Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Doctor Who - Farewell Matt: The Time of Angels & Flesh and Stone By @Paul_Bowler

Doctor Who: 
The Time of Angels & Flesh and Stone 
Reviewed by Paul Bowler

"You're not talking to me, sir. The Angel has no voice. It stripped my cerebral cortex from my body and re-animated a version of my consciousness to communicate with you. Sorry about the confusion."

The Doctor (Matt Smith and Amy (Karen Gillan) visit the Delirium Archive, a museum in the distant future, where they find a rather odd exhibit - a flight recorder inscribed with old high Gallifreyan symbols. After discovering it is a the message is from Dr River Song (Alex Kingston), who is currently travelling on the starship Byzantium 12,000 years in the past, the Doctor uses the TARDIS to save her before the ship crash lands on the planet Alfava Metraxis.

While Amy gets acquainted with River Song, and her uncanny relationship with the Doctor, who still doesn’t know who she really is as they keep meeting at different point in his time stream. River tells the Doctor that the Byzantium’s cargo is a deadly Weeping Angel, a quantum locked stone creature that can only move when nobody is looking at it. As they survey the wreckage of the ship, River sends a message to a squad of military clerics in orbit, commanded by Father Octavian (Ian Glen), who beam down to help secure the Angel before the radiation leaking from the ship restores it strength.

As the Doctor and River check out a book written by a madman about the Weeping Angels, which states: “That which holds the image of an Angel, becomes itself an Angel,” Amy becomes trapped in a room where video footage of the Angel inside the Byzantium is running on a continuous loop. They rush to help her but find the door is locked. The Doctor warns Amy not to look at the Angel’s eyes, because they are the doorway of the soul that allows the Angel’s to enter. Amy manages to deactivate the video loop and switch off the screen, just as the Weeping Angel begins to emerge from the screen into the room. Together they set off with Octavian’s troops to reach the Byzantium, but in order to get there they must first find a path through “The Maze of the Dead”, a dark and forbidding labyrinth full of humanoid statues built by an ancient race, where Amy begins to feel something inside her eye…

The long journey takes a sinister turn as Clerics begin to go missing. As the Doctor and River talk about the ancient two headed race that built the statues, they suddenly notice how all the statues only have one head, and must really be Weeping Angels! The slow, gnarled creatures begin to take shape, stalking them through the shadows, communicating with them by using the voice of the Cleric Bob (David Atkins), who they have slain. The Doctor has to help Amy after she believes her hand has been turned to stone, preventing her from moving, she is being influenced because she look into the Angel’s eyes on the screen, so the Doctor bites her hand to convince her.

Having been forced to the highest point in the maze by the misshapen Angels, they find themselves directly below the crashed ship. The Doctor shoots the gravity globe which allows them all to jump up into the Byzantium and escape the Weeping Angels momentarily, but they quickly follow them as they flee to the ships oxygen factory - a forest within the ship itself. After noticing a familiar crack in the wall of the secondary control room, the same one from young Amy’s bedroom in The Eleventh Hour, and the Doctor suspects the Angels are trying to feed on the time energy.

Amy suddenly begins to count backwards, but the Doctor stops her, instructing her to keep her eyes closed to starve the Angel inside her brain and prevent it from killing her. With Amy unable to move, the Doctor, River and Octavian go to find the main control room, the Doctor learns that River is actually a prisoner who has been released into Octavian’s custody, offering her help in return for a pardon. Octavian is later killed by the Weeping Angels, while back in the forest the crack begins to grow, swallowing up the Clerics guarding Amy, who must then follow the Doctor’s instructions by radio to reach the control room. But as she blindly makes her way past the Weeping Angels, she trips and falls, and they begin to turn on her. Fortunately, River is able to teleport Amy to the control room before they can kill her.

The power drain causes the ships gravity to fail, sending all the Weeping Angels plummeting into the glowing rift, which seals it as the rift up as the Doctor, Amy, and River hangs onto the controls. Amy quickly recovers, the Doctor says goodbye to River before she teleports back to the Clerics ship, but she tells him they will meet again soon when the Pandorica Opens, which the Doctor dismisses that as nothing more than a fairy tale. On their return to the TARDIS, Amy asks the Doctor to take her back to the night they first left Earth. She shows him her room, and the wedding dress and ring, saying she will marry Rory tomorrow. Suddenly she tries to seduce the Doctor, but he backs away, having noticed that the date of Amy’s wedding, 26th June 2010, is the same as the time explosion he believes is responsible for the cracks that have been appearing in time. So he takes Amy away so that he can try and figure out what is happening…

Right from the spectacular opening scenes, where River sends the Doctor a message through time “hello sweetie” before opening the air lock on the Byzantium, sending her hurtling into the TARDIS, it’s clear that this is going to be very special adventure. The Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone (2010) are the fourth and fifth episodes from Matt Smith’s first season as the Doctor, written by showrunner Steven Moffat, and directed by Adam Smith. These episodes also feature the return of Steven Moffat’s brilliant creations, the Weeping Angels, from his third season story Blink (2007). Here they return in force, in an action packed storyline that makes them seem even more terrifying than before.

Matt Smith is already settling into the role of the Doctor, bringing lots of his distinctive characteristics to the fore, which will become a mainstay for his incarnation of the Time Lord through subsequent seasons. There is a lot of humour as well, particularly when he makes the TARDIS landing noise after River “parks” the ship. He also has to save Amy from the Angels, his fear for her is almost palpable when she is walking blindly through the forest, and his rage when trapped before he uses the gun to save them at the cliff-hanger is quietly restrained, and almost menacing in the intensity of Matt Smith’s delivery of his lines. I think this is what made Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor so good, right from the start his performance is more measured, and the way his Doctor often speaks very quietly to make his point is a marked change from his predecessors.

This is also a great two part story for Karen Gillan, who really gets to earn her stripes as a resourceful companion, as she literally comes face to face with the Weeping Angels. Amy manages to switch off the video of the Weeping Angel, but she has inadvertently looked into its eyes, and allowed the creature to imprint itself on her brain. There is horrific moment when she rubs her eye and dust pours out as they are exploring the Maze of the Dead, and later her hand seems to turn to stone. Perhaps most chilling of all is the countdown she does without even noticing she is doing it, as the Angel continues to attack her from inside her own mind. Steven Moffat crafted these scenes perfectly, as viewers it’s almost as if we are stumbling thought the forest with Amy, as she blindly struggles to escape, only to disturb the Angels who slowly begin to turn around and notice her.

Alex Kingston makes a very welcome return as River Song, bursting back into the Doctor’s life once more, always one step ahead, and tragically, as we would learn in the seasons to come, always moving one step further way from him as well. The complex nature of their relationship is a joy to behold. They are almost like an old married couple, teasing and trying to get the better of each other. With her trademark “spoilers” and TARDIS diary, River is a brilliant creation, and here we get to enjoy what I feel is perhaps Kingston’s best performance in the role. Free of the continuity of things to come, River Song is a vibrant and unpredictable character. Later that sheen would diminish a little, but here she is gloriously mischievous and equally mysterious. I also like how River gets to fly the TARDIS and quickly forms a strong bond with Amy, and the two of them delight in winding the Doctor up - although he still manages to win over River’s uses of the blue “boring” switches by simply taking in the atmosphere outside the TARDIS to identify the planet they’ve landed on.

The Weeping Angels themselves are as fabulously eerie and creepy as ever. From the moment we see the Angel moving on the screen towards Amy, growing ever nearer, until it begins to emerge from the screen, much like the ghostly entity in the film, The Ring, they are always lurking in the darkness and ready to strike. The statues in the Maze of the Dead begin to come to life and turn into Angels; these lumpy, misshapen things are absolutely horrific as they stalk the Doctor and his companions. When the Angels use the voice of one of the Clerics, Bob, to taunt the Doctor, it offers an even more gruesome aspect to the Angels powers. On the ship they become full Weeping Angels, caught in the muzzle flash of gunfire, they advance relentlessly, before cornering Amy in the forest. It is only really in the closing moments, when the Angels fall into the rift, that some of the tension is lost, and it seems that after such a build up they were then defeat a little too easily.

This season the crack in young Amelia’s bedroom wall plays a pivotal role in the events leading up to the season finale. In Flesh and Stone the Doctor begins to realise how the rift is linked to the crack in Amy’s wall, which has begun to appear throughout time and space, erasing anyone from time that it comes into contact with, and is somehow linked to a massive time explosion. These plot threads are left unresolved for now, as the focus would soon shift to Amy and Rory, however they would all become clear by the season finale The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang (2010) after all the Doctor’s enemies plot to imprison him. Looking back now this remarkable story by Steven Moffat is ingeniously constructed, it slots perfectly into the ongoing story arc, while still being immensely enjoyable as a standalone story. The special effects are also outstanding, with some excellent scenes in space, to the brooding menace of The Maze of the Dead; through to the final showdown on the Byzantium, director Adam Smith’s work on these episodes is exceptional.

The Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone are both thrilling episodes, with terrific performances all round, and together with the return of the Weeping Angels, this two- part story is a real highlight of the fifth season of Doctor Who.

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