Note: The following review contains spoilers for all aired episodes of Doctor Who, including the most recent, “Flesh and Stone.”
Before watching the latest Doctor Who episode, Flesh and Stone, I rewatched the first in this two-parter, The Time of Angels, thinking that seeing it all as one piece might help make it easier to review. I was wrong. Instead, I left this ingenious episode (the best of the series, to date) just as bewildered, overwhelmed, and awestruck as I might have been had this been my first exposure to the Doctor. Steven Moffat built this mindshattering mini-serial around a staggering red herring, namely the Weeping Angels–the silent assassins, the terrifying creatures of nightmare who only move once they’re out of your field of vision (reminiscent of the hidden door in Amy’s house that could only be seen out of the corner of your eye)–making it seem that the episode was building to this prophesied moment, The Time of Angels, when the world would be destroyed by these ideas turned flesh (and stone)…And then he pulled the rug out from under us and turned the story upside down. Literally.
At the end of last week’s episode, the Doctor surprised us all by shooting out the lights and telling everybody to jump. The moment this episode begins, we learn his real plan. By shooting the gravity ball, he may have eliminated the light, but he also created a new gravity field in mid-air, so that when everyone jumps, they then fell upwards onto the ship above them. This is just the first of many times in this episode that so-called truths we think we know (such as up is up and down is down) are flipped on their heads. Another major one is that the only way to defeat the Weeping Angels is to always keep your eyes opened. Amy, however, finds herself in the opposite situation. To wit, just like the skip in the tape in the previous episode, the Angel in her eye can only exist as long as its image exists. When the tape skipped, the tape, for that short moment, ceased to be an Angel. When Amy’s eyes are closed, they cease to hold the image of the Angel, as well, and so to prevent herself from being destroyed by the Angel within her, she must make sure she never opens them.
This naturally leads to one of the tensest, most nailbitingly suspenseful scenes in new Who history, as Amy makes her way through the fairy tale forest–and wearing red, like a certain famous fairy tale character with a preference for hooded capes, no less–while surrounded by metaphorical wolves. She can’t open her eyes, nor can she let the monsters know that they are closed. The episode then gives us a glimpse of something we never thought we’d see: the Angels moving. And there are two additional examples here of flipped realities: (1) the fact that there is a fairy tale forest within a spaceship, and (2) the brilliant concept of “treeborgs.” All of these nuances further reinforce the fairy tale motif that Moffat has woven throughout the series to date, referenced once more by River Song in her final scene of the episode. She tells the Doctor that they will see each other again “when the Pandorica opens.” When the Doctor responds that that’s only a fairy tale, she laughs and responds, in a most meta manner, “Oh, Doctor, aren’t we all?”
River Song is revealed to not be all that she originally seemed to be, either. Up to this point, we had assumed that she was an ally of the Doctor’s, but now, that is not so clear. We learn that she has committed a murder of a very good man and can only assume at this point that this mysterious person she is supposed to have killed is the Doctor himself. Speaking of being flipped upside down, River Song is the show’s strongest living embodiment of the timey wimeyness that Moffat loves so much. Like the Doctor, she lives outside of linear chronology, so traditional definitions of past, present, and future become wholly irrelevant. We know from Forest of the Dead that at some point in her future, she will “die” with the Doctor by her side, a version of the Doctor, however, who is chronologically younger than the one she meets in this episode (although Eleven looks physically younger, he is, of course, older than Ten by dint of having come after him), which takes place after she has presumably killed a further future version of the Doctor in her own past. Say that ten times fast. River leaves us with many questions in this episode: Did she murder the Doctor? If so, did she do it for a noble reason, or is she an enemy? If the former, is it possible that the Doctor simply faked his death or they were involved in a plan together to fake his death, for some as-of-yet unknown purpose? And perhaps most importantly, if she did actually kill the Doctor, can this be rewritten?
The reappearance of the Crack of Doom is the episode’s ultimate example of turning the show on its head. The image of all the Angels being sucked into the Crack is a truly sobering one. Time for the Doctor has always been mutable to a small degree, and yet there have always been crucial, fixed points that could never be changed. The Crack, however, flies in the face of all that he thought he knew, for it seems to be erasing vast swathes of history, as if they had never occurred. And when the Crack is done with them, they didn’t. The Doctor tells Amy that she has to risk her life in the forest, because far worse than being killed by the Angels would be for the Crack to annul the very fact that she ever existed at all. This leads to a fascinating philosophical question regarding whether this erasing of history should be viewed as a fully pessimistic possibility. On the one hand, the idea of being eliminated from history is rather terrifying. On the other, however, it allows for change to occur, potentially positive change, such as the opportunity for the Doctor to perhaps avoid his murder, if that indeed is what River did. The Crack also, of course, saves our protagonists from the Weeping Angels. It would be hard to argue that such a destructive force will actually be seen as a good thing, but I could certainly see how its potentially advantageous side effects could tempt the Doctor. If utilized correctly, all the sins of his past could be wiped clean away. Tabula rasa.
We are also left to wonder what exactly caused the Crack, and how and if it is actually connected to Amy in any more significant a manner than the fact that it appeared in her bedroom. The Doctor makes reference to the Cyberking in Victorian London which seemed to have no later impact on history. How could Amy have been to blame for that? Perhaps her connection to the Crack causes some ripple effect with people she meets and places they have been? And what of the probable explosion that the Doctor says caused it? Could this actually be his fault, the result of the TARDIS’ explosion and collision at the end of The End of Time? At the same time, the Doctor seems to be convinced that he should be able to solve this problem by getting Amy to do…something that we don’t quite know yet. Does he actually believe this or is he trying to avoid considering his own potential culpability in the Crack? And my next question, why isn’t it next week yet?
Of course, I can’t end this review without discussing the final world-turned-upside-down moment of this episode–Amy jumping the Doctor. In the past, we have seen the coy flirtations between the Doctor and Rose, as well as Martha’s pining for him. Amy, however, decides not to dance around the subject. She is the first companion to just skip the subtext and throw herself at him, not because she has some deep, all-consuming love for him, but just…because. Because they have adventures together and because the thrill of it turns her on and because she is avoiding her wedding and all the responsibilities that go with it. It is rather fascinating, from a character perspective, how Amy’s time with the Doctor really does seem to be about putting the pause button on the path that her life seemed to be taking and indulging in the dreams of her childhood before having to return to her “real life.”
My final question, then, is whether it is possible that the Crack manifests based on Amy’s moods? The Crack could be seen as the ultimate symbol of avoidance. Why, it erases all unpleasantness all together–along with everything else, which is what makes it so destructive. In Victory of the Daleks, Bracewell ceased to be a bomb, because the Doctor and Amy reconnected him with his humanity. If Amy, in running away, is indirectly controlling the Crack, is it possible that the Doctor feels that reconnecting her with her fiance (who we finally learn is Rory), reminding her of her love for him, will be what can seal the rift? Again, I reiterate, next episode, please!
PS 5/3/10 Sometimes my friends are very, very smart. My friend, Keith, noticed something about the episode that I completely missed. When the Doctor leaves Amy in the woods, he tells her that he always comes back, dashes off, and then comes right back a second later to say more. When he comes back, though, he is wearing his jacket–the jacket he lost with the Weeping Angels–and which he isn’t wearing at any other later point in the episode. From that, Keith spins a brilliant theory that, upon rewatching the scene, completely works: “It’s clear to me that the Doctor – a future version of Eleven – is jumping back through time to fix something terrible that has gone wrong. He reappears for a moment in this episode in a manner that is notable but surprising; plus Amy’s got her eyes shut, so she can’t see that he’s wearing a jacket that the Weeping Angels already stole from him earlier.
“And then he talks to her about what he told her when she was seven… and I’m convinced that’s a direct reference to him returning to Amy in that brief glimpse we had of young Amelia still waiting at the end of “The Eleventh Hour” – a moment that could have been a dream, but always could have been something much bigger. It’s much bigger!” To read his full, brilliant review, click here.