure out "when" she's meeting the Doctor this time, she asks if they've already encountered the Byzantium.

Loved the shoes too, and I am not into shoes.
Ty Margheim
2. alSeen
I don't think there is any question that the Doctor crossed his own timeline with that visit to Amy. It is too out of place in the episode.

My only problem with the episode is that we see the Angels move. Up till that point, the convention was that even the audience seeing the Angels caused them to turn back to stone.
Ursula L
3. Ursula
Okay, a weird theory.

At the end of the second episode, River Song makes an innuendo about how whenever she and the doctor get together, one of them winds up in handcuffs. In the Library episodes, River describes watching armies flee from the Doctor, and him swaggering up to the TARDIS and opening the door with a snap of his fingers. There is also innuendo in this story about the handcuffs.

Now, in the first episode of season 5, the first thing Amy does when she meets the Doctor as an adult is put him in handcuffs. An alien army flees from him. And when he comes back for her at the end, he opens the TARDIS door for her with a snap of his fingers.

So, three of the major elements of the Doctor-River relationship, elements that River considers significant, seem to be established right in the beginning with Amy.

My speculation - is River the future of Amy?

***

Also, Amy's attempted "seduction" of the Doctor was a bit disturbing, because she wasn't taking "no" for an answer. That crosses the line from being sexually assertive to being sexually aggressive.
Alex Brown
4. AlexBrown
Finally something Doctor Who-related that you and I will wholeheartedly agree on, Teresa :) Amy was spectacular in this 2-parter, well, at the end of the 2-parter where she's stuck alone in the woods and actually has to do something brave and clever on her own. She finally comes to fruition as a person.

There's a Peter Pan reference in the last ep that just aired in the UK that I think is totally pertinent here. The Doctor is totally Peter Pan (although sometimes he goes a little Captain Hook). Amy, up until the end of the 2-parter has been more like one of the Lost Boys - she follows Eleven around and doesn't really do much on her own that doesn't directly involve his orders or trying to impress him. But by the time she plants that kiss on him she's turned into Wendy, someone who can think for herself and act on her own whims and interests. She's still dependent on him, but only when convenient for her.

And I think strong women intimidate the Doctor in a way other people don't. He can't order her around anymore and they are finally moving from a partnership to a friendship, something I think he prefers. I think the specter of Rose still haunts him and his actions. He just can't get over his ex, and all the stuff that went on because he got too involved with her. He's more human than I think even he realizes.

Maybe the reason River Song annoys me so much is that I can't see Alex Kingston without thinking of her as Mrs. Bennett (from "Lost in Austen") and then it pisses me off that the Doctor is hooking up with Mrs. Bennett and I then just get resoundingly irritated.

As for the Weeping Angels, I think they lost some of the more frightening aspects in the 2nd half. If Moffatt's not careful he's going to turn them into the Daleks...and I don't care what anyone says, candy-coated Daleks just aren't as creepy as the original ones. Making a bunch of stone aliens that spend 80 minutes whinging and moaning aren't my idea of scary. That being said, stealing the voice of the dead a la those shadow alien thingies from the "Silence in the Library" was totally bone-chilling.

Finally, I spent the first part of the 1st half going "something is wrong with this picture...what's off?" only to realize right about the same time Eleven did that all of the statues have only 1 head while the natives were supposed to be all Zaphod Beeblebrox. How cool was that? When you're surrounded by mono-heads and only ever associate with mono-heads (how many aliens have we encountered thus far with more than 1 head? Heck, the Face of Boe was just a single head), so with all that coming at you, of course you'd forget that you should be looking at bi-headed statues. Very well done in my mind.
David Goldfarb
5. David_Goldfarb
I also noticed that the rules about Angel movement had changed. Also, in the original _Blink_, the Angels kept their hands over their faces so that they wouldn't see each other and keep each other locked in stone form (that's where the "Weeping" part came from). That was crucial to the ending, since the group of four surrounding the TARDIS were then stuck seeing each other after the TARDIS disappeared from between them. But the armies of Angels in this two-parter didn't seem to have that limitation.

The Angels actually have some theological implications for the Doctor Who universe. Some religions believe that god is omnipresent and all-seeing (see for instance Ronald Knox's two limericks about "God in the Quad"). But the Weeping Angels provide an experimental disproof that there's any being actively observing the entire universe.
beket
6. Brian2
Crossed his own timeline, certainly. He goes off without his jacket, and suddenly pops up (wearing a different kind of jacket, if you look closely) talking to Amy with a much different demeanor.

With Moffat it's never quite straightforward, but on the face of it, we're given a lot of pieces in this episode that seem to fit together. The Doctor learns that it's possible to change time. There's a rift in time. River seems to have killed the Doctor later on. In fact, it's probably the same Doctor, since Octavian is worried that he'll find out and refuse to cooperate with River; since he seems to know little of the Doctor in general, why would he know of anything but the current regeneration? And River herself isn't altogether unmoved, but she isn't tragically distressed or unable to face the Doctor over it.

What this suggests -- and, of course, it's probably too simple -- is that the Doctor may have created the rift himself by crossing his own timeline, and possibly meddling further, probably for Amy's sake, and that he might have created an extra version of himself in doing so. Assuming some part of that, then the resolution of the problem might well involve sacrificing the extra Doctor, and River's helping him to do it.

Anyway, as for the Doctor's taking an active role, told you there was nothing to worry about. Moffat just isn't someone who would fail to have a strong Doctor. Apart from his love for the character, he just doesn't write people as passive, one-dimesnional, or static -- no matter how minor their roles, they stand up and do something that surprises you. Look at Jekyll, for instance.
Ursula L
7. Ursula
When did we see the Angels moving? The closest I remember to seeing them move was in the darkened hallway, when there was a sort of strobe effect from the gunfire. But while it was a rapid switch between lights on and off, I'm pretty sure that each time the lights were "on" the Angels were still, and the effect looked like movement from the rapid flicker of the stills. (Like a child's flip-book.)
Ty Margheim
8. alSeen
Ursula

When Amy has her eyes closed and is trying to walk through the Angels. She drops the communicator and has to search for it. That is when you see the Angels move.
Ursula L
9. Ursula
At that point, when she's having to feel around for the communicator, wouldn't they realize that she can't see them? Which would be consistent with them moving when they know they can't be seen.
Ty Margheim
10. alSeen
But up until that point even the audience seeing the Angels was enough to freeze them. Blink and these two eps are full of examples where no one except the audience was looking at the Angels.

The turning to stone wasn't supposed to be under the Angels' control. It's like the Observer Effect. There are also examples of the Angels being seen from behind and freezing.
beket
11. politeruin
Ursula #3
Definitely agree with that last part, Ursula. Bearing in mind this is a show aimed at kids, what's moffat saying here? That girls have to be sexually aggressive to get their way? Wonderful message for girls there, which they've repeatedly said they want amy to be a role model for. I am all for having adult themes but they need to be done RIGHT and not in the usual cack-handed way moffat often chooses; handcuffs, internet porn, kissagrams...

Anyway, the first part of this was great fun but it all seemed to go to shit in the second. Containing as it does probably the worst bit of writing since Who came back. So amy will survive the angels if she pretends she can see? I'm sorry but that is truly terrible TERRIBLE writing on a colossal scale.

River Song continues to annoy the heck out of me; what an irritating, unlovable character.
Teresa Jusino
12. TeresaJusino
The Angels were stronger this time around. That was explained - the last time the Doctor encountered them, they were scavengers and weakened. These Angels are more powerful because of the energy off which they're feeding. Powerful enough to come out of screens. Powerful enough to put themselves into other people's minds. No one's mentioned that they also KILLED people here. They USED to just put you in another time. Now, they'll kill you on the spot and use your body. Frightening stuff.

As for them moving, I thought that was cool! We just got to see how they move when no one in the world of the show is looking. If the "camera's eye" were part of the convention of how they move or not, they'd never attack anyone at all! :)

The angels were WAY more creepy here IMHO.
Teresa Jusino
13. TeresaJusino
@Ursula - Interesting theory! I hadn't thought about that, but it's certainly just as plausible as anything else on this show! :)

I didn't think Amy was SO terribly aggressive...yes, she was persistent, but the Doctor was successful in pushing her off, and she didn't really do it for long enough to constitute aggression. At least, I don't think so.
Ty Margheim
14. alSeen
12. TeresaJusino

It wasn't the camera lens seeing them, it was the viewer seeing them. When the lights go out, the viewer can't seem them either.
Teresa Jusino
15. TeresaJusino
@alseen - I really just think that, in that moment, we're supposed to be sympathizing with Amy. And when it becomes obvious that she can't see when she drops her communicator, we get to see the danger she's in by seeing the Angels move in a way she can't. Is it true to the "rules" of the Angels, no. But I think that not following the rules in this case improved the drama of that moment.
Ursula L
16. Ursula
Teresa @13

It wasn't horribly aggressive, but in terms of Amy's characterization, I'd put it as showing a somewhat troubled sexuality, rather than being sexually assertive/confident.

Working as a kissogram isn't particularly good, in terms of understanding consent. The basic idea seems to be that person A will pay her to go kiss person B, usually in public. Any negotiation is with A, doing the hiring, rather than with B, who is the one being kissed. The motives of A may be problematic, such as wanting to embarrass B.

It is a job description that would lead to developing bad habits when it comes to paying attention to the sexual consent of the people you're around.

And that bad habit seems to play out in her interaction with the Doctor, in this case. She doesn't back off at all, he has to fight her off. If the genders were reversed, this scene would be quite frightening.

So in terms of her character development, I'd hope that she can reach a point where she continues to be sexually aware of what she wants, and willing to act on what she wants, but learns to do so with a more nuanced respect for the people she's involved with.
beket
17. sofrina
have to watch again for details. i didn't notice dw's clothing change when he came back to amy. that exchange seemed off in tone until later when the nature of the crack was revealed. then it seemed the doctor was connecting to ep3 when amy couldn't remember the dalek attacks. he was pointing out that this memory problem was more than random and a crucial issue.

all the comments about river's prison term gave me the impression she killed the doctor for good reason and just had to bite the bullet and go to prison. i'm sure it will a fantastic storyline.

as for the angels. i was maybe most surprised that most of them had no wings. they just seemed like people. they were freezing out of instinct when amy was trying to pass through, until one of them realized it had not actually turned to stone. BUT why didn't those angels that were crowded together so closely a) cover the eyes in precaution?, and b)turn to stone when amy ducked down? they're staring right at each other. they are definitely all within eachother's field of vision.

i understand how all those angels could be in a dark cavern together, in the dark. but that control room and that fake forest were lit up. how could so many of them maneuver without seeing eachother? dw gives such a wonderful description of the "lonely assassins" the "loneliest creatures in the universe" in "blink." this does undermine the legend a bit. though they're still super creepy.
Ursula L
18. Ursula
The one thing I missed with the Angels is the bit about sending people back in time. It was so key to the characterization before. It was what defined them as a threat. And it was a rather nice threat - people could still live out long, happy lives, just in a different time.

Having them breaking necks made them seem like a new type of monster, rather than a return of the established one.

"They were scavengers then, they're powerful now" sort of explains it, but it seems as if the time displacement should still be part of their powers, and their new, more powerful powers should be developed out of that threat.

Breaking necks is just too mundane.
Teresa Jusino
19. TeresaJusino
@Ursula - I can be with you on "troubled." However, it's very much in line with her characterization. After all, this IS the same girl who watched The Doctor change clothes, and when Rory asked her if she was going to look away, she said "Nope."

I think the kiss-o-gram thing ties in too, but not in the way you're saying, necessarily. Amy's grown up to be a beautiful young woman - someone who's used to getting all sorts of things, because she's pretty. She's made a living out of being pretty. She's an Alpha Female in her small town. All of this, of course, is to do with The Doctor leaving her when she was 7, thus driving her a little bit crazy, and making her want to do things, perhaps, to make people stay with her. When she kisses The Doctor here, it's true, while it's confident, it's also a bit sad. Because in her brain, she seduces, men like it. It's less "not taking no for an answer" and more not understanding that no WOULD be an answer. So I suppose she is still very childlike in that way. She's very much still a child around The Doctor. It's interesting to watch her try to match her womanliness up with her childishness. Makes for a wonderfully complex character. So, she's sexually confident - but it's a child's bravado she's got.
Matthew B
20. MatthewB
The characters were great, but they played too fast and loose with the angels. The Weeping Angels were perfect in their one earlier episode. In bringing them back again and changing the rules they play by, they have been demystified and made much less interesting and frightening.

Kind of like the Daleks. They've come back so many times and failed so predictably so many times that there's nothing remotely interesting left to them. Even putting them in bright new power ranger colors can't liven them up much. At least The Doctor didn't destroy the Daleks once and for all yet again this season. Yet.
Jim Brannick
21. divisionerror
The main problem I had with these episodes, as people have already commented on a little, is the way they changed how the Weeping Angels work. If I didn't know better, I'd say that some other writer got ahold of Moffat's ideas and changed them to suit their own story. A Weeping Angels fan-fiction that misses the point.

In their first appearance, they were really, really frightening. They only moved when no one could see them, they sent people back in time to feed off their potential lives. If you even blink, you could be taken. They were an awesome monster to encounter, but I'm really thinking that should have been the last we saw of them.

When they just flat out killed people rather than sending them back in time, I was bothered that they were changing the way they hunted, but I gave them a pass thinking maybe they had to do that since they were starving. But when Amy could walk safely by them by pretending to see them, that was just too much. Damn, that would have made the first story they were in a lot easier to get out of. These were things that could move to take you if you blinked and now you can trick them just by walking like you can see?

That just ruined what had been some really interesting, scary, and unique creatures. I would rather they had just come up with some new monster that, say, can't move in the light, but enjoys breaking people's necks and using their bits to speak to people. Different people have different thresholds of what sets them off, but this just bothered the hell out of me. Bah.
Ian Tregillis
22. ITregillis
Ursula @ 3:

I love your theory! I hope you're right.

I'm with the folks who felt this episode strengthened the characters and weakened the Angels. Really liked Amy and the Doctor in this episode, and I even found myself liking River Song a little more. And, Teresa, yes to your take on Iain Glen. Fantastic!

OTOH, it bothered me that the Angels (who didn't weep very much in this two-parter) weren't really, really fast. Which, to me, was the scariest thing about them in Blink. Something that can only move like a turtle when not observed isn't all that scary. Something that can cross the street literally in the blink of an eye (as we saw in Blink) is damn frightening.

"Are you Mr. Grumpy Face today?"
beket
23. Renideo
I appreciate and agree with your applause for how Moffat writes his female characters. I was originally drawn into the girl in the fireplace, though I feel deep down that nancy was really the most important.

The new series has been utterly fantastic, and SM has really rewarded those who had faith in the pay-off to come in the finale.

You spotted some things I missed, you must really be paying attention, 'cause I will shamelessly admit to repeat viewings this series. I've loved moffat's concept of the arc as representing Amy both growing up, and rediscovering her inner child at the same time.

And hey, the nested layers of complexity in his plotting, which have outlasted his first series and cast their wonderful, menacing shadow over events yet to come, how could you not love that?
beket
24. pdqwik
Spot on Teresa! I know this thread is old but I also spotted the part about the tweed jacket when they ran the rewind scene in the Big Bang episode. Of course in this one you see the Doctor crawling around in the cavern with tweed jacket before he visits Amy who is not able to open her eyes and see the dicrepency. I had a wonderful moment of Dejavu when they replayed the scene during the Big Bang episode with both versions of the doctor and thought that there was no edit and that it was identical to the original and through the beauty of dvrs I was able to confirm that the original scene was shot with 2 different version of the Doctor. Moffet ahead of the curve again. I was starting to believe that River could not have not known who her parents were and fealing like I finally discovered a blatant dicrepency when River admits that she lies and how could she not know who her parents were in The Wedding of River Song.

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