'Doctor Who' react: 'The Angels Take Manhattan'
[Spoiler alert: Information about this week’s episode of Who inside]
Maybe I’m getting old but it seems like only yesterday that the time-traveling hero of Doctor Who first entered the lives of Amy and Rory — the companions who were given the sci-fi show’s equivalent of a full Viking funeral on tonight’s mid-season finale, “The Angels Take Manhattan.” Was it really two and half years ago that we saw Matt Smith’s freshly regenerated, dripping wet monster-battler crash the TARDIS into Amy’s garden and request a bite to eat (“You’re Scottish. Fry something!”)? My computer-consulting head says “Yes” but my Who-loving heart, which has yet to fully recover from the departure of Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith during the latter days of the Ford administration, says “Not so fast, matey!”
Of course, as Doctor Who executive producer and “Angels Take Manhattan” writer Steven Moffat never tires of reminding us, time is a strange thing — less a progression of cause to effect, as a wise man once said, than a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff. In the course of the 2010 episode that introduced Amy, she aged a dozen years and, as last week’s episode made clear, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill’s characters have apparently been companion-ing around with the Doctor for a decade now, at least in terms of their own time line. Actually, in Rory’s case, it’s been a couple of thousand years since he initially encountered the keeper of the sonic screwdriver, if you include his spell as the Last Centurion. And let’s not forget “alternate” Amy’s decades-long spell of Handbots-fighting in last season’s “The Girl Who Waited” episode, a show whose heartbreaking climax was echoed this week in the scene when Amy encountered a version of Rory who had aged 50-something years. (To be honest, it seemed a shame to me that “old Amy” couldn’t somehow have been partnered with “old Rory” and sent to an old folks to tackle scary beasties, like Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis d0 in Bubba Ho-Tep. But, hey, maybe that’s why I’m recapping Doctor Who and not writing it.)
In this week’s show we learned that Amy even now requires glasses to read a newspaper. Meanwhile, the headline of said newspaper (“Detroit Lions Win Super Bowl”) strongly suggested this episode, which Moffat had long made clear would be the Ponds’ last, might be taking place in the strangest, and most unbelievable alternative universe ever encountered by anyone ever (suck it, Fringe!!!). But perhaps it’s best to leave further discussion of that for another, well, time.
Indeed, the specter of aging, and of how getting old might affect one’s relationship with a virtually immortal being, stalked the episode like a Dalek with nothing better to do on a wet Sunday afternoon than indulge in some medium-to-heavy stalking. While Alex Kingston’s Doctor Song — sorry, Professor Song — might be able to vanquish most adversaries as expertly as her Gallifreyan boyfriend — sorry, husband — conquering the cruel advance of time is not among her talents. As Song said to the Doctor, explaining why she had not told him she broken her wrist, “When one’s in love with an ageless god that insists on the face of a 12 year old, one does one’s best to hide the damage.”
Next: The end of the Ponds (?)
River Song incurred her injury while escaping from the, literal, clutch of a chained up member of that much feared race, the Weeping Angels. Arguably the most memorable monsters yet to be spawned by the revived Doctor Who, it was appropriate they should play a significant role in the Ponds’ swan song. Moreover, the presence of the Angels, combined with the show’s New York setting, allowed Moffat to transform one famous tourist destination from a beacon of hope into giant, fanged monstrosity, if one not quite frightening enough to turn Rory stoney-faced (“I always wanted to visit the Statue of Liberty. I guess she got impatient.”)
Thanks to the Angels, and their ability to send people back through time, Moffat was also able to fulfill his much-made promise that “not everybody is going to get out alive,” but do so in a manner which wouldn’t be utterly destroying to fans of the relevant characters. Yes, Amy and Rory died — actually, if my mathematics is correct, Amy died twice, and Rory thrice in this episode. But they ultimately shuffled off this mortal coil having lived long and “well,” as Amy wrote in the afterword to the noir novel that provided the episode’s framework narration.
The departure of the Ponds, and the manner in which they left, is bound to provoke mixed feelings. Many fans will obviously feel bereft while some may believe Moffat has played the “Someone’s-going-to-die!” card once too often, even if he was once again technically correct in doing so. Although I am certainly not among them, there are a few Who followers who have never warmed to Gillan’s spiky sidekick and will be looking forward to an Amy-free TARDIS. But there is no doubt that, as companions, the Ponds played a bigger-than-most role in the life of the Time Lord — or this particular incarnation of it anyway. While the convoluted familial interweaving of Amy, Rory, the Doctor, and River Song may have caused head scratching at times, they were a family — the first to inhabit that famous blue box in the show’s modern age — and Gillan and Darvill’s exit leaves a sizable hole even in a structure which is, yes, much bigger on the inside. When your writer spoke to Grey’s Anatomy creator and Who fanatic Shonda Rhimes earlier this year, she suggested that, since Amy’s arrival, the show has essentially been told from her point of view. That’s a debatable point, albeit one that seemed to be reinforced this episode by the way Amy was allowed to have the last word when it came to the end of her relationship with the “Raggedy Man.” Regardless, Jenna-Louise Coleman, who will play the Doctor’s new assistant when the show returns with this year’s Christmas special, has big shoes to fill — and four of them.
Of course, it’s always possible we haven’t seen the last of Amy and Rory. True, both Gillan and Darvill have been very adamant in interviews that they are “done” with Doctor Who. But one of the few good things about getting older is that you have the opportunity to change your mind. And one of the many good things about Doctor Who is that even dead characters — particularly dead characters — have a habit of returning from the grave. So, rather than ruminate further on the “deaths” of the Ponds, I will instead leave you with Rory’s response to Amy when she asked him if he thought he’d just come back to life after jumping to his doom…
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