Doctor Who: The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone [Episode 5.5 & 5.6]

Time of the Angels and Flesh and Stone is the first two part story to show up in the Matt Smith / Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who.

Previous Episode: The Beast Below • Next Episode:  Amy’s Choice
(I know these are not consecutive – more will be filled in as I have the opportunity.)

Plot [Time of the Angels]:  Responding to an elaborate message, the Doctor and Amy meet up with River Song as she is pursuing a spaceship called the Byzantium, which is carrying what is believed to be the last Weeping Angel.  Catching up to the Byzantium after it has crashed, the trio investigate, along with a team of military clerics from the current (51st) century, and their squad leader, Father Octavian.  Amy is almost killed when a video clip of the Weeping Angel that was held in the ship comes to life, as images of an angel eventually become Angels themselves (that’s just what these angels do, it seems).  The ship is crashed on top of an ancient burial ground for a dead race, filled with statues.  However, these statues turn out to be weakened, degraded angels that are now coming to life because of the leaking energy of the crashed starliner.  Some of the soldier clerics are killed by the Angels, including a young soldier called Bob.  The Angel uses Bob’s vocal cords to talk to the Doctor, taunting him about his failure to stop them.  The Doctor, Amy, River and the remaining clerics retreat from the Angels toward the Byzantium, but discover when they arrive at the top that they are 30 meters or so from the top of the crashed ship.  The Angels close in, with “Angel Bob” mocking the Doctor’s helplessness.  The Doctor takes a gun and unexpectedly fires it into the air…

Plot [Flesh and Stone]:  The Doctor and his party escape from the Angels into the Byzantium, using the ship’s artificial gravity to clear the rest of the distance to the ship.  Still pursued by the Angels, they make their way through a literal forest inside the ship (used to produce oxygen) toward the primary flight deck.  However, Amy is being slowly taken over the by the image in her mind of the Angel that she survived earlier.  The Angels are growing stronger as they eat off the energy from the ship, as well as the energy coming from the a huge crack in time – identical to the one from her bedroom wall when she was a child (The Eleventh Hour)  Realizing what is happening to Amy, the Doctor instructs her to close her eyes, which stops the progression of the Angel taking her over.  She stays in the forest with several of the clerics, while the Doctor, River, and Father Octavian go on.  The clerics investigate the growing crack, and one by one get wiped out from having ever existing.  Meanwhile, the Doctor and River make it to the flight deck, though Father Octavian is killed, but not before revealing that River Song was temporarily released from prison for murder.  The Doctor make it to the control room, where the Doctor tries to guide Amy through the forest by radio, still keeping her eyes closed.  Eventually, River operates the ship’s teleport to rescues Amy.  The Angels flee the growing crack, intending to throw the Doctor in it, knowing that a complicated space-time event such as himself will cause it to close again.  Instead, however, the Doctor manages to change the crashed ship’s gravity once again, so that it’s the Angels who fall into the crack instead, sealing it off, and wiping them out from time – including the one in Amy’s mind.  River leaves, returning to prison to see if she will get pardoned for completing her mission.  All she will reveal about her crime is that she is imprisoned for killing the best man she’d ever known.  The Doctor and Amy leave.  The Doctor realizes that the date of the explosion that caused the cracks coincides with the date of Amy’s impending marriage, and determines to take her there.

Comments:  My friend, a fan of the original Doctor Who series, wrote when this episode aired that he felt the revival series of Doctor Who had finally come of age and completely established itself.  I disagree in the sense that I felt that the revival had done this already, but it’s easy to understand why this story moved him to such sentiments.  Really, you’d be hard pressed to find another 84 minutes 26 seconds (according to my iTunes) worth of story that holds up better. Writer Steven Moffat uses his new “lead producer” status to re-introduce two of his most memorable creations from previous scripts:  River Song and the Weeping Angels.

With River Song, it’s hard not to call it an unqualified success.  The character is funny, exciting, and unpredictable.  The story takes what we knew about her from Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead and adds some surprising details, setting up lots of questions for future episodes.  And unlike her previous appearance, where we weren’t sure if she’d be back or not, this time we can be pretty sure she’ll turn up again.

The Angels are effective as well, but it does sort of feel like there’s not much more to do with them after this (although that hasn’t stopped the Daleks from coming back again and again).  Giving them a voice through “Angel Bob” helps to provide a bit more insight into their evil nature, but it’s the sort of trick you wouldn’t want to see the show doing again.  There are actually lots of Angel-related moments that are pretty ridiculous, but are justified by producing scenes that are very scary or very cool.  One example is the notion that “the image of an Angel becomes an Angel,” which is absurd but does lead to a pretty good scene with Amy and the video recording (and it’s a bit more interesting when you realize that the image isn’t becoming a brand new Angel, but rather that it’s the original one “reaching out to them” through its image.  Otherwise, it’s a pretty easy way for the Angels to reproduce – just draw some pictures of themselves).  Others are the fact that the Angel in Amy’s memory can be stopped just by closing her eyes, or the idea that the scared Angels toward the end are so confused that they don’t notice that Amy is keeping her eyes closed – that they’re “quantum locking” is instinctive rather than involuntary.  But at the same time it’s hard to argue with a scene of Amy Pond wandering through a forest full of Angels that she cannot see.

Scenes where the Angel picks off some of the clerics one by one, though a bit scary, also become repetitive, but the following moment where the Doctor and company realize the truth about the alien graveyard they are in more than makes up for it.  It’s one of the best scenes in the story, and is something of a triumph.

In fact, the whole story is full of amazing moments.  The story gives us a fantastically imaginative opening sequence that makes full use of Steven Moffat’s “timey-wimey nonsense” machine-gun paced storytelling, and gives us the memorable image of River Song blowing herself out of an airlock and into the Tardis.  We get a lot of fun flirting / confusion between the Doctor and River.  The visual images of the crashed Byzantium and the Aplan burial grounds are truly extraordinary.  And there is a terrific cliffhanger at the end of the first episode.  Many (although of course not all) new series cliffhangers have taken the format of whatever the monster or threat of the week is slowly advancing on our heroes (or upon different groups of heroes simultaneously) while continuing to drone the same phrase over and over again.  This ends up looking a bit like a game of chicken between the show and the audience – how long can we keep this up before we just have to cut to the ending credits.  But here, the cliff hanger is almost abrupt, at a true midpoint in the story (when they go from crawling through the tombs to crawling through the ship), just when we want to see what’s going to happen next, and is all the more effective for it.  And the solution is ingenious, makes perfect sense in the confines of the story, and ties directly into the climax.

I think the real glue that holds this story together, though, is the plight of Amy Pond.  She is very well used here – constantly in danger, constantly being the voice of the viewer in trying to figure out what’s going on, but never silly, helpless, or moving into caricature.  Her mysterious countdown toward having the Angel take her over is extremely chilling, and watching it all drive the Doctor to greater and greater urgency and desperation helps to sell the stakes.

The only moment I’m not really convinced by is Amy’s incredibly forward, and sort of light-hearted, advances on the Doctor at the end.  I buy her aggressive approach, but do feel that having the character be so ready for a wacky fling on the eve of her wedding robs the character a bit, and wasn’t really necessary for the set up of her dilemma of whether she’ll marry Rory or not.

Along with the great moments, there’s tons of great dialogue in this story, so much that there aren’t that many moments that actually stand out above others.  Surprisingly, two of the best, for me, surround the character of Bishop Octavian, the squad leader of the clerics, who occupies a dramatic space somewhere between “fleshed out supporting character” and “standard military archetype.”

• After learning of the death of some of the clerics, the Doctor rejects one of Octavian’s ideas and calls him an idiot.

Doctor:  Yeah, I called you an idiot.  Sorry, there was no way we could have rescued your men.
Octavian:  I know that, sir.  And when you’ve flown away in your little blue box, I’ll explain that to their families.

• And later, as Octavian accepts his imminent death at the hands of an Angel, we get…

Doctor:  You’ll die.
Octavian:  I will die in the knowledge that my courage didn’t desert me at the end.  For that I thank God, and bless the path that takes you to safety.
Doctor:  I wish I’d known you better.
Octavian:  I think, sir, you know me at my best.

• Amy gets some good lines in as well.  When she has come to believe that her hand has turned to stone and that the Doctor has to leave her behind or be killed, she says…

Amy:  I don’t want you to die for me, Doctor.  Do I look that clingy?

• And later, when her eyes are closed in the forest, and the Doctor, River, and Octavion are going to go on without her

Amy:  Doctor, please, can’t I come with you?
Octavian:  You’d slow us down, Miss Pond.
Amy:  I don’t want to sound selfish, but you’d really speed me up.

• A nice exchange that sums up the relationship between the Doctor and River:

Doctor:  Can I trust you, River Song?
River:  If you like.

• The other stand out moment of dialogue is the Doctor’s angry exchange with Angel Bob right at the cliff hanger moment of The Time of Angels.  There’s so much good stuff that I’m having a hard time knowing where the cut it off.  As I said before, the combination of this dialogue with the directing, editing, and music of this scene makes for an amazing episode ending:

Angel Bob:  There’s something the Angels are very keen you should know before the end.
Doctor:  Which is?
Angel Bob:  I died in fear.
Doctor:  I’m sorry?
Angel Bob:  You told me my fear would keep me alive, but I died in afraid, in pain and alone.  You made me trust you, but when it mattered, you let me down.
Amy:  What are they doing?
River:  They’re trying to make him angry.
Angel Bob:  Sorry, sir.  The Angels were very keen for you to know that.
Doctor:  Well then, the Angels have made their second mistake, because I’m not going to let that pass.  I’m sorry you’re dead, Bob, but I swear to whatever is left of you, they will be sorrier..
Angel Bob:  But you’re trapped, sir, and about to die.
Doctor:  Yeah, it’s a trap.  You know, speaking of traps, this trap has got a great big mistake in it, a great big whopping mistake!
Angel Bob:  What mistake, sir?
Doctor [to Amy]:  Trust me?
Amy:  Yeah.
Doctor [to River]:  Trust me?
River:  Always.
Doctor [to the Clerics]:  You lot, trust me?
Cleric:  Sir!  Two more, incoming!
Octavian:  We have faith, sir.
Doctor:  Then give me your gun.  I’m about to do something incredibly stupid and dangerous.  When I do, jump!
Octavian:  Jump where?
Doctor:  Just jump, high as you can.  Come on, leap of faith, Bishop, on my signal.
Octavian:  What signal?
Doctor:  You won’t miss it.
Angel Bob:  Sorry, can I ask again, you mentioned a mistake we made?
Doctor: [Aiming the gun in the air]  A big big mistake, really huge.  Didn’t anyone ever tell you, there’s one thing you never put in a trap, if you’re smart,if you value you’re continued existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow, there’s one thing you never ever put in a trap.
Angel Bob:  And what would that be, sir?
Doctor:  Me.
[Fires the gun]
[Ending theme music and the desperate wait for next week.]

• Finally, at the end of the story, the Doctor is staring out at the universe…

Amy:  What are you thinking?
Doctor:  Time can be rewritten.

Of course, he’s considering the implications of the dangers of the cracks, but I couldn’t help on rewatching it wondering if he might be thinking of if there was any way to prevent the death of River Song that he saw in Forest of the Dead.

Things to watch out for (Warning: veiled Spoilers for the rest of the season):  Well, obviously, there is the crack, which has appeared in each episode of the series but this is the first one that is noticed and talked about by anyone since The Eleventh Hour.  The Doctor realizes that the explosion that caused them happens on the day of Amy’s wedding, so we’ll be seeing more of that day, that wedding, and those cracks before this series is over.  We learn here that time energy is pouring out of those cracks, and that exposure to it can wipe you out of existence.  That’s what the Doctor says anyway.  But it’s best now to accept the fact that the crack doesn’t actually change history per se.  It’s more like it just removes you from it, leaving your surrounding history more or less intact. So when the clerics vanish, they aren’t suddenly replaced by other clerics, as there would have been if the first group were never around.  Or when the Angels fall into the crack, then the crash of the Byzantium (which it’s implied was caused by “Angel Bob”) isn’t suddenly undone or anything.  The illogics of the situation seem to just be accepted by everybody because nobody can remember it being any different.  So once again, memory shows up as key theme for the season.

It’s also clear that erasing people from time isn’t the only thing the cracks do, as it isn’t what happened to Prisoner Zero or young Amelia Pond.

River Song will reappear as well, mostly from time frames prior to this story (from her perspective).  In fact she gives a very clear hint to the Doctor:  “I’ll see you when the pandorica opens.”  For those who don’t remember this is the same event promised by Prisoner Zero in The Eleventh Hour.  Over the rest of the next two seasons, we’ll learn a lot more about why River Song is in prison, who she was meant to have killed, and so on.  It’s good to pay careful attention to what she says and .  Lines like, “Maybe when you’re older” (about kissing the Doctor) and “I lied” (in this case, about whether the anti-radiation injection would hurt Amy)  speak volumes.  There are also references to the fact that River knows Old High Gallifreyan and can fly the Tardis (and was taught by the best) that will eventually be explained.

Also, as a bit of a forward-looking easter egg, the Doctor mentions the “Headless Monks” near the story’s start, who appear in the following year’s mid-season finale, A Good Man Goes to War.

Finally, if you haven’t noticed it, it’s good to pay special attention to the Doctor’s enigmatic conversation with Amy just after he first leaves her “blinded” with the clerics in the forest.  We’ll definitely get more understanding on what the Doctor is talking about before we finish Season Five.

Making sense of it all (Warning:  blatant spoilers for the rest of the series):  Oh, River Song River Song River Song.  I’ll flesh this out as I review more of her episodes, but the time we see her before this (from her point of view) is presumably in The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang, as she references to the Doctor at the end.  The time after this is would be the ending of The Wedding of River Song, where she catches up with Amy and tells her the truth about the Doctor’s “death”.  Prior to this she’s been in prison for killing the Doctor, supposedly in The Impossible Astronaut and The Wedding of River Song, but she knows that he wasn’t really killed.  She has, however, apparently vowed to keep that a secret, as the Doctor wanted it believed that he was dead.  So when we understand that, we really see her dedication to him.  We don’t know yet who actually imprisoned her, but presumably she earns her pardon after this story so she can go on to become the professor we saw in Silence in the Library.

One may wonder why she doesn’t react to seeing Amy, whom she knows to be her mother (as revealed in A Good Man Goes to War), but of course River has grown up lying to Amy all her life, so she’d be used to that. I do find it confusing that River asks the Doctor to about the cracks to her, as she has apparently seen them before and seen the Doctor repair them in The Big Bang (following The Pandorica Opens).  She was actually at the heart of the explosion that caused them, but maybe when I watch those episodes again I’ll be able to make sense of it.

As for the cracks, they were caused when some unknown agent caused the Tardis to explode.  The Doctor repaired the cracks by flying into them with the Pandorica, which had the side effect of erasing him from history.  Before that happened, he traveled back along his own time line and at least once spoke to Amy – explaining his mysterious conversation in the forest, when her eyes were shut.  His urging her to “remember” is key to his survival in that story.

Last Word:  Not the most complex story, not always the most logical one, but immensely satisfying and re-watchable.  One of the highlights of Season Five and the entire revival series.

Previous Episode: The Beast Below • Next Episode:  Amy’s Choice
(I know these are not consecutive – more will be filled in as I have the opportunity.)

4 thoughts on “Doctor Who: The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone [Episode 5.5 & 5.6]

  1. I forget exactly how in depth I got last time I made the comment … but I definitely feel that these episodes were not only very strong in their own right, but it was the first really great return of an Alien Monster exclusive to the new series. The Slitheen just annoyed me to no end; the Ood were good but their return was not so compelling or well-written as this.

    This was where the new series really took one of its own monsters and elevated it to the point where it could stand alongside — well maybe not Daleks, who are in a class by themselves, but at least alongside classic menaces like Cybermen and Sontarans as a recurring baddie.

    And come to think of it, it might not be off the mark to say that the Weeping Angels are to the new series what Daleks were to the original, and this is where they really secure that claim.

  2. I tried to find your original comment but it was too long ago. It’d be almost impossible to argue against the idea that this was the first great return of an alien monster native the revival series (but not necessarily the last). Moffat seems to be pretty careful to only do that when he follow through on the promise implied by a return.

    Generally, I like the idea that the series has used repeat appearances of (at least) new monsters sparingly. I’d much rather see one-off appearances by House or the Family of Blood or the creature from “Midnight” than see the Cybermen or the Daleks or the Ood turn up one more time. Although I don’t mind the way they’ve recently used some of the oldies either as proper characters (ie Sontarans, Silurians) or in cameos (Cybermen, Daleks, and even the Weeping Angels).

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