We bid a final adieu to the beloved Ponds on the mid-season finale of Doctor Who, but with such a buildup to their departure, is the episode a fitting goodbye?
Let’s bitch it out…
There’s no doubt that ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ is sure to be a polarizing episode amongst Doctor Who viewers. After months of anticipation the episode sees the departure of long-time, beloved companions, Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill). I don’t envy Steven Moffat, as with stakes this high, it’s practically impossible to please everyone. Unfortunately, I’d have to say that despite some beautiful moments, the Ponds’ final goodbye felt rushed, anticlimactic and altogether sloppy.
I’ve griped that since the beginning of the season, Amy and Rory haven’t felt as integral to The Doctor’s (Matt Smith) adventures as they have in the past. In fact they’ve mostly served as afterthoughts rather than important team members. We’ve gotten plenty of hints at their impending departure sprinkled throughout this season, and in the last couple episode especially, it has been clear that both of the Ponds were more in favour of a more mundane life than one of intergalactic adventures.
Their final hurrah has all the makings of a wonderfully entertaining Who episode, especially considering the villains. That’s right, folks, the Weeping Angels are back! That means timey-wimey goodness with mind-bending interplays between past, present and future! And of course, ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ also features the return of the always delightful, River Song (Alex Kingston). Despite these ingredients for a great send-off, however, things just didn’t work together harmoniously. In the end, the disparate elements distanced me from what should have been a hugely significant moment in the Whoverse (i.e. I’m still an emotional wreck from the departure of Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler, still cheering about how Freema Agyeman’s Martha Jones left the TARDIS and heartbroken over what happened to Catherine Tate’s Doctor Donna).
I didn’t particularly mind the cold-open involving hard-boiled detective Sam Garner (Rob David) and the quickly dropped plot line involving Angel collector Julius Grayle (a somewhat wasted performance by beloved character actor, Mike McShane) until I realized it was eating up precious time that would have been better served augmenting the central conflict of the Rory/Amy/River/Doctor adventure. Why not begin with River getting roped into Grayle’s world? It seems all too convenient that once Rory is touched by the Weeping Cherub in 2012 Central Park that he would magically turn up right as River is being kidnapped (?) by Grayle’s team of goons. We’re only moments into the episode and already my head starts spinning, trying to figure out why River is there at that precise moment; is it because it is all part of Future Amy’s plan to set these events in motion? Mind benders likes these can be fun if they payoff, but in this instance, I’m left scratching my head rather than sitting comfortably back in satisfaction by episode’s end.
Hiccups in the first act aside, once The Doctor and Amy arrive to River in 1938 New York (or thereabouts), the setup between past, present and future is superbly done. I loved the concept of the book being at once helpful yet extremely dangerous. Reading ahead, glancing at the chapter titles, and the resulting reactions of The Doctor are simply brilliant at setting up the tension and intrigue. But again, the payoff just isn’t there. The Doctor is adamant about changing the future, but his gumption all but disappears once we see Old Rory die in the Winter Quay.
And this is perhaps the biggest problem I have with the episode. Quite frankly it feels as if The Doctor is dismissive when it comes to Rory. Had it been Amy who went to get coffee, The Doctor would have found a way to get her out of the resulting predicament. Consider last season, and the elaborate lengths The Doctor went to in order elude his “fixed point” death. In this episode, it’s as though The Doctor throws in the towel rather than finding a way to cheat the system and it reflects his nonchalant attitude to Rory, whom he’s always treated as a mandatory add-on to Amy’s presence aboard the TARDIS.
I will say that Amy’s devotion to Rory and her resilience in not letting the Angels seal his future is touching to see. Going back to the start of the episode, and the couple’s playful banter regarding her “fine lines” is also a wonderful exhibition of martial bliss that just hasn’t been seen enough throughout their run on the series. In this particular episode, it works quite well, making their decision to jump off the roof of the Winter Quay together that much more believable and poignant. I only wish we were able to see more of their lovey-dovey moments that weren’t in the face of immeasurable danger (this applies to previous episodes and even seasons, for that matter).
Which brings me to the rooftop scene itself: Had this been the true end of Amy and Rory, I would have enjoyed this episode more. It is a scene filled with the emotion that a send-off of this magnitude needs. Adding to the drama we have The Doctor and River run up right before the jump to say their desperate goodbyes. Is it a bit too theatrical? Perhaps. But I think I could have lived with this goodbye – Rory saving the world and Amy sacrificing herself because there is no world to her without Rory (sniff).
Unfortunately, the rug is pulled out from under us and not in a good way. What follows is an unceremonious fake-out as everyone ends up back in the 2012 New York cemetery, patting themselves on the back for cheating the system. Then out of nowhere, a “weak” Angel pops up and touches Rory, who is literally a step away from escaping fate. It’s a tacked-on ending if I ever saw one. Amy looks at Rory’s tombstone, hoping that if the “weak” Angel takes her, she’ll be able to live out her days with him wherever he may be, even though there’s no absolutely no guarantee of this.
I will say that both Matt Smith and Karen Gillan do their darndest to sell this scene. There’s some genuine pain in this final goodbye, but at this point, it all feels like a cop-out after the fake-out we had just a few minutes earlier. Amy still fulfills the beauty of her first goodbye in choosing Rory above all else, but poor Rory is made out to be the schmuck who didn’t turn around fast enough. Considering all he’s been through, it just doesn’t seem fair – this is hardly the ending fit for a man who survived 2000 years just a season ago.
The episode seemingly ends happily enough, as indeed Amy does find her way to Rory and is able to say a proper goodbye to The Doctor via the ‘Afterword’ in the published Melody Malone novel.
Am I being too critical? Perhaps, but it’s not as though this is the only unsatisfying element of the episode. Throughout the episode there are a number of questions posed that leave me feeling wanting at the end. These include:
- River tells Amy earlier that she can never let The Doctor “see the damage” that he’s caused his companions. He hates endings. We’re also told that since the last Angel that took Rory was “weak” there’s a very strong possibility that Amy will end up in a completely different place from where Rory was taken. Is Amy’s ‘Afterword’ to The Doctor merely a tactic of saving him from “seeing the damage”? Can we assume that Amy doesn’t end up with Rory? Perhaps the paradox is all a part of the fixed plan and Rory ended up right back in the Winter Quay and the (depressing) events unfolded as we’d already witnessed? I’m hoping that because Amy’s name appears on Rory’s tombstone that I’m wrong about this, but it’s still nagging me…
- If the paradox worked as it should have, “killing all the Angels”, why the heck is there even a “weak” Angel?
- What’s up with River’s chilly reaction to her parents disappearance from her life forever? She simply states, “it doesn’t matter”. It’s not as though she and the Ponds spent a ton of time together, but that’s pretty cold. Or is it because she anticipates seeing the Ponds again one day?
- I don’t understand why Amy going back to Rory in the end creates a “fixed time” and The Doctor is therefore unable to see her again. If River is able to go deliver her book to Amy that sets all of this up in the first place, why can’t The Doctor go and visit as well? Perhaps someone with a larger capacity for the timey-wimey can explain this, but to me it feels like a another loop-hole since Gillan and Darvill are moving on.
Ultimately, there were just too many loose ends and unanswered questions for my liking. I don’t wholly believe that Amy and Rory are living happily ever after and that doesn’t sit well with me. I sincerely hope that The Doctor takes the time to visit Papa Williams (Mark Williams) to somehow explain where the Ponds disappeared to, but something tells me we’re unlikely to get any confirmation of this. I was hoping for a really memorable episode to send off characters as important as Amy and Rory. As Mo Ryan asks over at HuffPost, can we honestly consider this episode being in the same class of previous Moffat offerings such as ‘Blink‘, ‘Silence in the Library‘ / ‘Forest of the Dead‘ just to name a few?
As I mentioned, delivering a satisfying departure for Amy and Rory was always going to to be a difficult feat. With that said, however, overall these two deserved a much better, cohesive sendoff.
Some further loose threads:
- The credit sequence is so pitch black (echoing my comment from last week about this season being “darker”) that I can barely make out the little TARDIS flying about. I will admit it is fun to see something as simplistic as the credit sequence changing from week to week and reflecting on how it relates to the themes of the episode.
- Again we get mention of The Doctor being “unknown” in the universe, and we have another narrator introducing the episode in voiceover. It’s clear these elements will figure into some larger season arc, but I’m getting impatient to see what that is exactly.
- The Statue of Liberty is an Angel. Unfortunately it serves no real function aside from giving us an interesting (or cheesy – depending on your p.o.v) backdrop
- I hate to be nitpicky, but I see plenty of fang-showing Angels with their eyes open, facing one another. The reason they keep their eyes covered – as per the rules established in ‘Blink’ – is because if they make eye contact with another Angel, both turn to stone forever (ish). Personally I think the covered-eyes Angels are much more frightening then the vampire-like ones.
- Rory’s scene with the matches in the basement is an interesting way to show tension. Unfortunately it’s been done about a gazillion times elsewhere.
What did you think viewers? Am I way out to lunch and you thought this was a great way to say goodbye to the Ponds? Care to chime in on the nagging questions I have? Any theories on how new companion Jenna-Louise Coleman will be introduced? Sound off in our comments section below.
Doctor Who returns in December 2012 on BBC America and on SPACE in Canada.