‘The Angels Take Manhattan’, written by Steven Moffat, brings to an end the story of Amy and Rory Pond. It acts as a Greatest Hits of Moffat’s previous work, with both River Song and the Weeping Angels returning, emphasising the reoccurring theme of destiny.
Our knowledge that Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill were leaving the series enhanced the palpable dread in the story. It is a story filled with sadness but it is the only way that it could have ended.
Spoilers from here on!
This five episode mini-season can be viewed as a rather successful story in its. While each episode stands alone they also work as chapters in a larger tale of the Doctor learning to say goodbye to the Ponds.
At the conclusion of ‘The Wedding of River Song’ the Doctor had faked his death, letting his friends believe he was truly gone. ‘The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe’ showed that the Doctor couldn’t stay apart from the Ponds for long.
The Daleks forced a reunion in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ and showed the Doctor that he needed to be there to keep the Ponds happy. By ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ he is reuniting with them because he enjoys their company and ‘A Town Called Mercy’ taught him that he needed their presence to stop him from going too far.
Finally ‘The Power of Three’ addressed their imminent separation. In the heart to heart with Amy the Doctor acknowledged that their time was running out. It was Brian’s blessing that convinced the trio that they should embrace what time they had.
Everything built to this episode, when the group would have to go their separate ways. This gradual development of their relationship helped prevent their departure from being too abrupt, although no less traumatic.
Immediately this episode establishes that we are in the world of gritty detective novels, rather than fairy tales. The difference is that detective novels typically centre around death and hard realities. This helps set the tone for the rest of the story.
Mike McShane, as the statue obsessed crime lord Grayle, lends a great deal of authenticity in this opening sequence with director Nick Hurran capturing the film noir style we associate with this type of story. The shots of statues in the pouring rain, thunder claps in the distance, foreshadow the darkness ahead.
The fate of detective Sam Garner, played by Rob David, recall DI Billy Shipton from ‘Blink’. The night he is sent into the past is the night he dies as an old man, only here Garner gets to face himself before he sent back.
This scene sets the stakes of the episode. Much like Garner the characters will be confronted with their own demise and there is nothing that they can do to prevent it. The Weeping Angels use time itself to imprison their victims in an inescapable cage they call Winter Quay.
These dark early scenes are nicely contrasted after the opening titles with a sunny day in Central Park, Sting’s ‘Englishman in New York’ reminding us that this series can still be fun.
This day out is a wonderful reminder of the unusual dynamic the Doctor, Amy and Rory have cultivated. The Doctor is truly the kid in the relationship, admonished by Amy for reading aloud and being embarrassed when the Ponds kiss.
It is nice to see a relaxed ‘family’ day out, where the Doctor isn’t showing off. One can speculate that this was a safe little trip, moving them in space but not time (although debates on dating the ‘modern’ day sequences could indicate that he has moved them a few years into their past).
The Doctor’s realisation that Amy is wearing glasses and that she has lines reminds us that the companions are aging, something that will become more important later. I liked to think that this episode isn’t set immediately after ‘The Power of Three’, that many years have passed since then where the Doctor and the Ponds had plenty of adventures and good times.
This pleasant sequence takes a twist when a Weeping Angel sends Rory into the detective novel that the Doctor is reading. It turns out that it isn’t fiction but a true account written by River Song. Using the information within the Doctor and Amy know where to find Rory and what is too come.
The book acts much as the dvd easter eggs in ‘Blink’, giving hints and clues while also trapping the reader, heightening the unusual nature of being a time traveller. It is also reminiscent of Kathy Nightingale’s letter which Sally can read even before her friend is despatched into the past.
It could also be seen as a bridge between the real world and narrative. Travelling back to the 1930s puts them into a world where they are characters who have to follow the plot, whatever the consequences might be.
Captured by Grayle Rory is put in a basement with Weeping Angel cherubs and a limited supply of matches. This is nice creepy variation of previous Weeping Angel hunting scenes. This variety of form was hinted at the conclusion of ‘Blink’ and used to good affect in this episode.
With the Doctor and Amy arriving in a dramatic fashion all the main characters are reunited in the same time period. I always liked the relationship between the Doctor and River Song, enhanced here due to their recent marriage.
Alex Kingston brings just the right balance of saucy charm and wisdom that fits perfectly with Matt Smith’s performance as the 11th Doctor. Before he was irritated by her knowledge of his future but now they are on more even footing. She knows and understands him and he can take comfort in that now he knows she isn’t an enemy.
River Song is also a reminder to the Doctor of the nature of fixed time. He knows that she will die in the Library and that he can’t prevent it. This builds into a brilliant scene of frustration and anger when chapter titles in the book suggest that Amy will leave him soon.
The third act, with Rory despatched to Winter Quay to experience the same fate as Sam Garner, is frightening because everything seems so inevitable. Even the Doctor can offer no comfort when they witness the death of an elderly Rory.
It is Amy who refuses to give up. Echoing so many scenes before between Amy and Rory the couple stay together, even in the face of certain death. Their final scenes on top of the hotel, a Weeping Angel in the form of the Statue of Liberty leering at them, are some of the finest of the episode.
Both Amy and Rory have gone through cycles of death before and it all seems as if it was preparation for this moment. ‘Amy’s Choice’ in particular mirrors the situation here, with the death of Rory leading Amy to suicide in order to remain with him but ‘The Girl Who Waited’ also has Rory risking a paradox in order to save both Amy’s.
Due to this their leap into oblivion seems organic, their commitment to each other unquestionable. These final moments, the two plummeting in an embrace, serenaded by a beautiful piece of music, is deeply moving. Their sacrifice, in order to save the city, is noble and a perfect send off for the Ponds.
The couples resulting resurrection, as the paradox undoes the events in the 1930s, would have been a cop-out and not entirely unexpected given their previous returns from the grave. Yet Moffat is just letting us lower our guard so we feel the full impact when the real tragedy happens.
Just when everything seems fixed Rory is cruelly send into the past to die by a lone surviving Weeping Angel. In effect Amy repeats her choice her, this time knowing that there is no way out. Here she stays true to her conviction to be with Rory no matter what. After all this time she has finally chosen between the Doctor and her husband.
This scene, with the Doctor and River Song preaching different guidance, is breath taking. Karen Gillan shines as she tells River Song to be a good girl and look after the Doctor, just as a mother would talk to her daughter. River Song’s kiss of her hand speaks volumes and shows the brilliance of this bizarre relationship that has been created between them.
Many, including myself, were expecting the Ponds to die. I think their fate here was the best approach. They lived a long and happy life together in the past, without the Doctor. After all, the Weeping Angels kill you kindly. The only tragedy is that the Doctor was separated from them and we knew that had to happen eventually.
Amy’s afterword to the Doctor, speaking to him from beyond the grave, helped sum up their relationship and bring us full circle to explain that sound of the TARDIS that little Amelia heard in ‘The Eleventh Hour’. It felt as if that chapter of the Doctor’s life had come to an end.
Endings are always difficult. There are so many expectations and people are always going to be disappointed. What is unavoidable is the sadness and I’m glad that this episode embraced that.
Scary, emotional, exciting. The plot moved naturally with a good pace and the Weeping Angels continue to be a scary adversary. It celebrated this era in the 11th Doctor’s life without being self-congratulatory.
Although I was initially sceptical of the Doctor visiting to the Ponds to take them on trips I see the advantages of it. We now have countless adventures we didn’t see that can be explored in the future, be it through books, comics or audio.
I am looking forward to seeing how the Doctor grows now with a new companion, who already has a built-in mystery for the viewer. I hope that the eyeglasses stay as they symbolise both his maturity and a reminder of Amy.
It is a shame that at only 5 episodes this series has passed all too quickly but this episode has given me a lot to think about. There are also many dangling hints and clues to the future that are worth exploring.
What do the frequent references to eggs, flickering lights and Christmas mean? Is there any significance to the fact that the Weeping Angels hotel was called ‘Winter Quay’ and the Chinese writing on the vase translated to ‘Rapture of Summer’? It all feels like something bigger is coming.