Season 31, Episode 4 – The Time Of Angels, by Steven Moffat

April 25, 2010

Review by Martin Odoni

Hasn’t the new series been refreshing, in that we haven’t had a single scene to this point set in a run-down London Council Estate? It’s also been refreshing in not being gratuitous melodrama or lazy contrivance. This episode shows that it can really be scary and exciting, instead of just telling us that it’s scary and exciting.

Can’t avoid it, the Weeping Angels are a terrifying creation aren’t they? They and the Ood are probably the only really interesting aliens the revived series has invented so far, and let’s not pretend now; we were all quivering during that scene when Amy was trapped inside the derelict, weren’t we? There really is something far more petrifying (no pun intended) about the way the Angels only move when we can’t see them. Just a brief loss of light and suddenly they’ve changed entirely. It’s far scarier than watching a fleet of Daleks swooping around on those silly hoversled things, isn’t it? Much as it pains me to agree with something Russell T Davies has to say on the subject of Dr Who, he was right about one thing; Steven Moffat really is the master of writing scary Who.

It’s a very solid and exciting first half of the story, with plenty of plot and suspense packed into forty-odd minutes. The return of River Song raises some continuity questions – consider her references to knowing the Tenth Doctor when he must’ve been a lot older than at the time he regenerated – but with the two of them meeting each other out of sequence all the time, we have to anticipate that their history is going to alter somewhat.

Performances are generally excellent here. Karen Gillan yet again uses those absolute gems of eyes to the most spectacular effect, especially when cornered by the projection of the Angel – the terror she conveys as she creases her brows is so palpable that you really believe she’s in fear of her life. Billie Piper and Freema Agyeman could never compete with that, and don’t get me started on Catherine Tate. This scene also benefits from excellent direction work from Adam Smith, who accomplishes the tricky feat of getting an actress to talk to the camera without breaking the fourth wall. Matt Smith is back on form after a slightly shaky display in Victory Of The Daleks, keeping a high level of eccentric energy in his performance while showing the Doctor’s petulant edge throughout. The Doctor really is uneasy about River, probably because of the predeterminism factor; he feels like his future is no longer his to choose. Alex Kingston is really settled as River, timing her sarcastic jibes at the Doctor to perfection.

River herself once again comes across as a bit too smug in this to be a completely likeable character, but you can’t help enjoying the effortless way she keeps showing the Doctor up. It recalls some of the friendly competition between the Fourth Doctor and the First Romana. The contrast with Amy helps, as it subtly highlights that, although there’s a mild attraction, the Doctor and his companion are definitely not lovers this time, more like teasing siblings. That’s definitely for the best, as the sexual tensions in the TARDIS over the last five years have really got in the way of many of the stories. There’s also a good rapport between the two ladies, with Amy almost becoming an unannounced protege of River in the art of lowering the Doctor’s ego.

The idea of the Anglican Church having its own army is another clever bit of satire on the growing militancy of the Radical Right in the USA. However, before Christian groups start complaining about being picked on, it should be noted that the Bishop, even with his evident dislike and resentment of the Doctor, is quite a sympathetic leader. His snarls about the Doctor departing in his blue box while everyone he leaves behind has to inform the families of the deceased had me nodding sadly.

To the plot itself, it’s generally very good, with some marvellous tension in the scenes when the hunt is on in the Maze for the Angel. I also have to big-up those scenes for being the moment when Murray Gold finally realised that incidental music is at least as effective when it’s subtle. There’s a spell of about ten minutes when we don’t get hit over the head with a single much-too-loud chord of music, just a soft, ominous underscore that emphasises the dark, sombre setting and mood of lingering death. The sequence when Amy thinks her hand has turned to stone is very chilling, and is well performed indeed by the two leads.

“An image of an Angel becomes itself an Angel…” Ooooooooh boy. I have a suspicion that an Angel is actually going to emerge from Amy’s eyes in part two, because the Angel was reflected in them while she was staring at it! That could be very creepy to see.

And the cliffhanger is terrific! Hemmed in on all sides by the Angels, the Doctor’s decision to destroy the only thing holding them back is remarkable, and still has me puzzling over what exaclty he has in mind. His “never-put-me-in-a-trap” speech was perhaps a little over-the-top, but Matt Smith delivers it a lot more subtly than David Tennant ever would have; DT would scream every word of it at the top of his lungs.

There are some noticeable jokes lifted from The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. As a couple of examples, a distress signal fossilised for an eternity and picked up by a time-travelling acquaintance eons later was in the second Hitch Hiker Radio Series, while references to two heads are a probable nod (pun intended this time) to Zaphod Beeblebrox.

Couple of things I didn’t like. “POWER!!!” was a very Tenth Doctor loud-revelation-moment that Matt Smith’s interpretation could do without. “The party’s over!” was another of those Hollywood cliche-lines that I wish would just roll over and die. And people who’ve just died talking to the Doctor sounds like another bit of unhealthy recycling, this time straight from River Song’s previous appearance in Silence In The Library.

But these are very brief and slight niggles again, and they never quite took me out of the story. The Time Of Angels is a very effective bit of horror-television that harkens back to Doctor Who‘s heyday in the mid-70’s. All of which means it’s three wins out of three from the pen of Steven Moffat, whose quality hasn’t noticeably diminished at all with all the extra workload he has now he’s Executive Producer.

8.99999999999-recurring out of 10. I am definitely looking forward to part 2.

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