Why “The Angels Take Manhattan” Doesn’t Work

“The Angels Take Manhattan” was the “mid-season finisher” of season seven of Doctor Who, and the final episode of the series for the Doctor’s companions Amy and Rory. But despite having the fan-favorite villains the Weeping Angels, I don’t think the episode was successful, either internally or as a send-off for the pair. For two reasons:

  1. The Angels have passed their expiration date as villains, and
  2. The story fails in its emotional resonance.

My spoilery explanations after the cut:

The Weeping Angels have passed their expiration date as villains:

When the Angels first appeared in “Blink” they were one of the creepiest villains in the series’ history: Able to dispatch their victims by sending them back in time, which produced energy on which they fed. But only able to act when no one is looking at them. The challenge with bringing them back is the matter of what you do with them next, and what questions it opens up about them as a race. Because in “Blink” they were constrained to only a few individuals (five, I think – however many are surrounding the TARDIS when it fades out near the end), which doesn’t reveal a lot about them.

“The Time of Angels” opened up the playing field to a whole bunch of Angels (hundreds, at least), which raises the question of what their culture is like, and how they coexist with other creatures which surely become instantly hostile to them once they learn about them. How many of them can there be? The second part, “Flesh and Stone”, has the first serious hard-to-let-pass chink in their portrayal, as Amy is able to move past them with her eyes closed, yet that should be exactly the scenario in which they should be able to get to her (the explanation that she acts as if she can see to fool the Angels doesn’t hold any water).

In “Manhattan”, we have Angels occupying statues in New York (including the Statue of Liberty), setting up a hotel where they keep their victims alive to use their time energy, yet one of them is captured by a local rich man. The possession of existing statues seems entirely gratuitous (and rather pointless), and one wonders why they haven’t used the keeping-victims-penned-up strategy before.

But things fall completely apart in the handling of the Angels’ sending-people-back-in-time ability, and the Doctor’s explanations that he can’t change events that have already been recorded. First of all, most (if not all) of the events he claims unable to change are simply ones related to him, in books or by hearsay, or by indications which might not be true, such as gravestones. Yet the entire previous season’s plot rotated around events not being what they seemed to be, and the Doctor has already – and recently! – changed historical events which were exactly what they appeared to be in “The Girl Who Waited”, also from the previous season. So none of this makes any sense; when the Angel appears and send Amy and Rory back in time, why can’t the Doctor go rescue them, or visit them, or do whatever he wants? Surely he could arrange for their gravestones to still show up as he witnessed, if he wishes.

Never mind that how the Angels that sends them back in time survived the time paradox, or how it knew where to find them, also makes no sense.

The whole story doesn’t just make no sense objectively – after all, plenty of Doctor Who stories requires significant suspension of disbelief to enjoy – but it doesn’t work on the terms of the current series.

The story fails in its emotional resonance:

I understand that (series head and episode writer) Stephen Moffat was going for a melancholy, heartbreaking ending for Amy and Rory, but for viewers invested in the characters it was pretty disappointing.

Inside the episode, the twist of having the Angels take them just when they think they’ve figured out how to beat them was abrupt and gratuitous, an approach only offered shock value. The Doctor’s exchange with River Song in the TARDIS afterwards offered no comfort, either. What the episode could have used is the unfilmed “P.S.” sequence, which would have made it a little more satisfying.

But the big problem is that the first four episodes of the season – especially “The Power of Three” – had been building tension in Amy and Rory over whether they wanted to live their own lives or continue to travel with the Doctor, implying that they were going to decide to leave on their own after much soul-searching (and perhaps just growing up, since it has, after all, been years for them since they first met the Doctor as adults). But that never happens and it makes the first four episodes of the season seem largely irrelevant (not that they, other than “Asylum of the Daleks”, were all that good). As a matter of building a story arc and then resolving it, this ranks towards the bottom of how they could have handled it.

Even for the Doctor the episode’s ending is not effective. Sure, he’s in shock with the suddenness with which they left his life, but this Doctor is a rather emotive individual and not seeing him act angry, or depressed, and only a little bit sad, just doesn’t seem in keeping with the character.

I understand what Moffat was trying to do with both the plot and the ending of “The Angels Take Manhattan”, and it did have some rousing moments. But in the end it was a pretty disappointing episode that just left me feeling deflated. While Moffat’s stories during the Russell T. Davies Who episodes were among the best of that run, his longer-form stories and arcs as series head have been less successful.

Since Moffat seems to have shelved the Silence storyline for now (in its half-finished state) and Amy and Rory have now left, he has a chance to basically start anew in the second half of the season. But I think it will be hard to get too invested in the new companion after the unceremonious exit of the last two.

Though if he writes an episode with the Silence (who can’t be remembered unless you’re looking at them) facing off against the Angels (who can’t move if you are looking at them), I’d be into that.

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