Doctor Who Review: “The Angels Take Manhattan” (Series 7 Episode 5)



Doctor Who Review: "The Angels Take Manhattan" (Series 7 Episode 5)

“This is the story of Amelia Pond, and this is how it ends.” 

It would be an understatement to say that Amy Pond and Rory Williams are the two greatest and most beloved companions of the modern era of Doctor Who. They are two of the most iconic, universally celebrated characters in the show’s forty-nine year history, creations that will be remembered with the same fondness as Who legends like Sara Jane or Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. The way Steven Moffat and his team wrote these characters, weaving their histories in with the Doctor’s in complex, meaningful ways, was consistently fantastic. And in Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, the show found two wonderful actors who could go toe-to-toe with Matt Smith’s historically brilliant performance in any given episode. For the generation of fans who joined the series with the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory are an inseparable part of Doctor Who, as crucial to the show’s creative success as the TARDIS or the Doctor.

Given the incredibly vast stamp these characters left, finding an organic, emotional way to remove them from the narrative, once and for all, seems like a nearly insurmountable challenge. It may, in fact, be Moffat’s single greatest trial since introducing these characters in The Eleventh Hour.

And I am, to be honest, fairly ambivalent about the way he wrapped things up.

Part of me simply wants to reject any and all efforts to give Amy and Rory a grand, tragic send-off. I believed very strongly, when Series Six was airing, that the late-season episode The God Complex was the right place to leave these characters. In the story, the Doctor realized how much he was endangering this couple he loved so much, and ultimately left them in a nice flat in London, telling them to start forging independent, non-TARDIS lives together. The God Complex itself did a beautiful job building to the Doctor’s decision, but more importantly, the entire thematic thrust of the sixth series seemed to be building to that moment. The Doctor had been grappling with the impact of his carefree ways since the premiere, and Amy and Rory were slowly realizing that a life with the Doctor was not permanently sustainable. This exit was melancholy, yes, but not overwhelmingly sad, both because it seemed like the natural next step for these characters, and because the viewer could imagine for themselves the new sorts of adventures Amy and Rory might have learning to live normal lives.

This is how I felt at the time, and I have wondered ever since if Moffat could feasibly bring these characters back into the fold and give them an even stronger send-off in the course of just five episodes. Now that the end has come, I do not believe he succeeded in doing so. The Angels Take Manhattan is a shockingly abrupt conclusion to these characters’ stories, one that fails to play into larger thematic or narrative arcs.

That, perhaps, is the key to my frustration. The Angels Take Manhattan operates almost entirely in a vacuum, occasionally playing on our collective nostalgia but not on our collective understanding of who Amy and Rory are or how they have developed. What happens to tear them away from the Doctor has literally nothing to do with Amy, Rory, the Doctor, or anything they have ever done together. It isn’t about their triumphs, or their failings; it doesn’t concern their pasts or their futures; it is simply a random act of violence from the Weeping Angels, one that creates an inescapable temporal loop that Amy must close by leaving the Doctor forever.

That bothers me. It bothers me to no end, especially considering how Moffat has shown countless times before that he can build an effective, satisfying arc. But Rory and Amy’s exit isn’t about arc. It’s about finding a clever way to make sure the Doctor can never see them again, and while I actually think the final scenes work extremely well on their own, they frustrate me when I consider it all in context.

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