THIS EPISODE TAKES PLACE DIRECTLY BETWEEN THE TV EPISODES "THE TIME
OF ANGELS" AND "THE VAMPIRES
'THE COMPLETE FIFTH SERIES' LIMITED EDITION STEELBOOK BLU-RAY DVD
(BBCBD0130) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2010.
There's no way back, no way up and no way out.
an army of Angels,
the Doctor and his friends must try to escape through the wreckage of THE BYZANTUM.
Meanwhile, in the forest vault, Amy Pond, finds herself facing an even more deadly attack.
1ST MAY 2010
(45-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 2 OF 2)
As The End of Time saw the series return to the more conventional method of multi-part stories sharing a title, I was gratified to find that Steven Moffat has continued to indulge the new series’ proclivity for individual episode titles. I much prefer each episode being given its own billing, particularly when it is clearly a very different animal to its counterpart, as I feel is the case here. Whilst Flesh and Stone is every bit the high-octane thriller that The Time of Angels was, its look and feel are altogether different.
The most marked contrast between the two episodes of this story is light. The opening episode was a dark and cavernous chiller driven by the protagonists’ fear of the Angels, as opposed to the Angels themselves. This concluding instalment, however, is illuminated by the bright neon lights of the Byzantium and its on-board forest of “Treeborgs”, within which the story’s whole chorus of Angels can clearly be seen.
“A forest in a bottle in a spaceship in a maze. Have I impressed you yet, Amy Pond?”
Indeed, this week the scares work in an entirely different way. Until now we’ve only ever been shown the Angels’ grotesque freezes, in between blinks. Here, however, we are shown the terrifying twists of the Angels’ heads as they realise that they aren’t being observed, and we hear the crack of Father Octavian’s neck as one of their number violently twists his. Both the subtle, X-Files type terror of last week and the more patent, horror-movie scares of this work exceedingly well. I was away for the Bank Holiday weekend, watching this episode in a rustic old hovel, and every time I heard the crack of a 16th century floorboard that night, I opened my eyes in panic, half-expecting to see an Angel frozen in front of me, poised to attack. I shudder to think what this episode will do to kids.
For me, the most arresting sequence in the episode sees Amy, her eyes closed to protect her from the Angel gestating inside her visual cortex, being led through a veritable army of Angels by nothing more than an aural proximity sensor. If her actions betray the fact that she can’t see, the Angels will realise that they aren’t being observed and snap her neck. ‘Edge of the seat’ doesn’t even begin to do such a scenario justice; this was agonising.
“As long as our eyes are open, they can climb inside. There’s an Angel in her mind.”
Remarkably though, the Angels are painted as the lesser of two evils here, the real threat coming from the crack in time and space that runs through the Byzantium; the crack that consumes space time events, chewing up people and making it appear as if they never existed. At least, to everybody except time travellers like the Doctor, Amy and River, who see the universe in a slightly different way.
This is interesting in a number of ways. Most obviously, it makes for a profoundly unsettling threat – after all, what could be more frightening than never having existed at all? This is summed up rather brutally by the Doctor, when he advises Amy that “all” the Angels can do is kill her. More delicately though, it allows Moffat to white-out the canvas, neatly erasing Earth-changing events like the Dalek Invasion of 2009 and presenting us with a present day that we can all relate to; a present day that, for the first time since Rose, is synchronous with our own in every respect. When this world finds itself in peril, we’re gonna care. Thirdly, and doubtless most interestingly, the appearance of these cracks begs the question as to their origin; a question that I’m sure will linger until the fag-end of the season.
“She killed a man. A good man. A hero to many. You don’t wanna know, sir…”
And with time resolutely in flux, Moffat throws his audience a truly seditious implication; the biggest spoiler of them all. The Time of Ang-els revealed that River Song was a convict, and Flesh and Stone tells us why: River killed a man. A “good man”. A “hero to many”, even. There won’t be any prizes for guessing whom the writer wanted us to infer that this might be. Just when we think that River couldn’t get an edgier, Moffat leaves the character with an edge so sharp you’ll bleed if you touch it.
Alex Kingston laps up the delectable material that she has been furnished with, presenting it with a mischievous sparkle that provokes a flood of hows and whys. And Matt Smith is beautifully coy opposite her, one step ahead of us all of the way, his eyes betraying the jigsaw pieces dancing behind them.
“Amy Pond. Mad, impossible Amy Pond. I don’t know why, I have no idea, but quite possibly
the single most important thing in the history of the universe is that I get you sorted out right now.”
This episode’s real surprise though is the backwards-counting Amy Pond, and in particular the last-minute stab at seduction that is sure to set the forums blazing. Never before has a companion thrown herself down on her bed, begging for a good seeing to. Never before has the Doctor had to naively fumble for a get-out, desperate not to be drawn into some-thing that he hasn’t been involved in for centuries. Watching the uproarious scene, I was almost as shell-shocked as the Time Lord, but unlike him, I was loving every uncomfortable second of it. His immortal line “the single most important thing in the history of the universe is that I get you sorted out right now” may well qualify as the single funniest line in Doctor Who history. On top of everything else, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan have to be comple-mented on their impeccable comic timing.
Ultimately, my only gripe with this episode concerns something that wasn’t done, rather than something that was done poorly. Flesh and Stone sees the Christian Clerics picked off one by one, the intriguing incongruity of their combatant caste left largely unexplored. This is a shame, really, as Iain Glen’s performance really warranted a deeper exploration.
“She looked into the eyes of an Angel for too long…”
On a final note, this episode has some of the most outstanding cinematography seen yet this year; director Adam Smith has really excelled himself. The Angel glistening in Amy’s eye, for instance, is as beautiful an image as it haunting, and the Angel’s fluid, organic movements lend them at air of veracity that previously they had lacked.
Altogether then, I loved Flesh and Stone. Though at times it lacked the outright creepiness of its predecessor, this is more than made up for by the sheer excitement that it provokes; the endless flood of incendiary bombshells that litter its forty-five minutes. If this episode is any indication of what we can look forward to for the rest of this year, and indeed for the rest of Moffat’s tenure, than I couldn’t be any more ecstatic.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
It’s not as good as Blink.
Yes, I know that’s not fair. You don’t start a review by comparing something unfavourably to something else; it’s shoddy. But I wanted to get that out of the way. I had over-hyped this two part story for myself, built it up in my head and was expecting something amazing. It is, after all, the sequel to Blink, one the undeniable classics of modern Who. In the end, it wasn’t a classic. It’s very good, but that’s as far as I’ll go.
So, having damned these episodes with my faint praise, what’s my bloody problem with them? Most viewers seem to have loved them. Well, for the most part, it’s the treatment of the Weeping Angels themselves. The original four Angels were a genuinely unsettling creation, astonishingly effective in the concept, and I feel that the reason for that is the concept’s simplicity. A monster that can only hurt you when you’re not looking at it. Brilliant. Genius. By taking that as a starting point, a truly terrifying entity was extrapolated.
“Never mind the Angels. There’s worse here than Angels.”
However, in The Time of Angels, the eponymous villains are given a huge array of knew abilities. Now, I love some of the ideas. The concept that anything that hold the image of an Angel, becomes an Angel, up to an including the visual cortex of a human brain, now that’s a fantastic idea. But it adds a level to the creatures’ abilities that’s unnecessary. Now, they don’t sneak up on you and zap you back to the past, they invade your brain and steal your video footage and make sand come out of your eyes and use dead people’s voices to make fun of you and crash spaceships and all sorts. The concept is diluted. Add to that the inevitable fact that having a whole army of these things makes them less of a threat. If four Angels required all the Doctor’s ingenuity to trap, a whole host of them should be overwhe-lming. Here, you can fool them by pretending that you can see! By the end, they’re virtually impotent, and finally they just fall in a hole with convenient timing.
Right, with that out of my system, what did I like about the episodes? A great deal, actually, and most of that centres on the characters. The Doctor and Amy continue to impress as a fine team, rubbing along as if they’ve been travelling together for years. I particularly like the Doctor’s reactions to River Song. While we have flashes of the even greater man he’s destined to become, and can see River’s growing appreciation of this version of him, she still has the upper hand here. The Doctor is gawky and out of sorts around her, only really comfortable when he can focus on the threat at hand, yet flying wildly off the handle when under pressure. Amy takes to River immediately, and you can easily view them as a kind of alternative Doctor/companion team, with River’s treatment of Amy betraying a mothering touch.
“It’s the same shape. It’s the crack in my wall. It’s following me.”
Karen Gillan puts in a fine performance, particularly when the Angel attempts to usurp her body and mind. The eerie countdown, a disquieting idea, is portrayed with just the right mixture of casualness and importance. It’s clear that Amy is becoming out of her depth here, despite her obvious capabilities. In fact, it’s good to see her genuinely in trouble - she has become a far more capable companion than you would expect in such a short time. A hint of her importance to the Doctor and to time, perhaps? It’s all very intriguing. Could it be that the Doctor’s meeting her is what has upset the flow of time? And has Amy really re-evaluated her commitments, or do life and death situations just give her the horn?
Of course, this is as much River Song’s story as it is the Doctor’s and Amy’s. Alex Kingston again gives a compelling, sexy performance, from the over-the-top Bond-style opening (although I do wonder what she’d have done if the Doctor hadn’t turned up) to her gradual rise to command in the final showdown with the Angels. Refreshingly, Steven Moffat doesn’t pussyfoot around her future relationship to the Doctor, but tackles it head on, which actually ups the mystery more than being deliberately opaque ever would. It is certainly heavily implied that River is responsible for one day killing the Doctor, although this may, of course, be a bluff on the part of the writer. Then again, if time can be rewritten, then any of the Doctor’s future experiences, which are in River’s past, are surely up for grabs. Perhaps his death at her hands is one possible path for time to take. In any case, River is staggeringly blasé about being guilty of murder.
“A very good man. Best man I’ve ever known. It’s a long story Doctor, it can’t be told. It has to be lived.”
Yet my favourite performance here is Iain Glen’s portrayal of Father Octavian. He gives the part genuine warmth and believability, created a character who is an admirable man of action and a man of faith. He respects the Doctor, but can stand up him and demand his respect in return. “I think, sir, that you’ve known me at my best,” will undoubtedly remain one of my favourite lines of the series. It’s a shame that, given his death here, we are unlikely to see him again, although as the Angels are excised from history, presumably that means they never killed him in the first place. In fact, if the Angels were never there, the ship should never have crashed, and the Clerics would never have gone to investigate. Indeed, the natives of Alfava Metraxis should never have been wiped out by the Angels… The whole planet should be bustling! This kind of thinking can leave your head aching.
Still, the concept of the cracks in time rewriting the history of anything they touch is an appealing one, whether it’s in the truly chilling sequence in which the Clerics are lost one by one, leaving behind no record or memory, or in its clever method of retconning away plot holes. Things like the Cyberking’s total absence from the history books is the sort of thing that niggles, and the fact that every man and his mum now knows what a Dalek is following the events of The Stolen Earth is damaging to the show’s credibility. In one fell swoop, the cracks in time explain away all such problems, although it has to be said that it does make the Doctor’s actions rather irrelevant if they’re just excised from history as soon as his back’s turned. And what is his problem with that duck pond? After telling some people off for worrying about what was clearly a throwaway line, here it turns out to be apparently vital to the nature of the universe.
“The explosion that caused it is still happening, somewhere out there. Somewhere in time…”
There are some wonderful images here, from the forested oxygen factory to the Angel-infested Maze of the Dead, although there are moments where I was shouting at the screen how slow are these characters if they can’t see that the two-headed aliens and the one-headed statues don’t match up? The resolution to the cliffhanger is also rather predictable and something of a science-fiction cheat, although nobody watching it with me seemed to think so. Perhaps that just comes from having been steeped in this stuff for so long, but I was totally expecting a cheeky bit of gravity defying. There are some fantastic set pieces and wonderful concepts on offer here, to be sure, and the characters hold things together well, yet the ultimate result seems to be somewhat less than the sum of its parts.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
What a beast of a two-parter. This is one of those very rare occasions where Doctor Who gets every single thing right and the story can be enjoyed over and over. It is easily Steven Moffat’s most accomplished piece of writing to date and, considering the general standard of his episodes, that is quite an endorsement. The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone is a Doctor Who masterpiece.
“We’re being attacked by statues in a crashed ship. There isn’t a manual for this.”
We finally have a modern day monster that fans will be talking about in years to come. Whilst the Slitheen and the Ood both deserve plaudits for trying something a bit different - the former was played for laughs and the latter were misunderstood - the Angels are bad bastards and their malevolence is never is question. They exist to kill and they want to make sure it happens in the most painful way possible.
Moffat is endlessly inventive with his creatures and he goes to great lengths to up the fear factor during this episode. The Angels advancing down the airlock door are like snapshots of a camera flash. In an astounding sequence, the soldiers let rip a hail of bullets at them which have no effect, but the light of the bullets bouncing from the airlock doors holds them back. Their blank stares juddering from the darkness are hypnotic and very scary. Angel Bob has the line “The Angels are feasting, sir”, which put the willies up me without any visual help at all. We realised how warped they were when they told the Doctor how Bob died in fear and pain in the first episode, but their horrible laughter and making Amy count down to her own death to scare her for fun reveals their malice in a whole new light.
“It’s a warning. There are Angels round you now.”
Furthermore, while the Angels are visually arresting in any environment, they look especially unnerving hidden amongst the misty foliage of the forest. Nothing could have prepared me for the scene where the Angel appears in the blink of eye with its arm around Father Octavian’s neck ready to snap it and forcing the Doctor into the uncomfortable position of letting the man die if he turns away. Moffat is sick – what could give children nightmares more than Amy being forced to walk through an army of Angels with her eyes shut. Literal blind terror; monsters in the dark reaching out and you can’t even open your eyes to see them. This man is truly the master of tea-time suspense; I cannot remember being so shook up at something broadcast at 6.30pm than when the Angels came to life and advanced on Amy. I was screaming at the telly.
What really comes into focus is Matt Smith’s mesmerising performance as the Doctor. My mother hated the eleventh Doctor of the first three episodes, but after this episode aired she text me “I’m sold.” It is one of the most accomplished performances of any actor to play the role, including David Tennant. This Doctor talks fast and acts fast; he takes terrible risks to save peoples lives, and he babbles incoherently to generate ideas. He is flippant in the face of unbeatable odds (“I made them say ‘comfy chairs’”) and he has pulls of modern dialogue with style (“Get a life, Bob”). I loved his blood- curdling scream when he was seized by the Angels on the control deck - that man Moffat managed to convince me that his time was up.
“If I always told you the truth I wouldn’t need you to trust me.”
What I really love is how much of a realist this Doctor is without ever losing his fairytale image. As Amy faces death he confronts her with the truth rather than sugar coating it like River does. Matt Smith plays the scene where he asks Amy to trust him with such delicate emotion it confirms their relationship as one of unspoken love; it is the stuff of legend and all the more treasurable for it. His intimate moment with Father Octavian is even better: with tears in his eyes as his friend faces death at the hands of an Angel he admits “I wish I’d known you better.” And then to turn on River so violently once he is warned not to trust her… this is some fantastic characterisation and he steps away from this story with a gold star. If he keeps this up he will be the Doctor of Doctors. Oh and it’s the first story ever where the Doctor swears. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
The episode itself is furiously-paced and once again has that glorious feeling of classic Who, what with the Doctor on the run from scary monsters in the belly of a spaceship. There was talk of the budget being cut this season but honestly you cannot see that in what’s on screen. Good lighting, bloodcurdling (but effectively simple) monsters and a couple of good sets translate into a story that looks expensive without ever breaking the budget. The story keeps you gripped throughout and Adam Smith shoots Moffat’s dense script with imagination and an eye of memorable visuals. Just look at the opening sequence: my husband Simon said it would be hilarious if after the recap they were all suddenly safe with no explanation, which is what effectively happens for a few seconds before that disorienting upside down sequence. The oxygen factory, a dense forest producing oxygen in the heart of the Byzantium, is another of those brilliantly bizarre Moffat juxtapositions (think a horse clip-cloppng through a spaceship in The Girl in the Fireplace) and the fairytale horror of the light from the cracks in the universe bleeding through the forest is so simple but so haunting.
“As best I understand it, the Angels are laughing. Because you haven’t noticed yet.”
The season is converging with speed and the dread of the cracks in the universe is step-ped up a notch here. After the Angels are built up to be such an evil menace it is unnerving to experience something that they are frightened of. Small moments are returning to haunt the characters: the duck pond, Amy not recognising the Daleks, the CyberKing… I never thought that he would have the nerve, but it really looks like Moffat is going to rewrite all those Davies invasions. With hints of the Pandorica, another meeting in River’s past and the foreboding event of Amy’s wedding, there is a promise of great things to come in the future. The power of the cracks in the universe, their time energy erasing the existence of several characters means that this is potentially the most awesome force the Doctor has ever encountered. Be warned, troubled times are ahead.
River is far less prominent this week as the plot thickens, but she is still compelling enough to demand certain unforgettable moments. I really like how she trusts the Doctor so completely and works with him so effectively under pressure. The look on her face when the Doctor discovers that she was in prison for killing “a hero to many” is one of total fear. The inference here is that she killed the Doctor, but I am sure that Moffat is far too clever to play his hand so early in Smith’s run. What if she murdered the Brigadier? “You, me, handcuffs, why must it always end this way?” she says as she is carted of to prison. Whilst boasting some of the cleverest scripts in the Doctor Who canon, Moffat also boasts one of the che-ekiest…
“I really wasn’t suggesting anything quite so long-term…”
…which brings me to the last scene, which took me entirely by surprise. Whilst it might upset some hardcore fans, I think there is something rather wonderful about Amy cutting straight through the subtext (leaving Martha Jones looking rather like a mooning schoolgirl) and jumping straight to the sex. Peeling off his braces and sticking her tongue in his mouth comes totally out of the blue and must rank as the raunchiest scene in Doctor Who history. Whilst the Doctor has been partial to the odd snog in the last decade and he has had some romantic interest from his companions in the spin-off media, this is the first time that an outright sex scene has been on the cards. There is something totally non-sexual about Matt Smith’s eminently fanciable Eleven that makes the scene a comic highlight (let’s face it, we all crave what we can’t have). After the quiet moments of friendship between the two earlier in the episode, this leaves the viewer completely wrong-footed and their relationship in a very uncomfortable place. I love that the show can be this unpredictable and that Amy can be portrayed as such a randy little minx. The trailer for the next episode looks as though the Doctor is going to do a bit of matchmaking between Amy and Rory and it will be interesting to see where this love triangle goes. I never thought that Doctor Who could accommodate soap opera storylines like this, but if anybody can pull this off, its Moffat and to bolt it onto the scariest Doctor Who adventure for an age is a testament to the man’s genius.
Flesh and Stone gets full marks from me in a season that is building on its success in superb style. Now we have a spanking new classic Doctor Who monster, a vivid and eye catching new Doctor, a feisty and rampant companion, lots of fascinating hints to follow up on and some memorable storytelling in the bargain. Doctor Who horror at its finest, this story might just leave you in the most enjoyable cold sweat of your life.
Copyright © Joe Ford 2010
Joe Ford has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Flesh and Stone sees the Doctor claim to be 907 years old, suggesting that he must have been approaching a birthday (subjectively speaking) when his regeneration came in the closing moments of The End of Time. That’s if you believe a word the Doctor says on the subject, mind.
This episode also heavily suggests that River Song was imprisoned for murdering the Doctor, though this could just be one of her mind games, and even if true, is likely to be copped-out of in some inspired fashion.
When is now? Amy and Rory’s wedding is scheduled for 26th June 2010, the projected transmission date for the season finale. By our reckoning, this places it some six months prior to the events depicted in The End of Time - if those events still stand, that is, given this episode’s revelations about the cracks in space and time. These cracks (which, tellingly, appear to originate on 26th June 2010) have re-written human history to undo the Dalek Invasion of 2009 and the devastation wrought by the CyberKing in 1851, as well as (presumably) many of the other alien incursions depicted during Russell T Davies’ reign as showrunner. How this will affect the fates of the ninth and tenth Doctors’ companions, not to mention Torchwood and Sarah Jane Smith’s team, is not yet known. This apparent retcon might explain why in 2012, Henry van Statten did not know what a Dalek was in the episode Dalek - assuming, of course, that the events in his museum still stand!
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