‘Doctor Who’ – ‘The Time of Angels’: River runs into Pond

05.08.10 9 years ago 44 Comments

A review of tonight’s “Doctor Who” coming up just as soon as I leave the brakes on…

With “The Time of Angels,” Steven Moffat had an impossible act to follow: his own.

The Moffat-scripted “Blink,” which introduced the Weeping Angels, was widely, and rightly, hailed as one of the best “Doctor Who” episodes ever – even though, by design, The Doctor is barely in it. Even more than the gasmask people of Moffat’s London Blitz two-parter, or the clockwork men of “The Girl in the Fireplace,” the angels were terrifying in their simplicity, and the episode played into Moffat’s love of bending time and structure for the sake of the narrative.

“Blink” was pretty close to perfect, and in choosing to bring the Angels back, Moffat had to find a way to either top himself or change the game. His approach was to make this two-parter two sequels in one: both to “Blink” and to the season four two-parter that introduced us to River Song, who has had an out-of-sequence romance with The Doctor, “Time Traveler’s Wife”-style.

“The Time of Angels” starts off heavy on River, then shifts more into the terror of the Angels in its second. It’s not as scary as “Blink,” but by telling two repeat stories in one, it manages to keep each part feeling fairly fresh.

Right now, I’m more interested in the Doctor/River relationship. “Silence in the Library” had them on wildly disparate footing – it was his first time meeting her, and her last time seeing him – and his memories of her death (and inability to tell her about it) are at least part of what makes him so uncomfortable around her. (The other part, of course, is that The Doctor in any incarnation that I’ve seen likes to be the smartest one in the room and doesn’t appreciate being in the company of someone who knows more about his life – and his ship – than he does.) Here, they’re on slightly more equal terms, in that they at least know something of each other when they meet. I look forward to the inevitable episode where River meets The Doctor for the first time.(*)

(*) River’s “You never show up in the right order” lament implies she’s seen at least one other incarnation of The Doctor past Eleven, if not several incarnations. I don’t know if Moffat plans to stay around for a long time, and well past his current, very young leading man, or if he’s just hoping his successors will let him come back once a year to introduce River to a new Doctor, but he seems to have committed to having River be a part of the mythos for a good long while – and to finding ways to always have Alex Kingston look younger than she did in her very first appearance.

I liked seeing Kingston play off the much younger Matt Smith – their bickering in the TARDIS right after the cool explosive decompression rescue sequence was quite fun – and also bonding with Amy. It was implied in “The Eleventh Hour” that Amy might, like some of her modern predecessors, have a thing for The Doctor, but in the presence of this woman who’s the closest thing The Doctor will ever have to a wife, she didn’t seem particularly jealous – just curious.

(This episode also struck a better balance than the previous two in allowing Amy to be clever, but not so clever that she starts turning into a Mary Sue. She figures out how to freeze-frame the video Angel, but needs The Doctor to bite her hand to realize it isn’t stone.)

As for the Angels, their gimmick is still pretty cool in its low-fi way, and Moffat added another element from “Silence in the LIbrary” in having the Angels talk to The Doctor with the voice of one of the dead soldier clerics. But I was less excited, frankly, to have them back than to see River again – they were great one-shot villains, while she’s obviously a character with a very long story to tell – and am going to reserve judgment until we see what they’re up to in the second half (and find out why their methods of killing have become more violent).

Still, it looks so far like Moffat is just as capable of writing a kick-ass two-parter early in his own season as he was popping in to do it during the Russell Davies era.

What did everybody else think?

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