Now I’d had a little bit to drink – OK, a lot to drink – before I watched “Flesh and Stone,” and when it was over I swore it was the best episode of new “Who” ever. Upon sobering up, I watched it again. It was not the best episode of new “Who” ever…but it was still pretty damn great, and certainly both parts of this story combined make for one helluva sterling example of what makes the new series tick. Indeed, from now on, when I want to turn somebody on to this show, it may very well be through this two-parter.

I’ve written before about my theories of “Who” cliffhangers, which essentially boils down to “the resolve is rarely as good as the hang.” In this case that probably still holds, but Moffat came awfully close to equaling the hang by delivering a way out of an impossible situation that was surprising and fun. I’m not sure it made a whole lot of sense – the destruction of the gravity globe gave them an updraft? They must make this shit up as they go along (of course, how else do you do it?). The shifting of the camera turning around to show the group on ceiling was gorgeous and great little reveal. But the save is short-lived, and the Angels are restoring themselves via the power of the Byzantium. Everybody follows the Doctor into the ship, and once again, the camera has a lot of fun here – the shot of the Doctor standing upright as Amy looks down the hole at him.

Octavian: “Dr. Song, I’ve lost good Clerics today. Do you trust this man?”
River: “I absolutely trust him.”
Octavian: “He’s not some kind of madman then?”
River: (beat) “I absolutely trust him.”

Then the story shifts into an action flick. The Angels attack in the dark in a thrilling, claustrophobic sequence, peppered with further tension between River (Alex Kingston) and Octavian (Iain Glen). What is this woman hiding? It’s within this sequence that we first hear Amy says the number 10. There’s really so much going on in the action arena in this section of the episode that it’d be pointlessly drab to recap it, and yet it’s amazing to watch. Once they discover the forest within the ship, the story pulls back on the action, but not the tension. It just keeps building. The gimmick of Amy counting down heightens, and during the conversation with Angel Bob, the Doctor finally snaps, and gets to the bottom of what’s going on with the countdown, and it appears Amy looks into the eyes of the videotaped Angel for a tad too long in the previous episode. And as if not enough is going on by this point, the crack from Amy’s wall makes another appearance, only this time everyone sees it. Octavian leads the group away from the crack and into the forest while the Doctor stays behind to investigate the crack. While he’s doing so, the Angels mount yet another attack, this time against the Doctor solo. Particularly effective is the shot of the Angel grabbing the Doctor’s jacket. He manages to worm his way out of his jacket while talking to the Angels about the crack and runs off into the forest.

Again, most of this stuff makes for a lousy recap, but it’s so much damn fun to watch. It’s like trying to explain why “Die Hard” is great action movie by telling someone who hasn’t seen it about John McClane tying himself to a fire hose and jumping off a building in his bare feet. There’s no substitute for the real thing, and it’s rather silly to break it all down, because it wasn’t written to be deconstructed – it was written and directed to be a thrill ride. So kudos to Steven Moffat for writing a cracking screenplay that Adam Smith then proceeded to direct the hell out of. With this two-parter, Moffat has really redeemed himself as both a writer and a showrunner. This is the kind of fare I expected from him but wasn’t getting in 5.2 and 5.3. Adding to that, if this is Moffat’s version of the action-packed two-parters that always featured early in the Davies era, then blow me down. This is scads better than stuff like “Rise of the Cybermen” and “The Sontaran Strategem.” It’s not that those stories were bad, but they always felt like the bubblegum installments of their seasons, whereas this may also be bubblegum, but it’s bubblegum that keeps its flavor for a long, long time; in the midst of all this action, there’s room for great character development, stellar acting and strong drama. Oh, you know what else is mildly noteworthy? As I understand it, these two episodes were the first of the season that were shot, so it’s fascinating to note how firm a grasp Matt Smith and Karen Gillan had on not only their roles, but also the concept of the series at this early stage in the game. I’d speculate on what it must have been like to work through the lame scripts for “The Beast Below” and “Victory of the Daleks” after shooting fare like this first, but I’d best not. Surely these two actors had the time of their lives while making this season no matter how weak any given script may have been.

The worsening of Amy’s condition is another episode highlight. The Doctor doesn’t put on the kid gloves either, which is alien to say the least. That’s a side of the Doctor we didn’t get a whole lot of with Tennant. He matter of factly tells her she dying and to shut up! Loved the moment of rage the Doctor feels when Angel Bob tells him that the countdown is for fun, and the Doctor throws the communicator at the ground. Smith has a way of flitting back and forth between comedy and drama that’s just mesmerizing. I hope I never come to predict what he’s going to do next, as that would be a huge shame. Right now, everything he does is so perfectly played it’s as if he’s not even acting. I’ve bitched a fair amount about Amy’s lack of character in recent times, but in this story she shines. She’s so vulnerable in these scenes with her eyes closed. I particularly liked her delivery of the line “You always say that,” which in its own way makes all the time they’ve spent apart onscreen so far kinda sorta OK.

One moment that’s seems to have gotten fandom all flustered involves the bit where the Doctor comes back to Amy and holds her hand after he’s already seemingly walked away. First off, it must be said that theories like this are precisely why I hate reading fan ramblings, because all too often they make a very good case, and yet they still end up being wrong, which can be very frustrating for those of us who go ahead and get in our heads that they must be right. In this instance, the theory is driven by the fact that the Doctor, in extreme close-up, appears to be wearing his jacket, when he clearly lost it several scenes back with the Angels. The idea proposed here is that this is some Doctor from a future part of the season who’s come back to help Amy through this tough time. The jacket aside, it makes a certain sort of sense what with the way the scene is shot and played. It’s very different in tone than what precedes it. Of course, there are Clerics standing around – wouldn’t they notice this second Doctor popping in? Of course if you take the jacket out of the equation, I’m not sure the theory holds up. It could just be a continuity error. Go back and check it out.

The crack, which we actually learn very little about here, seems to have the ability to swallow people up, as well as screw with the memories of those in the vicinity. I’m sure we’ll learn much more about the crack as the season progresses. Octavian’s death scene is outstanding, as is the dialogue the Doctor has with him prior to his passing. Wow. That was incredible. And then there’s the scene where Amy must navigate her way through the Angels with her eyes closed, all while pretending they’re open. Does this work or not? It contradicts everything we’ve been told about the Angels thus far. I vote for yes it does, because in order for these enemies to remain an effective foe, there are always going to have to be new angles through which they’re explored. We finally get to see the Angels moving, which is truly creepy. And in the end, they all get sucked away by the Doctor turning off the gravity, which sort of takes me back to the climax of “Doomsday.”

Actually, that’s not the ending – no, the ending sees the Doctor taking Amy back to her home so she can show him the wedding dress, and explain about her upcoming wedding to Rory, at which point she attacks him in a fit of lust! My, how “Doctor Who” has changed over the years! I loved this scene, as it puts a finer point on their relationship, and not one that I think anyone saw coming. We had loads of romance in the Davies years but here it’s just sex – sex that the Doctor wants no part of! It’s hilarious. The scene seemingly caused some controversy over in Britain where some deemed it too salty for a family series. To those people I say get a grip, or perhaps get laid. If you can’t have fun with this scene, I’ve a feeling the rest of the season may not set well with you either. I doubt this was an isolated incident as far as sexuality goes in Moffat’s vision of the show, and while I don’t think we’re ever going to see anything truly offensive or over the line, I suspect this is an angle he’s going to play around with in his era. He is, after all, the guy who wrote “Coupling.” But then again, this is also the last Moffat-written script we’re going to get this season until the two-part finale. Here’s to hoping for some great, distinctive voices coming out of the woodwork in his absence.

NEXT TIME: Take a trip with the Doctor, Amy and Rory to 15th century Italy in “Vampires in Venice” which is written by Toby Whithouse, who wrote “School Reunion” in Season Two, and is also the creator of “Being Human,” so we can assume he knows a thing or two about fangs.

Classic “Who” DVD Recommendation of the Week: Just in time to get you ready for next week’s episode is the recently released Tom Baker/Elisabeth Sladen classic, “The Masque of Mandragora,” which also takes place in 15th century Italy!

(Thanks as always to Sonic Biro for the screencaps.)