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Who Review: The Angels Take Manhattan

October 1, 2012

You’ll notice I haven’t reviewed A Town Called Mercy or The Power of Three. Truth be told, I just didn’t have much to say about them. They came off as mediocre, and thanks to Moffat’s new tactic of individual episodes rather than an arc that connects them all, there’s not very much to analyze. The plot holes were many, performances stellar, and overall the previous two episodes of Doctor Who left zero impression on me. I didn’t even want to watch them a second time, as I tend to do with my reviews. They felt like filler episodes. Spoilers below!

A Town Called Mercy had very little to do with the Ponds at all (and I have plenty more nitpicks with that episode), and the Power of Three, while a very interesting concept, fell a bit flat in the final act. The driving force behind the Power of Three was that the Ponds were faced with a choice: the Doctor or their regular lives. In the end, they didn’t decide. Brian did.

The Angels Take Manhattan forced that choice on them.

Let’s start with the good. As always, the best part of this episode was the performances. Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, and Arthur Darvill did an amazing job with what was a very weak script. Yes, I cried, but in retrospect, those tears were for the actors, not the story. A similar thing happened in Asylum of the Daleks. Yes, I wept for Amy and Rory, even when in retrospect, the events that led them to that heart-wrenching scene made absolutely no sense.

The problem with the departure of the Ponds is that they died twice. Rory was fully prepared to sacrifice himself to save Amy, and she refused to let him leave her. Ignoring the fact that they could have WALKED TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BUILDING AND TAKEN THE FIRE ESCAPE, their fall while embraced was beautiful, and would have been a fitting, though tragic, end to Mr. and Mrs. Williams.

Oh wait, nevermind. Haha, psyche. Thankfully, Rory was right, and by dying again, the paradox was created and everyone was okay. Wibbley wobbley timey wimey.

Oh wait, nevermind. Haha, psyche. One angel survived and is right there in the graveyard, zapping Rory back in time. Amy will, of course, go after him, because she just did twelve seconds ago. She already picked him over the Doctor, so we are just seeing essentially the same exact scene over again. Sigh.

Why, exactly, did that last surviving angel snag Rory? There was no Winter Quay, there are no more angels back in 1936 to feed on Rory’s time energy. And why is it so impossible to just go back and pick him up? Land in New Jersey in 1937, and take a taxi to New York. Use River’s wrist time vortex majiggy.

Here’s why: the book. That motherfucking book, hereafter known as the Laziest Plot Device Ever Created.

One of my favorite reviewers, Mr. Tardis, has said that when Moffat writes, he has an ending in mind and writes until he gets there. In this case, he wanted Amy and Rory gone forever but alive and together, and he wanted the angels involved. And this is what he came up with. Stuffing any and all plot holes with the flimsiest and Laziest Plot Device Ever Created.

Us: “Wait, that makes no sense. Why not just-”
Moffat: “BECAUSE BOOK.”
Us: “Yeah, but, he has a time machine. He can-”
Moffat: “BOOOOOK.”

River, meanwhile, is present for no apparent reason. She can be a terrific character, but in this instance she added absolutely nothing. Imagine the episode without her. Nothing much changes. She existed as another plot device to get around the “time blizzard,” and only acted as a witness in order to create the Laziest Plot Device Ever Created later on. But Amy could have written the book as well. River Song felt like an afterthought, and was completely and utterly wasted for this episode.

Ditto for the city of Manhattan. It seems like New York was used as the setting for the sole reason of turning the Statue of Liberty into an angel, a laughable addition that was unveiled far too early in the episode. Granted, the episode also went for an American film noir feel, but it also tried to be horror at the same time. In attempting to straddle the genres, I think it failed.

Let’s touch on the angels quickly. In Blink, it’s established that if the angels ever look at each other, they will be permanently turned to stone, and that they are considered “lonely assassins.” In the Angels Take Manhattan, there are numerous times the angels are facing one another, with no consequences. Also, consider for a moment that Flesh and Stone established that “a picture of an angel becomes an angel.” How many photographs of the Statue of Liberty do you think were floating around in the 1930’s? The angels are tripping and stumbling over their own lore, making them much less effective villains.

Emotionally, yes, this was a beautiful episode. But the performances weren’t enough to salvage a terrible plot. And here’s a nice downer I’ll leave you with: Remember when River told Amy, “Never let him see the damage?” Amy then left the Doctor a lovely note that assured him everything was just fine and dandy now. Yeeeah.

out of 5

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael permalink
    October 1, 2012 4:34 pm

    “Emotionally, yes, this was a beautiful episode”

    That’s kind of what I thought about your review. Emotional.

    “Rory was fully prepared to sacrifice himself to save Amy, and she refused to let him leave her. Ignoring the fact that they could have WALKED TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BUILDING AND TAKEN THE FIRE ESCAPE, their fall while embraced was beautiful, and would have been a fitting, though tragic, end to Mr. and Mrs. Williams.”

    Except that wasn’t the point of the scene at all. Rory wasn’t trying to get away. He says immediately that he can either run all his life without Amy, or die and be without Amy. If he dies, at least there will be the possibliity that the resulting paradox will save him, destroy the Angels, and save New York. If he takes the fire escape, nothing is resolved and he proves himself to be something that Rory is decidedly not: a coward.

    “Why, exactly, did that last surviving angel snag Rory? There was no Winter Quay, there are no more angels back in 1936 to feed on Rory’s time energy”

    Um, because the Angel in the present didn’t know? If the plan was for the Angels stationed in the present to send their victims to the past, then why wouldn’t the present day angels continue on with the plan in spite of their dwindling power resulting from the paradox? The angels are malevolent. Get it? It’s like saying “why should that Dalek with the broken gun keep trying to kill the doctor? Why not just shrug and give up?” Because that’s not what Daleks do.

    “And why is it so impossible to just go back and pick him up? Land in New Jersey in 1937, and take a taxi to New York. Use River’s wrist time vortex majiggy.”

    Because Amy and Rory’s ENTIRE timeline after being sent back by the last angel is off limits. The Doctor is not River. He IS time. And he’s the last custodian of Time. For the same reason that the Doctor can’t go back and save Adric or try to prevent the Time War from ever happening or try to prevent Amy from being captured and her baby stolen. A quick pop in by River doesn’t run the same risk as the Doctor because the Doctor is linked to events in and the fabric of Time and Space in a way that no one else in the universe is. The Doctor breaking the rules of a Paradox would have far more potentially dangerous consequences than River sneaking in to give mum and dad a quick hug.

    “The driving force behind the Power of Three was that the Ponds were faced with a choice: the Doctor or their regular lives. In the end, they didn’t decide. Brian did.”

    What? A parent that the child actually loves and respects, whose opinion, approval and disapproval and blessing actually has the power to sway a young couple’s very difficult decision having some kind of impact on that decision? Sure, that’s completely unheard of.

    “River, meanwhile, is present for no apparent reason”

    Sure. River turning up at a key point in her parents timeline, that’s just silly. I mean…come on. Really?

    “Let’s touch on the angels quickly. In Blink…”

    Yes, lets talk about Blink. Regarding the Book, why did no one have the same problem with the “magical transcript” in Blink? OH! Right! Because that was a Davies/Tennant episode and as we all know, those episodes ALL make perfect sense. IT’S THE SAME THING!! HELLO!!

    I have a hunch that you’re relatively new to Dr. Who, based on this review at least. If you don’t have some working knowledge of classic who, then it might be difficult to understand what Moffat is doing. I’m not saying Moffat is perfect. The Statue of Liberty was damn stupid, being made of METAL and all. Perhaps you’d be better off just sticking to the Tennant years. I have a hunch you’re still pining. This is common amoung young fans new to Doctor Who who want their favorite doctor to be the doctor forever. I remember going through it during the Peter Davison years when I too was a young emotional pup. But after a while, you outgrow it.

    • October 1, 2012 5:42 pm

      My quibble with the fire escape was that Rory saw there was no other way down before coming to the conclusion he had to jump.

      As for the future angel, again, if the Winter Quay never existed, why would the future angel send him back there?

      River had no place plotwise. While it was nice to have her around, from a story perspective, her inclusion was irrelevant.

      No, I’m not very familiar with Classic Who, I’ve only seen a few episodes. But I am a massive fan of Matt Smith. I personally think he’s a better Doctor than Tennant. His (and Moffat’s) first season was amazing. But the last few episodes of last season and most of this season has not been as good as previous episodes.

      I analyzed this episode from a story and writing perspective, compared with past episodes. It didn’t live up. I was very disappointed.

    • Chris permalink
      October 1, 2012 6:02 pm

      “Um, because the Angel in the present didn’t know? If the plan was for the Angels stationed in the present to send their victims to the past, then why wouldn’t the present day angels continue on with the plan in spite of their dwindling power resulting from the paradox?”

      Actually, the Doctor mentioned that the one who zapped Rory was a survivor from the blast. It wasn’t from the present, it just piggy-backed along and followed them back to the present following the paradox explosion, and then tagged Rory for one reason only: Revenge.

      The ones in the city likely went back in time or something with the rest to take advantage of the buffet, and were all wiped out. If not, then the Doctor just left them all in modern day NY to keep feasting on people. Kind of like he left a half dozen people to die in the spaceship, last week’s episode. Sloppy resolutions, I’ll freely admit.

      “The Doctor is not River. He IS time.”

      Good point there, I hadn’t considered that aspect in my own write-up. I suppose it’s much easier for someone less tangled throughout history than the Doctor to go risk a paradox, although it’s still very dangerous.

      However, I don’t believe River is ever going to see her mother again either. Ever. Amy said goodbye to her daughter with the same emotion that she did the Doctor, and in the TARDIS afterward she was devastated and composed. The Doctor even told her that he was sorry, and didn’t stop to think that they ‘were’ her parents.

      I believe the only way that Amy got to write the afterword was because River mailed her a copy of the book before it was sent to publishers.

      “Sure. River turning up at a key point in her parents timeline, that’s just silly. I mean…come on. Really?”

      River WAS there for no apparent reason. She was already in 1938 for an unspecified period of time before she saw Rory crossing the street, and we didn’t even get a throwaway line as to what she was doing there. Maybe investigating all the time distortions, but how do we know?

      I like Moffat’s stories, and I did enjoy this send-off for the most part. but he is admittedly very messy with providing explanations or avoiding plot holes. Especially this season here, there’s only been one really FUN episode (Dinos!) and two that had a compelling story.

      It’s part of why so many people are angry about this episode, a lot angrier than Bex is. There is a lot of nasty, angry vitriol and knee-jerk first reactions from people out there. You should check out some Reddit or Television Without Pity threads if you want some people to rudely speak down to instead of having a polite discussion.

  2. Chris permalink
    October 1, 2012 5:09 pm

    I’m very conflicted on the episode. This and Asylum were my favorite of the 5 episodes… I love tragedy… But I also understand all the frustrations. It’s true that Moffat abuses time travel cheats more than Davies ever did, and tends to write the story to fit the ending, but I never have a problem accepting the story. He can pack so much into a few throwaway or background lines that justify the ending when you sit back and analyze it to death like I enjoy doing…

    The thing that keeps coming back to me is a major plot point about Time Travel that Moffat introduced waaaaaay back in Silence in the Library… Ten tells Donna not to read any books from the future, because if you’re in them, then you’ve validated whatever it says as the future. Just like with River’s arm… Amy only read that the Doctor said “I have to break it,” not what he broke, and as soon as she read it it became a part of his future. The arm being broken wasn’t necessary. The fact that he said that line was.

    In Blink, it was established that the Doctor can’t just zap back in time and grab someone when they’re taken by an Angel. The TARDIS couldn’t save Billy, or Sally’s friend, because they’d already been validated as old and dying. Ten and Martha were given a folder by Sally Sparrow before they ever met the Angels that launched its own cause-and-effect chain, and was the only way that they were able to escape. (They were lucky enough that it had a happy ending.) Without foreknowledge and the ability to plant the seeds, they would have been stuck. The same cause-and-effect chain was necessary for this story:

    River didn’t go to 1938 to look for Rory… She was already there, and stumbled on him, and she learned that the book was how the Doctor found them. From that point on, she HAD to write the book. It’s the ONLY way that that Doc/Amy can find a clue to Rory’s whereabouts. She leaves a clue about the vases in the book, that allows the Doctor to backtrack and plant a message. This alerts her to use her Vortex Manipulator to send a broadcast that lets them slip through the ‘traffic jam’, and when they arrive the Doctor tells her about the book… Closing the loop. Otherwise they would have been stumbling through time and space blind, and Rory would have died in a room.

    They nearly tore New York in half just getting there ONCE… All the time distortions that the Angels had created, while using the apartment in Battery Park as a Battery Farm (maybe that’s why they wanted the story set in NY, along with the Statue, callouts to film noir and the movie of the same name) made it dangerous the first time. After Rory and Amy cause the paradox, it’s essentially setting off a nuke in the timestream that makes it even more insanely unstable.

    When they finally arrive back in the graveyard, Rory sees his grave and thereby is interacting with an established timeline where the Angel zaps him back in time and bam. He’s dead. Sure, the Doctor could TRY and go back to cheat the fixed point… He successfully faked his own death at Lake Silencio, after all, but only by giving himself an out while simultaneously allowing the others to interact with and experience his death. The Silence manipulated Amy, Rory, and 2 versions of River into being there all to validate his death, effectively dooming him. If he failed a risky, foolish gambit like going back to save Amy and Rory, the results would be as catastrophic as it was when River didn’t shoot him: Everything explodes.

    Once you’ve interacted with a timeline and learned how it flows, it’s locked. That’s why the Doctor couldn’t go back earlier for the Girl in the Fireplace, after he came back too late. That’s why he couldn’t go back a decade or two earlier after the Brigadier died once he’d learned he’d died alone. That’s why he HAD to go back and give Martha his scarf, before he ever met her… She’d already validated that he would. That’s why Ten could go see Rose one last time, before they ever met, because he wasn’t interfering with the established flow of their timeline.

    That’s why the Doctor can never go on an adventure, make a mistake at the very end, and go back 10-15 minutes earlier to save a life… He’s personally experienced or validated the cause-and-effect, and created fixed points. The moment he read “Amelia’s Last Farewall” he knew he’d locked it.

    • October 1, 2012 5:52 pm

      Time can be rewritten… except for when it can’t. The Doctor has been erased from history… except for when he needs to be remembered. You’re right, it’s frustrating, And lazy writing, imho. If you have established rules in your universe, stick to them. It’s annoying when they are bent to breaking or completely ignored to serve one story.

      • Chris permalink
        October 1, 2012 6:12 pm

        Yes, exactly. I do love this show… I will continue watching until the day it’s canceled just for the Doctor’s one-liners alone… But I would love it a lot more if I didn’t need to give myself a migraine working out all the time-travel in my head every season to keep my comprehension up to date.

        I mean, I’m not even going to get into the MAJOR glaring plothole of how the Doctor came back at dawn to speak to Amelia, when in the Big Bang he scooped her up and tucked her inside the house to put her to bed (and gave her the something blue story). I mean, the Universe was re-written right after that, but if he never put her to bed then it’s implying that he never showed up in the first place and… Argh, temples throbbing again.

      • October 1, 2012 6:20 pm

        Yeah, if I think too much about the Big Bang, my head hurts. (Like if the Doctor never re-existed until her wedding, wasn’t the Earth invaded or destroyed at some point earlier in time without the Doctor there to save it?) I’d like to shut off my brain and just enjoy the ride, but the previous seasons of interconnected threads and tiny clues has trained me to pay attention to plot holes and inconsistencies.

      • Jessica permalink
        October 2, 2012 12:26 pm

        I’ve always thought that was the point of Dr. Who, that there was no rules. Now that he’s the last time lord, even more so. I’ve been watching this show since they started the reruns on PBS in the early 80s and it’s always been like this. I’ve always felt that we’re looking at the Doctors adventures through the eyes of his companions. We aren’t as smart as the Doctor so there will always be things that we don’t get. And the Doctor being the Doctor, he’ll never really explain it to us. He’ll just give us that reassuring smile and take us to the next adventure. I would have different expectations for something like Star Trek, which has ALWAYS been about the science and the “rules”. But this was never the case with Doctor Who and I think that was on purpose. It was supposed to be so far beyond our grasp that it seemed more like magic than science. Consequently, I’ve never had any expectations with Doctor Who stories other than to be entertained. It sounds like you were entertained. You said you cried, you said it was scary, you said you enjoyed the performances, that whatever problems you felt you had didn’t surface till a while after you watched it. But you were enjoying it while you were watching it. It would seem the show did it’s job.

      • October 2, 2012 1:40 pm

        I did enjoy it. I love Doctor Who. And none of these issues came up until I sat and thought, you’re right. I should have spent more time on the positives, but I was in nerd rage mode and had to hammer out all the problems. Problems that the writers should have addressed in the script, and not just been covered up with hand waving and lazy plot devices. There has always been hand waving, true, and I can forgive a lot. But lately there’s been entirely too much, and it’s taking away from the stories. Just my opinion, of course! Thanks for dropping by!

  3. Chris permalink
    October 1, 2012 5:10 pm

    I still have SO MUCH TO SAY OMIGOD that I had to do a second part:

    Ignoring the science and timey-wimey-wibbly-wobbliness of the entire cause-and-effect chain… Which is fitting since it’s Blink when the Doctor first said that… Not going back to save Amy and Rory had a far more subtle reason: Amy has grown up. When she was young and carefree, or a wannabe supermodel rock star, she was addicted to the excitement, craving adventure. And now… Well, she and Rory are old.

    When we first met Amy, she was infatuated with her childhood imaginary friend made flesh. With fantastic tales and epic adventures. The power of the Doctor as a story, as a creature of myth and legend, is a major part of Moffat’s treatment of him. He was resurrected in the Big Bang due to the power of being Amy’s story.

    She was more in love with him than with her husband-to-be, and as time went on we saw her more and more losing that innocence and gaining maturity… We saw her choose Rory, reluctantly at first, and then more and more fiercely to the point that she killed herself twice in the last episode to be with him despite the Doctor’s constant pleading. We saw her faith in her childhood icon shattered by the Minotaur. We saw her gain and lose a child before she even had a chance to enjoy it, and the stress and wear that it took on her marriage (shoehorned in, I sadly admit, but it’s a valid point of their progression).

    The story of Eleven and Amy was designed to be a modern fairy tale, but when you grow up, the fairy tales are over. The Doctor is her fairy tale, and he recognizes that the time has come that he’s no longer needed. On the rooftop, the Doctor kept screaming for Amy. Never Rory. He adores Rory, but Amy’s his girl.

    And afterward, in the graveyard, we come back to the first rule: The Doctor lies. He told Amy to leave Rory behind… To get in the TARDIS, to just trust him, and that he would find a way to bring her back to him. He knew that it was damn near impossible to go back and get him, the stakes were too high, but that doesn’t matter. He just wanted to save her. He wanted her to get in the blue box she dreamed of as a girl and go flying away with him. But Amy didn’t believe the story any longer.

    River, however, was honest. She still flat out told Amy “It’s the best shot you have.”

    Ever see Drop Dead Fred? The Doctor is kind of like Amy’s Fred… Important, beloved, but no longer needed. He knew she would be happy without him, live a good life, and that their time was over. She didn’t need to be rescued any more… She wasn’t in danger, she was with the man she loved, and she was happy.

    He just hates endings.

    • October 1, 2012 5:54 pm

      Well said. I did to much griping to give the Ponds a proper farewell.

    • Jessica permalink
      October 2, 2012 12:30 pm

      Chris, you sound like my kind of Who fan. Nice post.

  4. beccaonmars permalink
    October 1, 2012 6:32 pm

    Great post Bex. Sometimes when I see something that I don’t completely “get” or that I have questions about afterword, my first thought is often “it’s me that has the issue, not the plot”. The Dr. Who ending was definitely one of those moments. “But couldn’t they…”, “why didn’t…”, “what about…” “but he waited for her”. “HE WAITED!”
    Yes, yes, yes, they couldn’t do “X” because of the book, because The Doctor said so, blah blah blah. Books can be wrong, written incorrectly intentionally. I know it is the nature of the companion that their character eventually leaves The Doctor, in the case of the Ponds though I wish it weren’t so.

    • October 1, 2012 8:41 pm

      It’s enjoyable if you don’t think about it too much. The more I sat and thought, the more the nerd rage built. Emotionally, stylistically, character development-wise… great episode. Logically, in ways pertaining to the plot? Notsomuch.

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