After being so thoroughly underwhelmed for the past two weeks, “The Time of Angels” almost leaves me speechless. I wish I could just write, “Man, that was so fuckin’ cool” and be done with it, since anything I’ve got to say isn’t going to make it any cooler. With this episode, we’ve finally gotten to material with major promise – probably even beyond promise, but since it’s only part one of a two-parter, everything could fall apart in the second half. But man oh man, what a setup!
The opening sequence – which begins with a man tripping balls – sets the stage for a whacked-out adventure. He’s been dosed with hallucinogenic lipstick by River Song (Alex Kingston). Was the field he was standing in part of the hallucination, or was it a part of the spaceship Byzantium? Clearly River has been up to something on the ship, but we don’t find out what that is straight up. 12,000 years in the future, the Doctor (Matt Smith) is showing Amy (Karen Gillan) a museum, and pointing out all the objects he’s had in hand in saving, which is really quite funny, and vaguely romantic, but mostly just boastful and stodgy on his part, especially since what Amy really wants to see is an alien planet. They come across an ancient home box on which some Old High Gallifreyan is written – it amusingly says “Hello sweetie.” The Doctor steals the box from the museum, which leads him to a rendezvous with River right outside the Byzantium. River, on the run from powers that be, releases an airlock and flies straight through the waiting, open TARDIS doors, and lands on the Doctor. The Byzantium flies away, and River issues a single order: “Follow that ship!” It’s an exhilarating start and very James Bond-like, directed by Adam Smith with precision and thought, as is the rest of the episode.
The sequence that follows it, set in the TARDIS, is equally entertaining, although on a more intimate level. The bickering back and forth from the Doctor and River is reminiscent of the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana I (Mary Tamm) from the early Key to Time stories, although whereas that relationship was two Time Lords getting to know one another, this one is, at least from River’s POV, rooted in familiarity. One really nice touch that gives me huge giggles is how River hangs her heels on the TARDIS scanner. I love that. Also, the fact that the TARDIS only makes the grinding noise it makes when it materializes because the Doctor leaves the brakes on. Hilarious, as is Smith’s impression of the sound. And of course the blue stabilizers, which the Doctor dubs “blue boringers.” Priceless dialogue here, all the way around.
The TARDIS has followed the Byzantium to the planet Alfava Metraxis, and the Doctor is prepared to drop River off so that she can go about her business, and it’s only at Amy’s insistence at wanting to see a planet that he decides to stay. Outside, the Byzantium has crashed into an ancient temple, and soon the Clerics arrive to meet River. The Clerics – what a wonderful idea; in the future, the Church has gone commando! Led by Father Octavian (Iain Glen), they seem to be there to aid River, but there’s something going on between her and Octavian, as well. Soon it’s revealed there was a solitary Weeping Angel onboard the Byzantium.
The group plans to work their way up to the ship, via the Maze of the Dead, a burial ground where the entombed are encased in the walls, but not before River whips out a 4 second video clip of the Angel in question. This leads to what may be the most brilliant sequence in the episode, although I’m not sure I’d want to make that call, as nearly everything about this half of the story is so perfectly written, planned and executed that it would do a disservice to the rest of the tale to single out one sequence. Nevertheless, as the Doctor discovers soon after, “That which holds the image of an Angel becomes itself an Angel,” and Amy finds herself trapped behind a locked door with the Angel slowly, methodically lurching toward her in a way that only an Angel can do. When the Doctor tells her not to blink, she actually attempts the one thing that I’ve been suggesting ever since seeing “Blink” several years ago, and that’s – in lieu of blinking – closing one eye at a time (although I’m not entirely sure if that made into the recap back then or not). Once again, Amy proves that she’s smart enough to travel with the Doctor by making the decision to turn the recording off during the split second where the tape drops out, and thus the Angel disappears. One of the many great things about this episode is that we see all sorts of powers and tricks the Angels have that they didn’t have before. Moffat’s ramped and revved them up and turned them into a potentially ideal race for the Doctor to continue battling with over the long haul. At this point, give me Angels over Daleks and Cybermen every day of the week (although let’s not exhaust the concept so that it, too, becomes tedious and not so special). The shot of sand coming out of Amy’s eye is another inspired bit of weirdness.
The expedition begins, and the group must journey through caverns filled with worn, deformed statues. Even before the Doctor figures it out, it isn’t a stretch for the viewer to put two and two together. The statues look so much like Angels, that it would’ve been highly improbable for them to have not been Angels. Events escalate at an alarming rate – these Angels can kill simply by snapping the necks of their victims, as well as take hold of a portion of their cerebral cortex which can be used as a communication device for their future intended victims (this recalls the voices of the dead from Moffat’s “Silence in the Library” two-parter. And then Amy believes she’s turning to stone, which allows for a funny moment when the Doctor bites her hand to prove that she’s not. As the Angels close in around the group, the Doctor doesn’t intend to go quietly:
“There’s one thing you never put in a trap if you’re smart. If you value your continued existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow, there’s one thing you never, ever put in a trap: Me.”
We’ve heard that line countless times in various trailers and previews, but to finally see it in the proper context is pretty rockin’. Same goes for the Doctor shooting the gun, as well as his punching of Bracewell in the last episode. The latter two incidents in particular – in the trailers – made us think we were going to be getting some kind of violent reimagining of the Doctor, whereas the reality is that he’s anything but. Matt Smith’s Doctor is the most Doctorish Doctor since Peter Davison probably (your mileage will no doubt vary.)
“The Time of Angels” really raises the bar for the season, and delivers a smart, efficient storyline that just whizzes by, never once failing to entertain. Almost every single line in it seems to be important to the story, if not the series itself. This, folks, is where the Steven Moffat era really begins. The interplay between the Doctor and River is a wonderful continuation of what we already know about them, and we even seem to get confirmation that they are indeed husband and wife and some point in the future (or maybe the past). For the first time in the season, the Doctor and Amy actually seem like they’re having a proper Doctor/companion relationship, and Gillan really started coming into her own here, thank goodness. The idea of including religious figures into a story about the Angels was also inspired, right and proper. This story has a real sense of scope – a feel of the wonder of the universe. It seems wholly new and right. It must surely be the best episode of the series since, well, I don’t know – maybe since “Blink”!
NEXT TIME: Do not, under any circumstances, miss part two of this masterpiece, which is titled, “Flesh and Stone.”
Classic “Who” DVD Recommendation of the Week: It’s tough to come up with anything from the old series that’s going to match this, so I won’t even try. Surely there must be at least one person out there, though, who’s reading this who, for whatever reason, hasn’t seen “Blink,” the first story to feature the Weeping Angels. Has it been long enough that the David Tennant era can be considered Classic “Who”? Heh. Probably not. Regardless, put “Blink” in your Netflix queue. It can be found on Disc Four of the Season Three box set. The same disc also has the outstanding “Human Nature” two-parter, so it’s well worth checking out.
(Thanks as always to Sonic Biro for the screencaps.)