“Time is not the boss of me!”
The Weeping Angels are probably the most interesting and scary monsters to evolve from the new era of Doctor Who. Their appearance in the Doctor-lite episode Blink returned the series to its darker roots and was a triumph of writing from Steven Moffat. Being a pessimist, I expected their much-publicised return in The Time of Angels would water their creepiness down, much in the same way as the Daleks have now lost any sort of scare factor.
Well, I can’t be right all the time, can I?
The Doctor is recruited by Father Octavian (Iain Glen) to track the last of the Weeping Angels through the terrifying Maze Of The Dead. This is down to the mysterious River Song (Alex Kingston) who has re-entered the Doctor’s life – but can he trust her?
With an opening that has touches of James Bond and Raiders Of The Lost Ark, The Time Of Angels is instantly classic Doctor Who. How? Well, there’s Amy’s frustration at the lack of alien planet action; there’s hints of the Doctor’s mysterious past; a baddie with a more frightening back-story than you could have imagined; an ever increasing feeling of breathtaking claustrophobia; and a returning character that doesn’t grate. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We start with the Doctor and River 12,000 years apart, but, with some cunning plotting on River’s part, their paths cross and she takes the Doctor and Amy to Alfalfa Metraxis, to the site of a crashed Byzantium spaceship. With the Doctor engaging in cryptic talk with River, Amy is soon left behind and almost forgotten by the Doctor. Obviously, she’s soon in trouble, with a Weeping Angel threatening to send her somewhere in time with just a single touch. It’s here we get to see Amy’s intelligence, working out her own escape thanks to some very level-headed thinking.
Amy holds her own and, thanks to a managed but emotional performance from Karen Gillan, she takes the whole audience with her. She’s a very intelligent actress, giving Amy an authentic side so the whole audience can relate to her. Smith’s Doctor is also on top form, bounding around with energy but never entering the “shouty” territory that Tennant’s later years suffered from. Also the concept that the Doctor and River Song keep meeting each other in the wrong order is smart without being too contrived and proves a driving force through much of Smith’s tenure as the Doctor.
Back to the story and whispers between River and Father Octavian add another dimension to the plot: we know they’re up to something and the Doctor seems unaware. By the time we’re into the Maze Of The Dead (a place littered with weathered statues) the story has gathered quite a pace and we’ve forgotten there’s a secret to be revealed (and it will be in the next episode, Flesh and Stone, then further explored in Series 6). The narrative enters traditional sci-fi territory here as we witness a group of soldiers investigating caves where an alien menace is stalking them and taking them down one by one. But here Moffat plays his masterstroke: one of the dead soldiers communicates with the Doctor via a walkie-talkie delivering scenes so dark it does make uncomfortable but truly memorable viewing.
Script wise, the episode crams a lot into its duration. It is overflowing with fan-boy wonderment; we even learn where the wheezing and groaning noise the TARDIS make comes from! What more could a fan want?
As for the Weeping Angels, Moffat explained that the difference between this and their first appearance is akin to the movies Alien and Aliens, and it does have a slight Aliens feel to it. Now I didn’t care for the movie (yes, I know I’m in the minority but I like to be honest) and thankfully The Time of Angels doesn’t rely on this influence.
The final moments build into the first real cliffhanger of Series 5: the Doctor brandishing a gun and seemingly flushing their way out of trouble. Briefly.
This is truly a fantastic first episode for a much anticipated pair of episodes.