Saturday, 29 September 2012

Doctor Who - The Angels Take Manhattan (Review)

So far I have been quite negative of the latest series of Doctor Who, with only ‘A Town Called Mercy’ and, more so, ‘The Power of Three’, stepping up to the plate as being worthy of the excellent first two series that saw Matt Smith step up to the plate as the Doctor.

But I’m glad to say that mid-series conclusion ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ was the strongest of the five episodes so far and an almost perfect end to the story of Amy and Rory Williams that began two-and-half years ago.

Before I get to the nature of the plot the cinematography is what needs the most acknowledgement in the episode. 1930s New York has never looked so beautiful and the periodic detail of the time, from the buildings to the clothing, were spot on. Michael McShane – Dr. Vaabit from the under-rated comedy ‘Lab Rats’ – was a great character as a gangster-style crime boss and fit the scenes perfectly, and the opening ten minutes before the credits rolled was an incredible atmospheric and scene-setting trip around depression New York that set up the story and featured not only a precursor to later events as the private investigator met himself but also a great denouement with a living Statue of Liberty, this twist damaged only by the spoiler trailer used by American TV last week and ‘Conspiracy Keanu’ on Twitter asking the question six months ago ‘What if the Statue of Liberty was a giant weeping angel?’ This twist in itself was a nice addition to the mythology of the creatures, creatures that were almost back to the scariness they commanded in ‘Blink’ that was almost missing from the two-parter of two series ago.

After a fittingly atmospheric credit sequence we returned to modern day New York to find the Doctor, Amy and Rory engaging in some fun and reading from a book, a novel that would form the crux of the episode. With Rory being zapped back to 1930s New York while on a mission to find coffee, the book turned out to be written by River Song in a well composed mechanic, built around the effective use of a typewriter overlaid over shots, equally located in the pre-war time period, in the ultimate example of written-down spoilers. Back in the 30s the angels are rife, using the building ‘The Winter Quay’ as a prison and feeding ground to ‘consume’ the time energy created by sending people back in time, a method that the angels have not used since the excellent ‘Blink’ back in the David Tennant era of the show.

With the Doctor and Amy finally finding a way to return to the 1930s, the episode continued as a tense mystery-solving and angel-avoiding adventure, taking in death, danger and plot twists. The flickering lights – alluded to throughout this first half of the series – ramped up the tension, as did the reading ahead in the book to discover their own futures. Here Matt Smith, as the Doctor, portrayed the character once more brilliantly, showing his fear at the creatures and his apprehension of what would be upcoming. Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillian were on top form, as was Alex Kingston as River Song, playing a much more muted character than we expected for it.

The episode climaxed to a roof-top scene between Amy and Rory that felt like the end with emotions running high, already building on elderly Rory’s earlier death, and felt like a touching end to the story but not before the tension was relieved by their deaths creating a paradox and thus saving them.

But just as we felt it was going to be a happy ending, albeit a cheated one with yet another RTD-inspired big reset switch, the grave with Rory’s name still present on it was spotted, unlike the angel behind him which wasn’t, leading to a heart-wrenching scene played beautifully by Gillian and Smith, and I’m not afraid to say that, between that and the excellent episode score, I found it very tearful and a sad end to the episode, perfectly rounding off the story, and emotions that continued as the Doctor rushed to read the last page of River’s story and once more the feelings came back. Yes. I cried. Sue me!

The episode ended on a touching conversation between the Doctor and River Song, rounding off the strongest episode of a previously-weaker series, and then another tear-jerking shot of a young Amelia Pond awaiting her raggedy man.

It’s difficult of me to think of points were the episode fell down. I suppose it would have been nice to have seen some scenes of Amy and Rory living out their life together and perhaps, as was suggested on the net, seeing River grow up when she was in New York previously, but it’s difficult to pick fault with what seemed a packed forty-five minutes, but one that seemed to be slow and atmospheric at times, that’s slow in a good way.

With the excellent atmosphere of 1930s New York successfully created in the episode and the well-constructed story, ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ was the perfect way to round off the two-and-a-half years of stories and was both exciting, tense, touching and well-acted by all those concerned.

I look forward now to the Christmas special having enjoyed a story that redeemed the series so far, including the fun idea of the Statue of Liberty being a weeping angel; the inability of the Doctor to change time when it’s a fixed event; and the emotion of saying goodbye to two characters we’ve followed for two and a bit series. Well acted, well plotted and very atmospheric. I don’t think we could have asked for a better mid-season finale.


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