5.4 & 5.5 – “The Time Of Angels”/”Flesh and Stone”
The Doctor and Amy team up with Dr River Song as they follow the starship Byzantium to where it crashes on the planet Alfava Metraxis. On the planet’s surface, they link up with Bishop Octavian and his team of soldier clerics, in order to capture the Weeping Angel that caused the crash. As they search for the Angel, they discover that all of the statues in the labyrinth are Weeping Angels, all feeding off the energy from the wrecked ship and returning to life. The crash was no accident; it was a rescue mission. Can the Doctor and his companions possibly escape from a terrifying horde of monsters that move with deadly speed, when you can’t see them, while the power fades and the lights start to go out?
Oh sweet Jesus, this is a fantastic Who story. I recall loving it when it was first broadcast, but re-watching it for this review has made me love it even more. Where do I even start?
With the start – a dazed and confused young man, swirling around on a disorientating mind-trip. Is there something nasty going on? No, it’s just the hallucinogenic lipstick, glam dress and ruby red shoes of Dr River Song, brilliantly brought to life by Alex Kingston. When he wants to get in touch, Winston Churchill just phones The Doctor. River engraves a message in the lost language of the Time Lords on an artefact that she knows The Doctor will see in 12,000 years’ time, sending him back to rescue her. That, my friends, is style. As for her entrance, she hurtles through the doors of the TARDIS as it spins through space, landing on top of the Doctor. “Hello, sweetie,” indeed!
And that’s just the start. The story continues apace with the same flair; it is just packed with wonderful scenes. I could write a thousand words on the horror, the tension and Gillan’s performance when Amy is trapped in the dropship as the Angel comes to life. But there’s also The Doctor standing up to Octavian’s harshness with Bob – “Anyone who isn’t scared is a moron!” – the awesome scale of the maze of the dead and the implications of the statues having only one head each. How tight and breathless is the start of Episode 2 with everyone trapped in the corridor as the lights start flickering? The Doctor getting the Angels to say Comfy Chairs; Bishop Octavian’s heroic and terrible death (Doctor: “I wish I had known you better.” Octavian: “I think, sir, you knew me at my best,”); Amy, alone in the forest. And Amy wanting The Doctor to sort her out.
Every scene would be a triumph on its own, but the way they’re weaved together is poetry in motion. The pace flies, then slows, then pauses before then racing off again. Take that scene with Amy in the dropship – slow, creeping horror as the Angel flickers and we go outside and The Doctor and River flirt a little as they look into the book; the angel starts coming to life, and Amy starts getting scared, then The Doctor realises what the book is saying and then we’re thrown into a race against time. Smith’s Doctor is a physical performance and it’s on full show throughout the story. His whole body is at work as we watch The Doctor’s mind in action. But, with all the arm waving and floppy hair, there is actually great restraint. This is The Doctor pushed to the limit, telling himself that he’ll do a thing, flying on nervous tension and barely holding it together. Troughton’s Doctor was famous for appearing scared but always secretly being one step ahead. In “The Time Of Angels”, The Doctor is barely a nanosecond ahead and every step drags everyone further into danger.
Karen Gillan gets some great material. There’s a theory that in storytelling, when your heroes get in trouble, you should pile it on and on. Poor Amy definitely gets it piled on. Clearly nobody told Amy not to blink as the Angel flickers to life in the dropship. And then the bloody thing is inside her; and then, she has to keep her eyes shut as everyone vanishes around her into a terrifying crack in the wall, while a horde of instant death creatures, who’s only weakness is that they can’t move when you can LOOK at them, are approaching. And then she has to pretend that she can see. And then she drops the communicator…AAAAAAARRRGGGHHH!! (Sorry; that was me, not Amy – she doesn’t scream like a girl.)
Alex Kingston makes River classy, glam and flirty but also a tough and experienced operator. She delivers the heavy dramatic goods and sparks so well with the humour. Yes, in the midst of all this tension and horror, The Grand Moff shows how good he is at throwing in the funnies (Bishop: “You trust this man?” River: “I absolutely trust him,” Bishop: “He’s not some kind of madman then?” – brief pause – River: “I absolutely trust him…”) Iain Glen’s Octavian is hard, but brave. Naturally, The Doctor grates against his authority to start with but the Bishop’s death scene reveals their mutual respect. The rest of the clerics are essentially Angel fodder but, even with only a couple of lines each, they all get their moment in this quality script.
I am, at heart, an old fashioned Doctor Who fan. I don’t mind the timey-wimey paradoxes that came to bookend each of Smith’s seasons and there’s a lot to love in some of the slower character pieces. But the ten-year old in me still loves an out and out monster romp and the first two-parter of Smith’s era delivers monsters galore.
The one thing that stops me from giving “The Time Of Angels”/”Flesh and Stone” the full 10/10 is that it could probably have done with just a little more weight. Certainly this is a superbly crafted adventure, but a true 10 pointer like “Genesis Of The Daleks” throws up just a little bit more to think about. I’ll still say that this is possibly the fastest, most tension-filled, action-packed and downright frightening story to join the annals of Who. There were some cracking Doctor/Amy stories to come, but none of them topped this. It’s a master-class in the art of storytelling from writer, designers, actors and director. Only Smith’s fourth story yet, with these 2 episodes, Series 5 was turning into the best Season of New Who yet. A terrifying 9/10.
Written and edited by Richard Barnes