Archive for the Series 5 Category

5.12 & 5.13 – “The Pandorica Opens”/”The Big Bang”

Posted in New Who, Series 5 with tags , , , , , on March 20, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 5 - The Pandorica Opens

Summoned by River Song (who was alerted by coordinates left in a deranged painting by Van Gogh, which was picked up by Winston Churchill and ended up in the possession of Liz 10 on board the Starship UK), The Doctor and Amy go to Stonehenge in Roman Britain to find the Pandorica. But what is the Pandorica, why is it opening and what does it contain?

It’s one hell of a cliffhanger; the TARDIS is exploding, taking River Song and the Universe with it, Rory is now an Auton who has just shot dead his beloved Amy (uh, what? Shhh, stop thinking about this too much!) and the Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Judoon and a host of other alien nemesis’ have locked The Doctor inside an inescapable box. There’s no “Next Week” trailer, just the Universe going pfft…

It’s also one hell of an opening; we meet young Amy again, fantasising about her Raggedy Man in a world without stars and then finding the Pandorica, opening it only to find the adult Amy inside. “Okay kid, this is where it gets complicated.” Roll opening credits…

In the same way that “The Tenth Planet” was a practice run for the Troughton era, and “The Invasion” was the template for Pertwee’s run, I’d argue that “The Pandorica Opens”/”The Big Bang” is a taste of what’s to come in Series 6. In just two episodes we get almost the entire structure of Series 6 summed up perfectly. Everything leads to the end of part one – there is no real story, just a thing that sucks The Doctor, River and Amy into situations that explode into a bunch of thrilling cliffhangers. Luckily, here it only takes 45 minutes or so as opposed to 7 episodes.

The wrap-up at the start of “The Big Bang” is fast and furious and pretty much puts everything right (apart from the Universe fizzling out), leaving our chums to sort out the rats and mice as the series comes to a close. This is not to say these are bad episodes. There are lots of cool scenes. We have seen River Song escape before – a cheeky touch of hypnotic lipstick, messages dropped through time, and a “Hello sweetie” carved into the oldest wall in the Universe. And it’s all worth doing it again to see River, dressed as Cleopatra and welcoming The Doctor and Amy to her tent. Alex Kingston pulls it off with all of the classy style and bold as brass attitude that River is all about.

For the section of the story where Rory’s resurrection as a Roman Centurion is left unexplained, it proves to be a great, mysterious part of the story. Arthur Darvill, once again, gives us Rory the comedy guy and Rory the real human being. Being menaced by the various bits of a Cyberman shows us what Rory’s made of too. Is it just me that sees the Cyberman head scuttling away on a bunch of wires as a wee nod to John Carpenter’s The Thing? Everything is thundering along towards the big cliffhanger, where it stumbles a little as all the monsters turn up. Tennant’s “Doctor as dark superhero that everyone is scared of” always grated with me – and it grates even more when Smith does it. And all of the villains teaming up to trap The Doctor? Simply because it appears that it’s his fault that the Universe has a big crack in it? It’s an act of strangely selfless altruism which is also grossly misguided. If the Daleks really could trap The Doctor like this, wouldn’t they just exterminate him?

Luckily we breeze past such daftness without worrying too much (we are Doctor Who fans, after all) and get Rory the Auton failing to be overcome by love and shooting Amy. Surely the one and only time that happens in Smith’s run of stories?

“The Big Bang” is filled with similarly excellent moments. The “Okay kid,” moment is an absolute cracker. Along with The Doctor’s sudden appearance, with fez and mop, to a heartbroken Rory. The timey-wimey jumping around is great fun. Rory, the immortal Auton as the “Last Centurion” is a nice touch (in case we were in any doubt about him loving Amy) – in this instance we do “respect the plastic.” River shoots a Dalek (possibly the only time we a big fat new paradigm Dalek in actual action), who begs for mercy. Hmmm. Smith’s nearly dead Doctor, as he explains everything to Amy, is far more like the Eleventh Doctor, almost laying it on thick with the melodrama but just about holding it all back. Gillan is so much more than just a companion here. She and Smith are one of the best teams to ever occupy the TARDIS, at least, at this point they were.

To be honest, this is where the episode finishes. It’s a cracking scene, Amy and The Doctor’s tearful farewell, the swelling music, the Pandorica plunging into the fires of the TARDIS. Boom – awesome stuff. 15 minutes of recapping is hardly necessary. I’ll admit, I barely understood what the hell has been going on, but quick revisits of the previous episodes just seems to be showing off.

And finally, the power of love wins out – Amy does remember, even when something has been completely wiped out of history/ time and space. This would annoy me but then, whose heart doesn’t skip a beat when she shouts out “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” and the greatest time machine of them all comes wheezing and groaning into the wedding?

This is, without a doubt, a flawed story – flawed by the same problems of timey-wimey resetting, all sorted out by the power of love stuff that will come to pass in Series 6. However, there is also so much to love here. Thrilling, exciting, stirring moments all pulled together by the four series regulars with all of the wonderful chemistry we’ve seen time and time again. Oh bugger it, there’s no villain, there’s no real story, it’s just a load of dashing about to provide an excuse for an awesome cliffhanger and a brilliant beginning. I should get very angry about it but I still have to give it a Big, Banging 8/10.

Written and edited by Richard Barnes


5.11 – “The Lodger”

Posted in New Who, Series 5 with tags , , , , on March 13, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 5 - The Lodger

The Doctor falls out of the TARDIS when something stops it from landing, leaving Amy trapped inside and The Doctor stuck on Earth. The something in question is alien and is causing something like dry rot in the ceiling of Craig’s flat. There’s something between Craig and his best friend, Sophie, though neither will admit it. Maybe The Doctor can do something about the something in the upstairs room, something about saving Amy and even turn something into some thing between Craig and Sophie. SOMETHING.

A nice guy who can’t express his feelings, who has a best friend, who’s a girl, who may or may not have the same feelings. Luckily, there’s a dorky friend, who the girl fancies at first, who will help them see that they DO love each other. Hang on, Richard Curtis wrote last week’s episode, right?

So, this season’s quirky, filler episode where The Doctor is without assistant (largely) is a RomCom. It’s a sweet enough RomCom, with Matt Smith getting to show off his comic talents as well as his football talents and steal the show as the weird friend. James Cordon is fine as straight man, Craig, and Daisy Haggard brings similarly sweet charm to Sophie (The Girl). It’s a story that plays to Smith’s strengths as the youngest Doctor – imagine Pertwee in this situation. “Can I play football? My dear boy, Sir Stanley Matthews is a close personal friend of mine.” Smith is great as a Doctor who doesn’t quite get how normal humans work and doesn’t really notice it. It’s an interesting contrast with his predecessors. The earlier Doctors strode into a situation and immediately started taking charge. Smith sort of does the same, but arrogance is replaced by innocence; effortlessly taking over Craig’s job or winning over everyone at the football.

If this episode has a stand out scene it’s when The Doctor encourages Sophie to follow her dreams to travel and help animals. To Craig, The Doctor is blundering in as usual, missing the real point and stuffing up his life. But The Doctor makes Sophie question what’s stopping her from going and makes her realise that it’s Craig. The Eleventh Doctor may misunderstand the trivial stuff like money and when people say annihilate, they don’t really mean annihilate, but when it comes to the important stuff he knows exactly what’s going on. Smith’s performances capture this so well – on the surface its all waving arms and floppy hair but there’s quiet cunning at work here too.

The alien threat, as in the thing that makes this episode a Doctor Who story, is less successful than the RomCom. Disembodied voices saying innocuous things in sinister circumstances have been used a few too many times for me. “Are you my Mummy?” coming from a kid with a gas mask glued to his face was really creepy. A door intercom saying “Please help me, I’ve had an accident,” proves to be just tedious. We do at least get to see The Doctor do some scientific stuff. He cures Craig when he’s infected by the patch of goo on the ceiling. He builds something to investigate the weirdness up stairs without alerting the alien-ness to his own alien character. So it’s a profound shame that the alien threat is neutralised by the love between, and to a greater extent, the desire of Sophie and Craig to go nowhere.

It’s different I suppose. The comedy elements are fine, the Doctor Who elements less so. The support is solid and Matt Smith delivers this from mediocrity, but even his formidable skills can’t lift this beyond a merely watchable and vaguely entertaining 6/10.

Written and edited by Richard Barnes

5.10 – “Vincent and The Doctor”

Posted in New Who, Series 5 with tags , , , , on March 13, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 5 - Vincent and The Doctor

The Doctor and Amy visit the Van Gogh exhibit at the Musee D’Orsay in Paris and notice a sinister alien face in a church window of one of Van Gogh’s paintings. They travel back to meet the great artist and find out what the alien is, but find that Vincent Van Gogh is haunted by more than just a wild alien that only he can see.

A simple premise – an alien in a painting gives us an excuse to meet a famous painter. It’s always fun when The Doctor meets real figures from history. Indeed, only a few episodes ago we had Winston Churchill himself. In previous seasons of New Who we’ve come across Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria and Shakespeare. A mad but visionary artist, also famous for cutting off his own ear, is bound to give us some great material and this episode is written by Richard Curtis too.

The strength of the episode lies in how reasonably light-hearted and fun it seems, especially after the heaviness of Rory’s death just a week ago, but a second watch reveals so much more. Curtis is mainly famous, of course, for sentimental romantic comedy but there’s little of that on show here. He could have gone down the simple route of having Van Gogh feature as a novelty character in a story about an alien on the loose. Instead, this is a story concerned with one thing and one thing only; Vincent Van Gogh.

Curtis writes Van Gogh as a real person, not just a name from history. Tony Curran as Van Gogh takes a great script and creates a great character with it. As usual, Smith and Gillan provide the goods but it’s Curran who steals the show. Van Gogh has charisma, passion and pain. He hears the colours, nature calls to him, he sees what we can’t see, yet it all just serves to set him apart. In his art, there is life and joy and wonder. In his soul, there is darkness. This is a story about the pain of seeing the world in different way to everyone else; in fact, a way so different that it was only long after his death that the world managed to catch up with that vision. This is about the loneliness that comes with such vision. This is about trying to bring light to a soul in darkness. This is a Doctor Who story, right?

Damn right it is. There’s an invisible, murderous alien called a Krafayis running around and, thanks to Van Gogh’s gifts, only he can see it. Which is fortunate because it is one of the dafter looking creatures to rampage through New Who (and let’s face it, there’s some stiff competition). Essentially, it’s a huge quadruped chicken. However, like much in this wonderful episode, there is more to our rampaging space chicken than meets the eye. The alien is alone, left behind by its swarm because it was blind. Van Gogh is tortured because he sees too much. The Krafayis is wild because it can’t see at all. When they finally catch up with it and unwittingly kill it, The Doctor points out that, sometimes, winning is no fun at all.

There’s so much richness in this story. The design work is wonderful – recreating scenes from Van Gogh’s art, his cluttered bedroom, the cafe on the street. Rich, bright sunlight drenches the Provence fields (played superbly by Trogir in Croatia). There’s a beautiful cameo from Bill Nighy as Dr Black who at first seems to be an eccentric art historian but, when called upon to describe Van Gogh’s impact, Nighy soars, lending his speech passion and heart. There’s also a nice bit of mutual bow tie appreciation.

And of course there are sunflowers, lots of sunflowers. When Amy brings dozens of them to Van Gogh, it’s a gag not too far removed from Rose’s attempts to get Queen Victoria to say “We are not amused,” back in “Tooth and Claw”. Except Van Gogh’s reaction is not delight. He sees them as halfway between life and death and his reaction gains greater poignancy when we see sunflowers at the funeral. Ultimately, The Doctor and Amy fail to save Vincent Van Gogh. All they can do is give him a precious moment of undiluted sunlight in his world of stormy skies. In doing so, as The Doctor points out, it is a good and powerful thing nonetheless. Matt Smith brings all of his character to the fore here. When we talk of Smith being able to be a wide-eyed boy with the weight of ages on his shoulders, there are few better examples.

Oh hell, let’s go with the obvious then – “Vincent and the Doctor” is so much like the art that it celebrates. At first glance, it is a lovely thing to behold, a light piece between the weight of Rory’s death and the big season finales coming in a couple of weeks. But the more we look, the more we see. Rich visuals, rich scenes, darkness woven between the light. And like a Van Gogh painting, like trying to find meaning in the artist’s tragic life, the darkness is sad on its own but ultimately serves to provide contrast to the light – to elevate the merely bright and beautiful into the genuinely profound and uplifting. A starry, starry 10/10.

Written and edited by Richard Barnes

5.8 & 5.9 – “The Hungry Earth”/”Cold Blood”

Posted in New Who, Series 5 with tags , , , , , on February 26, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 5 - The Hungry Earth

The Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves in Wales in 2020, where an experimental drill that is digging over 20km into the earth has woken a Silurian city. Seeing the drill as hostile, the Silurians fight back, taking and experimenting on captives. The Doctor prepares defences and captures one of the warrior caste, before heading down to negotiate with the Silurians. If their captive remains unharmed then maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance that a peace can be brokered.

I suppose it’s not really fair to draw comparisons with one of Pertwee’s finest stories – indeed, one of the most applauded stories of Classic Who – but when this revival of an old monster ends up as more of a remake, comparing it to Third Doctor adventure “The Silurians” is kind of unavoidable. Still, let’s attempt to consider “The Hungry Earth”/”Cold Blood” on its own merits (for starters, its score wasn’t written for the kazoo, as its illustrious predecessor’s score clearly was).

This two parter is certainly a game of two halves. “The Hungry Earth” is essentially set-up, leading us in with a bit of scary mystery (the graves are being robbed from below), Amy being sucked down (with an apparently realistic bit of fear and claustrophobia from Karen Gillan as she disappears into the dirt), lightning fast assassins running between gravestones and shocking, live vivisection – there’s almost a Hinchcliffe air of horror at work. Once The Doctor has captured one of the Silurian warriors, we are swiftly apprised of the situation – the Silurians being revived by the drill, which threatens their dormant city. They see it as an act of hostility and start to fight back and it’s up to The Doctor to persuade our little bunch of humans that they have to reach out, not react with more violence. I’d wanted more weight back in the “The Time Of Angels” and we’ve certainly got a bit more oomph going on here. Smith’s barely restrained energy is brought out as The Doctor knows he is walking a tightrope, having to trust the people on the surface to be the best of humanity in spite of the violence and kidnapping that has been demonstrated by the Silurians.

Neve McIntosh’s Alaya is a highlight – a vicious, venom tongued (literally as well as figuratively) terrorist, taunting her captors into killing her to spark a war; anything to see the apes wiped out. The other characters are, unfortunately, little more than plot points. The romance between Meera Syal’s Nasreen, and Robert Pugh’s Tony only seems to be there so that Tony’s injury becomes all the more poignant. Nia Roberts as Ambrose is The Mother – desperate to bring her family back together, we know she’s the one who will go too far. And for those who are not so quick on the uptake, Alaya confirms our suspicions too. Elliot is the kid who can see much more than the adults but he ends up being a captive so that Ambrose can get even angrier.

The cliffhanger is distinctly underwhelming – jeepers, it’s a city full of Silurians and not just a few! The shots of the underground city are impressive though and prove that the Silurians have technology that humanity should be wary of. All in all, “The Hungry Earth” is a decent enough episode with enough thrills and spills to keep us happy.

“Cold Blood”, on the other hand, is just plain clumsy. It all gets very obvious very quickly. Restac, the Silurian military caste’s leader, wants to wipe out the apes and, naturally, just as The Doctor manages to persuade her superior Eldane to sit down and talk to Nasreen and Amy, representing the humans. And then Rory turns up with the dead Alaya and it all kicks off. New Who has generally done a good job at not running around corridors in the classic sense, but we get a dose of nostalgia here as we flee from the execution chamber to the lab and in between. The warriors are woken up and they all step out of their pods…and then they get put back to sleep so go back again.

The Silurian males are represented by Eldane and Malohkeh, the leader and scientist respectively. Compared to the vicious Alaya and plain genocidal Restac, they are lovely old chaps. Again, they’re not really characters, just there to be the rational ones. In fact, Malohkeh gets to be two plot points; he is the heartless vivisectionist in “The Hungry Earth” but gets to be a kindly plot point in “Cold Blood”.

So the Silurians are put back to sleep and the good guys run round some corridors and get to the TARDIS. The Silurian story sort of whimpers to a close but fortunately there is a larger bit of series arc plot needed, so Restac hangs on long enough to shoot Rory. Poor Rory, not only does he die but the Big Crack sucks him up and erases him from history – except the engagement ring is still in the TARDIS (you did see that right?) so we have a get-out of jail free card to be played later on.

And that’s kind of it. The new Silurian design is pretty cool; who’d have thought you could make lizard girls seem a bit saucy (even if they are determined to kill you)? Do I miss the third eye? Not really; the Sea Devils did without it just fine. Ultimately though, the story doesn’t really go anywhere and in the end is almost just an excuse to set up Rory’s death. The tension set up in the first part is overwhelmingly fizzled away in the second.

The Silurians were one of the best thought out “Monsters” to appear in the classic series, being far more than just men in rubber suits. But we’ve already seen The Doctor attempt (and fail) to broker peace between human and reptile – was there really nothing new to be done with this classic piece of Who? A disappointing 5/10.

Written and edited by Richard Barnes

5.7 – “Amy’s Choice”

Posted in New Who, Series 5 with tags , , , , on February 19, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 5 - Amy's Choice

The Doctor visits a pregnant Amy and pony-tailed Rory in the lovely little village of Leadworth before they all fall asleep and find themselves back in the TARDIS, running out of power and falling towards a freezing Cold Star. The mysterious Dream Lord challenges them to decide which is real and which is a fantasy – if they die in the fantasy, they wake up. If they die in reality…

There is a maxim in storytelling; show, don’t tell. So when an entire episode is just about the telling, it can get a little grating. Only the week before, we saw that Amy loved Rory (of course, Rory loves Amy). Do we have to have a whole episode devoted to telling us that again? To be fair, it’s not the whole episode, the point only starts to get laboured around the halfway mark. Up to then, we are treated to a fairly different slice of New Who.

Us townies know that there’s always something weird going on out in those little villages (for example, The Midwich Cuckoos, Classic Who’s “The Daemons”, Hot Fuzz) and Leadworth, after a suitable bit of superficial charm, is no exception. Just why are there so many old people there? And why are they staring out of the windows of the old folk’s home? It’s a pity that the premise was given away in the previous week’s trailer because it would have been a great surprise to find them flipping back to the TARDIS. However, the flipping between realities is well played and while the events in the village begin to heat up (what with creepy old folk surging after people like a bunch of zombies who’ve decided not to wait until they’re actually dead), it all gets a bit colder and more deadly inside the TARDIS.

Apart from our three leads, the only other main character is the wonderful Toby Jones as The Dream Lord and he really is a great New Who villain. The Dream Lord is that little shit-head that we all knew at school, who would always be able to wind you up no matter what you said to put the little bastard down. No matter how much you ignored him he’d always be there sniping away. Fortunately, that little wanker wasn’t able to place you in different realities where you faced mortal peril – no wonder The Doctor gets so bloody angry with the annoying turd. Full kudos to Toby Jones for making him so loathsome.

I can’t complain about any of the acting or even the script; Gillan and Smith are on fire (as always) but, on re-watching this, I’m again struck by how good Arthur Darvill is and, indeed, how well written Rory is. He could be just a boring little man, a hen-pecked, domineered and lucky-to-be there boyfriend to the fiery Amy, but he’s not. He’s actually the adult here, knowing full well that you can’t run around the Universe forever, even if you have got a time machine. Compare Rory to Mickey, who decided that he couldn’t compete with The Doctor when it came to Rose. Rory is the opposite; he doesn’t give in.

So everything here is good…up to a point. It soon begins to dawn on us (and our chums in the TARDIS) that each reality represents how Rory and The Doctor see their different relationships with Amy – Rory and Leadworth represent a “normal” future, where Rory lives his peaceful little village life with his expectant wife, while the TARDIS (always plunging into danger) shows The Doctor having to work his magic and save the day, like he does, over and again. And once again, Amy has to ask whether she wants the potentially mundane life that Rory represents or whether she needs the thrills and spills of The Doctor’s life. Not really a surprise, the episode is called “Amy’s Choice” after all.

The final revelation, that it was all a few specks of overheated psychic pollen, is a bit of a let-down. Essentially, it all turned out to be a dream. Couldn’t The Dream Lord have been more than just a dark corner of The Doctor’s psyche? This just turns the episode from a weird, psychological adventure which happened to have subtext about the relationship between Amy, Rory and The Doctor into an episode-long group therapy session which is only about the relationship between Amy, Rory and The Doctor.

Give me a villain, give me monsters, give me oppressed peoples for The Doctor to save. If I want relationship issues, I’ll watch Grey’s Anatomy. But we do get a villain, and a damn good one, at least until we find out that it’s just The Doctor under the influence. Still, there’s enough sparky humour and well-paced twists and turns to stop it collapsing under the weight of the angst and we know, without a shadow of doubt, that Amy loves Rory. Are we done with that now? A grudging 7/10.

Written and edited by Richard Barnes

5.6 – “The Vampires Of Venice”

Posted in New Who, Series 5 with tags , , , , on February 5, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 5 - Vampires In Venice

Giving Amy and Rory a romantic treat, The Doctor takes them to Venice in 1580. Mysteriously, the city is under quarantine under the orders of the Patron, Signora Rosanna Calvierri. They investigate further and discover Calvierri runs a school for girls; a school where the girls forget having any life before going there and develop a strong aversion to sunlight. Could these be vampires or something even stranger and more deadly?

Oh Amy. Yes, I knew you had a fiancé, but you were always going to be able to get to the church on time – we’ve got a time machine, for God’s sake! So, after 5 weeks of suitably short skirts, cute-as-pie flirtyness and blatant Scottish sauce, who the hell thought it was a good idea to bring that numpty of a fiancé on board the TARDIS? Who? Oh, yeah, it was Who.

Except, Rory is not really a numpty. Arthur Darvill nails Rory – he is a bit of a Norbert, but it’s quickly obvious why Amy loves him. Of course she’s in charge; there isn’t a man alive who could order Amy about (and what man would want to?) He treads a fine line between confused and seemingly stupid, but never trips all the way over. Ultimately he’s just honest. He’s goofy, spending time on his stag do trying to tell Amy how much he loves her again, but this is no weakness – it’s a strength. This is a man who is not scared to say how he feels, rather than just covering himself up in macho hardness.

He even rattles The Doctor. There are few people who walk into the TARDIS and declare that the inside is another dimension rather than just gasp. Rory can see that there’s something going on between Amy and The Doctor and he’s not afraid to pull The Doctor up on it (even while they sneak through tunnels towards a horde of Vampires). He’s also sharp enough to see where The Doctor leads his companions; how The Doctor has no idea of the danger he lets others put themselves in. And he’s brave – knowingly going up against a fang-faced vampire fish alien with a sword while armed only with a broom is a fight for a guy with some serious balls. Of course, Amy saves his life.

So we’ll forgive Rory for crashing our ongoing dates with Amy (who wears fishnets and boots and possibly her shortest skirt yet in this episode) as it adds an extra dimension to Amy’s character, removes the unwanted attraction to The Doctor (mostly) and gives her someone to share the magic with. As for the rest of the episode, who wouldn’t love a school full of saucy vampire girls? There’s definitely a nod to Hammer Horror here. Helen McCrory’s Rosanna is a suitably sinister yet attractive villain, who evokes some sympathy in the face of her species’ demise. Unlike those bastard Daleks or Weeping Angels, she really is just trying to save her race from imminent extinction. But her own arrogance proves to be her species’ downfall.

Lucian Msamati, another guest star who would later go on to Game Of Thrones, is impressive as distraught father Guido. If this story has one glaring failure, it is the lack of impact that Guido’s death has. He sacrifices himself, and effectively seals the fate of the Saturnyne race yet The Doctor and co barely mark his passing. On the whole though, this is a good old monster romp, which brings Rory into the TARDIS in effective style. Amy’s attempt to jump The Doctor in the previous episode is explained and forgiven. Amy and Rory are adventuring together and in love. No need to labour the point, is there? We may revisit this issue.

Perhaps if this had just been a story about Vampire fish aliens in Venice, it might have been just plain, formulaic but fun. But the inclusion of Rory gives us some real character stuff for all three leads without being heavy-handed about it. A not too fishy (sorry) 7/10.

Written and edited by Richard Barnes

5.4 & 5.5 – “The Time Of Angels”/”Flesh and Stone”

Posted in New Who, Series 5 with tags , , , , , on January 29, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 5 - The Time Of Angels

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