Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Angels Take Manhattan

"Together, or not at all."

The departure of a companion hurts.  Even a relatively happy one is a painful goodbye.  The final story for Amy and Rory is bittersweet, and rightly so.  Not so tragic as to suck out all the fun, not as happy as we'd like.  It's both sad and happy, and while The Angels Take Manhattan isn't perfect, it's emotionally charged enough to move the heart of a statue.

Stephen Moffat puts tremendous thought and passion into Amy's departure.  It truly is a beautiful story, and while the execution is imperfect, the idea is wonderful.  The girl who met the Doctor as a child and grew to become his companion.  It's implied that several years passed since Power of Three, meaning she traveled with him for over a decade.  But when she leaves, it's because she is forced to choose between a life with the Doctor and with Rory, and she chooses the love of her life.  She chose him in Amy's Choice, of course, but as the reason for her final farewell, it's a beautiful idea.  And then learning she went on to live a full and happy life with Rory makes it the best kind of bittersweet.  She gets two farewell scenes with the Doctor, both of which Karen Gillan and Matt Smith act to the rafters, both deeply affecting.

But somewhere along the way, Moffat forgets to give Rory a good farewell.  This entire season has been a disappointing send-off for such fantastic companions, but at least Amy had a few good emotional moments.  Rory has barely had a moment of heroism or cool.  And Rory is such a great character.  Even in The Eleventh Hour, he was the only person on-the-ball enough to notice the coma patients, and that level of observation never faltered - he's about the only human to be unimpressed by the TARDIS because he was actually expecting that.

And beneath his quiet exterior, he's too cool for words.  The Lone Centurian, guarding his love for 2000 years; a man who makes demands of an army of Cybermen; the guy who stuffed Hitler in a closet.  When was the last time his cool was actually unleashed?  His centerpiece moment in Wedding of River Song was essentially stolen by Amy.  Was it The God Complex that last gave him his due?  He's been wasted this entire season, even in The Power of Three, which is actually about why Amy and Rory stay with the Doctor, and Angels doesn't rectify it.  Outside of one scene, all he does here is get taken by the Angels three times, which is a bit much for one episode.

The one scene he does get is a brilliant one.  He figures out how to defeat the Angels - by making his death itself a paradox, meaning he caused all those times he died and came back. (Awesome!) His conversation with Amy on the roof is one of the most intensely powerful scenes in the history of the show.  Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill have been fantastic from the very beginning, but they absolutely surpass themselves here.

But he doesn't get to say goodbye.  The Doctor doesn't even seem to acknowledge him.  He's been forgotten for so long that he just slips away.

Which makes it a little harder to forgive the uneven execution of Amy's departure.  The reasons the Doctor never gets to see her again are convoluted, arbitrary, and contradicted by a wealth of previous stories.  Which it might have gotten away with if it had been well-presented, but Moffat is so rushed for time that he basically has the Doctor spend most of his last scene with Amy garbling an explanation of what's happening.  I mean, compare that to Rose's departure in Doomsday.  By the time the climactic moment comes, we're briefed well enough on all the rules that we don't need a single word explaining what's happening to Rose, what saves her, and why she can never see the Doctor again.  Here, the Doctor spends seemingly all his screentime clumsily explaining what and why and still hasn't satisfactorily finished even when it all actually happens.

And while that scene on the roof is tremendous, the follow-up in the graveyard feels a bit clumsy and artificial.  The second farewell scene doesn't give Rory a better goodbye (or even a good word) and just repeats the same dilemma Amy had on the rooftop, and since we know her decision, it would be incredibly difficult to build the tension up a second time.  It's probably doable (RTD and Graeme Harper probably could have pulled it off), but Moffat and Nick Hurran don't smooth it over.

Stepping away from the goodbyes a moment, River is as wasted as her father.  Despite their familial connection, there's no sense of a family, even an awkward one, between them.  She barely gets a word across to either of them, and does nothing when Rory is thrown to the Cherubs.  Kingston is terrific, as always, and her underplayed emotions in the last scene are painful, but River seems to have been tacked on at the last minute.  It's not clear whether or not she knows anything about what's happening or why she's there in the first place.  In yet another badly overstuffed episode, her presence unfortunately takes time away from the important parts.

The complex, highly emotional, untrustworthy conception of the Doctor by Moffat and Smith is in full swing here, and there's real dramatic power, but from a plot standpoint, the Doctor is fairly useless.  He cries and dumps exposition, both things Smith does brilliantly, but there's no time for him to actually do anything clever.  Still, watching the characters get all teary usually has a way of lessening the dramatic impact of a scene, especially when done often, but Smith has that same unbelievable gift Sarah Michelle Geller showed on Buffy of being able to be sad a thousand different ways and make it hurt every time.

Compressing a ninety-minute story into forty-five was a minor problem in the RTD era, but for the most part, he chose his two-parters well and understood their value.  Doctor Who is a mad show where every story takes place in a different time and place, and you need time to build all that properly along with a plot and new characters... and if you're writing a highly emotional story - and Moffat's stories are all emotions and ideas - you need time to set it all up properly.  Moffat doesn't do that, and hasn't all season.  Except for A Town Called Mercy, every story this season should have been a two-parter.  And there should have been an episode between Power of Three and Angels to get across how much time has passed between stories.  A couple vague lines here about Amy's crow's feet has a lot less impact than actually showing us some or at least one of those adventures.

But enough of this.  Ultimately, aside from the usual problem of too much crammed into a single episode when a two-parter is clearly the way to go, it's a good episode in and of itself.  Director Nick Hurran creates an enjoyable Noirish atmosphere right from the delightfully tense opening, and keeps the tension up throughout.  Moffat's dialogue remains as peppered as ever with his endless wit.

The Angels are scary.  The Angels are always scary, of course, and Moffat comes up with plenty of new creepy things.  The giggling Cherubs are wonderfully creepy, and the Statue of Liberty Angel is awesome, even if nothing really comes of it and it just sits there.  As convoluted as the explanation is, the Angels' actual plan to gain power is pretty cool.

And that's largely what carries Angels.  Its ambitions and underlying ideas carry it though a lot more rough patches that it would seem an episode could whether.  It's the kind of memorable and sometimes brilliant yarn that digs in your mind and sticks with you.  It's the sort of uniquely imaginative yarn only Doctor Who could spin, and worth celebrating for its wonder and power.  And any work of art with a moment as breathtaking as the conversation between Amy and Rory on the rooftop can't be unworthy of our passion.  I just hope the cracks tearing through Moffat's era don't absorb its ability to ascend to that brightest heaven of invention it can and sometimes has soared to.

Even if their farewell isn't perfect, the fact that it's so frustrating is just another reminder of what magnificent companions Amy and Rory were, and how badly I'll miss them.

If you'll excuse me, I have to go rewatch Season 5 again and pretend everything ends like The Big Bang and is wonderful forever.


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